Monday, March 10: I am in the kitchen nuking Indian dinner in a box when my attention catches on five words from whatever Keith Olbermann is reading on TV in the other room.
"...gibbble...guubbble!.....guhguuuuble!... Dan Thompson from Pinehill, New Mexico...."
I don't actually hear Olbermann's moral outrage anymore. Most of it comes through as farmyard noise. But, if it has to do with New Mexico and it's on Countdown, then it must be newsworthy, right? Or at least blogworthy. I get confused between the two these days.
So, I rush to the bedroom. Sure enough, someone in rural New Mexico has joined Olbermann's World's Worst list for calling Obama a monkey. Sort of.
Curry can wait. I have to look up this Dan Thompson from Pinehill.
(If you haven't already, you should now watch the posted video.)
I hope this post gets back to Keith. In my dreams, Keith calls me on the phone and I get to say:
"I have spoken to Dan and I vouch for his authenticity. He is listed in the White Pages, had your assistants stopped watching day time Fox and done some actual research. You, sir, are the apocryphal one."
The World's Worst segment hasn't been over a minute and I already have Dan on the phone. We chat for awhile while we wait for MSNBC.COM to update with the video clip. He was watching the O'Reilly Factor.
Dan is a retired general contractor in sixties. He tends to move away from towns when they get too large. He lost half his IRA in this economic crisis. Dan is not a Republican, though for awhile he was the party chair for La Paz County in Arizona. He's gone man to man against John McCain and lost, more than once. Seeing the senator run for president was "disheartening."
He's also about to see Countdown for the first time. Dan has heard it's the most liberal show there is. Or at least that's the impression he gets from what Bill says.
"If he's going to compare me to Rush Limbaugh, I'll take that as a great compliment," Dan says. He reckons he hasn't listened to Rush in maybe eight years; Rush is too liberal. That's one thing we have in common; we're both on a first name basis with television personalities.
I like Thompson immediately and feel bad that he's going to catch hell from his wife if this goes viral. He's the kind of thinker who is aware that his convictions are extreme in relation to the popular consensus, who knows that a disagreement of opinion isn't the same as a lack of respect (though he will take a shot at Obama, even when he does agree with the president). I think to myself that this must be how Rachel Maddow feels about Pat Buchanan. Suddenly the video's online and we hang up so he can give the clip his full attention. Two minutes later, he calls back.
"It was pretty much taken out of context," Dan says. "Whoever the anchor was, he misread and said that I was calling Obama a monkey, which I was not."
He seems genuinely affected that his words have been interpreted as racist. Dan sends me the original link so I can see it in context.
He was watching "Happening Now with Jon Scott and Jane Skinner," a daytime show that airs after Fox & Friends. His comment was one of 113 in response to the "Question of the Day" segment. That's when they post a question on their blog, then read the comments out later in the show.
by Show Producers
We'll be showing a live event during our show. President Obama will be addressing his changes to President Bush's policy regarding stem cell research. We want to hear what he has to say and what want to hear what you think:
IS PRESIDENT OBAMA DOING THE RIGHT THING BY REVERSING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S POLICY ON STEM CELL RESEARCH?
Here's the actual comment, in context (you'll need to click to enlarge):
OK, so it's not the most cordial peanut gallery...but at least Dan was breaking from the mob by agreeing with Obama. But, compare what he wrote to MSNBC's transcript of Fox's Harris Faulkner reading Dan's comment :
Harris (who is black) omitted Dan's "PS," and awkardly repeated his name as if there is a Dan Thompson, who likes Obama, and then a Dan Thompson from Pinehill, who's a bigot. All that does make a difference. Iniitally I assumed he was refencing the Curious George in a turban reading Marx 'n Engels racist caricature of the 2008 campaign. Now his statement seems to me more akin to Obama's lipstick on a pig reference--a common idiom open to misinterpretation.
"I know better than to call names," Dan says. "I'm not that kind of person. If anything I was comparing his actions; he doesn't have any real direction in where he's going."
Unfortunately, when you post something online and an anchor reads it on one cable station and another cable station copy-pastes the transcript to a teleprompter so another anchor can re-read what the first anchor was reading in turkey-gobbled outrage, the message is bound to come out distorted. It only makes it worse when the original comment is preceded by someone saying they still don't believe Obama is a Christian and followed by someone else's impossibly morbid suggestion that Hitler would be proud of America's first black president.
If you wanted to know what Dan Thompson from Pine Hill, NM thinks...why not just go to the source. Dan grants me a short official interview, before saying goodnight:
Me: So, how would you rate the job that Obama is doing right now?
Dan: So far?
On a scale of?
I don't know. You pick the scale.
On a scale of one to 10, 10 being good, 1 being bad?
Um, yeah, but I don't know if I would ever trust a politician to ever get above maybe a six. I think we can do one to six.
On a scale of one to six, he's a doing about, oh, I would say, he might be doing a point-five.
Point-five? What has he done that has made is so bad? Point-five is an unacceptable score.
His handling of the economy.......sigh.....He...
You're over-thinking it.
I'm not overthinking it! I'm trying! I'm trying to put this in a way that you can print it...He's done nothing for the economy. He is almost a socialist. He says he's not, but--what did Bill [O'Reilly] call him tonight?--a progressive, which I thought was a nice way of saying he's a socialist. Anyway, he wants more government, he thinks government is the answer to everything and that's not my way of thinking at all. I think less is more.
Is there anything else you think people should know about you in the context of this? I was just going to sort of write how nice a conversation this has been. I was really excited that you picked up and were willing to talk.
Much to the chagrin of my wife and against the advice of my attorney. My attorney gave me some advice when I was in the middle of a big political brouhaha over there in Arizona many years ago. He said, 'Never talk to reporters.' He said, 'That's just the way to get in trouble.'
Well, I think if you talk to him again, he'd probably say the same thing about commenting on blogs.
I know he would!