'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, February 24th, 2011
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Guests: Eugene Robinson, Tom Barrett
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC: A programming note: This coming Sunday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will be among David Gregory‘s guests on “Meet the Press” on NBC, as will I. So please tune in Sunday morning on your NBC station.
That‘s tonight‘s “LAST WORD.”
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is up next, live—she is not live from Lawrence, Kansas. That‘s last night‘s script. I can see her almost around the corner there if I just lean.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hi, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: Hi, Lawrence. Thanks very much. Congratulations on “Meet the Press.” I will not miss it.
O‘DONNELL: It‘s going to be fun.
MADDOW: Indeed. Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour as well.
Pop quiz for you: Who is the leader of the Republican Party? This is not a deep analysis question. I literally mean who is paid to have that job? Who has the actual job of being the leader of the Republican Party?
It‘s not Michael Steele anymore, right? So who is in charge of the party now? If you guessed Reince Priebus, then you probably watch this show regularly. So thank you.
Extra credit on tonight‘s pop quiz: What was Reince Priebus‘ job before he became head of the Republican Party? Hint: he was the head of a state Republican Party. His name is Reince Priebus. What state was he head of the party in before he became RNC chairman? Wisconsin. Ah, that‘s where he came from, new head of the Republican National Committee.
On the night Mr. Priebus won the seven-round-long election to become RNC chairman, you might remember that we spoke with Doug Heye, the outgoing communications director for the Republican Party.
Today, we were looking back at that transcript and noticed a remarkable moment of sort of anti-foreshadowing in that interview.
This is the night of January 14th, the night Reince Priebus took over the RNC. All of America was just learning how to pronounce his name and wondering what Michael Steele was going to do next. And here‘s how Doug Heye explained to us who was this new head of the RNC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUG HEYE, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He did a great job in Wisconsin. We had great wins there in that state. Scott Walker won his race, which we‘re all proud about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was, again, January 14th. And I say that was anti-foreshadowing because when Doug Heye said that, I would venture that nobody who wasn‘t either paying really deep attention to Wisconsin politics in the past year or a Republican Party activist had any idea who this Scott Walker guy was that Doug was name-dropping.
Now, of course, everybody knows who Scott Walker is. Now, Scott
Walker‘s at the heart of the biggest story in American politics this winter
the biggest story in American liberal politics in a very long time.
But back in January, the RNC picked Reince Priebus, Wisconsin Republican Party chairman, to be leader of the party. And as of that night, the party was already hyping this guy nobody had heard of, Scott Walker, as the new political face to represent the new Republican Party.
The country at large has only been paying attention to Governor Walker for about 10 days. I think that includes Republicans and Democrats across country. He‘s somebody people are just learning about now. He‘s not somebody who has been famous.
But in terms ever Republican Party institutions, the actual Republican Party and its structure, they are all over Scott Walker as a phenomenon. When you go to the Republican National Committee Web site right now, they are—they are so not together that they are still on the right side—on one side of their screen selling “Fire Pelosi” mugs and gifts. What? You want to fire her as minor leader, too?
But the thing that doesn‘t change at the front page of the RNC Web site, at GOP.com, is—you see right there, “Help stop Obama and his union bosses.” That‘s their permanent front-page icon right now. You click on it. It takes to you a page titled “Wisconsin fight, a fight we must win.” They‘re nationalizing the Scott Walker fight to bust unions, and they‘re trying to turn it into donations for the Republican Party.
The Republican Governors Association as well immediately jumped in to support Scott Walker with a petition that they set up at StandwithScott.com that has since launched a host of Republican imitators, StandingwithScott.com. Also StandwithWalker.com. All very original.
But the Republican Governors Association was first. The Republican establishment has decided that Governor Walker is their guy for the country. You‘ve got the Wisconsin party chairman running the party now. You‘ve got the new Wisconsin governor who nobody had ever heard of before five minutes ago picking this fight, that the Republican Party is doing everything it can to nationalize.
They want to make this fight, and they want to make Scott Walker the face of the party. The Wisconsin fight page at the RNC Web site says Scott Walker‘s anti-union fight there is a battle for America‘s future—a battle that just happens to require you to give money to the RNC.
In terms of the Republican Party figuring out who the leader of its party is, the leader of that party is, post-Bush, post-McCain, the great Republican Party identity crisis of the 2000-ies, who do they want you to think of when they think Republican now? They have picked this guy. And he knows it.
