updated 2/15/2008 11:58:07 AM ET 2008-02-15T16:58:07

Guests: Roy Sekoff, Joshua Green, A.B. Stoddard, Carrie Frillman, Pat Brown, Mike Digiannantonio

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: The inside D.C. media‘s disdain for Hillary Clinton moves from harping on Obama‘s momentum.  They‘re now writing Clinton‘s political obituary.  She may be in trouble but they are missing some new and strong signs that Clinton is far from out of this race.

And on the other side: The media tends to love John McCain.  But the straight talk express gets derailed again with more flip-flopping.  Today on torture add that the flips on taxes, flops on gay marriage and immigration and you have the double talk express.

Plus: We‘re On Their Trail.  Obama v. Clinton: as the ratchet up the attacks, we assess this week‘s biggest misstatements and cheap shots in the Democratic race.

But first: It is happening again.  Many in the inside D.C. media literally counting Hillary Clinton‘s campaign out tonight.  “Time” magazine is asking: Is it too late for Hillary?  “The New York Post” saying, Clinton‘s, quote, “Giuliani game plan will kill Hill”, unquote.  Doomsday reports are everywhere even though Hillary Clinton got good news today.  Officials in New Mexico finally counted all the votes from their Super Tuesday caucus and declared Clinton the winner by a narrow margin.  The delegate battle is still very close.  NBC News is estimating: Barack Obama with a 131 pledged delegate lead.  Then, there are the superdelegates.  Hillary Clinton has 79 more of those currently pledged to her, putting Obama up by just 52 delegates.  There still more than a dozen primaries and caucuses to go.

Now, last night, I laid out why the political landscape is daunting for Clinton.  She has to win big in the key states.  But why is it that the inside D.C. media is only counting out Mike Huckabee now when he‘s been trailing by insurmountable amounts for weeks?  It‘s a double standard for Hillary Clinton.  Why?  Because as I‘ve said for weeks, the D.C. media does not like Hillary Clinton or the Clinton story.  Let me be clear: She‘s the underdog now.

But tonight: We lay out the key reasons why the media is counting Senator Clinton too soon.  Joining me now, Roy Sekoff, national editor of “The Huffington Post”; Joshua Green, senior editor of “The Atlantic”, who‘s written extensively about the Clinton campaign; and political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell.  All right.

First and maybe most important new polls out today, show Clinton is looking strong in the delegate rich states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Both are in the top 10 states when it comes to delegates.  A new poll shows she‘s holding a 21-point lead in Ohio with its 141 delegates.  And in Pennsylvania with 158 delegates at stake, Clinton has a 16-oint lead over Obama.  She‘s up in both the states even though she‘s had little presence in either battleground.  And yet, many in the inside D.C. media are only focusing on what happens if she loses those states.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, fair point?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Pennsylvania is more than two months away, Dan.  March 4th is a long time of on this campaign now for Ohio, and Texas, obviously, those numbers are going to close.  I mean, I find the polls to be not very helpful unless they‘re taken very close, say, to the Potomac primaries and they showed big margins.  Those turnout to be reasonably accurate, but the polls taken at this distance don‘t help.

ABRAMS:  All right, fine.  Roy, if we‘re just going to put the polls aside, all right?  Then, you have to say, this is a very, very close race right now and the media is counting out Hillary Clinton.

ROY SEKOFF, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  Dan, Dan, I know you‘re going to be shocked to hear this but it‘s exactly the opposite.  The storyline is exactly the opposite of your premise.  As a matter of fact, NBC‘s own political director, Chuck Todd said this that if the shoe was on the other foot, just imagine for a second if Hillary was the one who‘s ahead in delegates and ahead on the popular votes, had just won eight primaries in the row, Obama would be done.

ABRAMS:  Oh, right.

(CROSSTALK)

SEKOFF:  And the reporters would be asking him, they‘d be wondering

why isn‘t he getting out of the race -

ABRAMS:  Roy, people like you love Barack Obama so much that you‘re

incapable of doing objective analysis and as a result -

SEKOFF:  Does Chuck Todd love her like I do?

ABRAMS:  No, no.  I‘m making a point, even assuming that what Chuck Todd is saying, put the shoe on the other foot.  I‘m saying to you that he‘s wrong in the sense that people like you would be saying, oh, wait, Obama could make a comeback.  Obama could make a comeback.  I don‘t agree.  I mean, the bottom line is, people like you and many inside the D.C. media, wherever people live, have become obsessed with Barack Obama to a point where they‘re incapable of objectively assessing the facts.  And let me bring in Josh here.  The fact that there are these new polls out still showing that Hillary Clinton is doing well in some of the key states, she‘s won New Mexico tonight and the storyline still: What if she loses?  Josh.

JOSHUA GREEN, THE ATLANTIC:  Well, part of the problem with winning New Mexico tonight, she didn‘t win New Mexico tonight.  She won New Mexico back in February 5th.  She‘d won by a hair.  And she‘s lost eight races in a row since then.  So, the idea that that‘s going to provide any kind of momentum to slow down Obama, I think is a bit far fetched.

