updated 1/31/2008 2:08:59 PM ET 2008-01-31T19:08:59

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Roy Sekoff, Margie Omero, Tony Blankley, Shira Lazar, Ben Widdecombe, Steve Adubato

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: With Senators Clinton and Obama hurdling toward the mega-voting on Super Tuesday, you‘d think the race was as close as could be.  But there‘s all kind of indications it‘s not that close.  It‘s just the inside D.C. media being unfair to Hillary Clinton again.  And has the same media‘s disdain for Bill Clinton led to a new muzzled and silent campaigner in chief?  Has their obsession and unfair treatment of the former president neutralized him?  And unfair treatment by some of the media, not just in politics.  A firestorm in Hollywood over an old video that has been purchased of actor Heath Ledger doing drugs.  It has nothing to do with this investigation, it‘s just purely salacious.

But first: The big news tonight: John Edwards officially bows out of the race leaving just Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to fight for the Democratic nomination.  And if you listen to much of the inside D.C. media, you‘d think it could not be closer, a toss-up right now.  The problem?  According to the latest polls, it‘s not.  Look at the five most delegate rich states where 10 times as many delegates will be allocated as it‘s been awarded so far.  California, Clinton up an average of 12 points.  New York, Clinton up 23 points.  In New Jersey she‘s leading by 18, by 27 in Massachusetts.  Only in his home state of Illinois is Obama ahead by 27.  You‘d never know that from listening to many of the D.C. pundits over the last few days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At this point, the Democratic race is just too close to call because of Obama‘s gain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Clinton campaign and she‘s going to have an uphill fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now, whether you believe in the accuracy of the polls or not.  Since when does the media ignore polls?  Many in the inside D.C. media want a horse race.  I‘ve said it before, I‘ll say it again, many don‘t like Hillary Clinton.  Maybe, the Clintons are old news, maybe, because her staff have the testy relationship with many in the press.  Maybe, because Clinton plays it safe and doesn‘t make news.  I don‘t know why.  But how can so many ignore the results from Florida.  I know, no delegates at stake.  But it‘s not like New Hampshire or Iowa where delegates minds either.  Up to this point, the political media has been obsessed with trends and momentum and yet, almost no one was talking about the 1.5 million people voting in the Democratic primary.  Hillary Clinton won by 17 percent and yet that‘s irrelevant in assessing trends and momentum?  Finally, to those who say that John Edwards was included in the polls and no one knows where his supporters are going to go.  It‘s true, but a poll by AP showed Clinton is the choice of four in 10 Edwards‘ backers versus just 2.5 in 10 who would pick Obama.  I just can‘t think of any explanation apart from media enamored with Obama to explain the coverage.

Joining me now, political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell, MSNBC political analyst and Air America host, Rachel Maddow and the Huffington Post, Roy Sekoff.  All right.  Let me start with you Roy because I know you‘ve been a big Clinton basher, you are one of the people that I‘m talking about.  All right?  So, I‘m going to come at you directly on this one.  Isn‘t it ridiculous that A, there‘s a sense out there that it‘s dead even going into Super Tuesday and B, the fact that Clinton doesn‘t get any credit from the media with regard to winning Florida?

ROY SEKOFF, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  Well, Dan, let‘s start off with the

premise when you say ridiculous, anything with the underlying premise is

about polls ridiculous.  Are these the same polls that told us that Hillary

that Obama is going to win New Hampshire?

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I‘m not going to challenge you on that part of it, Roy.  Let‘s even assume whether you believe in polls or you don‘t believe, let‘s talk about the media coverage.  The media loves polls.

SEKOFF:  Dan, let‘s look at it both ways.  So, first of all, Florida, Hillary Clinton has 35 years as she keeps telling us of name recognition.  So, in a beauty contest where they don‘t even go there, they don‘t campaign there, of course, she‘s going to come out better.  It‘s like the New York Giants playing Madden and then, beating the Patriots and saying, oh, we‘re going to have a victory parade.

ABRAMS:  They didn‘t compete.

SEKOFF:  It wasn‘t level playing field there.  That‘s why she doesn‘t get credit.  Hillary‘s own campaign said we‘re not going to count Florida.  We‘re not going to go down there.  It‘s not there and then, she goes down there and tries to have a victory celebration.

ABRAMS:  Rachel, that‘s fair political analysis, OK?  But here we got the “USA Today” and “New York Times,” nothing on the front page about Hillary Clinton winning Florida.  I get it.  I get to know the delegate‘s part of it.  What I don‘t get is the media‘s obsession up to this point with momentum and trends who have more people voting in Florida than have voted in all the primaries and caucuses so far.  And yet, that doesn‘t matter for momentum and trends.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, if I was on the front page of “USA Today” today, one of the things that I‘d be faced with is the fact that I can‘t fit a description of what Democrats did in Florida into a headline.  You could say, McCain wins Florida, Clinton wins contest in Florida that is not supported by the Democratic Party and confers no delegates.  I mean, it‘s not even necessarily that it was a primary.  It was essentially a poll that happened yesterday and Friday.  It‘s not part of the process.