When he was speaking with somebody on the phone who he thought was a conservative billionaire named David Koch but who actually was a gonzo journalist from western New York named Ian, Governor Walker made clear that even though most of America is just now figuring out who he is, he sees himself as the vanguard of the new Republican Party.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GOV. SCOTT WALKER ®, WISCONSIN: I talked to Kasich every day—you know, John‘s got to stand firm in Ohio. I think we can do the same thing with Rick Scott in Florida. I think Snyder—if he got a little more support—probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list, you know, a lot of us—there‘s a lot of us new governors got elected to do something big.
“DAVID KOCH”: You‘re the first domino.
WALKER: Yes. This is our moment.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: I am the first domino. If that isn‘t a clear enough sign about his, if not delusions of grandeur, at least his allusions to grandeur, Governor Walker, also with fake David Koch on the phone and at press conferences and in a recent interview with the Heritage Foundation and any other time anybody gets anywhere near him with a microphone, Governor Walker cannot stop comparing himself to Ronald Reagan.
Republicans really want this guy to be the new Ronald Reagan. He sees himself as the new Ronald Reagan. He talks about himself constantly as the new Ronald Reagan. That overlooked little institution known as the Republican Party is building their national strategy, their national reconstruction, around what‘s going on in Wisconsin, around Wisconsin Republicans, under the leadership of Reince Priebus, the guy who used to run the party in that state, and around the idea of Scott Walker.
This fight to strip union rights is how they are trying to rebuild the National Republican Party. And this fight to strip union rights in Wisconsin that they are building everything on, this fight is not going very well. And that would just be a state-level story about Wisconsin if this was a state-level story about Wisconsin. But it is the Republicans who have decided that this is a national fight, and therefore a national story.
So, their failure here has national implications. This is day 10 of this story dominating national headlines. The newest poll today out of Wisconsin shows a majority, 56 percent of likely Wisconsin voters, are against what Walker‘s doing. They‘re against stripping collective bargaining rights. They are against this fight the Republicans have picked.
Walker just won the governorship there three months ago, and the state is already against his big signature idea. Nationally, it‘s even worse—
61 percent overall oppose what Scott Walker is doing that kind of plan.
It‘s not working. In terms of Walker calling on all those Republican governors who says are going to join him, Republican governors he thinks are going to follow in his big Reagan-esque footsteps or whatever, those governors are not following his lead. They in fact are bailing. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who Walker name checked to the fake billionaire on the phone, Mitch Daniels called Republicans in his state to yank their union-stripping legislation that they had put forward.
Quoting from today‘s “Washington Post,” “Walker is now calling for other governors to join him in fighting unions, by there aren‘t many takers so far. In addition to Daniels, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad have now become the latest governors to balk at going after the unions. They join Mitch Daniels, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett in shying from that battle.”
Walker sees himself as a leader. The National Republican Party clearly is trying to make him into a national Republican leader here. But are you still leading if there‘s nobody behind you? Not only is this fight not catching on nationwide, but the strategy in the state of Wisconsin is failing.
When the governor got punked with that prank phone call, he gave away the strategy he was going to use to try to trick Senate Democrats into coming back into the state so that they could get a quorum to pass his union-stripping bill. He gave away the trick. He told it to a guy he thought was a big donor, and now, the Democrats know what that strategy is. So, they will not be tricked.
The Senate Republicans in Wisconsin also had a plan to all but force the Democrats to come back to the state. They were going to bring up a voter ID bill—a bill that would make it harder to register to vote. It would hurt Democratic chances not only in the next election but in every election to come. That was their big threat to get Senate Democrats to come back. They were going to pass this voter ID bill, right?
They blew it. In order to pass without any of the Democrats there, they had to make it so the bill had no fiscal impact. In order to make it so the bill had no fiscal impact, they had to change the bill to make it so blatantly unconstitutional that even they had to admit it was unconstitutional, and they yanked it before they even got to vote on it. They‘re blowing it.
We also heard David Walker—excuse me, Governor Walker bragging to David Koch about how the protests were dwindling, right? The protests were getting smaller. He was saying this in an encouraging way to this man he thought was his billionaire conservative donor.
But if you believe the protesters today, the protesters said today was their biggest day of protesting yet in Wisconsin, with not only thousands of people still in Madison for yet another day but people also protesting against Governor Walker and his union-stripping plan in 18 other cities in Wisconsin. There aren‘t all that many cities in Wisconsin. I‘m using the word “cities” loosely.
In terms of opposition, it is getting smaller. It is not only not getting smaller, it is getting bigger.
“The Wall Street Journal” has a great piece today about all of these different unions that sort of hate each other. That‘s how it is in liberal politics. All these unions that sort of hate each other—public sector unions, private sector unions, rival unions that have been competing over trying to organize the same groups of workers.