ABRAMS:  But again, it‘s this momentum idea that I think that the media spends way too much time focusing on.  It‘s the momentum, the momentum.  The bottom line is that many in the inside D.C. media have effectively written Hillary Clinton off.  They‘re all doing stories about what a disaster her campaign has been, all the mistakes that they‘ve made.  I mean, there‘s no question that there have been mistakes that have been made.  Go ahead, Josh.

GREEN:  Let me step up from my inside D.C. media branding here.  I don‘t think anyone here is writing off Hillary Clinton.  She‘s leading in polls in important states, but, when you look at the math, when you look at the problems Hillary Clinton has not just with the Barack Obama campaign but within her own campaign.  She fired her campaign manager, her deputy campaign manager left.  Her top advisors who are still remaining are squabbling on the front page of the “Wall Street Journal”, this is not a happy campaign where everyone‘s pointed in the same direction, focus on winning.  There‘s a lot that Hillary‘s got to overcome, more than just the D.C. media.

ABRAMS:  Right.  Well, look, the point I made at the beginning of this is she‘s still the underdog, but, but, no one is highlighting the fact that it‘s been a pretty good day from a, quote, “media perspective”.  When she gets polls that look good, she gets a win in New Mexico, and yet the entire storyline is: What if she loses?  What if she loses Texas, is she out?  What if she loses Ohio, is she out?  What if she loses Pennsylvania?  What if she wins big in those states?  No one is talking about the possibility that she could win big in those states.

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t think there is.  I don‘t think there‘s a realistic

possibility that she can win big in those states.  I think -

ABRAMS:  She‘s up.  Look at the polls.  Wait a sec, Lawrence -

O‘DONNELL:  Those are going to close.  Obama has not run his TV ads in

Pennsylvania.  Those polls are going to close.  Let‘s say -

ABRAMS:  Your guess is that they are going to close, you maybe right.

O‘DONNELL:  They will.  There‘s no question.

ABRAMS:  Why isn‘t there‘s no question?  They were just taken.

O‘DONNELL:  Because, Dan, they haven‘t campaigned there.  They haven‘t run their TV ads there.  Obama has more money.  He‘s going to close the gap.

ABRAMS:  But that‘s a presumption, Lawrence, that if they both get there, the presumption is Obama will definitely gain and that‘s a media created situation as well as the reality.  Go ahead, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  No, but let‘s say she wins all three.  I think it‘s possible for her to win all three.  I also think it‘s possible she doesn‘t.  She wins two maybe.  I have been looking at this race as fundamentally a tie for awhile.  And neither one of them can be counted off.  I mean, Hillary by the way, is not going to drop out if she loses all three because Obama cannot get to 2,025 before the convention and she‘s going to stay with this.

ABRAMS:  The second reason the media maybe counting out Hillary Clinton too early.  Her campaign is retooling their ground game this after they admit it.  Barack Obama (inaudible) states across the country where Obama ruled the big wins.  Clinton‘s field director saying, quote, “We are recommitting and redoubling our efforts to have the most effective and largest grass-roots effort in the states going forward.”  The Clintons, look, they‘ve been in tough elections before - there have been problems in this campaign, Josh, no question about it, but the fact they recognize they‘ve had those problems and trying to solve it, could that make a difference?

GREEN:  I mean, you‘d hope they‘d recognize it and try to solve it

after losing eight in a row.  But the problem is, the strategy for this

campaign and a lot of the people in place were flawed from the outset.  The

idea that she could run a campaign and the Democratic Party which has crown

her the nominee, you know, was not a winning strategy.  And given an

alternative to vote for people like Obama, the fundamental premise if her

campaign broke down and not until last Sunday when she fired her campaign

manager did she really sort of lay the groundwork to begin the kind of turn

that around.  But as Lawrence has said, there really isn‘t not enough time

left for her to win the majority of the delegates or to win enough

delegates since the nomination, so -

ABRAMS:  Well, that brings up our -

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Obama can‘t win those delegates either.

ABRAMS:  That‘s right.  Neither of them will likely win enough delegates, absent the superdelegates, right?

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s right.

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  It‘s jumping from Clinton to Obama.

ABRAMS:  All right, let‘s get to this final issue.  The final issue where Hillary Clinton may have an advantage, still has the inside D.C.  media ignoring it to some degree—the superdelegates.  I‘ve been blasting this undemocratic system for weeks, where party insiders have the equivalent power of about 9,500 votes.  But until the rules change, Clinton has an advantage here.  Right now, she‘s leading by almost 80 superdelegates, moving forward, Hillary and husband, Bill have been run a long time.  They‘ve got deeper, the connections with the establishments, maybe some political debts to collect.  Roy, I guess your argument, maybe a good is that they‘ve probably collected all those debts?

SEKOFF:  Well, yes, of course.  But the other thing, Dan, is that with the superdelegates, as Donna Brazile said, they don‘t want this job.  They don‘t want to circumvent the will of the people. So, if Obama is ahead, as he is right now in the delegate and in the popular vote count, that even includes Florida and Michigan, when he wasn‘t even on the ballot.  With all those things together, they aren‘t going to go against that.  So, I don‘t think this is going to be the problem that people are saying it is.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but Lawrence, if it‘s close enough going into the convention, you‘re going to see a fight among the superdelegates.

