'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, March 7th, 2013
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
March 7, 2013
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I know that is the actor who plays Stamper and
not Doug Stamper himself, but just seeing him there, a cold chill down my
spine. He`s such a scary character and such a good show.
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: It is.
MADDOW: That was awesome. That was awesome.
Thanks, Ed. Appreciate it, man.
SCHULTZ: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for sticking with us this hour.
On another news day in which it kind of doesn`t really seem possible
that all much this news is breaking in one 24-hour cycle. But it is.
Today, President Obama`s nominee to run the CIA John Brennan was
confirmed by the Senate. That came after a 13-hour, old school, stand-up
filibuster of that nomination ended after midnight. Republicans attacking
each other over that tactic today, accusing each other of a lack of
seriousness on national security.
Meanwhile, an actual, honest to God, senior al Qaeda suspect has been
captured abroad and delivered to New York City to face trial. He`s going
to be arraigned tomorrow morning.
And the Democrats` top senator on Armed Services announces that he
Plus, gun legislation moves forward in Congress for the first time
A lot is going on right now in the news.
But we`re going to start the show tonight with the newest addition to
MSNBC. Tonight, we get the first primetime interview since he signed up to
be a person who goes on TV with the architect of President Obama`s two
national election victories.
He was a senior adviser to Barack Obama before you had ever even heard
of Barack Obama. And he arrives here now free to talk, having left the
administration behind, at a time when he really is the guy you want to talk
to. In part because so much is in flux in the stuff that he knows so much
The president now, today and last night, is now going around the
leadership of the Republican Party to eat with non-senior Republican
senators and members of Congress. The president hosted Paul Ryan today for
lunch. He hosted 12 Republican senators last night for dinner at a
Furthermore, the Republicans` biggest publicity stunt in months was
also pulled off yesterday without the knowledge of the party`s leadership.
Senator Rand Paul essentially snuck onto the Senate floor to start his epic
filibuster yesterday without telling anyone who was in charge. That was
followed today by the old guard of the Republican Party on national
security issues denouncing Rand Paul for doing that filibuster. Even as 14
other Republican senators took to the floor last night to help him out.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the Republicans` chaos and
infighting and back-handing their own leadership is not necessarily
redounding to the Democrats` advantage, at least not yet.
Look at this. This is right after the election. You see the date
there, 11-25? This is right after the 2012 election, in which Democrats,
of course, did way better than expected in the White House and in the
Congress and in the Senate.
Right after the election this came out, listing the top priorities for
the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. One of the highest immediate priorities
for Democrats is to persuade these veteran Democratic senators to not
retire -- Senators Tim Johnson, Jay Rockefeller, Frank Lautenberg, Tom
Harkin and Carl Levin. The first priority of the Democrats in the Senate
is that these guys can`t retire.
Well, today, Carl Levin announced that he is going to retire. And, of
course, we have learned that Tom Harkin is going to retire, too. And, of
course, Frank Lautenberg is going to retire too. And, of course, Jay
Rockefeller is going to retire, too.
As for Tim Johnson, who knows? Not saying yet.
The top priority was to keep those five guys. Four of the five are
gone. And the last one, who knows?
So from this last election, where the Democrats did great, we are
heading toward our next one in which the field is really tilted against the
Democrats, maybe even more so than it was before. And the Republicans did
terrible in the last election. They are in chaos in Congress. That is
making for a bewildering governing environment right now for the
president`s second term.
But in the middle of all that today we learned that the autopsy, the
Republican Party commission to figure out why they did so badly and what is
wrong with them as a party, that autopsy is done. The group looking at
what went wrong in 2012 has finished its work. The Republican Party
chairman announced on conservative talk radio today that the report is
ready to be released.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO HOST: So when do we see that? When do we get the
REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIR: Well, we`re going to have some -- we`re
going to have some details on this issue coming out around March 18th.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: On March 18th, in fact, the Republican Party has booked the
National Press Club to release its self-diagnosis of why they think they
just lost so badly. But on talk radio today the Republican Party chairman,
Reince Priebus, gave this preview of what the party found when they looked
at their problems, what the party thinks their big problem was and how they
plan to fix it. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PRIEBUS: You`re going to see the skeleton of this plan start to roll
out in the next few weeks. And if you look real hard, you`ll see that I`ve
made comments and it`s similar to what I just told you on this issue in the
press over the last couple weeks and that controlling the debate process,
getting involved in moderators and networks and all of these other issues
so that we don`t have chaos.