These unions who usually do not get along in this case have decided to put aside all of their differences. They have all become unified around this fight, and they are all willing to spend millions of dollars collectively to capitalize on this Republican overreach in Wisconsin on an issue where the public is actually with the unions.
Anecdotally, as a liberal person who happens to know a few liberals, there is nothing that liberals want to talk about right now more than this situation with Scott Walker in Wisconsin. This thing in Wisconsin has energized the left, energized the Democratic Party, energized the Democratic Party specifically toward addressing and taking care of its traditional and neglected base in a way that nothing any Democrat has done in recent memory has been able to pull off.
Scott Walker is the man the Republican Party proper wanted to lead them. It turns out he is the man who is uniting the left in America. This is the fight by which they thought he would lead Republican politics in the 2000-sies.
And you know what? The two big headlines today were “Huge Protests” and “Madison police chief troubled by Walker‘s comments on protesters.” This is what—this is how it is ending: the governor‘s comments coming in a prank phone call and not objecting when the prank phone caller suggested seeding troublemakers in the crowd to try to make things seem worse than they were in Wisconsin. Today, the headlines, after 10 days of protests in Wisconsin are that the protests are bigger than ever and that the Madison police chief would please like a word with the state‘s irresponsible governor.
How‘s the politics of this working out for you guys?
MADDOW: Union-bashing for stardom in the Republican Party. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey kind of started it. This new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker then jumped in with both feet, with mixed results so far.
But mixed results be darned, there is a theory on the right that there‘s rocket fuel in that union-busting stuff disguised as fiscal responsibility. And you know who is a Republican politician who needs rocket fuel in the worst way? It‘s former Minnesota Governor Tim Paw—sorry. Tim—Tim Pawlenty. Tim Pawlenty. T-Paw.
According to Chris Goode at “The Atlantic,” Tim Pawlenty wants in. Even as most other ambitious Republicans are starting to catch on, that they are glad Scott Walker went first with this thing in a big way because it‘s sure starting to look like a loser of an issue, not Mr. Paw, Mr. T, Mr. T-Pawlenty. He has launched an online petition asking his supporters to support Scott Walker. He says “The gig is up for public employees.”
The gig is up. He says stuff like that now. Mr. Pawlenty. It is to make him more exciting as a viable candidate.
Joining us now is Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Mayor Barrett ran against Governor Scott Walker in the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial race and would never be as rude or crass as I was to make fun of Mr. Pawlenty for being boring. So, my views should not be ascribed to him.
Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us.
MAYOR TOM BARRETT (D), MILWAUKEE: It‘s my pleasure.
MADDOW: What is your assessment of how this is going to resolve in Wisconsin? How do you think this is going to end?
BARRETT: Well, I don‘t think we know the answer to that yet. And really it‘s going to depend on those 14 state senators, who really surprised a lot of people because the governor and the Republican legislature really had a steamroller going. They introduced the bill a week ago Friday, actually two weeks ago tomorrow, and it looks like it was going to pass. And all of a sudden, the 14 senators said we‘re not going to do this, we‘re not going to allow this to happen.
And it really wasn‘t the fact that public employees were being required to pay towards their pensions or health care. It was this attack against a fundamental right to organize and bargain, which just sent them over the cliff and literally out of the state. That‘s where he overreached. He clearly overreached by attacking the workers‘ fundamental right to organize and bargain.
MADDOW: Why do you think that the protests in Wisconsin are getting bigger and not smaller? We saw substantial protests today in something like 18 sites across the state, including continued large protests at the state capitol. Why are the protesters—why are the protests not waning? Why are they waxing?
BARRETT: Because what‘s happening now is that people around the state of Wisconsin are beginning to recognize what this is all about. In that phone call that you referenced, when he thought he was talking to David Koch, he never once mentioned a fiscal crisis. And that‘s how he presented this to the people of the state of Wisconsin, that he had to do this because it was a fiscal crisis.
But if you look—if you listen to that transcript, or if you listen to that conversation with David Koch, never once does he talk about a fiscal crisis. He talks about getting on national TV shows. He talks about how this is his moment. He compares himself to Reagan. It‘s all about the cause.
He is delighted to be in the middle of an ideological war. That‘s what this is all about. It‘s an ideological war to try to crush labor. And he‘s proud to be part of it.
MADDOW: Governor Walker says that this shouldn‘t come as a shock to anyone. He said he told everybody that he was going to do this. I know you ran against him for governor for November‘s elections.