O‘DONNELL:  Absolutely and I don‘t believe the Clinton campaign will drop out of this thing until Barack Obama has 2,025 locked-in delegates, not superdelegates.  She will stay with this all the way to the convention, even if he wins every one of these primaries that‘s left.  I don‘t think that‘s - but she‘s going to hang in there.

ABRAMS:  Josh, the final issue and this is the bonus reason that maybe Hillary has been counted too soon, the underdog factor.  I mean, Obama is up right now and the last time it looked dire for Clinton on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, when the polls showed her down an average of eight points, press is expecting another Obama win, well, we know what happened there.  She won, beating Obama 39 to 36.  And Josh, she‘s got the underdog status at this point.

GREEN:  Well, there‘s no question she has the underdog status at this point and if there‘s one thing we‘ve learned in this primary season is that you can never really count anyone out.  I mean, even poor Mike Huckabee is still around.  So, I think that‘s one reason people are being riveted, you know, between now and at least, March 5th.

ABRAMS:  But, Josh, isn‘t it odd that the press is just started counting Huckabee out and in my view, they are writing Hillary off at this point.  I mean, Huckabee‘s been out of this for weeks.

GREEN: Well, I don‘t agree with you that they‘re writing Hillary off.  I think, the press wants to keep both races running for as long as it possibly can.  It‘s great drama.  It‘s great excitement.  This is the most exciting political season I‘ve, you know, I‘ve ever lived through.  You know, I think reporters want this thing to keep going to the convention if they could.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but, Roy - yes, except the problem with people like Roy Sekoff, who fundamentally dislike the Clintons.  And want to see them gone and finished.  You get the final word, Roy.

SEKOFF:  Not at all.  I‘ve said, the Clintons just want to keep moving the goal post, remember?  It‘s going to be over after Nevada, and then, it‘s going to be, wait, she came back in New Hampshire, it‘s going to be after Nevada, and then, it‘s going to be over after Super Tuesday.  They keep moving the goal post and the media lets them.

ABRAMS:  They said it‘s going to be over after Super Tuesday recently. 

A long time ago they did.  Yes.

SEKOFF:  No, no, the Clinton‘s thought it was going to be they had no ground game in any state after February 5th.  That‘s how confident they were that it‘s going to be over after Super Tuesday.

O‘DONNELL:  Dan, your point about underdog is really important.  Hillary performs best as an underdog.  In New Hampshire, that final two days was her best performance in the campaign.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Good stuff, Roy Sekoff, Josh Green, thanks a lot, appreciate it.

Coming up next: Mitt Romney endorses John McCain today, a day after McCain seemingly flip-flops and votes against the ban on waterboarding.  So, it sounds like the double talk express.

And: We‘re On Their Trail: keeping track of the candidates‘ misstatements and cheap shots.  We look at Clinton v. Obama from this week.  They‘re now fighting an ad war.  We‘ll tell you which one of them is getting it wrong.

We read your e-mails: abrams@msnbc.com.  Tell us what we‘re doing wrong.  Be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I‘ll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know Republican Senator John McCain was asked as many as seven times by Democratic Senator John Kerry to be his running mate in 2004?

Coming up: The straight talk express flips again.  John McCain seemingly changing his position on torture but D.C. media has still loved the maverick from Arizona.  But can they really keep calling him the straight talker with the straight face?  It‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, FMR GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am honored today to give my full support to Senator McCain‘s candidacy for the presidency of the United States.  I‘m officially endorsing his candidacy.  And today, I‘m asking my delegates to vote for Senator McCain at the convention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney today, endorsing John McCain.  It‘s the latest effort by McCain to shore up his conservative credentials.  As I said before, the press likes to love McCain, love the image of the old-fashioned straight talker, the maverick from Arizona.  But the problem is that narrate overlooks a lot of McCain‘s good old fashioned double talk.  In fact, McCain has flipped on a range of key issues from immigration and taxes and abortion and gay marriage.  Yesterday, the double talk express was back at the Senate, voted to ban waterboarding and other harsh CIA interrogation methods.  Senator McCain voted against the bill, seemingly a total reversal about what he recently said about waterboarding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s clearly the definition of torture.  It‘s a violation of laws we have passed.  And again, I would hope that we understand, my friends, that life is not “24” and Jack Bauer.  Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and effective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But yesterday, when given a chance to ban the practice, McCain voted against the bill.  He may be a maverick, but how can the D.C.  media continue to talk about the straight talk express?

Joining me now, the great talker, Tucker Carlson, the host of the TUCKER program here on MSNBC.  All right, Tucker, first let me ask you, do you fundamentally agree with my premise that the D.C. media tends to love John McCain?

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST OF “TUCKER”:  That‘s undeniable.  Of course, yes. 

He gives them access.  He‘s witty, he‘s charming, he‘s got a great story. 

He‘s a good guy.  Yes, they like him a lot.

ABRAMS:  So, is it unfair?  Is it not doing a service to the public to say, you know what, he calls it the straight talk express but the truth is, he‘s flipping and flopping as much as anyone?