I mean, we just can`t have MSNBC, you know, hosting a debate at the
Reagan library only to have their network comment -- you know, make the
commentary afterwards for three hours about the debate of the Republican
Party. I mean, it`s ridiculous.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you think they know that MSNBC would talk about what
happened at a Republican debate even if it happened on another network? We
were the reason you guys lost? We`re what needs to be fixed in the
Republican Party? Seriously?
I find this to be excellent news.
Joining us now is David Axelrod, former senior adviser for President
Obama, now an NBC and MSNBC senior political strategist. This is his first
primetime interview since making that leap. Mr. Axelrod is also the
director of the University of Chicago`s Institute of Politics.
David, thank you for being here.
DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR OBAMA ADVISOR: Great to be here. I`m a
little exhausted listening to your lead-in. And that was a truncated
version there, but a lot happening here. A lot happening.
MADDOW: The standard 17 minutes.
I do feel like we`ve got -- we`ve got a lot of interesting stuff going
on on the Republican side, as there has been for a long time. I still feel
like the Republican Party doesn`t know who it is post-Bush and Cheney. But
there are a lot of moving parts. I want to ask you first about what you
think about their self-diagnosis about what happened in 2012. You were
AXELROD: I was there. And I -- we were chatting before. At my
institute in Chicago, Jon Huntsman tonight I think said it best. He said
it was a failure of strategy and vision, not tactics. Tactics are
I mean, it`s interesting to hear Chairman Priebus posit what he did
there because my recollection is the most damaging -- one of the most
damaging exchanges in all those debates came on a FOX debate when they all
said they wouldn`t accept one dollar of new revenue --
AXELROD: -- even if it entailed -- brought with it $10 of cuts.
The problem wasn`t the format. It wasn`t the venue. It wasn`t the
commentary after the debates. It`s what the candidates said in the
debates. And they were responding to the most strident voices in the
party, who were in control of that party.
So they talked about self-deportation, and they talked about this
revenue issue in the way that they did. They talked about ending Planned
Parenthood. They talked about their unified opposition to gay marriage,
and they drove away large numbers of Americans from their -- from their
That is what their problem is. Their problem is more fundamental than
simply the commentary after their debates. It`s what happened during the
MADDOW: I`d like to think that they could fix that too by not having
MSNBC or even NBC host a debate. But everybody would still weigh in.
AXELROD: Well, the truth is if you talk to them privately what they
want is no debates. They don`t want any primary debates, because what
happened to Mitt Romney is he had to pass through this toll booth, this
right-wing toll booth in order to get the nomination and he made a
calculation that it was worth doing because Barack Obama in his view was so
vulnerable that just getting the nomination by any means necessary was
And what he found was when he got out of that toll booth, he had
largely disqualified himself. He lost Latinos by massive numbers, big
gender gap. Young voters again voting heavily against the -- by the way,
on the issue of self-deportation and the sort of nativist tone of the
party`s rhetoric, they lost Asian Americans by vast numbers in this
election. I think that`s one of the reasons why.
So, their answer is let`s not talk about that stuff, let`s try and
bypass that. And they`d love to have no debates if they could.
MADDOW: Well, the other thing that`s going on on that subject, on
stridency and having to go through the sort of ideological toll booth.