Do you think it was widely understood in Wisconsin that this was his agenda—this is how he was going to governor?
BARRETT: Well, I‘ll tell you what his winning argument was when it came to public employees, was that they should pay more towards their health care and their pensions. And I actually agree with that. And the unions agree with that now. They didn‘t agree with it at first, but they agree with it now.
The people in the state of Wisconsin agreed. The public employees should pay more to their pensions and health care.
But this whole notion of attacking public employee unions and stripping people of the right to organize came out of thin air in the last three weeks. This was never discussed. And I‘m telling you, I was out there on the campaign trail—never once did it come up.
But somehow in the last three weeks that‘s where this came from. In December, after the election, he made a reference to decertifying unions, but it was only really after the Super Bowl, and he talked about dropping the bomb—that‘s how he described in that conversation—is that they decided to drop the bomb. Well, he‘s right using those war-like analogies because this is really—no question about this—this is an ideological war.
And back to your question, that‘s why people are upset. They realize that there has been ideological war declared right here in Wisconsin. And I don‘t know how it‘s going to end. I don‘t know who blinks first.
MADDOW: Let me ask you one question about Milwaukee. You as mayor of Milwaukee, Scott Walker was county executive there, of course. Are you still in Milwaukee cleaning up after his firing all the security officers there and replacing them with that private company who put a guy with a criminal record in charge? We reported on that a couple nights ago in this show.
BARRETT: Right. And what happened—there were a couple things that happened. First, when that—when he first replaced the county workers with this group, they had to literally bring people in from out of state. So, here‘s a guy who talks about creating jobs. People who live here in Milwaukee lost their jobs. They had to bring people in from out of state.
He made reference to the fact that the manager had a criminal record. There recently was a decision that said that that was illegal. And now, the county‘s been required to pay back the workers who lot their jobs. They‘re back on their jobs.
So, we are still cleaning up that mess. That‘s what my concern is—is that those concerns are going to start showing up at the state level as well.
MADDOW: Yes, if that was round one, round two at the state level will not be pretty.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, it‘s nice to have your insight on this, sir. Thanks for joining us.
BARRETT: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MADDOW: The Republican Party has a brand new pickle. Having beat the drum for months and months and months and months and months about a supposedly disastrous socialist, communist, fascist, anti-capitalist, tyrannical move by “Czar Obama I,” the move in question they‘re beating that drum about, it turns out it totally worked. It was about jobs and the economy, and it is a good news story. It paid off in a hugely capitalist, for-profit, let‘s all make oodles of private sector money kind of way. Into the deafening Republican silence about that we will wade next.
Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: If there‘s one thing that Republicans are sure of, it‘s that government spending is terrible. It is the job-killing ruination of the American Dream. It is the last thing we need or something like that. Not one but two incredible news stories today that have been almost entirely overlooked in the Beltway press and the mainstream press, suggest that this Republican postulate, this axiom of the 112th Congress, this spending is bad and we need to get away from it, is not the kind of thing on which we should stake what is left about the American Dream.
Did you see the news about the government-controlled car business today? Some healthy perspective on the current brawl between House Speaker John Boehner and the American economy is coming up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot and must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish. This industry is like no other. It‘s an emblem of the American spirit, the once and future symbol of America‘s success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Return with me now to yesteryear—or yester two years ago if you prefer, to the moment when President Obama decided a specific emergency extraordinary allocation of government spending was essential. It was essential to save tens of thousands of jobs, possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs all at once, to not only keep the American economy from a steep deep certain dive toward ruin, but to maybe even lay the groundwork for a recovery.
What was that government spending? It was the bailout of G.M. and Chrysler. And—oh, the political grief that he took for it. He wants to nationalize American business. What kind of fascist is he?
Is there some kind of fascist that is also a communist? Because I bet he‘s that. He hates capitalism.
Also, maybe he‘s Kenyan. That‘s another story.
That is where we left the politics of the car industry bailout. Meanwhile, today, hey, look at that. G.M. reports its first annual profit since 2004. The bailout seems to have worked.
G.M. was on the brink of imploding two years ago -- 80,000 jobs directly on the line, hundreds of thousands more linked to the automotive industry on the line as well. It was teetering, teetering, teetering—and big decision time. The government decided to step in to save it.
They reorganized the company, and lo and behold, year 2010 profits now of $4.7 billion. And you want to know who owns a 27 percent stake in G.M.? You do. We do. The American people do. Mazel tov. It worked.
