updated 4/16/2008 11:28:20 AM ET 2008-04-16T15:28:20

Guest: John Ridley, Kevin Madden, Andrea Moore-Emmett, Flora Jessop>

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Day five of the media‘s obsession with Obama‘s, quote, “bitter” comment.  And yet the poll seems to show the public does not really care.

Norah O‘Donnell, John Ridley, and Kevin Madden weigh in.

And: HARDBALL‘s Chris Matthews is with us.  He‘s just interviewed John McCain on everything from whether Obama is an elitist to McCain‘s tough stance on abortion.

And finally: We get to see Obama actually playing basketball instead of just talking about it.

VERDICT starts now.

Hi, everyone.  Welcome to the show.

We‘re coming to you tonight from Burbank, California.

Obama is still facing questions tonight and criticism over his comments about some people in small town Pennsylvania and how they deal with economic hardship.

Obama said, quote, “It‘s not surprising.  As they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren‘t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to express their frustrations.”

Last night, I questioned whether voters really care as much as the inside D.C. media say they do and will.  Well, based on new polls out today, it would seem the answer is no.

Obama now is with his biggest lead ever in the Gallup National Poll, up 11 points over Hillary Clinton.  A similar story in new polls from upcoming primary states: Clinton is now just up five points in one poll in Pennsylvania.  In Indiana, Obama has taken the lead, up 40 to 35.  And in North Carolina, Obama is leading by 13 points, 47 to 34.  All of these polls were conducted as the media obsessed over the story.

Today, Obama continued to strike back at the contention that he‘s an elitist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am amused about this motion of elitist, given that, you know, when you are raised by a single mom, when you are on food stamps for a while when you‘re growing up, you went to school on scholarship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now HARDBALL‘s Chris Matthews.  He just interviewed Senator McCain as part of a College Tour.  And Chris, you asked McCain about this latest flap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL:  Is Barack Obama an elitist?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No, but I do believe that his statements were elitist.  I think his comments about America and small towns in Pennsylvania, which I guess would apply to across America, the values and the faith that they have, I think is immutable and unshakable.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think he thinks like an elitist or talks like one, if he‘s not an elitist?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know what shapes his views.  I don‘t what would cause someone to say something like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Chris, once again, great stuff today.  We‘re going to play more later in this show.  But it is clear, Chris, that both McCain and Clinton are trying to use this latest flap against Obama.  And yet none of the latest polls show it‘s made any difference.  Isn‘t it possible that the media is more interested in this than the voters?

MATTHEWS:  No, I think up in Pennsylvania here—I talked to a county chairman in Allegheny County which includes Pittsburgh.  We had him online, I talk to him off the air, that‘s why I put him and he said, all the radio is going nuts on it, call in radio.  I think it does cut to a sense of Pennsylvania voters that they‘ve been sort of talked down to by maybe the whole country for a while now.

Maybe he‘s just the one that has scratched the surface of that sensitivity but I don‘t think it‘s going to have any impact on the suburbs around here or in Philadelphia, but I think when you get out the more - the small town Pennsylvania and I think they‘re going to hear a voice they don‘t like.  I don‘t think it‘s the media.

ABRAMS:  Isn‘t it possible though that the term bitter, that more people are focusing on that and saying, you know what, he‘s right.  I am bitter.  I am angry and they‘re not focusing much on the guns and religion part?

MATTHEWS:  Words matter.  Barack has done very well with words.  And this time, the words look condescending.  People don‘t believe their religion is a function of their lack of economic success.  They don‘t believe their love of guns and hunting is a function of their lack of economic success, or the failure of the government.  They believe in these things.

You know, the joke up here is that, if you give a Pennsylvanian more money, he‘ll buy more guns.  You know, it‘s not like it‘s inferior goods as far as this concerns.  It‘s not when you do when you‘re poor, it‘s what you do when have enough money to buy a gun.  So, I think, this would be maybe the time that a broken clock is right twice a day.

But, the other side seems to be very connected with this issue more than he is.  I mean, what he has his (ph) apologies, whatever you call them, his claims that this is just clumsy a speaking, hasn‘t been successful so far.  I think it‘s going to hurt him up here.  I think it‘s going to be double-digits up here for Clinton.  That‘s what I think.

ABRAMS:  And you really think, you really think that it‘s because of

this?  It just doesn‘t seem to - and again, you know the politics better

than I do, but it just seems to me that these -

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s how you look at it.  When people are holding back in 10 percent after all these months, Dan, you and I have been talking about this election for a year now.  These candidates have been out on center stage since January, every single day.  I mean, even if you don‘t read the newspaper, you don‘t watch television, you get it on your ears just walking down the street, you get it on the car radio, you get it all of the time.  And they‘re saying they‘re undecided.