CARLSON:  Right.  Well, I don‘t think he‘s flipping and flopping as much as anyone, not everything he says is straight talk.  He‘s a politician trying to get elected as president.  So, he shades (ph) his position here and there.  He changes his mind sometimes.  Sometimes he flip-flops.  I would say, less than most politicians but I think if you‘re looking for a narrative to defeat John McCain and clearly, you‘re suggesting one, this isn‘t it yet for this reason.  No one will ever buy the notion that John McCain is a flip-flopper.  It doesn‘t conform with the narrative we‘d already know about John McCain.  The guy has been in public life for 35 years, he‘s out of prison 35 years ago.  And people know one thing about him that he‘s kind of a straight talker.  So, you‘ll never convince them otherwise despite any evidence at all.

ABRAMS:  Well, that‘s the point.  It‘s despite the evidence.  And

look, and you know, you can suggest all you want, I‘m going to set to a

segment later on the program about which one between Obama and Clinton are

misstating the facts and going for the cheap shots.  We‘re going to be

doing that for 10 minutes later on the program.  But to suggest that the

public won‘t listen to the evidence, because they‘re so convince, I guess

you‘re saying by the D.C. media that he‘s the straight talker.  I mean, you

look at for example his position on abortion.  Certainly, this is 1999,

August 24th.  Certainly, in the short term or even long term, I would not

support the repeal of Roe versus Wade.  And then he was asked about it on

ABC, he said this-

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I do believe that it‘s very likely or possible the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade which would then return its decisions to the states which I should know before that, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And that stuff doesn‘t matter?

CARLSTON:  Yes, so, he changed his position on Roe v. Wade.

ABRAMS:  But he doesn‘t admit it.

CARLSON:  I think that‘s right.  I think - well, who does?  But he hasn‘t changed his position on abortion.  He‘s been against legal abortion since he got in as a congressman in ‘82.  I mean, look, I‘m not saying the guy doesn‘t change his positions, I‘m not saying again, he doesn‘t flip-flop on some issues.  As someone who lives in D.C. and watches this stuff for a living, I would say, less than most.

ABRAMS:  But the difference is the standard should be higher for a guy who‘s bus is called the straight talk express.  Right?  I mean, shouldn‘t we be able to demand more from someone whose whole campaign is based on straight talk?

CARLSON:  Look, there are things wrong with John McCain, I think you can make a pretty good case that he‘s too avid in the support of various wars.  I mean, I think Democrats are going to call him a warmonger and they may get somewhere with that.  But you‘re not going to get anywhere telling people the guy is a flip-flopper because compared to most people he‘s not and B, that‘s just not the story about John McCain, do you what I mean? 

It‘s just spinning in to the wind -

ABRAMS:  No, look, I get it.  I get it.  But that‘s why I‘m doing it is because I think the story is a false one.  Here‘s McCain, well, this is within 11 minutes flip-flopping on gay marriage on HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I think that gay marriage should be allowed if there‘s a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that.  I don‘t have a problem with that.

I believe the people want to have private ceremonies is fine.  I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, again, look, you sit and debate whether he meant one

thing.  The bottom line is—that people like you should not accept the

fact that the straight talk express -

CARLSON:  All right.  So, Dan, I don‘t accept that.  McCain is making the same stupid argument that every public official makes right and left.  Mostly in the left, that they are against gay marriage but they‘re for civil unions.  There‘s a distinction with that.  And the difference (ph) is an insult to the public.  It‘s an insult to the gay rights group who give all the money to the Democratic candidates.  It‘s absurd.  He has the same absurd position.  But it‘s the same as everybody.  You know what I mean? 

It‘s hard to single him out for absurdity and -

ABRAMS:  But he rides a bus—around in a bus called the straight talk express.  That‘s the problem.

CARLSON:  Let me put it this way.  Again, I‘m not his flock, I will tell you I‘ve been spending a lot of time with the guy though, if you disagree with him, he‘ll just come out and tell you.  I mean, what other candidate can go before Iowa voters and say, you know, I‘m against ethanol.  I‘m against the subsidy that keeps this state afloat.  He‘s the only guy who would do that.  That takes some squabbles (ph).  I‘m sorry, he does.  He may not be straight all the time, that‘s pretty straight, but he got some points for that.

ABRAMS:  Well, look, the bottom line is, whether you love or hate Tucker Carlson, he‘s intellectually honest.  I‘m not going to find flip-flopping with Tucker Carlson.  Tucker, good to see you, thanks a lot.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up:  Hillary Clinton loves to say Barack Obama has never had a negative ad run against him.  Not quite.  She ran a negative ad against him in South Carolina.  We‘re On Their Trail: looking at Clinton versus Obama, this week‘s misstatements and cheap shots.

Plus: This picture may be most American males worst nightmare.  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.

First up: For those of you who ever thought of becoming a local TV reporter.  It‘s fun and exciting, maybe even a little glamorous.  Reporter Brady Douglas shows us why it‘s not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRADY DOUGLAS, REPORTER:  I wanted to know exactly how it feels to be in the other end of this effective but not lethal weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who‘s is this?  Don‘t do that.  OK.  Let‘s walk you this way.  Keep walking.  We‘re going to rinse you off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, he volunteered for that.