Thank God we didn‘t listen to the man who is now speaker of the House when back in 2009 he all but shoved G.M. off the ledge while it was teetering, asking at the time, quote, “Does anybody really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multinational corporation to economic viability?”
Thank God we didn‘t listen to Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina when he complained the very next day, quote, “Now, the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anybody think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn G.M. around in the same time?”
Five years, Senator DeMint? Five years? Try 20 months.
Not only were all of those jobs saved, but there‘s, you know, profit.
Some of those anti-oracles who blew it about G.M. are now putting forth a Republican budget plan. It calls for urgent massive budget cuts because they say the nation is so broke we cannot afford to spend any money. House Republicans under the leadership of Mr. Boehner say because we are in such dire financial straits we should cut $61 billion from the 2011 budget right now. That‘s their conventional wisdom.
The terrifying investment bank, Goldman Sachs, this week did a non-partisan assessment for one of their clients about what the effect would be on the economy if John Boehner gets his way, if the House Republican budget is actually put into effect. Check it out. A confidential new report prepared by Goldman Sachs for its clients says spending cuts passed by the House of Representatives last week would be a drag on the economy, cutting economic growth by about 2 percent of GDP. Two points off the—hmm.
Now that all those jobs got saved, now that we still have car companies in America, now that G.M.‘s making $5 billion a year in profit, if you liked the advice from Speaker Boehner that that wasn‘t worth doing, can I sell you a budget plan for the country that‘s designed to reduce economic growth by two points? Any takers?
Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC contributor.
Gene, it is great to see you, my wise friend.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Rachel, great to be here.
MADDOW: Steve Benen at “Washington Monthly,” who is wise himself, today said this report on the Republican budget should be the lead story in every news outlet in the country. Do you think this is a really big deal?
ROBINSON: I think it‘s a huge deal for a couple of reasons, Rachel. Number one, it shows how economically insane the Republican—the House budget plan is, to take two points off the top of economic growth at a time when we‘re trying to struggle out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression is insanity. Any economist will tell you it‘s insanity.
And so, now we have Goldman Sachs, which cannot be accused of being some sort of front for international communism, or socialism or Kenyan anti-colonialism saying the same thing, that this is crazy.
Number two, you know, maybe this is the point of the House budget plan. Maybe the point of the plan is to depress economic growth to set up the Republican Party for 2012, so people will be angry with President Obama and maybe elect a Republican. So, I think this should be a huge deal.
MADDOW: Well, for all of—I mean, the admitted stupidity and distraction in our politics, there is a big salient empirical question at the heart of it, which is: should we try to help the economy by cutting spending a lot? Do you think we‘ve actually been having an empirical discussion about that, a quantitative factual conversation about the answer to that question?
ROBINSON: Oh, no, not even close. It‘s as if there are two
dimensions. There‘s a real world of people and events and facts, and then
there‘s—there‘s a narrative world in which there is only storyline. And
you see example after example of this. And I hate to do this. But just
let me rant about Wisconsin for just one quick second -
MADDOW: Please. Please.
ROBINSON: -- because Governor Scott Walker, in narrative world, you have to take away bargaining rights from public employees, that‘s going to balance the budget, that‘s the one thing you have to do to balance the budget. It‘s the central issue.
Well, look at a state like Texas, total right-to-work state. There‘s a law against public—collective bargaining of any kind for public employees, including for salaries, not to mention benefits and pensions. And, in fact, it‘s illegal for public workers to strike there. Well, Texas has a budget deficit, projected state budget deficit of up to $27 billion.
So, if this is the magic formula for eliminating deficits, then why is Texas in such bad shape? Now, that‘s a fact. And it should be a salient fact in the real world, and it should be, in the real world, in the narrative world, it‘s as if it doesn‘t exist.
MADDOW: Am I right to suspect, in terms of the difference between fact world and narrative world, am I right to suspect that the fact that the G.M. bailout worked, that that fact will not impinge at all on Republican candidates denouncing it as one of Obama‘s big mistakes for years to come?
ROBINSON: Not in the least—it will certainly not factor in the Republican narrative of what‘s happened over the last 20 months. But in fact, it‘s been, as you noted, a great success. G.M. is making a profit. Even Chrysler has Eminem in the ads now, and they‘re kind of, you know, bumping up to respectability.
I mean, you know, this was—think about it. Saved the auto industry in the United States, which is one of the great, kind of, industrial machines of the world, or certainly was once and perhaps could be again. That‘s a great achievement. But I don‘t think that‘s a story that Republicans are going to tell.
MADDOW: Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington post,” MSNBC contributor—Gene, thank you very much, sir.