ABRAMS:  Fine.  But Lawrence, let‘s view it as a poll, all right?   It would be a more accurate poll you would think than the polls everyone criticized.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL:  Yes, as a poll, it‘s certainly reasonable to report.  And I think there were some newspapers who had her on the front page with that.  But I mean, look, you can understand the media‘s dilemma.  There wasn‘t a real campaign there.  Nobody ran TV ads.

ABRAMS:  Even better.

O‘DONNELL:  The teams didn‘t really play.  And so, you‘re right, Dan.  All you had out of that was a poll.  I think it‘s questionable exactly how they should have played it.  I can‘t argue that it should have been front page.  I can‘t argue that it shouldn‘t.  I understand the calls that were made on that.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s listen.  Here‘s some of the coverage from last night with regard to Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is a little weird to have a victory celebration going on in a place where you never campaigned.  In a state where delegates will not at least at this point be allocated and everybody agreed not to go there.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR:  They‘re making it sound like this is a huge, huge deal for her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is not a huge victory or give her

tremendous momentum going into Super Tuesday.  This is talking point -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  It‘s a talking point because the media is saying it‘s a talking point.  Look, I mean, here‘s my problem, Roy.  We‘ve been making a huge deal about New Hampshire and Iowa up to this point.  And when you look at the number of delegates, you want to talk delegates, right?  The number of delegates in New Hampshire and Iowa, you‘re talking about minimal numbers.  You got 30 in New Hampshire, 57 in Iowa.  California alone is 441.

SEKOFF:  Right.  Agreed.  If you want to look at Florida, I want to say Florida is a poll.  Let‘s look at the numbers.  The interesting thing there was that Florida had early voting and the majority of the voters voted early, starting in December.  If you look at the numbers, Obama won with all the voters who made their decisions within the last month, within the last week and the last three days.  That‘s what you‘re talking about with momentum.  Look at the new Gallup poll, 10 days ago, just 10 days ago, Hillary was ahead by 20 points.  Now, as of today, she‘s ahead by six points.  That‘s polls.  If you want to look at polls, that‘s poll.

ABRAMS:  All right.  And that‘s fair, Rachel.  OK, I accept the fact that there‘s no question that if you want to look at the trends, you say, you know what, the trend has been that Clinton is not ahead the way she once was.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  But it seems to me with a media focused on trends and momentum all the time, to simply ignore Florida even though she won by 17 points and say it doesn‘t matter.  It is irrelevant.

MADDOW:  Yes, what‘s happening here is that you got Hillary Clinton cruising along like this in the polls and you got Barack Obama cruising along like this.  That‘s the interesting trend.

ABRAMS:  But you just went like this, you said Hillary Clinton here

and Barack Obama here.  What it really is - is Hillary Clinton here and

Barack Obama here.  But it‘s not -

MADDOW:  She‘s staying.  She started with name recognition.

ABRAMS:  That‘s a great story, isn‘t that the point.  It‘s a great media story, we love it and can‘t get enough, I‘m serious, we can‘t get enough of the idea of the underdog coming back at the last minute with Ted Kennedy on his side to fight for the good cause.

MADDOW:  Listen, when you‘re covering something, whether you‘ re covering it well or whether you‘re covering it poorly, you‘re going to cover the thing that‘s moving.  Not a thing that standing still.  Hillary Clinton has been in the same position for the whole campaign, Obama‘s on the move.

ABRAMS:  Totally fair, Lawrence, but my concern is that those focuses on momentum and trends have been selective to a point where it‘s actually favoring Obama in the most important election of my lifetime.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, look, all political analysts - all of us are making subjective judgments, we‘re making our kinds of predictions looking at the data.  You can look the data the way you have Dan, and say and predict. 

And by the way, if you follow your logic, at the way you‘re looking at

this, you might as well predict Hillary Clinton is going to win big time on

February 5th.  And there‘s absolutely no question about because the polls

say so.  Some of us are more reluctant because of the momentum issue -

ABRAMS:  No, I‘m not willing to do that because I was the only one

before New Hampshire saying this is crazy.  We‘re sort of writing off

Hillary Clinton at this point based on the polls.  My point is that it‘s

about the selective coverage.  I agree with you.  A lot of things could

change before Super Tuesday.  What I‘m saying is, I‘m concerned and I don‘t

want it to change because of however the media decides to cover it.  It

would be nice if Obama wins and Obama shows up and people say, you know

what, I like that guy, I like what he says -

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s no question the media, you‘re right.  You‘re right

that the media loves the underdog story better but look, on Sunday, which

is the better story that the giants win -

ABRAMS:  No question.  I know.  I get it.  But, I‘m going to call it out.  I got to wrap it up.  Roy, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.  Rachel and Lawrence are going to stay with us.

Coming up next: It‘s not just Hillary that I think that maybe the inside DC media is after.  They really like that red meat called Bill Clinton.  They‘ve succeed in muzzling him.  And a new study shows how obsessed the media is with him and I‘ll tell you, the coverage is often, I think unfair.