Well, look, an undecided voter, I think, is probably a mask for a Hillary voter, my hunch.  And now that person has an excuse because they‘re going to say I‘m for Hillary now because of this reason, but they were disinclined to go for Barack probably before.

You know, somebody said to me the other day and talked to one of big politicians, he said, these people made up their mind in 1957 how they‘re going to vote in this race.  So, a lot of it is cultural.  A lot of it is just the old splitting this fate between the more cosmopolitan suburbs and the more heartland rural counties.  There‘s a difference here on this state.  It‘s a bit of New York, it‘s a bit of Midwest, it‘s a lot of Pennsylvania is a hodgepodge of different kinds of cultures.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  We shall see.  Chris Matthews, stand by, we‘re going to play from your interview, including some strong words from McCain, about his strong opposition to a woman‘s right to choose.  Stick around.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  All right.  We‘ll check in with Chris in a minute.

Joining me now: Norah O‘Donnell, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent;

John Ridley, screenwriter and contributor to Huffington Post, the site that broke the story; and, Kevin Madden, former press secretary for Mitt Romney‘s campaign.

All right.  John, you‘re in the house, so, I guess I‘ll start with you.  I mean, look, I had said since yesterday that I think that the media likes this story more than the public is going to care about it.  I get that guns and religion matter enormously in politics.  But isn‘t it possible that this particularly comment is not going to be the make or break comment for Barack Obama among independents, and in the end, that the media is going to love it more than the voters?

JOHN RIDLEY, HUFFINGTON POST CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, I think it‘s more than possible.  I mean, this is a ready-made issue.  It‘s easily digestible and he isn‘t referring to people.  He talks about guns, he talks about religion, talks about immigration.  Used the word, that maybe inelegant, but is it so hard to say that look, when times are tough, people stick to wedge issues?  I don‘t think so.

The fact that it‘s being played over in the media, again, it‘s easy. 

It‘s so much easier to digest than health care.

ABRAMS:  And Norah, there‘s a lull, I mean, let‘s admit, there‘s a lull in news this weekend and yesterday and today when it comes to politics.  And when there‘s a lull, sometimes a little story becomes a big story, right?

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely, and the Clinton campaign is looking for that magic moment in order to hammer Barack Obama as unelectable, that mistake perhaps that he makes that could convince superdelegates in a way to go for Hillary Clinton.  They need a break like that and so they‘ve been pounding this comment.

What‘s noteworthy I think is, Barack Obama admits that he mangled his words, but he said, “I will not back away for one moment—from the larger point I was trying to make,” he says.  And he has steadfastly, essentially defended the point that Americans feel bitter rather than walk away from it, tried to explain that.

And you know, even with the Reverend Wright controversy, there‘s something about the way Barack Obama handles these controversies that is very different from politicians we‘d seen in the past.  Rather than walk away, rather than just apologizing, trying to walk away and pretend it doesn‘t exist, he seeks to confront the issues.  He really seeks to explain what he was trying to mean by that comment.  He really seeks to explain the Reverend Wright thing by giving a big speech on race.

It might have something to do with why we haven‘t seen a drop yet in these poll numbers.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Kevin, does it mean that I‘m ignorant about politics?  That I look at this and say - and I say, you know what?  I see the Reverend Wright thing as a real controversy, as a real issue, as a real potential problem for Barack Obama and I look at this comment about clinging to the guns and religion and I say who cares?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER PRESS SECTY. ROMNEY CAMPAIGN:  Well, look, you know, the guns and the religious traditions of many of these rural small towns in places Pennsylvania are important to voters.

ABRAMS:  No question.

MADDEN:  In many ways, they‘re motivating issues because they go right to the heart of the attributes of who candidates are and what they feel.  So, and oftentimes .

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let‘s assume that to be true.  Let‘s assume that to be true, Kevin.  Because I think you‘re right, there‘s no question about it.  That religion and gun rights are going to be crucial issues, but the question is: Does this particular comment from Barack Obama, is this going to change any minds?

I mean, let‘s not talk about the far right who aren‘t going to vote for Obama anyway.  The question is: the independence.  Is this kind of comment really going to change any minds or is it just something that the media is having a good time with during a little bit of a lull?

MADDEN:  Well, let‘s separate it.  In a Democrat primary I can‘t help but think that you have an accurate assessment, that it may not play as crucial role on whether or not Hillary Clinton wins or loses Pennsylvania, because those would are not exactly motivators for what would the traditionally be a liberal base among a Democrat constituency.

But I will tell you that in the general election, among independents, among conservative Democrats, they‘re going to be crucial in a lot of these battleground states.  They are motivators.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s be clear -

MADDEN:  Places like Ohio and Florida.

