Lawrence O’Donnell has become a pompous, arrogant, humorless jerk.  His tough-guy, soi-disant realist, Irish pol schtick is more irritating than Chris Matthews’ and his pretentious sermons more trying than Keith Olbermann’s ever were.

Last night, he made a big mistake, right up there with that poor Fox News interviewer’s minute of infamy in the ring with Reza Aslan, and then he went on making the same mistake, as bullies with imperfect sociosensory antennae tend to do.  Clueless and blathering, I think he may have actually left the set thinking he “won” the bout.  No he didn’t.

The suits at MSNBC should be thinking about who could make better use of his hour.  “Please confirm for our audience the amateur, uninformed conclusion I’ve jumped to about this issue” is not a good interview question, especially to someone who actually knows things you do not.  For an old white guy to browbeat a young woman is anyway very bad optics.  Lawrence, you’ve worked as legislative staff.  Even if you think someone is shucking you or getting into more and more trouble, didn’t you ever learn about letting out the string? Let alone, that many things that are obvious to you are not true? I never got good at the string stuff, but it was lesson one in Massachusetts government.

I would like to see guests mistreated in this fashion respond, on-air and otherwise, as Ioffe did.  I would like them to start by saying “you’re welcome”, not “thank you!” when the host says “thank you” at the end, and to thus undermine the meme that they are on the show for their own benefit rather than the host’s and the audience’s.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

25 thoughts on “Delicious”

  1. I am interested to see how he responds. One key reason that “MSNBC is just a mirror image of Fox/Limbaugh” is untrue is higher standards of intellectual honesty and willingness to acknowledge mistakes. Rachel Maddow ranks high on that score; lets see what Lawrence does with this.

    1. >higher standards of intellectual honesty and willingness to acknowledge mistakes

      Not a very high bar to jump over.

    2. Though I’m a liberal, I find our bullies and blowhards (Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Matthews, Kieth Olbermann) far harder to stomach than the right wing ones.

      Perhaps it’s because along with that intellectual honesty comes a massive intellectual pomposity. Whatever you say about Bill O’Rielly, he never claimed to be an intellectual paragon—but I always sense that O’Donnell et al see themselves that way.

  2. It was extremely embarrassing for a card-carrying progressive like me to see Lawrence O’Donnell behaving like a right-wing bully — interrupting, overriding answers, trying six ways from Sunday to put his own words into Ms. Ioffe’s mouth. In my naivete I failed to realize that, you know, these interview shows are all about what the HOST believes, not what information or opinions the guest might bring to the show. An on-air apology, please!

    1. I agree, but then Ms. Ioffe made a similar error in approach when she penned her response, referring to O’Donnell’s “bullshit question” and telling him “don’t waste my fucking evening.” (Just to be clear, my point is that the error was similar in kind, but not even close to O’Donnell’s idiocy in degree. Her response would have been stronger had she practiced a little rhetorical restraint. Overall, however, the analytic portion of her response was miles ahead of anything that O’Donnell could offer.)

      1. Rhetorical restraint is generally a good thing, but the likes of O’Donnell will not be disquieted by it; the language in the rebuttal is what is needed to give him the kind of jolt required to break open a very hard nut. Softer language would not bother him, and the situation calls for him to be bothered greatly. I do hope his blood pressure rises a few points as he reads the rebuttal, not enough to cause any organ damage but enough to make him remember this incident next time he is tempted to talk down to someone who knows more than he does.

      2. I don’t know. Watched the online clips of the interview and read her New Republic post. I think she was pretty restrained in both forums. Although I do think that you’ve highlighted one interesting aspect of the situation which is that, either way, her evening probably wasn’t wasted since her most likely (and perfectly legitimate)reason for going on that show was self-promotion and not simply the edification of MSNBC viewers. And I think the reason why nearly all TV talk show guests humor their idiot hosts is the very strong and very understandable desire to be invited back. I think that’s why people with their own regular TV gigs like Paul Krugman and Jon Stewart can give really speak their minds—they’re already famous, with even high profile gigs than the show they’re guesting on and consequently don’t need to worry about whether they’ll be invited back to help build their “brand”.

        I’ve only seen clips from Lawrence O’Donnell show a few times and each time he’s always been a total asshole. I know it’s a very small sample and I don’t watch his show so I don’t know if he does good interviews most of the time when he’s more in control of himself and possibly actually knows what he’s talking about but unless there’s some kind of internet conspiracy to suppress clips of him saying smart things, I have to say my opinion is that his show really isn’t worth watching and he’s kind of an asshole.

        1. Total asshole sums him up pretty well. He seems to be determined to be the O’Reilly of the “left”. Speaking for myself, I think one Bill O’Reilly is one too many in my universe.

        1. I thought this was a great feminist moment: An arrogant old white guy tried to bully a younger woman and she gave as good as she got.

          1. Oh, yeah! That, too. More women in public life should do so when it’s appropriate. It’d ease their minds immensely and put them on a more level playing field.

            It’s an interesting contrast: Anthony Weiner seemed like a…well, let’s say a weiner, when he called one of his potential opponents “grandpa”, while Julia Ioffe sounds pretty darn righteous saying it to O’Donnell. Lots of reasons it’s that way, but mostly that out of Weiner, it sounded like “you wrinkly, decrepit man who doesn’t even know how to send a text message”, while out of Ioffe, it sounded more like “you weiner”.

