That is not an exact quote. More like an interpretation of the Monday MSNBC Countdown show.

While Keith Olbermann is on vacation, Rachel Maddow is filling in. In general I think this has been a trade-up. I like Maddow. Don’t agree with her most of the time, but I like the way she thinks. However, when a journalist television personality decides to crawl in the bag with a political candidate, it is apparently required that said personality must twist themselves into an intellectual knot on the air in defense of their object of affection. It does not matter if it is Rush Limbaugh carrying water for big spending, big deficit, big government Republicans under GWB, or the regularly scheduled Keith Olbermann and Jonathon Alter Obama Infomercial. Maddow’s broadcast on Monday was another case in point.

I agree with Alan’s post, that the cover is not the real story. The real story is the reaction to the cover by Obama, his campaign, his supporters, and the attitudes betrayed by the reaction. As always, the tone is set at the top, with staff and supporters taking their cues from the leadership. Obama’s reaction:

“ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports that when he was asked about the controversial cover during a press avail today, Obama shrugged and then said, “I have no response to that.”

Think how differently this story evolves if Obama instead looks at cover, laughs out loud, says “That’s great. They missed a few points, where is Reverend Wright?” But he did not say that. Instead we get an official Obama spokesman taking offense, and earnest Obama supporters go into high dudgeon and pile on.

Rachel Maddow takes it to another level, saying:

“the details in the New Yorker cover drawing are not the story, the outrage over the cover are not the story, the potential consequences of the cover are the story.”

Jonathon Alter then reprises his role as an accommodating sidekick fielding loaded questions from Rachel. I wanted to include the transcript here, but MSNBC has linked the wrong transcript to the July 14 show. Instead I am paraphrasing and interpreting the conversation between Maddow and Alter.

You can watch the actual video here, and tell me if I got it right:

MADDOW: Jonathon, Isn’t the real problem here that way too many Americans are too stupid to get the joke?
ALTER: Yes, Rachel, 13% of Americans are so stupid that they tell pollsters that they believe these lies, so there are consequences from an image like this and the New Yorker should have considered the consequences of stupid Americans seeing this image.
MADDOW: In that context do responsible journalists and commentators like us have a responsibility to explain to stupid Americans that Obama is not a Muslim every time this comes up?
ALTER: Yes Rachel, this is part of our responsibility – to take the time to refute these lies for all those low information (stupid) voters out there who are not paying attention. But it is still a problem because these voters are so stupid that they will just look at the picture, not get the joke, and not listen to us.

True to his word, Jonathon Alter dedicated his column yesterday to once again explaining to the stupid American voters that Barack Obama is not a Muslim and further explaining that the New Yorker cover is a big problem because Americans are too stupid to get the joke.

“… the New Yorker cover, now being displayed endlessly on cable TV, speaks louder than any efforts by Obama supporters to stop the smears… negative images burn their way into the consciousness of voters in ways that cannot be erased by facts. With one visual move, the magazine undid months of pro-Obama coverage in its pages.”

Look, I have no problem with Alter’s thesis (reinforced in Alan’s post here) – that the “Obama is a Muslim” lie must be challenged, confronted and corrected in the strongest possible terms. I have done so myself at DWSUWF and at Donklephant and will continue to do so.

But perhaps Maddow and Alter, and other Obama supporters wringing their hands about the 12-13% of “low-information” voters who might be influenced if they accidentally see the cover should consider another possibility. Perhaps these voters are not all ignorant and stupid. Consider what Craig Crawford said on MSNBC a few hours later –

David Shuster, substituting for Dan Abrams on “Verdict!” joined those on the left who are hand-wringing about the same poll, when Craig Crawford floated the right answer:

SHUSTER: “…there is some new polling from “Newsweek” that underscores Obama‘s potential problem. Twelve percent think he‘s a Muslim and 12 percent say he used the Koran for a Senate swearing in ceremony, 39 percent believe he attended an Islamic school in Indonesia, while 26 percent think he was raised a Muslim. None of those are true. Craig Crawford, how, in your view, should Obama address this?”
CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC ANALYST: “…But, as far as the percentages of people believing he‘s a Muslim, he‘s got time, he‘s just got to keep making the case, putting those speeches out there, and talking about his faith, and trying to deal with it. I‘m not sure a lot of this people actually believe this. I think they just don‘t like him and don‘t like to say it.

Bingo. Here is the real “joke” – While there are indeed wingnuts on the right who really believe that Obama was a Muslim, or that he is the Anti-Christ, or he is an Islamic “Manchurian Candidate”, or whatever stupid thing they want to worry about today, it is entirely possible that most of that 12% in the poll do not really believe it. They just like messing with the pollsters and left wing pundits who get their panties in a bunch whenever they read polls like this. And if that is the case, the real joke is on condescending pundits like Alter and Maddow who are so so concerned about the impact a magazine cover might have on these “low-information” voters.

Jonathon, Rachel – Relax.

They’re just messing with you.

Post Script: Should you think that the attitude to voters betrayed by Maddow and Alter are an exception, consider the comments to Alan’s earlier post here, here and here. Of course, not everyone on the left feels that way. Tom Watson, Gawker and Jon Swift get it (intelligently and amusingly) right.

Excerpted and x-posted from two posts at “Divided We Stand United We Fall

Politics Maddow & Alter: "The New Yorker cover is irresponsible because they should...