ABRAMS:  Kevin, wait, Kevin, that wasn‘t my question.  My question was not, are they going to be motivators.  My question was - is this particular statement going to make any difference?

MADDEN:  You know what?  The answer is a little more complicated, but let me try.  It depends how well John McCain crystallizes the debate, right and center just like (INAUDIBLE) and Barack Obama who is going to try to paint as an elitist, even though he says he‘s not.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, he‘s not going to use the Karl Rove strategy. 

Here‘s what Karl Rove said about the comments.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER ADVISOR TO PRES. BUSH:  There‘s almost Marxian in this.  They cling to their religion.  I mean, it‘s sort of like it‘s the opiate of the masses instead of this is something that fulfills their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  See, that‘s a good point.  John, that‘s going to be the strategy.  That‘s going to the way the McCain camp is going to try and portray this.  But I think in part it depends on how much the media serves as a sort of conduit.

RIDLEY:  Sure, I mean, it‘s an echo chamber, and how many times do you hear these things like seeing thing in the same ad over and over again.  I want this product.

So, yes, if they play this, if they play this and they play this, sure, it might have an affect on people but November is still a long time away.  Is this little thing going to make that big a difference?  I don‘t think so.  But maybe something else but it seems like Obama is able to navigate it.

ABRAMS:  Let me let Norah in.  Norah, go ahead.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, I think that so far, Barack Obama is going to weather this.  He may not win Pennsylvania.  He is outspending Hillary Clinton massively in that state in hopes of pulling off some sort of surprise victory.  But he seems to be holding strong in Indiana.  He has a big lead in North Carolina.

If he can hold off wins by Hillary Clinton in those two states, Indiana and North Carolina, he‘s got this thing wrapped up.  But let‘s not forget, the numbers are still in Barack Obama‘s favor.

ABRAMS:  Yes, real quick, Kevin, the bottom line is that Obama is now using - yes, Obama has actually put out a commercial using this to hit back at Hillary Clinton.  But go ahead, Kevin.

MADDEN:  I can‘t help but think that somewhere back in 2004, someone was saying, no one‘s going to care about John Kerry comment about voting for and then against the $87 billion.  They‘re not going to care about it in the end.  We‘ll see.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know.  Look, it wouldn‘t me saying that but I don‘t know.  All right.  John Ridley and Kevin is sticking around .

O‘DONNELL:  I remember that comment very well, because I remember covering that campaign and the minute it happened, we knew it was a big deal.  And you know what?  John Kerry .

ABRAMS:  Ha, how about that, Kevin?  We know it.

O‘DONNELL:  No, no.  But John Kerry did not explain that comment. 

They went underground on that comment.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  I‘m not going to argue with Norah.  Never.

ABRAMS:  Good.  You‘re a smart man, a smart man, Kevin Madden.

Coming up: John McCain making some news tonight at the HARDBALL College Tour on abortion, basically ruling out a pro-choice Republican to be his vice presidential pick.  Chris Matthews will be back with us when we come back.

And Barack Obama‘s patriotism is being questioned because he doesn‘t wear a flag pin on his lapel.  Well, today, he got one out and put it right back on.  Is that a smart move now?

Plus: The Federal Election Commission to boost (ph) to oversee America‘s election.  It doesn‘t have enough people to do it because Congress is holding up their confirmation.

We‘re back with Why America Hates Washington in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington.  The Federal Election Commission AWOL, 2008 will likely be the most expensive election in history, but the FEC which is supposed to be a watchdog for campaign cash is now literally unable to do its job that‘s because the commission is two people short of a four-person minimum necessary to meet.

And the Republican and Democratic members of Congress can‘t agree on new nominees.  Congress infighting while the campaign watch dog goes to the dogs is another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back with more of Chris Matthews‘ HARDBALL interview with John McCain.  The key issue on abortion is coming up in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The HARDBALL College Tour with special guest, John McCain

ABRAMS:  John McCain entering the ring today at Villanova University.  Chris Matthews played HARDBALL.  There he is on the center, made some news in the HARDBALL College Tour.

Joining me once again, from the site of the HARDBALL College Tour in Philadelphia is Chris Matthews.

Alright, Chris.  I want to continue talking about your interview with John McCain, some fascinating stuff coming out of this interview.  Let me play this piece of sound where McCain is talking about abortion because it‘s clear he is going to make this a central part of his campaign in the general election.

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  In America we can disagree sometimes on specific issues, even if they are of the most important issues.  And I want to say that the rights of the unborn is one of my most important values, but we can .