ROBINSON: Thanks, Rachel. And as always, thanks for letting me rant.
MADDOW: You know, it‘s one of the great joys of my job, and my job is pretty joyful. Thanks, Gene.
All right. Facts are stubborn things, and so are we. When someone calls us out for getting our facts wrong and they are right and we are in fact wrong, we say we‘re sorry. I say I‘m sorry. And we correct the record.
But when folks say we‘re wrong and it turns out we‘re actually right -
that‘s a different matter. You will know exactly what I mean in just a moment.
MADDOW: You know your country‘s revolution has taken a turn for the dangerous when your despotic ruler starts publicly raving, not only about al Qaeda, but about al Qaeda spiking the nation‘s coffee with roofies. He name-checks Nescafe specifically. When the weird get going, the going gets even weirder.
And if you‘re lucky, Richard Engel is there interpreting it all in fluent Arabic. Please stay tuned for an update.
MADDOW: Libya is right in between Tunisia on one side and Egypt on the other, which even just geographically does not bode well for the 42-yearlong dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi. The eastern part of Libya is now said to be out of Gadhafi‘s control almost entirely, firmly in the hands of the anti-government protesters.
Despite the regime‘s best attempts to attack and kill its own citizens in that part of Libya, it appears that Gadhafi may be cutting his losses and now trying to concentrate on holding on to the other half, the western half of his country. He‘s using foreign mercenaries and militiamen to control the streets of the capital city, Tripoli. He‘s attacking the protesters who are in control of Libya‘s third largest city, Mesrata.
And he has sent his fractious army into Zawiyah. He has also addressed the citizens of that specific town, Zawiyah, in a rambling half-hour long phone call to Libyan state TV. As the Libyan state TV news reader fidgeted through it, Gadhafi claimed that al Qaeda is responsible for the protests. Really?
He also claimed that young people had been given hallucinogenic drugs in their milk and in their coffee, Nescafe specifically, to make them revolt.
NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Libya. He was driving through Libya when the speech came across state radio. Listen to what Richard said about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
I‘ve listened to speeches in Arabic of Middle East leaders for 15 years.
This did not sound like a sane person.
(on camera): Gadhafi is speaking now on state radio. It‘s very difficult to follow. He‘s all over the place. He‘s already mentioned the Kurds in northern Iraq, the Unabomber, India, and says the people carrying out this revolt are taking drugs that make them insane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Unabomber? Our friend Richard Engel is still reporting from Libya tonight at this hour at considerable risk to himself. The Libyan regime today officially warned the U.S. State Department that foreign journalists except those from CNN, BBC Arabic, and Al Arabiya, foreign journalists other than them will be arrested and treated as al Qaeda collaborators.
This is not just a revolution. This is an insane revolution. We will stay on it. And we will be right back.
MADDOW: We do a recurring segment on this show whenever we feel like it because we‘re just that disciplined. It‘s a segment called “Debunktion Junction.”
And the reason we really like “Debunktion Junction” is twofold. Number one, we have a really cute cartoon train. And I really dig it when we get to run that toot, toot cartoon train. Sorry.
Also, it gives us a chance to debunk stuff. There are claims that arise on the news sometimes that are widely believed to be true but can demonstrably be shown to be false.
Also, there are some things in the news that seem too outlandish to really seem actually true, but they are confirmable. So, we use that segment to confirm as true or debunk as untrue stuff that you might have heard about in the news. We don‘t do is it all the time but when we do it, I think there is a public interest value to it. So, I‘m glad that we do it.
We also make a regular practice on this show of running corrections. If we say something on the air, if I say something on the air that turns out not to have been true, either an inadvertent mistake or an editing error or just wrong information or a false interpretation, we correct it. Not everybody in TV news makes a practice of doing that, but for us, we have always felt like it‘s a responsible and useful thing to do.
One of the by-products of that, however, which I think is sort of fascinating, is that a lot of times when we say something critical about somebody or some group, they write to us immediately and tell us that we‘ve got our facts wrong. But because I think we have a policy of running corrections, we always take those missives very seriously. We always quadruple-check what it is they‘re upset about just to make sure we got it right.
In most cases, these folks turn out to just not like what it is we‘ve said about them, but we haven‘t actually made an error. For example, Kansas for Life—Kansas for Life is an aggressive anti-abortion group with an innocuous-sounding name. They told us today that we were upset that last night we quoted from a death threat letter sent by somebody who has worked with them.
The death threat in question was addressed to Dr. Mila Means, the doctor in Kansas who‘s been threatened and harassed by the anti-abortion movement for saying she wants to perform abortions in Wichita since nobody else has been doing that since the murder of Dr. George Tiller.