And: Obama and Clinton duking it out with the accusations flying today, we‘re On Their Trail: assessing who‘s telling the truth and who‘s pulling out the cheap shots.  Last week, I thought it was Obama.  And our latest fact check, tonight, once again, we set the record straight.  Your e-mails abrams@msnb.com, tell us what we‘re doing right and wrong and I know it‘s coming.  Be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I know.

UNIDENTIFIED:  You‘re so Pro-Hillary Clinton, Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know former President Bill Clinton has earned about $40 million in speaking fees to date?  Coming up: How some in the inside DC media and some Clinton haters have succeeded in demonizing and muzzling Bill Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  These innocent people who have never missed a mortgage payment are facing foreclosure because the mortgage companies have been told, your mortgage is no good, you‘re going to raise the interest rate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That is the new completely muzzled Bill Clinton.  Some in the DC media and some Clinton haters I think have succeeded in demonizing him from making off the cap to reporters while campaigning for Hillary.  Sure, he‘s a political animal, but he‘s always entertaining and has been totally smeared.  The media obviously, obsessed with him according to a new study by Journalism.org.  Bill Clinton was the third most prominent news maker in the presidential race last week behind his wife and Obama.  Clinton was blasted for arguing with reporters for making the purely self-serving but non-offensive comment that it would be a roll of the dice to vote for Obama.  His comment about Obama‘s Iraq record being a fairy tale was taking totally out of context.  And then, most recently, there was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  What does it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him?

B. CLINTON:  That‘s just phase two.  Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in ‘84 and ‘88 and he ran a good campaign.  And Senator Obama is running a good campaign here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  While it is fair for him to suggest South Carolina is not the most important primary, in retrospect, he‘s comment is probably a mistake.  But some now suggesting that it shows he‘s a racist.  His office is in Harlem.  He was considered by many to be the quote, “First black president,” now, suddenly, he‘s a racist?  The popular moniker is to talk about how much Bill Clinton has hurt the campaign?  Really?  Isn‘t just that some are taking everything he said and they tough hard-fought campaign and making it seem mean?  Politics are tough.  Here now, Democratic pollster, Margie Omero and syndicated columnist, Tony Blankley.  All right.  Thanks for both of you for coming on.  All right.  Tony, I think that Bill Clinton is being smeared.  You want to talk about some of the comments he‘s made and was it smart or was not, fine.  But, the notion that somehow he‘s hurting the campaign and all this business seems to me to be the media saying, he‘s hurting the campaign.

TONY BLANKLEY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  I think and I‘ve been saying for weeks and writing everywhere I can, that I think he‘s helping the campaign. 

That it is a coordinated message.  That they have try to polarize the

election on the basis of race, that I think he‘s succeeding -

ABRAMS:  So, do you think the Jesse Jackson comment was intentional to race bait?

BLANKLEY:  I think it goes all the way back to the New Hampshire chairman where she hammers, what‘s his name when he talked about cocaine dealing which is a crude racial stereotype.  He was then, fired nominally and I think it‘s all been a part of a communication matrix and I think that‘s going to win her the primary nomination.

ABRAMS:  But, see, Margie, the problem is that Bill Clinton and all the comments getting him in trouble are not comments he‘s making makes in speeches.  These are comments when, you heard him there, in the one about Jesse Jackson, he says, all right, you‘re trying to bait me.  Then he makes a comment that look, in retrospect, he should have known better.  But the notion that this is again, this racist Bill Clinton or Bill Clinton made a racist comment, making a comment about Obama‘s campaign being a fairy tale when he never said anything like that.  It seems to me to be part of this Bill Clinton smear machine that‘s going on.

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  I think in some ways, you‘re

right, Dan.  I mean, Bill Clinton has been engaging in this sort of heated

talk.  Well, Republicans have been bashing each other for awhile and that‘s

nearly as much press.  So, I agree with you that because Clinton is a

former president, he generates all the spotlight.  But he‘s allowed to

campaign and be a surrogate for his wife and -

ABRAMS:  But Margie, now, Ted Kennedy is going out and being very aggressive against Hillary Clinton.  This idea that I think people want to view that you know, that the politics ought to be civil and this and that.  Look, bottom line is, in this general election, no matter, who‘s supporting, it‘s going to get ugly.  I mean, that‘s a fact.

OMERO:  I agree there‘s going to be heated debate.  And I think the Democratic Party is going to be fine.  The exit polls in Florida show that Democrats are satisfied regardless of who the nominee is, regardless who they voted for themselves.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s Bill Clinton.  This is what I think really sometimes gets - and everyone puts this stuff on the air the minute it happens.  We‘re doing the separate point.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON:  They‘re feeding you this because they know it‘s what you want.  This is what you live for.  But there‘s first, this is for the people of South Carolina.  One more story, shame on you.  Shame on you.  There are indisputable facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Tony, whether it helps or hurts.  It seems to me clear that I‘m not going to say the media is out to get the Clinton‘s but they‘re either out to get or they‘re tired of the story or Bill just provides some much patter, et cetera.  But is disproportionate.

