Tickling their fancy
Eric Massa, conservative media hero for a day
Tickling their fancy
Dick Polman, Inquirer National Political Columnist
There's an old saying in politics: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." But given the way some of our conservative media superstars have embarrassed themselves during the past 48 hours, perhaps the old saying needs to be amended: "If the enemy of my enemy is a blithering idiot, I would be wise to distance myself from the idiot, lest I look like an idiot as well."
Well, it's too late for Glenn Beck to heed that advice.
Yesterday, on his Fox News TV show, Beck devoted a full hour to his new best friend, Eric "Tickle Fight" Massa. By the end of the hour's hilarity (which appeared to have been scripted by Seth Rogen), Beck needed a squeegee to wipe all the egg from his face.
As you probably know by now, Massa is the unhinged New York Democrat who served 431 days in Congress until he quit his seat on Monday. He had first suggested last week that he was leaving because of a cancer scare, but later revised his story, claiming that he was being railroaded by an unwarranted House Ethics Committee probe of his behavior toward a male aide (he said he was merely guilty of talking like a "salty old sailor"). Then, over the weekend, he revised his story yet again, this time claiming that House Democratic leaders and Obama lieutenant Rahm Emanuel had conspired to craft a bogus ethics probe as a pretext for kicking him off Capitol Hill - because of his opposition to health care reform.
Bingo! That version of the story made him an instant conservative media hero; if he was the enemy of the enemy, then surely he must be the conservatives' friend. On Monday, The Drudge Report home page was all Massa all the time. Rush Limbaugh went into overdrive, declaring on the air: "We're doing our part here to make it a national story...This guy is as fired up as anybody...This guy is going to have so much support from people." And Beck was all atwitter, Twittering his fans to say that Massa would be featured on his Tuesday show for the full hour because "all Americans need to hear him."
But even before Beck put him on the air, there were intimations of trouble. Some conservatives, to their credit, expressed concern that perhaps it was foolish to embrace a guy who was under investigation for feeling up a male staffer; in comments posted yesterday on the Politico website, ex-Bush deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel dismissed Massa as "an egotistical creep that we'd all be better off hearing from less," and Republican strategist Bradley Blakeman warned his brethren that "it will be a huge mistake to use this pitiful man for political gain."
Then came the news yesterday, courtesy of an afternoon story on the Washington Post website, that Massa has actually been under investigation for a year, with respect to "a pattern of behavior and physical harassment" of multiple male staffers. Give the GOP's recent headaches with Mark Foley and Larry Craig, why would conservatives want to embrace another alleged miscreant - from the other party, no less? Even Limbaugh slammed on the brakes yesterday and began to distance himself from his Monday hero.
But not Beck. His show was a kick to watch yesterday, even without popcorn. Beck sat there expecting Massa to stick with his tale about how he was supposedly forced out of his seat by the pro-health reform liberal conspiracy...but here's what Massa said instead:
"I wasn't forced out. I forced myself out. I failed. I didn't live up to my own codes. I own this. I take full and complete responsibility for my misbehavior."
Well, that's not what a Fox News hero was supposed to say. Massa was supposed to deliver a stinging indictment of Chicago-style liberal hardball. He was supposed to provide new details about how Emanuel had yelled at him about his health care stance while both men were naked in a communal congressional shower (another weekend claim), but instead he admitted on the air that nobody else witnessed the alleged incident (and even if it happened, so what?).
And Massa was certainly not supposed to blather on about his longtime penchant for...how did he put it..."tickle fights."
By this point, Beck wore the look of a pedestrian seeking to evade a street-corner lunatic. But Massa was unstoppable: "Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not really grope him. I tickled him 'til he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday...I should have never allowed myself to be as familiar with my staff as I was. I never translated my days in the Navy to being a congressman." He said that "tickle fights" are common in the Navy (this guy will not be appearing in any Navy recruiter ads), and he even brought some visual aids to the show, promising Beck that "I'm gonna show you a lot more than tickle fights...It looks like an orgy in Caligula."
During Massa's brief reign as a conservative media hero, Beck apparently chose to overlook the fact that Massa had actually compiled a liberal record in the House. He was rudely reminded of this when Massa suddenly turned on him: "Stop calling Americans names. Calling fellow Americans names. Pejorative, insulting, 'socialist,' 'communist,' whatever the case may be - colorful names designed to emote emotions." Massa even committed a Fox News heresy, by going after the tea-party movement: "You can't show up at a tea party rally and claim that the entire budget deficit happened this year."
At the end of the hour, Beck gave up and told his audience, "America, I've got to shoot straight with you. I think I've wasted your time." Actually, he didn't. He showed how badly an agitprop entertainer can embarrass himself when he overplays his hand and allows a political corpse to tickle his fancy.
Massa was able to spend a few days as a dead man talking, but, fortunately for the Democrats, he'll barely be remembered by the time we count the final votes on health care. And perhaps those chastened conservatives who sought to annoint him as a hero would like to distance themselves by singing these lyrics, courtesy of the punk rock band Social Distortion:
With friends like you, who needs enemies?
You ain't right, you ain't never gonna be...
You shake my hand, while you're pissing on my leg
I'm cuttin you loose, I don't need this misery
Your time's run out, I've got nothing left for you...
I'm leaving you far behind
Stop wasting all my time.