Since it is an odd-numbered year now, we keep getting told, well, the
Republicans are going to moderate on these positions, they`re going to
moderate on gay rights, they`re going to moderate on immigration, they`re
going to start dialing back some stuff that was so alienating during the
And we`re seeing all sorts of ex-elected officials do that and all
sorts of talking heads and columnists and things do that, but elected
Republicans are not shifting on that subject even in an odd-numbered year.
What`s holding them back?
AXELROD: Because many of them run in venues that are homogenous in
terms of the party participation and the only thing they ever fear -- they
never face a general election -- the only thing they fear are primaries.
And those primaries tend to be dominated by the most strident voices in
So even, for example, on an issue like gun control and background
checks, which has a 92 percent approval rating among Americans, there`s
some doubt as to whether that will pass in Congress because many of these
members are concerned about what will happen in primaries in their
districts and what the NRA will do within those primaries.
MADDOW: Well, in terms of a governing environment, then, just take
the issue of background checks, how does -- how do Democrats then
reasonably strategize if they need to get Republicans to move and they
appreciate why Republicans can`t? How do they move forward?
AXELROD: No, no, I think this is a big -- it`s a big challenge. I
think the big challenge for the Republican Party is they have this tension
between the needs of their congressional majority in the House and the --
and their desire to become a national party. They can never become a
national party unless they moderate some of these positions.
So, ultimately, they`re going to have to have a discussion amongst
themselves. But it was interesting the other day when Governor Bush, Jeb
Bush, someone who I think -- I was looking to and I`ve always seen take
slightly different positions -- he did on revenue, for example. He said
sure, I`d take that money. But on the issue of immigration, which was a
signature issue for him, he just wrote a book, and he changed his position
and said, no, no citizenship for undocumented workers.
And I think that was a recognition that this is going to be a hard
thing -- that this environment is going to be hard to change within the
MADDOW: I think it`s telling that he makes that switch at the same
time he floats he may want to run in 2016.
David Axelrod, do you mind staying a moment?
AXELROD: Happy to stay.
MADDOW: Something came up in the news today that I actually don`t
know the politics of it and I want to ask -- use you as a crystal ball.
AXELROD: All right. Let`s do it.
MADDOW: All right. David Axelrod with us again when we come back.
MADDOW: We are back with David Axelrod, brand new NBC and MSNBC
senior political strategist. He`s director of the University of Chicago`s
Institute of Politics. And, of course, he`s a former senior adviser for
David, thank you again very much for being here. Good to have you
AXELROD: Great to be here.
MADDOW: So, Guantanamo`s still open. The president wanted to close
Guantanamo but Congress would not let him.
Still, though, since he has been president, nobody has been sent to
Guantanamo. Terrorism suspects have been killed by drones. A lot of them
are killed in combat. A lot of them have been arrested by other countries.
But today was only the second time in the whole Obama presidency that
we got word that a dude got captured. It was one guy in 2011 and there`s
one guy today and that`s been it. The guy today is a terrorism suspect, in
this case an al Qaeda spokesman whose ties to bin Laden include marrying a
bin Laden daughter. He`s picked up in Jordan.
Now, apparently, he`s in jail a few blocks from here downtown. He`s
been criminally charged. He`s going to be seeing a judge tomorrow morning.
How is it possible that this has only happened twice in four years?
No captures abroad.
AXELROD: Because -- well, there have been captures on the battlefield
but not captures of terrorists in this way because most of them are not
crossing the border into Turkey as this -- as this man was. That`s where
he was captured. Most of them are hiding in the most remote areas of
places like Yemen and Somalia and Pakistan, and they`re very hard to reach.
I think the preference would always be to capture these high-value
terrorist suspects because they have information that`s useful in thwarting
operations. But it`s very, very difficult to reach them.
MADDOW: I mean, you can see -- you can see the balance change. You
see the huge number -- a huge increase in drone strikes killing people and
the huge decrease in people being captured abroad. Are they related? Did
we in fact go through a policy shift that we didn`t really debate that was
to kill rather than capture? I know capturing seems like a better idea,
but we really have done none of it.