BLANKLEY:  Well, look, the media is always disproportionate.  I mean, one day for one person, one day for another.  Right now, Clinton is putting on a tremendous show, everybody is watching and the media is talking about it.  Are they overemphasizing it?  You can argue that.  They were overemphasizing that Hillary was inevitable back in September and October, they were wrong then, I don‘t think they are wrong now as far as the substance of it but look I was Newt Gingrich‘s press secretary.  I spent seven years doing what the Clintons in the 90s and experienced how extraordinarily able he is in this kind of give and take.  I don‘t believe these moments are spontaneous.  I believe that he knows exactly what he‘s doing.

ABRAMS:  I‘m not sure about that.  But Margie, I mean, from the Democrats perspective, should Democrats want - put aside, I guess you can‘t put aside who you‘re for, but is it good for the party to effectively muzzle Bill Clinton?

OMERO:  Well, first of all, I checked the muzzling word.  I think he‘s still out there and he‘s talking, he‘s not just engaging in a sort of heated back and forth that‘s getting this kind of particular type of coverage.  So, I think that‘s different from being muzzled.  First of all.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know.

OMERO:  Second of all, I mean, if he disappeared for a couple weeks and (INAUDIBLE), but he‘s still out there.  Second of all, I think it‘s really unavoidable to have an exchange, to have a debate I guess testy. 

And I think it‘s fair game for Clinton for the voters to reject it -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I just think that they have it out for the Clintons, I‘ve said it before in the last segment for a variety of reasons and I think in the end it‘s unfair.  Look, the fact checks we do on this program, sometimes I call Bill Clinton out for making statements that are not fair or are not accurate.  And I will continue to do so, I‘m just saying let him you know, let him go at it, all right?  Anyway, Margie Omero and Tony Blankley, thanks a lot.

OMERO:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: We‘re On Their Trail: Tracking the latest and worst of the campaign misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  Obama and Clinton going at it.  We‘ve fact checked their accusations.  We gave Obama the backhand last time.  And this infamous photo, Obama camp changing its story about what happened.

And we know FOX News reports Right, but when they try to claim John F.

Kennedy as their own?  Really?  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.  First up: Call me a conspiracy theorist, but is it coincidence that when the folks at FOX talk about a Democratic presidential icon like John F. Kennedy, they try to link him to the Republican Party?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIE MALE HOST:  The former first daughter says Obama offers the same uplifting message of hope and change that JFK brought to the White House in 1990.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  1990.  The year Republican president, George H. W. Bush was in office.  I‘m just saying.

Next up: The View co-host, Sherri Shepherd said she voted for the first time in her life yesterday after pleading with officials over the phone to let her fax an absentee ballot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRI SHEPHERD, CO-HOST:  I said you don‘t understand, I‘m one of the new co-hosts on The View and if I don‘t vote, I can‘t complain for a year.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST:  If you didn‘t get it and you couldn‘t complain for four years.

SHEPHERD:  Oh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We may have to start devoting an entire segment to Sherri.  Keeping in mind the expertise when the best political team on television that CNN brags about their stories being discussed on other programs or news outlets, you would think they would take pride in the “New York Times”, “The New Republic”, “The National Review” or not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, TV HOST:  Our story from a couple nights ago is getting a big reaction from blogs and certain set of ladies on The View.

Whoopi Goldberg even joined in The View.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER:  Even The View‘s co-host slammed our story.

COOPER:  Apparently angered Whoopi Goldberg there.  Pissed her off.  We‘ve got a lot of the email after Whoopi Goldberg talks about it on The View and we hope Whoopi Goldberg and others are watching and hope they continue to discuss it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The View watched our story.  The View watched our story.  The best political team on television.  Please.

We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right or wrong, amusing or absurd, go to our Web site: Abrams.msnbc.com and please leave a tip in the box.

Up next: We‘re On Their Trail: Tracking the latest and worst of the campaign misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  Today, Obama made  a series of big accusations against Clinton, she fired back.  We‘ll tell you who is right and wrong.

And later: An old video has been unearthed of Heath Ledger at a party talking about his illegal drug use.  Now, it‘s been aired on some entertainment shows, Ledger‘s friends and family are rightly outraged.  Isn‘t this stomping on his grave?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS: Coming up, some in the media are dragging Heath Ledger now through the mud after his death.  Some entertainment shows playing a video of Ledger at a party where he‘s talking about doing drugs years ago.  Isn‘t this trampling on his grave?  

And actor Sean Young on the way to rehab after being thrown out of a major awards show.  That‘s in tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”  Plus, our new segment “Reality Bites,” the sometimes painful dose of reality caught on tape like this car caught in the train tracks.  Believe it or not, the guy is okay. 

First, as always, we‘re “On Their Trail,” digging up the presidential candidates‘ misstatements, blunders and cheap shots on the road to the White House.  Tonight, what‘s probably he biggest red meat statement for “On Their Trail” that we‘ve seen so far, one long sentence with four attacks uttered by Sen. Obama today in Colorado.  It‘s infuriated the Clinton campaign that they fired off this press release before he even gave his speech.  Attempting to debunk Obama‘s claims, we‘re going to break them down the accusations one by one and tell you who‘s right and wrong. 