Next up: Try to envision what a typical American male‘s worst nightmare might look like?  Think maybe something like Nancy Grace with a meat cleaver.  It‘s another day on the set of Nancy Grace.  Happy Valentine‘s Day, Nancy.

Finally: After reporting on the Roger Clemens steroid hearing yesterday, CNN‘s Anderson Cooper seemed interested in something other than the testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  You know, steroids, it makes your bits and pieces smaller, is that true?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m sorry, what was that again?

COOPER:  Never mind.

GUPTA:  (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER:  Yes, is that true?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The good doctor on hand for the real analysis.

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, leave us a tip in the box.

Up next: We‘re On Their Trail: Tracking this week‘s worst campaign missteps and cheap shots.  Once again, it‘s Obama versus Clinton.

And breaking news tonight:  We‘re getting in new details about a gunman who has burst into a lecture hall at a university near Chicago with a shotgun and two handguns, killing five students before taking his own life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with a Democratic race so close, it‘s getting ugly out there.  Obama v. Clinton duking it out, digging in, and letting the mud fly.  Tonight we are on their trail again, following the misstatements and cheap shots on the road to the White House.  And we have some doozies all from this week.  Here to help us separate fact from fiction, A.B. Stoddard from The Hill newspaper, and political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell is back with us. 

All right.  Number five, Senator Clinton out with a new ad criticizing Obama for not accepting an invitation to debate in Milwaukee ahead of the state‘s primary. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I convincingly won California, which may be why Senator Obama doesn‘t want to have a debate in Wisconsin.  Maybe he doesn‘t want to debate because he thinks he has already won or maybe he doesn‘t want to debate because he doesn‘t want to answer tough questions. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Both Democratic candidates were invited to a televised debate here in Wisconsin.  Hillary Clinton said yes.  Barack Obama hasn‘t.  Maybe he‘d prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  I give this one a cheap shot from the Clinton camp.  They‘ve already met in nearly two dozen debates and have agreed to two more, one in Texas and the other in Ohio.  Also worth noting, Clinton had a much different attitude during her 2006 Senate race, refusing to face off in a debate against primary challenger Jonathan Tasini, I know you‘ve never heard of him.  And then when it came time to face a Republican, Clinton would only agreed to two debates. 

So, A.B., it seems to be a clear cheap shot in my view. 

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL:  Well I don‘t think it‘s a cheap shot.  I don‘t think it‘s a great shot.  But I it‘s probably fair.  She is better at debates than Barack Obama.  She suggested that they debate every week.  He has agreed to, I guess, two, and not the whole number.  And she‘s not telling—she‘s not distorting anything, she‘s saying he didn‘t agree to a debate in Wisconsin. 

ABRAMS:  But I‘m not calling this a misstatement, Lawrence, I‘m saying this is just a cheap shot, the idea that suddenly she wants to have all of these debates.  I mean, she‘s doing it because she is behind and she is looking for a slip up. 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I get it, Dan, but it‘s a standard shot.  The underdog always wants debates.  The frontrunner is always resisting debates.  It‘s hypocritical because of course when she‘s running for Senate she won‘t debate anyone because she‘s always a gigantic front-runner.  But that‘s the way it‘s played.  And for—I don‘t know, I guess for people like me who have been watching this too closely, it doesn‘t seem like a cheap shot. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m giving this one a cheap shot on my score card.  Hillary Clinton gets a cheap shot on this one.  Next up at number four on our list of misstatements and cheap shots, Obama counters Hillary‘s punch with this attack ad running in Wisconsin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  After 18 debates with two more coming, Hillary says Barack Obama is ducking debates?  It‘s the same politics of phony charges and false attacks.  On health care, even Bill Clinton‘s own labor secretary says: “Obama covers more people than Hillary” and does more to cut costs, saving $2,500 for the typical family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  We‘re going to rule that this one is genuinely accurate.  It‘s true that Clinton‘s former labor secretary, Robert Reich, has come out for Obama over Clinton on health care, but there is a misstatement.  It suggested Reich said it would save the typical family $2,500.  And we can‘t find anywhere where Reich actually said that. 

Now so, Lawrence, I mean, look, it‘s generally an accurate ad.  It was an interesting twist from responding on the debate to suddenly twisting it to be a health care thing.  But there was a suggestion there that Reich has said that it would save $2,500. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it was a brilliant response to Hillary‘s debate

challenge, absolutely brilliant, and swerving it into the health care thing

was also very effective, because it actually is the only issue that

separates these candidates is whether you should be in favor of a mandate -

a so-called individual mandate, as Hillary Clinton is in her health care bill, and Obama, who isn‘t. 

So it‘s the slightest difference we‘ve ever had between two candidates running for president, but it‘s all there is.  And so Obama jumped on it.  I think if you booked Robert Reich for tomorrow night, he will back up the ad.  If he hasn‘t said it already, he‘ll say it now. 

ABRAMS:  Well, A.B., you know, Reich has definitely said that he supports the Obama health plan more than Clinton‘s, it was just that business that they stuck in there about $2,500. 