      3. Well, I loved that she cussed him out in print. HBO should have one of these shows, just so an Ioffe can ask her host to give her a fucking break and let her finish a goddamn sentence.

  3. It would be interesting to see her on TV with another Russian expert with equivalent credentials who disagreed with her assessment of the situation. Talking to an ignoramus is one thing, and slamming him is easy; to test the hypothesis that she has some unacknowledged personal issues, a comparison with a different situation would shed light on the question.

  4. I’ve seen him do really good interviews. I remember once he was quite gentle with, I believe, a Tea Party lady of some sort. She was basically a civilian, and he was pretty polite. I didn’t watch last night. I do like his show, though sometimes he has the CNN problem (what do you do when there’s nothing to talk about?). I don’t think it would be possible to do a regular show and not be annoying sometimes. I hope they make up!

  5. “has become”?

    I first became aware of O’Donnell through the typical lefty blog channels a few yeas back. After following more than one hyperbolically-titled link promising that he had just engaged in some sort of epic takedown of X and instead being greeted (without exception) by videos of he being an unctuous prick, I decided it wouldn’t be worth doing so again.

    I haven’t watched the video (per above) but the news of his behavior isn’t surprising to me. Blowhards gonna blow, well, hard

  6. Over at Talking Points Memo, there seems to be a lot of support for O’Donnell and a bunch of people asserting that Ms. Ioffe had her ass handed to her by the superior O’Donnell.

    They seem to have fewer “play nice” rules at that website. But it is worthwhile taking two minutes to see that some people think O’Donnell to be better informed about Russia than Ioffe.

    Her attitude may be “I am an expert and deserved to be heard,” which would be well-warranted. On the other hand, she may have a disposition that says, “I am an expert; therefore I cannot be wrong.”

    There is insufficient information to determine from a single TV clip and a single rebuttal which attitude better represents who she is. I think that the available evidence points to the former but would need to see how she handles an opponent with equal Russian credentials to be more certain.

    1. I never take the TPM comments seriously because they are so thoroughly, despicably trolled. I’m willing to believe people might sincerely take O’Donnell’s side in this (I read her piece, and found it compelling, but I haven’t watched the clip), but not on the basis of people being obnoxious in the TPM comments.

    2. Maybe BOTH O”Donnell and Ioffe were assholes in this case–both unwilling to entertain the other’s opinions, both certain of their own expertise. As with anything, a wide range of opinions exists on the issue of Russia, Putin, and Snowden.

      Though Ioffe made the point that Russia is not Putin’s personal monolith, I also think there’s a chain-of-command logic in Russia. Even if Putin didn’t personally make the decision about Snowden, the bureaucracies of the state may have enacted his will. This, I think, was O’Donnell’s point. (I still think O’Donnell’s a perpetually angry rage-polyp, but he did have a point worth entertaining.)

    3. Ed Whitney: “Her attitude may be “I am an expert and deserved to be heard,” which would be well-warranted. On the other hand, she may have a disposition that says, “I am an expert; therefore I cannot be wrong.” Well, she was invited on the show because she IS an expert, and my going-in presumption is that she deserved to be heard, not have Larry O’D make a crude attempt force his own word into her mouth. She didn’t need to be there for that to happen — it could simply be “All O’Donnell All the Time.” Not a show that I would watch. And by the way, I don’t know her and would hardly speculate that she has the “I cannot be wrong” attitude. Do you know her that well?

      1. That is why I said “insufficient information.” This is the same as saying, “I do not know.” It means that further information is needed before any kind of speculation is warranted.

        That is why I thought that it would be informative to see her appear on TV with another Russian expert with equal credentials, who speaks Russian like a native and has lived there for at least 3 years and has a comparable level of knowledge of Russian politics and history, but who disagrees with her on some point of substance, perhaps who thinks that the summit meeting between the two presidents should have taken place.

        I she took a rigid and inflexible stance in such a meeting, it would point to dogmatism on her part. I have only seen her up against an ignorant knucklehead. That is not enough data. As I said, it seems likely that the available evidence favors the first possibility; it would require a separate set of observations to help with the second.

      2. “I she took a rigid and inflexible stance” should of course read “If she took…”

        On reading her rebuttal, my first impulse was to find out if she is married and run off to seek her hand if she is not.

        But I would first want to make certain that she does not think she is the only person around who can pronounce “Sheremetyevo.” I honestly cannot rule out this possibility from her tone but think it likely that this is not her attitude.

        Still need that additional data.

  7. Saw the exchange, O’Donnell gotta go! He’s worn his intellectual welcome out, and is now an embarrassment whoring for ratings!

  8. you wrote: I would like them to start by saying “you’re welcome”, not “thank you!” when the host says “thank you” at the end…

    This is one of my general complaints about life these days. It’s right up there with repeatedly using the word “like”: Like I need one more idiot saying, like, what’s going on here. ;=)

    And every time I have watched O’Donnell, he has come off like a prick. Sort of like Piers Morgan.

    This video link shows Chris Hedges talking to the often insufferable Kevin O’Leary. When he is thanked perfunctorily for being on the show at the end, he says “Well, it will be the last time.” And I bet it was. Shun asshole interviewers!

  9. This may be nit-picking, but what is it with that sh!t-eating, stupid grin perpetually/permanently plastered on O’Donnell’s face? What is it saying? I know what it’s saying to me; I pretty much stated it in my opening sentence. But, what is the message he thinks it’s emoting? It’s much too obvious for it to be unintentional.

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