Here to help separate fact from fiction, MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow.  She‘s also a host for Air America Radio.  And political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell.  OK.  Let‘s listen to Sen. Obama‘s statement today in its entirety.  The Clinton campaign says it contains four misleading attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The way to win a debate with John McCain or any Republican who‘s nominated is not by having the Democrats nominate someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; who agreed with him in voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; who agreed with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don‘t like; who actually differed with John McCain by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch.  Let‘s address Sen. Obama‘s claims one at a time.  Number five.  You just heard it.  Obama going after Clinton after her Iraq war vote saying, quote, “The way to win a debate with John McCain is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq.”

On this one, I‘d say Obama is playing fair.  Clinton did vote for the war in Iraq while Obama opposed it at the beginning.  Now, in their attempt to debunk Obama‘s claim, the Clinton campaign is guilty of twisting his statement saying, quote, “With the exception of Hillary‘s opposition to the promotion of Iraq War architect, Gen. George Casey, Sen. Obama and Hillary have identical voting records on the Iraq war.  Sure.  Identical in the senate, true.  But do you have to get some credit for speaking out against the war before it happened?  Do you agree, Rachel Maddow?

MADDOW:  I do agree, actually.  I think that it is important to people who are war voters, people whom the war is the most important issue - I consider myself in that camp.  It matters that he has voted to continue funding the war.  He hasn‘t taken a leadership role in trying to end it the way some other Democrat senators have.  But, he wasn‘t in the senate in 2002.  He couldn‘t have cast that vote, but he says, if he had been in the senate then, he would have cast (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  But, Lawrence, he‘s got to be able to take some credit for his speech in 2002, right?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  Sure, he does.  He‘s on the record very clearly at the time about how he thought about it.  And Dan, listen.  Last week, we did rule against Hillary on a lot of these things and I‘d love to shift the balance tonight if we can, but on this one, I‘m with Obama. 

ABRAMS:  We all are. So we‘re all in unison then on that one goes to Obama.  Number four, Obama linking Hillary to McCain and then President Bush on Iran. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Who agreed with him in voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  I think this is a clear misstatement on Obama‘s part.  Clinton did side with President Bush in voting to label Iran‘s revolutionary guard a terrorist organization, but she did not agree to give the president the benefit of the doubt on Iran.  In fact, she actually argued on the House floor he has to get authorization from congress before taking any military action against Iran.  What do you make of that one, Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  I guess I‘m leaning your way now, Dan, having heard your

case.  I‘ve got to say, Hillary alone, among Democrats running for

president, cast that vote with President Bush regarding Iran.  And Joe

Biden was very strong about pointing out why he thought that was a bad vote

as well as the rest of them.  So she is separate from Obama on this -

ABRAMS:  She is.

O‘DONNELL:  But I think the way he phrased it -

ABRAMS:  Exactly.

O‘DONNELL:  Is going to put me on your side on this one. 

ABRAMS:  And saying giving President Bush the benefit of the doubt?  I mean that‘s not what the vote was about. 

MADDOW:  I think that‘s a fair way to characterize it. 

ABRAMS:  Really?

MADDOW:  I would call this one a draw and I‘ll tell you why.  I think that was an outrageous vote by Hillary Clinton in terms of what we‘ve seen in Iraq and how it translates to what we‘re seeing in Iran right now.  But, Barack Obama voted - didn‘t miss that vote, so he can‘t call Hillary Clinton out on having voted for it when he didn‘t show up to vote no on it. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MADDOW:  That‘s the only reason I call it a draw.  But I don‘t quibble with his characterization.  No.

ABRAMS:  Oh, I think mischaracterization.  Number three.  Obama attacks Clinton‘s approach to diplomacy, again, comparing her to McCain and Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don‘t like. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on.  Big misstatement by Obama on this one.  Sen.  Clinton never said anything like that.  This is Obama trying to turn his own blunder into a negative for Clinton.  Remember, Obama promised that in his first year, he‘d meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea without any preconditions.  Clinton called that naive and simply said she wouldn‘t make the same promise.  She never said she wouldn‘t meet with those leaders. 

MADDOW:  I give this one to Obama, actually.  I think that Clinton tried to turn that to her advantage.  She thought it was a big blunder. 

But the fact is that Obama now cites that.  And every time he gives his

stump speech, he‘s turned it to his advantage with the Democratic base

voters by saying, you can‘t be afraid to meet with these guys.  You don‘t

need to hold it out as a reward for the -

ABRAMS:  But he‘s mischaracterizing what she said.  I mean, that‘s the

point.  Lawrence, he is mischaracterizing what Clinton has said about

meeting with world leaders.  I mean this is his blunder, that he‘s trying

to now -

MADDOW:  He‘s saying he would meet without preconditions.  And she‘s saying she would not meet without preconditions.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  With all the leaders of the enemies - quote, end quote, “enemies” of the United States. 

MADDOW:  No. 

ABRAMS:  And the bottom line is that the way Obama characterized it there is suggesting that she‘s now adopting the Bush-Cheney policy.  I mean it‘s nonsense.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you‘re right, Dan.  I mean he is over simplifying it which is considered generally fair in politics.  I‘m kind of with both of you.  I‘m on the fence on this one. 

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, you‘re such a wimp. 