A representative of Kansas for Life called our office today and was very, very, very, very angry with us at length because we reported that the author of that death threat, a person named Angel Dillard, excuse me, is somebody who has worked with Kansas for Life in the past.
Again, here‘s the death threat. Here‘s the envelope that it came in. Here‘s the name of that person on both the return address and at the bottom of the letter.
The representative of Kansas for Life who called us today was unhappy with the way we associated Angel Dillard with their group. So, has Angel Dillard worked with Kansas for Life?
Well, here‘s Ms. Dillard being interviewed for the film “What‘s the Matter with Kansas.” Here she is in that film at the Kansas for Life booth at the Kansas state fair, volunteering for Kansans for Life.
I understand that Kansas for Life, you guys are very upset that we put this information on the air, that the author of this death threat is linked to your group. I understand you feel like that makes you look bad. I think it does make you look bad, but it doesn‘t mean we got it wrong.
One of our producers spoke with that representative from Kansans for Life again tonight for more than a half hour. She was very nice but she was unable to refute any of our reporting. We did not get it wrong.
Similarly, we got a not angry at all but actually very friendly and charming and good natured long letter from the spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner recently. He was unhappy with our characterization of Speaker Boehner as bad at his job and also as having what I think we described as the opposite of a Midas touch.
Mr. Boehner‘s spokesman again was really nice about it. He approached it in a very constructive way, but he wanted us to stop saying the Republicans fell way short of their promise to cut $100 billion out of the budget this year. He wants us to stop saying that.
The problem is they did fall short of that promise. House Republicans proposed $61 billion worth of cuts -- $61 billion is not $100 billion, which is what they promised. Sixty-one billion dollars is only $100 billion if you are rounding up to the nearest $100 billion. I know he doesn‘t want us to say John Boehner blew that giantly-hyped campaign promise but, in fact, John Boehner did blow that giantly hyped campaign promise.
It is only in the world of super tortured pretzel logic annualizing when we didn‘t say we‘d be annualizing math that you can say he didn‘t blew that promise. He blew it.
So, again, you not liking the way it sounds is not the same thing as us making an error. It‘s not the same thing as it not being true.
The process about fighting about this stuff though sometimes can be fun and it can even sometimes advance the story. Mr. Boehner‘s spokesman for instance also told us he didn‘t like us saying that House Republicans kept breaking their own rules that they would always cite the exact constitutional authority for every bill they introduced. They did, in fact, set that as a new rule.
But their attempt to abide by it has run into some serious trouble. I mean, there is—I am happy to admit, there is some ambiguity about when exactly a bill is considered to be introduced and when it should have that citation and that citation coming retroactively after most people think it‘s already been introduced. You can fight about that.
But in the process of telling us how much they didn‘t want us to say anything about this constitutional citation promise, it became clear to us in a way it never had been before that when Republicans say they‘re going to cite the Constitution, cite constitutional authority for what they‘re doing, they don‘t apparently mean they are citing something in the Constitution that gives them the authority to pass that bill. What they apparently meant by a constitutional citation is that they‘ll just say stuff like, well, we have authority to do this because we think health reform is unconstitutional.
What you‘re looking at right now is a constitutional citation offered recently by Republican Congressman Joe Pitts. As you can see, it does not cite the Constitution.
So, if that‘s what they meant when they pledged a statement of constitutional authority for every bill, it is good to have that clarified now. When they say they‘re going to cite the Constitution sometimes that just means they‘re going to say a variant of the word Constitution but no quotes from the actual Constitution will be there. This is much clearer now. We learned something.
We learned something about another way in which I think John Boehner is not very good at his job. I‘m not trying to be deliberately combative about this. I do appreciate Mr. Boehner‘s spokesman reaching out to us. I hope we can continue a constructive dialogue.
For instance, I would love to interview Speaker Boehner at some point. I am happy to talk about this stuff and we will correct it when we get it wrong, but we will also correct you if you say publicly that we are wrong when we are really not.
There are too many people who work too hard on this show for us to get slandered when we are in fact telling the truth.
Usually, somebody saying something untrue about MSNBC or about this show, usually, honestly, it doesn‘t rise above the level of somebody being wrong on the Internet. But sometimes it‘s real newspapers doing what looks like real fact-checking and they really get it wrong.
The right wing this week, for example, got very excited when a “St. Petersburg Times” project called PolitiFact called a piece of our reporting on the Wisconsin crisis false. It was specifically about Wisconsin‘s budget. They said, quote, “Maddow and the others are wrong. There is indeed a projected deficit in Wisconsin.”