STODDARD:  I thought this was interesting.  This is a very potent issue for her.  And if you listen to the ad, it is kind of abrupt, it‘s almost a non sequitur.  But the fact is Barack Obama is searching for a way to respond in sound bit form to this question of mandates, enforcement mechanisms.  He tries to bring this up in debates.  It takes him two paragraphs. 

She‘s able to say things like she did last weekend, to universal health care coverage, my opponent says, no, we can‘t.  She can do it in one sentence.  And he struggles with this.  So I think latching on to the Reich thing is a way for him to try to just make a slam dunk on this issue, which is so powerful with voters. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Until I hear that Reich has said that the American family will save $2,500 with the Obama plan, I‘m giving this a misstatement on Obama‘s part.  But look, I‘m willing—I‘d take it back if I turn out to be wrong on that one. 

O‘DONNELL:  Keep the phone lines open until the end of the show. 

ABRAMS:  Exactly.  Yes.  Robert Reich is going to call in.  Coming in at number three, Hillary Clinton in fierce attack mode today accusing Obama of cozying up to special interests. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  He told people he stood up to the nuclear industry, and passed a bill against them.  But he actually let the nuclear industry water down his bill and the bill never actually passed. 

ABRAMS:  Now that is a fair statement.  Obama eventually rewrote a bill giving the nuclear regulators changes sought by Senate Republicans. 

The problem, Senator Clinton actually supported the same bill, saying:

“This important legislation will ensure prompt notification of any future leaks.” Ruling this a cheap shot and a blunder because tonight we are learning that Clinton‘s chief strategist, Mark Penn‘s consulting company has been paid more that $230,000 from the same nuclear energy company the Clinton campaign is blasting Obama for cozying up to. 

I mean, A.B., this is the problem when you start with these attack ads. 

STODDARD:  We need a piece of that action with that nuclear company ourselves. 

ABRAMS:  And you get caught.

STODDARD:  It is.  You are right.  It is a blunder.  It‘s—on the hypocrisy scale, it‘s not good for her.  Also it becomes this game of ping-pong for her, which she shouldn‘t start now when she‘s in a hole about her special interest troubles and also the age-old question of her not releasing her tax returns.  And this is exactly the subject everyone always comes back to when she tries to make a point like this. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  So let‘s go back to the scorecard.  Again, I‘m giving the Clinton camp a cheap shot and a blunder on this one, although we are only counting cheap shots.  So it‘s two cheap shots and misstatements by the Clinton team, Obama—this is this week‘s score card. 

Coming in at number two, the Obama camp trying to score political points with the populist crowd in Ohio by sending out this anti-Clinton mailer attacking her stance on free trade.  The mailer reads: “Hillary Clinton believed NAFTA was a ‘boon‘ to our economy.” Now we‘re ruling this one to be a small misstatement, because Hillary Clinton never actually used the word “boon” to describe her support for NAFTA.  The Obama camp lifted the word from a newspaper piece that simply summarized Clinton‘s position. 

We‘re also going to rule this one a cheap shot because the mailer suggests that he is against NAFTA when he has actually voted for its extension.  The National Journal reporting that Senator Obama was the most likely presidential candidate to support further trade liberalization. 

Lawrence, fair? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think all candidates carping about free trade are cheap shots because there‘s nothing more consistent in the American presidency than trade policy.  Clinton‘s trade policy was identical to President Bush‘s trade policy.  NAFTA was initiated by President Bush, completed by President Clinton, passed by Democrats in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. 

You know, and so it‘s just an area where demagoguery is the only thing you hear from Democrats during presidential campaigns.  And then when they take office, they behave exactly the same as the Republican Party. 

ABRAMS:  A.B., cheap shot? 

STODDARD:  Lawrence is right.  He makes an excellent point.  It is a cheap shot.  And it also smacks of hypocrisy.  If he is a free trader himself, he shouldn‘t be picking on her on this issue.

ABRAMS:  And finally, our number one cheap shot or misstatement of the week, Senator Clinton arguing on Monday that Obama is untested.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Somebody told me today that Senator Obama has never had a negative ad run against him.  Well, get ready, because if he‘s the nominee we will see a lot of that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This may be my favorite misstatement of the week, from the Clinton campaign, Senator Clinton seems to have forgotten the ads she ran against Obama in South Carolina.  So it seems, Lawrence, that she‘s sort of tied here because she has helped him prepare in the very way she says he‘s unprepared. 

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly.  And there‘s this very weird veiled McCarthyism here where the Clinton campaign gets to suggest that there‘s some horrible stuff about Obama that only the Republicans know and they are going to put it out as soon as Obama becomes the nominee. 

And they are asking voters to act on this stuff that they don‘t know.  At some point, if there‘s a scandal about Obama that the Clinton campaign is sure is going to come out, then why don‘t they just put it out? 