(CROSS TALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Obama doesn‘t make it easy.  Obama makes this very difficult.  His language is very careful.  He‘s designing it to confuse me, Dan, and he‘s succeeding at it.  But I‘m leaning in your direction on that one, too, Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Number two, Sen. Obama says McCain was right in opposing any form of torture while Hillary flip-flopped. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Who actually differed with John McCain by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  On this one, I‘ve got to tell you - yes, I think it‘s a very fair attack by Obama.  Clinton did apparently change her position on this exception.  She claims the change came after meeting with various military officials in reading defense reports.  But that doesn‘t immunize you from being accused of being a flip-flopper.  I mean, that‘s politics. 

MADDOW:  This, for me, Dan, is one of those perfect things where it‘s like, “Oh, right.  This is why we don‘t elect senators.  It looks like we‘re going to probably elect a senator on the Democratic side.  It‘s because what you‘re arguing for versus what you vote for, whether it‘s the amendment or the final vote and have a signing statement when it finally got passed.  It‘s so hard to find a single position in the middle of all that legislative process. 

ABRAMS:  But I don‘t know.  Lawrence, I think this is one of the ones where Obama - this is pure, fair politics to me.  He‘s calling her out for changing her position.

O‘DONNELL:  It is fair politics, but I agree with Rachel.  Having worked in the senate, I‘ve watched senators work their way to their final position and they kind of sample different ideas along the way.  I have great sympathy for the way Hillary worked her way through that.  But Obama‘s got the shot and he‘s taking it in a pretty fair way. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So that‘s where we are right now, at least on my score card.  Sounds like Rachel might be three for Obama, one for Clinton.  And Lawrence is like four for each side. 

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t know what I am.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Finally, number one.  Sen. Obama caught by a photographer at the State of the Union address seemingly snubbing Clinton.  On this one, Obama‘s campaign has changed his account.  Here‘s how Obama explained it to reporters yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  There was a photograph at the time, sort of me turning away.  I was turning away because Claire asked me a question as Sen. Kennedy was reaching forward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But, this is what Obama‘s top campaign strategist said about it the same day on “Morning Joe.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA‘S TOP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST:  And I don‘t think he wanted to stand there while Sen. Kennedy was greeting Sen. Clinton.  And I think that was an appropriate sentiment.  I think it‘s understandable that he would not want to stand there with Sen. Kennedy as if he were lording it over her. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Look, this is definitely a gotcha game here.  But it‘s certainly a flip-flop.  Even if the picture tells no words, this is politics.  It ends up being a blunder for the Obama campaign.  Lawrence? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, look, as I said last night on MSNBC, I worked in the senate.  I saw senators do this all the time.  They get very tense with each other for days at a time, sometimes longer than that.  Then they‘re buddies again.  I don‘t think anything of it.  I can‘t believe there‘s a voter out there who‘s going to make up his or her mind on the basis of this picture.  I hope not. 

ABRAMS:  No.  Here‘s what Hillary Clinton said about it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, JOURNALIST:  Do you feel that you were snubbed last night? 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, Chris, I reached out my hand in friendship and unity and my hand is still reaching out.  I look forward to shaking his hand when I see him at the debate in California. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I called it a blunder by the Obama - I mean that one makes you want to like - oh, come on. 

MADDOW:  I reached out my hand -

ABRAMS:  Hand in unity -

MADDOW:  That was obnoxious. 

ABRAMS:  Come on. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t care if Barack Obama was like giving another senator the Heimlich maneuver at that point.  Like this is a fill photo.  It‘s much ado about nothing.  Democrats do not hate each other as much as we want to make the story up. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  But I still this one - you know, honestly, I gave this to Clinton on my score card because of the blunder. 

MADDOW:  But then you saw the comments -

ABRAMS:  I just saw that last comment and makes me want to take away that last one.  So I‘m going to call this one a draw between Clinton and Obama.  And Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O‘Donnell, thanks a lot.  I appreciate it.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Dan. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Up next, it‘s a disgrace.  Some in the media piling on Heath Ledger after his death, purchasing old video where the actor talked about how he used illegal drugs and they played it.  And later, speaking of disgraces, the once popular and also married mayor of Detroit in a fight for political life tonight after racy text messages to his former chief of staff who revealed.  Shocker, he‘s made the list of the big losers of the night.  Coming up.

And our new segment, “Reality Bites,” the sometimes painful dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, a Chicago man showed why drinking and driving not a good mix.  He barely escaped death after a making a wrong turn on the railroad tracks.  A Good Samaritan pulled the man to safety seconds before two trains going in opposite directions crashed into his minivan sending it back and forth across the tracks in a ball of flame.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know actor Heath Ledger was named after the main character in Emily Bronte‘s famous novel, “Wuthering Heights.”  Coming up, a video tape has just been played on some of the entertainment shows of the actor talking about his illegal drug use at a party, years before his death.  What does that have to do with anything?  It‘s a disgrace.   Coming up. 

               

ABRAMS:  We‘ve got some breaking news tonight in the Heath Ledger case.  Two entertainment shows have aired portions of a video of the actor at a party two years ago, talking about his daughter and his heavy drug use, quote, “I‘m going to get so much (EXPLETIVE DELETED) from my girlfriend,” he says in the video.  “We have a baby together, Matilda - Matilda Rose.  I shouldn‘t be here at all.  I used to smoke five joints a day for 20 years.”