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  We can have disagreement.  There is room for debate in our nation and our party.  We should have a healthy and respectful discussion and debate on these issues.  I realize that you‘re going to change the culture of America before there‘s full respect given to the rights of the unborn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  One of my most important values, and Chris, he even this went as far, when you pushed him, on whether he considered Tom Ridge as a vice presidential candidate, he was basically saying, the reason I wouldn‘t consider him is because he‘s pro-choice.  Is that a fair reading?

MATTHEWS:  That is a strong fair reading and I‘ll tell, that to me is the easiest headline to write off the interview tonight, the fact that he has written off as a potential running-mate any Republican, no matter what of every stature, whatever closeness to him, they cannot be on the ticket if they are pro-choice.

And I thought that was amazing because Tom Ridge is clean as a whistle in every way.  And the fact they disagree on this one issue, he said, it‘s enough to take him off the list.  He‘s not even on the list he said.  And, I think, that probably, I mean, I don‘t think it‘s now leap of faith at all, that includes Rudy.  Rudy‘s not on the list anymore, or if he ever was.

In fact, it‘s interesting, because, Dan, you know how politics work.  Everybody wants to have a lot of fish on the line and say, well, I might pick him, I might pick him.  He doesn‘t want people to think he even considered Tom Ridge or any other pro-choicer.  You‘re right.  You got this nailed.  He‘s a very strong hard-line position pro-life.

ABRAMS:  You asked him about Obama and change.  Here‘s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think so many young people are excited by the words of Barack Obama, what he says?

MCCAIN:  First of all, I think he‘s extremely eloquent, and second of all, I think that there is a desire for change out there in America.  And the kind of change that I think I can make is to reaffirm America‘s faith in their future, in their ability to educate their children, to serve this country, and I think that I can provide that motivation.

I think he has done a good job of motivating young people.  And I will contest every vote of every young American, and that‘s why I was on “The View,” that‘s why I did “Letterman,” that‘s why I‘m here.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why you‘re here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You know, Chris, I mean, the fact that he‘s citing “The View” and “Letterman” as examples of how he‘s going for the young vote, may show you that he‘s not exactly in touch with the youngest of voters.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s true.  But you know what?  We did surveys with people in their early 20‘s.  It‘s interesting how it‘s different from my generation and maybe yours.  That although young people of this age here today are very open to idea of same sex relationships, in fact, even civil unions or further, they do accept that idea and they wonder why there is a bigotry against it, as they see it.

But they‘re also, in a lot of cases, more pro-life than they were 20 years ago.  Maybe because it‘s legal, they don‘t know how it difficult it is and the circumstances when it is illegal.  But, that pattern is interesting.  It‘s just so fascinating how people are pro-gay rights all the way and yet they are getting a bit more conservative on the issue of abortion choice.  (INAUDIBLE)

ABRAMS:  Here‘s McCain on how he would differ from President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I think that there‘s many of philosophies and views and vision that we share for America.  There are other areas, specific areas in which we are in disagreement.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get to that.

MCCAIN:  So—an area of disagreement?  Climate change.  Climate change—I believe climate change is real.  I think we have to act, and I‘ve said that for many, many years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Chris, he tried to veer off from your question.  He tried to go away, he didn‘t want to really talk about how he differs from President Bush and you pushed him on it.  What did you make of the answer on it, the climate change?

MATTHEWS:  Well, he said climate change on this and I pushed him a bit and he said torture as well.  He clearly is going for that - well, let‘s be careful here, the college-educated, Republican—Democrat as well—who thinks about the green issues especially, who‘s concerned about America and human rights in the world and our reputation a bit—I hate to put phrase like this, but sophisticated concerns.  They‘re not basic bread and butter issues and I think he probably feels he can get young people on these issues.

ABRAMS:  Chris Matthews, great stuff.  Thank you.  You can see the entire HARDBALL College Tour with John McCain tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, right here on MSNBC.

Coming up: Finally, we get to see Obama playing basketball, not just talking about it.

Plus: FOX News says, they have no comments on Reverend Wright attacking FOX News.  Really?  Is that why almost every one of their hosts is taking a shot at him now?  That‘s coming up in tonight‘s Beat the Press.

What‘s your VERDICT?  E-mail us at verdict@msnbc.com.  We read your emails at the end of the show in the P.O.‘ed Box.  Be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press: Our daily look back at media hypocrisy, agendas, and the amusing perils of live TV.

First up: Senator Obama‘s former pastor, Reverend Wright called out FOX News at a eulogy on Saturday.  FOX‘s Brit Hume gave us the official FOX response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS HOST:  Wright attacks the news media and this channel in particular.  FOX News had no comment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Really?  FOX News had no comment.  Almost everyone on that network commented.  Bill O‘Reilly even phoned me over to get in our piece of the action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS HOST:  This makes him look further like a confused fanatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There is a dead man in the room, focus on him. 