Flashing red lights. Bells and whistles. Meter to red. Maddow lied. She said there is no budget shortfall in the state of Wisconsin. Roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is, in fact, a $137 million budget shortfall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “PolitiFact” ran a whole article about me supposedly denying the existence of a budget shortfall in Wisconsin. They say, quote, “Here‘s the bottom line: there should be no debate on whether or not there is a shortfall. We rate Maddow‘s take false.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “PolitiFact” says I am false, false, because I denied there is a budget shortfall in Wisconsin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you are somebody who does not bite your nails, but you would like to start, if you feel like reading the letters we sent to “PolitiFact” asking them to please run a correction on this, we have posted those letters on our blog so you, too, can share in our frustration. They have told us they do not intend to run a correction about their mistakes on this, which I should not find astonishing but I do.
“PolitiFact,” you are wrong here on the facts and bluntly and you ought to correct it. Putting the word “fact” in your name does not grant you automatic mastery of the facts.
When Karl Rove wrote in “The Wall Street Journal” that Barack Obama had, quote, “The worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year,” “PolitiFact” rated that mostly true, even though the approval rating Mr. Rove cited was 49 percent and Ronald Reagan posted a 48 percent approval rating at the end of his first year.
It did not matter to “PolitiFact” apparently. They rated that, the statement from Mr. Rove as mostly true. What? Yes. Because apparently the word “true” means a lot less than you think it means.
“PolitiFact” also said that Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey‘s explanation of the Stupak Amendment, the abortion amendment to health reform, they called that a false analysis. When “PolitiFact” was challenged on that claim by the Web site “FireDogLake,” “Politifact” reportedly conceded to “FireDogLake” that what Congresswoman Lowey had said about the bill, her analysis of the bill, they conceded that OK, what she said could be true in some cases. They just didn‘t find it to be a likely predictor of what was going to happen in the future.
So, even though they apparently conceded it could be true, they decided to not run a correction and stick with their ruling that it was false. It could be true, but we‘re going to call it false. Because what is true really? We have fact in our name.
Right now, on the Internet, there are people who are upset with a host at the FOX News channel whose name is Shepard Smith. They are upset because Mr. Smith cited the same data that I cited recently about big money outside contributors in the last election cycle.
According to opensecrets.org, which everybody cites, which tracks federal election filings and which nobody is impugning, here are those contributors. We‘ve been talking about this for the last few days. Of the top 10 -- seven of the top 10 from the last election, seven of the top 10 are contributing to the right. Only three of them are contributing to the left. And the only three that are contributing to the left are unions.
This I believe is a key piece of analysis for understanding why the Republicans are going after unions. If you can dismantle unions, if you can weaken unions and the sector in the economy where unions are strongest is the public sector, if you can weaken unions, that has clear partisan implications. There are only three of the top 10 contributors of big money of outside groups in the last election who are not contributing to right wing causes and they are the unions.
But the right wing is on fire right now about Shep Smith citing that same information I cited because I also cited it and therefore, it must be false.
Because this particular burst of anger is a pure right wing Internet phenomenon, if you have seen anything about this, you have probably seen it retweeted at some point as Rachel Maddow is wrong and she looks like a man. Also favorite Rachel Maddow is wrong and also gay.
You know, just because you don‘t like the way it sounds when I say it or you don‘t like my hair cut, or you don‘t like that I‘m gay, it does not mean that what we say is not true. Those are the real numbers from opensecrets.org. Those are the real big money outside contributors from the last election cycle.
It was true when Open Secrets said it. It was true when I said it.
It is true when Mr. Smith over at the FOX News channel said it.
And if you squint a little bit it is true, I do sometimes look like a dude, and I am definitely gay. Calling bullpuckey is fun. Calling bullpuckey is journalistically useful.
It is a neat idea to be able to call balls and strikes in facts and news, to fact check things you hear in the news and fact-check things you hear politicians and political figures say. People do get stuff wrong and it should be pointed out. When I confused the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in terms of which one had a preamble, you may recall that I not only apologized for that. I sung and danced my apology to that.
When you get something wrong, it is both good practice and I find satisfying to own up to it. Say you got it wrong, learn something about it, and move on. But that should apply to everybody. That should apply to everybody even if you have the word “fact” in your name, or in what you say you are doing.
Calling somebody a liar when they are not lying is not the same as fact-checking. That is just bullpuckey, too.
Thanks very much for being with us tonight. Now, it is time for “THE ED SHOW.” Have a good night.
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