After a PR firm representing the late actor condemned it, “Entertainment Tonight” has now agreed to pull the video from tomorrow‘s scheduled broadcast.  In a statement just released tonight, ID Public Relations called the story, quote, “Extremely distasteful.  The two outlets did not even have the courtesy to wait until after his burial to broadcast the segment.  This is not journalism.  It is sensationalism.  It is a shameful exploitation of the lowest kind.”

They are right.  I think the media now is pouring through every detail of his life, “Us Weekly” reporting that Ledger was, quote, “losing a battle with alcohol and drugs including cocaine, heroin and a variety of pills.”

And reporting in 2006, former girlfriend Michelle Williams drove Ledger to substance abuse treatment center premises in Malibu, but he refused to walk in.  Look, his drug problem could be relevant in assessing why he had any drugs in his home. 

But a video of him partying in a room with drugs in it?  Totally gratuitous.  Some of the media also now unfairly taking aim at actress Mary-Kate Olsen, who received the first phone call for the masseuse who found Ledger unresponsive in his bedroom.  The suggestion - that somehow Mary Kate, who was in Beverly Hills at the time and immediately sent over her bodyguards, should somehow bear some blame for his death. 

               

Joining me now from Los Angeles, entertainment reporter Shira Lazar;

Ben Widdecombe who writes the great “Gatecrasher” column for the “New York Daily News”; and MSNBC media analyst Steve Adubato.  All right.  Thanks to all of you for coming on the program.  I appreciate it. 

All right.  Steve, let me ask you as a media analyst of this report about the video of the drug discussion and now the decision by the two shows not to re-air it. 

STEVE ADUBATO, MEDIA ANALYST:  Disgraceful.  Gratuitous.  There‘s no place for it.  Heath Ledger is not even buried.  The family is grieving.  They have to two-year-old child.  First day of sweeps. 

Here‘s the question, do you have no shame?  Is there no line any longer, Dan, for shows like these.  Of course we‘re in the ratings game.  Of course, if you have a video, you want to run it.  What difference would it have made if they waited for him to be buried, giving the family just a little bit of time to grieve?  My sense is the line is not only blurred, it‘s gone.  It‘s disgraceful and I am so glad that the pressure is being put on them so that “ET” and the “Insider” have not decided not to run the video.  Because if the pressure hadn‘t been put there, Dan, you know it would have run over and over and over again. 

ABRAMS:  Ben, are you surprised they caved on this?

BEN WIDDECOMBE, COLUMNIST, “THE GATECRASHER”:  I‘m a little surprised because I think that journalists have to be like investigators when someone like Heath dies.  And it‘s a piece of the puzzle.  If he was using drugs, if he has a reputation for that, if a video - if people in Hollywood knew he was taking drugs, then that is relevant. 

ABRAMS:  But your own reporting would belie that, right?

WIDDECOMBE:  Well, in the gossip community, among entertainment reporters, it certainly was discussed for years before his death.  Did he have a heroin problem?  Did he have a cocaine problem?  My own information as recently as December ‘07 was that he was sober.  That he didn‘t have a drink ever, that he didn‘t drink when he went out to bars.  And I certainly knew that he was known to freak out if drugs were in the room.  He didn‘t like being around drugs at all.

ABRAMS:  And Shira, let‘s assume for a moment that Ben‘s right on there.  That makes airing this video, I think, even more disturbing. 

SHIRA LAZAR, ENTERTAINMENT:  It‘s totally irrelevant.  It‘s totally irrelevant.  Right now, we‘re waiting until the toxicology reports come out.  And until then, the fact is, the problem with this whole machine - the entertainment news machine is we‘re always going to look for the scoop.  And “Entertainment Tonight” and the “Insider” got the scoop and that‘s why they wanted to air this.  And I was actually surprised an hour ago, when I got that E-mail from ID PR.  I thought, hey, they paid $200,000 for the footage.  I wondered if they were going to pull it, knowing they put that money in.  And I was surprised.  I give them total kudos for doing that because they were getting a lot of pressure and the fact is they did what was right. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But I wonder - Steve, real quick - if they did it because it was right or they did it because they know it‘s a powerful PR firm and they‘re not going to give them any more of their clients anymore. 

ADUBATO:  I think it‘s the latter, Dan, because they did not want to be shut out by that firm.  I would want to believe it was because it was the right thing to do.  I‘m not convinced by them.  By the way, just let the judicial process play out.  Once in awhile, do we have to beat it - and the media have to beat the process every time?

ABRAMS:  But look.  I have no problem.  I think Ben right in this.  I have no problem with the media discussing issues related to this investigation of how he died.  That is the business.  I mean I‘m not going to get so preachy that I‘m going to say, “Oh, you know, we shouldn‘t even be talking about it.”  But there‘s a line, and to me, the line is crossed, playing an old tape where he‘s talking about drugs. 