That‘s just me.

JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS ANALYST:  Maybe he is the fanatic that O‘Reilly suggested he might be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What am I suppose to say?  I totally understand, you know, I guess, playing the messenger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think there‘s some hypocrisy I would think in these comments from Reverend Wright.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And that was all before Hume declared FOX said no comment.

Next up: Thank goodness CNN‘s Lou Dobbs is around to serve as a media watchdog.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST:  We have been talking about this business of—you have another fellow, Senator Obama, the way he‘s been treated in the national media.  But today, a number of news organizations saying the man apologized when he point blank did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, maybe rather than just pontificating, maybe he should have sent out an internal memo.  This is CNN‘s Campbell Brown less than an hour later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN HOST:  For the last 72 hours, Obama has been preoccupied with apologizing for using the word “bitter” to describe Pennsylvania‘s rural voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, Lou, when you say a number of news organizations, you meant CNN, right?

Finally: This morning, FOX News is all over the story of a cougar on the loose in Chicago.  And they got the neighborhood reaction and then this insight from host, Megyn Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m sad that they shot it, but they don‘t have a choice.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  Right.  It is sad, but those cougars really can do damage to people and human beings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Gosh.  Who is in greater danger, the people or the human beings?

We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right, wrong, amusing or absurd, go to our Web site: Verdict.msnbc.com.  Leave us a tip in the box, please include the show and the time you saw the item.

Coming up next:  We finally get to see Obama playing basketball.

And a new ad puts McCain‘s and President Bush‘s words together and they sure sound familiar.  It‘s a Win, Lose or Draw edition of On Their Trail.

And later: New developments in the Texas polygamy case.  Mothers of the children in state custody are now saying they‘re outraged, claiming they were tricked by the authorities into leaving their kids, and they‘re going public.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  Barack Obama has been talking a big game, but now, he‘s finally showcasing his basketball skills on the campaign trail.  And John McCain under attack for mimicking Bush on the economy. 

It‘s time for our “Win, Lose or Draw” edition of “On Their Trail.”  Still with us former Mitt Romney Press Secretary, Kevin Madden, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell.  And here with me is screenwriter and “Huffington Post” contributor, John Ridley. 

All right.  First up, Obama speaking to a group of veterans in Pennsylvania today, adding a noticeable addition to his wardrobe. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I was just handed this by Phillip Fumar(ph), Jr. - is that correct - who is the Ways and Means Committee chairman for Disabled American Veterans, a department in Pennsylvania.  It‘s a flag pin.  I think I will go ahead and put that on.  I appreciate your service.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  It means a lot coming from you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘ve been wondering where I can get one of those and finally some guy handed me one.  And lo and behold, now I‘ve got one.  Obama made headlines last year after saying he stopped wearing an American flag lapel pin in part because of the Iraq War.  I mean, John, this doesn‘t seem to me to be helpful to him, this whole fake thing about, “Oh, someone just handed this to me, so I think I will put it on.”  I mean, come on.

JOHN RIDLEY, SCREENWRITER/COMMENTATOR:  I think this one is not a good one for Obama.

ABRAMS:  Call it a lose. 

RIDLEY:  He made a big joke - I would call it lose because exactly what you saw what happened - By the way, I‘m not saying there is anything wrong with wearing a lapel pin. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Right.

RIDLEY:  But he said, “I‘m not wearing it because of symbolic politics.”  Someone hands him one.  It‘s a veteran.  He puts it on.  People applaud.  So it‘s kind of like a bit of a roll back on what he said before.  I think it‘s not a win for him.  I think it‘s a little unfortunate based on what he said previously.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And Norah, look, he knew that this was going to be a subject of attack ads when the general election comes.  No question about it.  But does this really help blunt that.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Dan, wouldn‘t it have been worse then if the media got a hold of the story that someone had handed Barack Obama a pin and he stuck it in his pocket or handed it to an aide and said, “Thanks very much,” and didn‘t bother to put it on? 

I mean that would be far worse.  I think he probably didn‘t have any other choice, but to acknowledge this disabled Vietnam veteran praise him and then put the pin on his lapel. 

But what is noteworthy about this is this is part of the narrative that Republicans are going to use against Barack Obama if he‘s the nominee in the fall, that he‘s unpatriotic.  Remember that Michelle Obama has said she has never been more proud of her country, that he‘s an elitist, that he‘s a snob. 

I mean this is the beginning of the shaping of this narrative.  And you point this out because it‘s a moment like this that could play into the Republican hands.  At least, they will try and use it.