ABRAMS:  This is the ad that Hillary Clinton was—camp was running in South Carolina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Listen to Barack Obama last week talking about Republicans. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really?  Aren‘t those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we‘re in today?  Ideas like special tax breaks for Wall Street, running up a $9 trillion debt, refusing to raise the minimum wage or deal with the housing crisis, are those the ideas Barack Obama is talking about?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So he has been hit with these attack ads.  So the final—tonight‘s final tally of this weeks misstatements and cheap shots, Clinton v. Obama, it is actually—no, I think it is—that one is wrong.  It is Clinton had three, Obama had two.  There we go.  Yes, anyway, Clinton wins this week.  She‘s the winner/loser with more of the cheap shots or at least the more significant ones with regard to cheap shots and misstatements. 

A.B. Stoddard and Lawrence O‘Donnell, appreciate your insight, thanks a lot.  Up next, we have got some breaking news tonight.  A man wearing a stocking cap and armed with a shotgun and two handguns barged into a Northern Illinois University lecture hall and opened fire.  He has killed five people before he shot himself.  Many others are injured.  We are just getting in new information.  It is coming up in a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We have got breaking news to report to you tonight.  A gunman dressed in black, armed with a shotgun and two handguns burst into a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University near Chicago today, opened fire on a class full of college students.  At this hour at least six people are dead, including the gunman.  A dozen more were injured before the killer took his own life. 

Students in Cole Hall described a scene of total chaos. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN GIOVANNI, RAN AS SHOOTER FIRED AT CLASS:  Door just kicks open like a movie.  Boom!  Shotgun blast, first shot, everyone ducks, because that‘s what they tell you to do, get low.  I said, that‘s not—he can walk around and pick off every one of us.  So I got up and I ran.  I literally hurdled over like five people trying to get out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Kevin Tibbles is following the story from our Chicago bureau. 

Kevin, what do we know? 

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, what we know is a very tragic event took place on a campus of some 25,000 students at 3:00 this afternoon.  As you just said, Dan, it was a geology class that the kids were attending in there when this gunman apparently burst through a back door. 

And as that young fellow who was in a room at the time described, essentially started blasting away the second that he got into the room.  He had a shotgun and then two handguns.  One we believe was a Glock.  He made his way up to the front of the classroom, shooting at teachers and students at random. 

And then once he was done, he turned one of the guns on himself and killed himself essentially on the stage at the front of the classroom up by the podium where the teacher addresses the class from. 

The school, very quickly, put out warnings on their Web site, essentially putting the school in a lockdown, warning the students to stay in their rooms and seek safe cover, and then a little while later they gave them the all clear when it was safe.  But obviously horrific times. 

And the numbers that were released this evening, six dead, including the gunman, a very tragic day on another college campus in this country—

Dan.

ABRAMS:  Kevin, thanks very much.  Joining me on the phone is Carrie Frillman from The DeKalb Daily Chronicle who was at the scene earlier today. 

Carrie, do we know anything about the gunman? 

CARRIE FRILLMAN, DEKALB DAILY CHRONICLE:  They have not released any information about the gunman.  Some students I talked to who were in the room, all they could tell me was that it was a Caucasian male, average height, and he wore a black stocking (ph) or a beanie hat and dressed in black.  And he did enter on the stage as was previously said by one of those eyewitness accounts. 

So, other than that, though, his name or nothing about him has been released.  They did say that he is not a student at Northern Illinois University, which is—that‘s interesting.  But he is a university somewhere in DeKalb.

ABRAMS:  Let me—we‘re just getting in some information from the president of the university talking about the shooter.  Let‘s listen. 

FRILLMAN:  OK. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was an NIU graduate student in the spring of 2007.  But he is not currently enrolled at NIU according to our records.  We believe he was presently enrolled at another state institution.  And while we cannot release his name at this time, the information we have right now indicates that he did not have any record of police contact or a prior arrest record.  At least that‘s what we can determine right now.  That could change. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Criminal profiler Pat Brown is here with me. 

Pat, you just heard the president of the university talk about what we know about this guy.  Surprising, no criminal record? 

PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER:  Not surprising at all.  Usually, these men are young and they are kind of involved in the anti-life kind of culture of young people.  That‘s why we always have the guy turning up in black and he‘s usually obsessed with killing. 

And it‘s a very cultural thing.  If you look back in time, we had kamikaze pilots who killed themselves.  And then we have in some cultures suicide bombers.  Here, we have, what do you do to get the glory when life is not going well?  You become a school shooter.

ABRAMS:  Well, it seems like it‘s happening more in schools.  I mean, I covered the Columbine case.  I remember at the time so much shock that it happened.  Now, it seems that, you know, we‘re 10 years later, and it seems like it‘s happening far more often. 

BROWN:  Exactly, because it has become the cool thing to do.  And it is all over the net.  You can actually go to sites now and you can talk about how you can be a Columbine guy yourself.  And so when you want to go out with a blaze of glory, you follow the pattern.  You know you‘re going to get famous doing that and you‘re going to be recognized by these other people who have that same sick mentality.  And so you follow through with pretty much—it‘s not an ingenious, unusual intelligent plan, it‘s just the same thing (INAUDIBLE)... 

ABRAMS:  We‘re just getting in some more sound of an eyewitness. 