Let me ask you on this other issue though, Ben, about the Mary-Kate Olsen thing.  She‘s somehow becoming this villainess, totally unfair in my view. 

WIDDECOMBE:  Well, Mary-Kate certainly - No one thinks she had anything to do with the death.  No one thinks she was involved.

ABRAMS:  She‘s in Beverly Hills when she gets a phone call. 

WIDDECOMBE:  But listen, journalists, police investigators.  They have to be cynics.  They have to ask questions.  Why was Mary-Kate called before 911?  And what did she say? 

ABRAMS:  Those are fair questions, but it‘s not her fault that she was called first. 

ADUBATO:  That‘s right.

WIDDECOMBE:  The regular question that any investigator would ask, any journalist, any police investigator would say what did she say to the security team?  Did she say, “Listen if there‘s anything that shouldn‘t be there in the room is there, then why don‘t you take care of it.”  That‘s a fair enough question to ask.

ABRAMS:  But Shira, even if she did - I mean, even if she got the call in Beverly Hills, she says, you know what?  As far as we know, he‘s not moving.  I want to try to help him.  I‘m going to send people over there as quickly as I can.  Somehow, she‘s now morally obligated to have known in 20/20 hindsight that the first thing should have happened in the seven minutes was that 911 should have been called. 

LAZAR:  That‘s the problem, I think, in this case.  Assuming this, I think she probably was like don‘t call the police, we don‘t want to make a big deal if we don‘t know what‘s really going on here.  Then once the body guard came and they saw he was dead, I think that at that point, they realized they needed to call 911 and that‘s what‘s for real. 

(CROSS TALK) 

ABRAMS:  Ben, I‘ve got to wrap it up.  Whatever happened there, the masseuse figured out they had to call 911 which seems to be the case.  Bottom line is I think she‘s totally unfairly slammed.  Look, I don‘t care about Mary-Kate Olsen.  I‘m just saying that I think this is like piling it on here.  All right.  Ben Widdecombe, Shira Lazar, Steve Adubato, thanks a lot.

Up next, will tonight‘s big loser of the day be the married Detroit mayor, who came out today saying he‘s ashamed after sexy text messages were found that he sent to his chief of staff;  Actor Sean Young shamed after an embarrassing outburst at a big Hollywood awards show; or former GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani whose campaign should be ashamed of their meteoric fall leading the former mayor to step out of the race today.  And your E-mails are coming up.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 30th day of January, 2008. 

Our bronze loser, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who emerged alongside his wife tonight after a weekend seclusion after racy text messages to his former chief of staff were revealed.  The mayor says he‘s sorry, but will not resign.  He could still face perjury charges after reportedly denying he was not involved with the staffer under oath last year.  The popular politician, once labeled the hip hop mayor, now fighting for his political life.

Our silver loser, Actor Sean Young, the talk of tinsel town after being thrown out of an awards ceremony last weekend for heckling, among others, director Julian Schnabel, telling him to hurry up his speech. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN SCHNABEL, DIRECTOR:  Who said that to me?

SEAN YOUNG, ACTRESS:  Come on, get to it.

SCHNABEL:  Have another cocktail.  Anyway, thank you very much.  I want to thanks the DGA and why don‘t you finish my speech, darling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Today we learned that the “Blade Runner” star checked herself into rehab. 

But the big loser of the day got to be Rudy Giuliani.  He went from Republican frontrunner up by double digits over his closest rival just two months ago who also ran.  He stepped out of the race today completing one of the biggest free falls in American political history. 

Our big winner of the day?  John Edwards who also dropped out today, but really leaves a winner.  Unlike Giuliani, he was never expected to win and is now being heavily wooed by both the Clinton and Obama campaigns.  The former senator still has a wide following and some say could even sway the race with his endorsement. 

Time for our new E-mail segment, your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show. 

First up, M.L. Hartsell, of North Carolina writes, “Are you getting paid for bias of so-called reporting?  Anything about Hillary.  If there is anything, is couched in the negative or with a negative question.”  M.L., did you catch the top of the show tonight, when I defended Hillary against what I see as the media‘s downplaying of her lead in the Democratic race.  Maybe that doesn‘t fit into your preconceived theory. 

Jerry Keyack from Tucson, Arizona, “Kudos to your recent comments regarding John Gibson‘s distasteful attempt at “humor” following the death of Heath Ledger.  What is going on with Fox News?” 

Jerry, do I really need to answer that?  I mean  I have to admit, I wasn‘t surprised at the reaction.  Sad, but not surprised. 

Finally, Jesse Villarreal, “I admire you of all the broadcasters. 

You hit Gibson the hardest.”

Look, he deserved it here.  I like Gibson as a person, but when he crossed this sort of line, I‘m not going to let it go unnoticed.

Received an e-mail from an enormous number of people on that issue, and all of them supporting what I said on the program.  So thank you for all your E-mails and as always, we‘re going to be watching. 

We‘re still taking ideas about what we‘re going to call this E-mail segment, by the way.  So send them in at Abrams@msnbc.com.  And we‘re looking for the best ones.  We‘re going to pick the name in the next week. 

That‘s all the time for tonight.  Stay tuned for a special edition of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  See you tomorrow.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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