RIDLEY:  What if he had gotten this pin and didn‘t put it on in front of the cameras.  A week or so later, because we‘re a little bit slow, somebody notices this pin and he says, “Look, I got this from a vet.  I put it on myself.”  And the story leaked out slowly.  I think the issue here for me, not whether he wears a pin or not, but to do it in front of the cameras, get that applause again, rolling back everything that he said before.  To me, that‘s where it‘s a loss for Obama.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Why is it rolling back everything he said before?  I mean he just said it‘s more important what‘s in your heart than what you wear?  I mean he‘s trying to be authentic about it.

ABRAMS:  But Norah, hadn‘t he in the past sort of made a statement as a matter of principle, not that he was against people wearing pins, but that for him, he wanted to make a point.  Here‘s what Obama - let‘s play the sound here.  This is what Obama said in October explaining why he doesn‘t wear a pin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I decided I won‘t wear that pin on my chest.  Instead I‘m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great.  And hopefully that will be a testimonial to my patriotism. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, Norah, doesn‘t he have a problem now in that that‘s what he said in October?

O‘DONNELL:  I feel like this is a little bit like “Meet the Press.” 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  The videotape is -

ABRAMS:  Well, you know?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, he‘s got a problem there because he said that it‘s not the pin that‘s important.  He‘s got to explain why it‘s important.  But what can I say?

ABRAMS:  All right.  This is why Norah is so great.  It‘s because she‘s totally honest.  All right.  I‘m ruling this one a lose for Obama, since now we are all talking about the lapel pin again.  And I think it‘s only bad for Obama. 

Next up, John McCain can sometimes sound like President Bush on certain issues.  The group Progressive Media USA unveiling this new attack ad today, called “Out of Touch.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I believe that the fundamental underpinnings of America‘s economy are good and strong. 

GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The fundamentals are strong. 

We‘re just in a rough patch.  

MCCAIN:  Now, we‘re in a rough patch.

BUSH:  The fundamentals of our economy are strong. 

MCCAIN:  I think our fundamentals are strong.

BUSH:  On the one hand.  On the other hand.

MCCAIN:  On the other hand and on the other hand.

MCCAIN:  I don‘t believe we are headed into a recession. 

BUSH:  I don‘t think we are headed to a recession. 

FEMALE ANNOUNCER:  Progressive Media USA is responsible for the content of this advertising. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Kevin, I don‘t care who‘s responsible for the content of the advertising, but, you know, it‘s a good ad.  And it‘s going to be, I think, a potential problem for McCain, no?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, I think the challenge here for McCain is that he has to go and make the case now that he does understand the economic anxieties that many people have. 

You know, I think that this is still a draw because while the organization that‘s running the ad is - you can see very clearly that the strategy here is to make this a referendum, to make it about a Bush third term. 

But they also seem to talk down the economy.  People don‘t want you to just point out what‘s wrong.  Anybody can assign blame.  What they‘re looking for in this campaign and they‘re looking for from the candidates are solutions.  So John McCain has a challenge here, but if he rises up and starts offering solutions and accepts that there are economic anxieties at the kitchen table across America, then he can turn this into a draw. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m talking about the ad here.  I think that this ad is a lose for McCain, and I think that look, it‘s going to be an issue for him in distancing himself and Bush. 

Next up, former President Bill Clinton on the trail today, urging Pennsylvania voters to give whatever they can to the campaign since his wife is being vastly outspent in Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  In the first two weeks of this television campaign, she was outspent five to one on television.  But she can‘t be blown out.  So the other thing you can do besides vote for her and make calls for her and give the people the reasons I gave you, is if you know somebody who could send $10 or $5 or $15 on the Internet, tell them to go to HillaryClinton.com and do this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  John, you laughed. 

RIDLEY:  This is a lose an exponent.  I mean, look, first year out, asking for money.  You‘ve got your spouse asking for money.  And also, the amount of money that‘s Sen. Clinton is being outspent.  It was something like three to one last week, and now it‘s five to one.  This is bad, bad, bad.

ABRAMS:  But the problem is, when you are asking for $10 or $15 and you just had your tax returns come out where you made $109 million.  There‘s something about that that just feels wrong. 

RIDLEY:  Yes, that‘s tough.  That‘s tough all the way around to say that we need this money but we‘ve got the money.  Look, no politician wants to dig into their own pocket.  But boy, the fact they have to now and so close.  Bad it is.

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m calling this one a lose for Clinton, giving each candidate one loss, going into the final round.  And how can Obama lose this one?  Obama is showing another side of himself on HBO tonight.  He‘ll appear on “Real Sports” with Bryant Gumbel to showcase his basketball skills. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRYANT GUMBEL, HOST, “REAL SPORTS”:  Do you believe you can tell a man‘s character from watching him on the basketball court?

OBAMA:  No, but I do think that you can tell something about people from how they play basketball.  For example, people who keep on shooting even though they have no jump shot.  You can tell there is a certain self delusional aspect to their game, right?  That says something about who they are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Ouch. 