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DESIREE SMITH, IN CLASSROOM DURING SHOOTING:  Everyone dropped down to the ground.  I started to army crawl out of there.  And I just was out of there and just moving along.  I got to the doors, and then I got up to the door and I ran. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Mike Digiannantonio is with us, he is on the phone.  His friend was shot twice by the gunman. 

Mike, thanks for talking the time.  How is your friend doing? 

MIKE DIGIANNANTONIO, FRIEND SHOT IN SCHOOL MASSACRE:  Last time I heard, he‘s actually doing fine. 

ABRAMS:  Did you get a chance to talk to him at all? 

DIGIANNANTONIO:  No, basically all I heard was what I saw on the news about two or three hours ago. 

ABRAMS:  And what are people—you know, what are other friends of yours there saying about all of this? 

DIGIANNANTONIO:  They are all in shock, like I am.  You would never think that—you hear it all on the news, you see it all on the news, you would never think that it would hit you right at home. 

ABRAMS:  You know, Pat Brown, this seems like a particularly sort of dramatic—the idea that this guy is knocking down a door and entering this classroom.  I mean, most of the time, it‘s either someone who is in the class or at the school.  This time someone is coming in, in this sort of dramatic fashion.  You know, to sort, of, I guess, make this horrible statement. 

BROWN:  Right.  Well, he has got his own fantasy going.  And if you actually find out, if you go on the Internet, you‘ll find a lot of sites that will actually encourage you how to do this.  There are actually games you can play that you practice this.  And there is just a lot of ideation out there.

How you can be the biggest and baddest and most horrible creature on earth, and it‘s considered cool—as I say, a cool thing to do.  It‘s like you‘re a vampire and you‘re going to go out in society that you hate and take care of them. 

If people don‘t get wise and realize that we‘re raising our children on violence, and all of these nasty things that are anti-life, we‘re going to continue to see this. 

ABRAMS:  Kevin Tibbles, are we still getting in new information?  I mean, the death toll has increased in the last hour or so from what had been five to six. 

TIBBLES:  Six includes the shooter, though, Dan.  And then we are hearing 22, all told, including the shooter, were wounded during this event.  It only went off in a matter of moments.  But we understand that the sixth death includes the shooter here. 

As you said, was a grad student who went to the school in 2007.  And he killed himself, he essentially went up onto the stage.  So you know, the conversation that you‘ve just been having perhaps is somehow connected with what I‘m saying, and that is that the shooter apparently went up onto the stage, the podium area where the professors speak from. 

And that is the position or the place that he chose to kill himself in front of anyone who was left in the room.  But parents, everyone is absolutely stunned in this community. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Kevin, thanks very much.  Pat, thank you for coming in, we appreciate it.  Thanks to all our other guests as well.  We‘re going to continue to cover this story throughout the night in our newsbreaks on MSNBC.  We‘ll be back with “Winners & Losers” in a moment.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners & Losers” for this 14th day of February, 2008.  Our bronze loser, Aretha Franklin, who has long been referred to as the “Queen of Soul.”  Aretha apparently became so enraged at singer and actress Beyonce for introducing Tina Turner at Sunday‘s Grammys as the queen, that she actually issued a statement calling Beyonce‘s introduction a cheap shot for controversy.  Hey, I‘m thinking maybe that‘s what a statement demanding they be called the queen is for. 

Our silver loser, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.  Instead of campaigning this weekend in the frigid cold of Wisconsin, Huckabee will be in the sun and surf in the Cayman Islands.  The former governor defended his decision to give a paid speech, saying he needs the money to pay his mortgage back home Arkansas. 

But the big loser of the day, actress Jane Fonda, who apparently forgot she was on national TV this morning when telling Meredith Vieira why she initially didn‘t want to be in the play, in “The Vagina Monologues.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANE FONDA, ACTOR:  It wasn‘t that I wasn‘t a big fan, I hadn‘t seen the play.  I live in Georgia, OK?  I was asked to do a monologue called (expletive deleted).  And I said, I don‘t think so, I‘ve got enough problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Which led to this awkward apology a few moments later. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, HOST, “TODAY”:  We were talking about “The Vagina Monologues” and Jane Fonda inadvertently said a word from the play that you don‘t say on television.  It was a slip and obviously she apologizes and so do we.  We would do nothing to offend the audience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And on this Valentine‘s night, our big winner of the day, the seven Estes (ph) siblings of Brownsburg, Indiana, who know what true love is all about.  The five sisters and two brothers have all been married for over 50 years each for a combined 391 years of marriage.  Quickly, we will go to one e-mail.  Your chance to tell us what you love or hate about the show. 

Night after night, I have called for those Democrat insiders known as superdelegates to step aside, let the voters chose the nominee.  Gabby from Pinellas County, Florida: “You‘re forgetting that both candidates knew the rules about superdelegates before their first day on the campaign, and both agreed to those rules.”

Gabby, I‘m not concerned about those candidates.  I don‘t know who will end up with more superdelegates, I don‘t care.  I don‘t want party VIPs overruling the will of the voters, whatever that may be.  Viewer e-mails every day, Abrams@msnbc.com.  Have a great weekend.  I‘ll see you next week.

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

END   

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