ABRAMS:  I want to see the video.  Where‘s the video?

RIDLEY:  HBO pulled it back. 

ABRAMS:  Wait, do we have the video?  There it is.  All right.  That was the whole reason I wanted to show this.  All right.  There we go.  Norah, look.  Obama is 46 years old and the guy moves really well. 

RIDLEY:  No-look pass.

ABRAMS:  No-look pass, yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Of course, Michelle Obama‘s brother, Craig, teaches basketball at - I believe it‘s Oregon State.  He taught at Brown before.  And when Michelle was going out with Barack Obama, he said, “Let me play basketball with this guy, because I want to get a sense of who he is.”

And he liked him.  He likes the way he played.  I saw the tip you can tell a lot about man.  But I think what politically is interesting about this is he essentially called Hillary Clinton self delusional, essentially referring to her, that she doesn‘t have a jump shot, but yet, she keeps shooting. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to wrap this up.  But Kevin, if you are one of those other guys playing with him, you are careful about where you throwing the elbows, huh?  Can you imagine being the guy who injured Obama in the basketball game?

O‘DONNELL:  You know, Dan.  He said he was going to get rid of the bowling alley in the White House and replace it with a basketball court. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Yes.  I think ... Real quick, Kevin.  I‘ve got to wrap this up.

MADDEN:  He‘s definitely got game.  I don‘t know if he‘s going to win this by calling the other guy a ball hog. 

ABRAMS:  This goes as a win for Obama, giving us a final tally tonight of one win and one loss for Obama; one loss for Clinton; one loss for McCain.  You know, sort of evenly spread.  Norah O‘Donnell, Kevin Madden, John Ridley, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

Up next, mothers of those children seized by authorities during a raid of a polygamy compound in Texas now saying they are tricked into being separated and they‘re going public. 

And a daredevil who calls himself Spiderman climbs 45 stories with his bare hands.  “Reality Bites” is coming up in 60 seconds. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  They call him the real life Spiderman.  Frenchman Alain Robert who today scaled the 45-story Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong with nothing more than his bare hands.  The French climber who‘s clawed his way to the top of the Sears Tower and the Eiffel Tower, said this climb was to call attention to global warming.  But it certainly got the police hot.  They briefly detained him after he reached the top.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  Mothers from the secretive polygamist sect in Texas are speaking out to the media.  It‘s a rare move from this famously guarded community.  This comes just as new details emerge in the case and as some of their children are moved even further from home. 

Officials in Texas announcing today that two dozen adolescent boys have been placed in temporary foster homes.  The rest of the 416 children seized in the polygamist ranch earlier this month taken to a new shelter. 

Mothers of all but the youngest children were sent home or to domestic violence shelters.  And now, they‘re trying to use the media to plead their case, even inviting reporters to their ranch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They said they would move us so we could all be together, where they would reunite our families.  We could all be together.  They told us on the bus.  They said mothers with children five and younger would get off at one place.  And mothers with children five and older would get off at another place. 

They took us into a room and totally surrounded us.  They said, “You must leave your two daughters,” just mine and her daughter.  “You must leave them here and come to this other room.” 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) full of officers. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Full of officers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Full of CPS. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Clear full of officers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They just said there‘s a court order there, that they treated these children as wards of the state.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)  No reason.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No reason.  Please (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I told them I‘d come back.  I told them I would come back.  They wouldn‘t even let us get our luggage.  They just got us get on the bus.  No questions, nothing.  Felt like Hitler.  Felt like we were the Jews.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Joining me to help make sense of some of this Flora Jessop who escaped from a polygamist sect herself and Andrea Moore-Emmett, author of the book, “God‘s Brothel” and a former reporter for the “Salt Lake City Weekly.”  Thanks to both of you for coming on.  Appreciate it. 

Andrea, is this a strategy on their part?  Is this a concerted effort by these women to portray themselves as the victims?

ANDREA MOORE-EMMETT, AUTHOR, “GOD‘S BROTHEL”:  Well, it is.  And they use this card of persecution all of the time.  If anybody questions the abuse of what‘s going on down in these groups, they cry persecution.  And they say that they are elite of God and that they will persecuted for righteousness‘ sake.  So this is something that we‘ve seen before.  And it worked before and they are hoping it will work again to play on the emotions of the public. 

ABRAMS:  Flora, are they doing this because they are brainwashed?

FLORA JESSOP, ESCAPED POLYGAMIST SECT:  Absolutely, they‘re doing this because they‘re brainwashed.  I think it‘s important that people realize, while watching these videos, that although you see these women trying to produce this emotion, there are no tears.  There are no tears coming down their faces, because these women have been taught not to cry. 

It took me - I was 16 years old when I got out of this group. 

And it took me just about eight years to learn how to let my tears flow. 

That‘s the amazing thing for me watching this is that it is such a sham. 

ABRAMS:  It‘s such an interesting observation.  Let me play another piece of sound from one of the mothers.  And it‘s sort of amazing to me considering how many pregnant young girls they found.  They had one 16-year-old girl with four children.  And yet this is what one of the mothers is saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have never heard of any - I don‘t know of anything like that. 

(CROSS TALK) 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My children are sons.  They are not even girls. 

My older - they‘re boys, not girls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have no idea.  I‘ve never seen anything like that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So the allegations that the state makes that there are these forced marriages. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, no, no, no.  And I know we‘ve been reluctant because everything we say is - These children, these girls are pure and innocent. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Flora, this just isn‘t true, right?

JESSOP:  Absolutely not.  You‘ve got a 16-year-old girl with four children and yet they‘ve never seen this happen? They found initially, with the first 100 girls, children that they took off that compound.  There were 18 underage pregnant girls, but they‘ve never seen this happen?  Come on.  They‘ve seen it happen every day. 

ABRAMS:  Andrea, how do they get so media savvy?

EMMETT:  Well, they‘ve caught on and they‘ve done it before in the 1953 raid.  They went before the media.  They said you are taking our children away.  This shouldn‘t be happening in America.  And the American public came to their aid and it ruined the career of Gov. Pyle at the time.  So they‘ve done this before, and they are doing it again. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.

EMMETT:  The other thing you have to keep in mind, these women live under the idea that they are a vessel to be worn out in childbirth.  So they start having all these children very early.  They are supposed to have a child per year. 

ABRAMS:  All right, look.  Here‘s the thing.  I‘m not going to let them sort of use the media in this case as an enabler for them.  That‘s why we have people like both of you on the program to provide important perspective.  Flora and Andrea, thank you very much.  We appreciate it. 

JESSOP:  Thank you. 

EMMETT:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser of the night be Cindy McCain whose credentials as a chef may be sunk after the McCain family recipes turned out to be from the Food Network? Simon Cowell whose heart was sunk by a British choir boy for the builders of the sunk Titanic who we now learn may have been able to save thousands of lives?  And the “P.O.‘d Box” is coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”  Our first loser, Cindy McCain.  Her so-called McCain family recipes, appear on her husband‘s campaign Web site.  It turns out they‘re not hers.  Instead, they‘re exact copies of the recipes from Food Network chefs like Rachael Ray and Giada di Laurentiis.  The McCain campaign claims an intern inadvertently posted the recipes as Cindy‘s.  Always blame the interns.

Loser - former president Jimmy Carter for meeting with then hugging a leader of the terror Hamas today in the West Bank.  Hamas leaders have called for attacks on the U.S., and celebrated 9/11.  

But our big loser of the day - the builders of the “Titanic,” who researchers now say used substandard rivets while building the ocean liner that sank 96 years ago today.  Several of the lower quality rivets recovered from the wreckage indicate the bow probably opened up faster after striking the iceberg than if it had been built with quality rivets. 

Our big winner of the day - British choir boy Andrew Johnson.  While many here are glued to “American Idol,” Simon Cowell is doing double duty across the pond with “Britain‘s Got Talent” with a 13-year-old who is bullied for singing, nearly induced the acid-tongued judge to tears.  

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “BRITAIN‘S GOT TALENT”:  Do you get support from your friends?

ANDREW JOHNSON, CONTESTANT, “BRITAIN‘S GOT TALENT”:  I get bullied a lot.

COWELL:  You get bullied from where?

JOHNSON:  Like at school.  

COWELL:  All right.  This is your moment. 

JOHNSON (singing):  Pie Jesu ...requiem ...

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Wow.  Got to give the kid credit. 

Time now for the “P.O.‘d Box.”  Many of you wrote in after last night‘s show when I said I thought the media was making too big a deal about Barack Obama‘s comments that small town voters are bitter and clinging to guns and religion. 

Celeste from Arizona, “This isn‘t about the word bitter!  It‘s about the statement of clinging to religion and gun owners who he claims are anti-immigrant, anti-everything!”

I know that‘s what offends, I get it.  But I think many will focus more on the bitterness than the links.  And regardless, are you really saying this statement changes your view of the guy?  Come on. 

And Jane writes, “You bet I‘m bitter and I go to church and pray that I won‘t need my guns once the rest of the bitter start the riot.”

It‘s a good one, Jane. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  You can E-mail me about the show at verdict@msnbc.com.  Please include your name, where you‘re writing from.  Visit our Web site as well.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  See you. 

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

END   

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