AXELROD: Well, look, I`m -- I think that the -- one of the reasons
why there`s been less of it is because these leaders are on the run. These
terrorists are on the run, and they`re going to place that are remote
enough that they`re hard to find and they`re plotting from those locations.
And that`s the nature -- I mean, that`s the down side or the upside of the
success that we`ve had in thwarting some of that.
But -- you know, it`s a challenging part of the world. And so,
sometimes, reaching them by drone is more -- is the only way to reach them.
MADDOW: Yes, in terms of this guy now being in jail -- he`s in jail
in New York tonight. The other guy who was captured in 2011 is also in
jail in New York tonight.
MADDOW: His trial hasn`t started yet.
The whole original idea, part of the critique of the Bush
administration when President Obama was elected, was that everybody should
go on trial, right?
MADDOW: Even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should go on trial.
MADDOW: Those plans were thwarted by congress freaking out about it.
Mostly Republicans but some Democrats too.
Are we past that now? Are we past like the Cheney era in Republican
politics looking at this filibuster yesterday --
AXELROD: Well, let me say this. If people are serious about bringing
these people -- these terrorists to justice, we should be because Article 3
courts, civilian courts are the most effective way to bring them to trial
and to bring them to justice and to do it swiftly. That`s what happened
with the Times Square bomber here, the underwear bomber in Detroit.
I think there have been 67 successful prosecutions since 9/11 in the
civilian courts, only seven in military tribunals. So, if your interest is
in bringing the terrorists to justice, this is the most efficiency way to
MADDOW: It was thwarted before, though, by Congress freaking out.
AXELROD: It was.
MADDOW: Including some Democrats in Congress freaking out. Do you
think we are past that?
AXELROD: Well, I hope so. I think there were specific -- there were
specific elements around the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed issue that lent itself
to that. There hasn`t been, so far as I know, a lot of squawking about the
two that you mentioned now.
So one hopes that we`re past that and there is a recognition that you
know, this is a really -- this is really a good way to go if we`re going to
bring these guys to justice and do it in an expeditious way.
MADDOW: We know how to prosecute terrorists.
AXELROD: We do. That`s never been in question.
AXELROD: There are hundreds of terrorists in American prisons who
were prosecuted in Article 3 courts, civilian courts. And there`s no
reason -- I have great confidence in our justice system. I don`t know why
those folks don`t.
MADDOW: It`s going to be fascinating to see how Republicans feel
about this new guy, the way they did about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the
other people who they objected to being tried.
David Axelrod, now an NBC and MSNBC senior political strategist -- we
are lucky to have you. Thank you for being here tonight.
AXELROD: Well, thank you. Happy to be here.
MADDOW: I hope you enjoy your time here and it`s only occasionally
AXELROD: That`s fair enough.
MADDOW: All right.
AXELROD: That`s fair enough.
MADDOW: All right. When a space capsule re-enters the earth`s
atmosphere, temperatures get so incredibly hot that if the capsule did not
have a heat shield it would incinerate. Same principle also works in
political accountability. That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: And I would go for another 12 hours to
try to break Strom Thurmond`s record, but I`ve discovered that there are
some limits to filibustering and I`m going to have to go take care of one
of those in a few minutes here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yesterday, thanks to the call of nature, one of the longest
talking marathons in Senate history ended in 12 hours and 52 minutes. It
got Senator Rand Paul lots of attention yesterday and today. It drew
further attention to the issue that Senator Paul spoke about for those 13
hours, That filibuster was a very high-profile thing.
And at the same time as that filibuster, another one was launched by
Senate Republicans. But that one did not end when someone had to pee. It
did not draw attention to its issue. It did not draw attention to who was
doing it. It did not get anyone on TV. It just quietly worked with no
noise, no showboating.
And thereby an industry that likes to stay in the shadows got its way
with nobody noticing.
A RACHEL MADDOW SHOW special report on that is coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, because members
of both parties worked together we were able to renew that commitment.
Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is something I called for in
my State of the Union Address. And when I see how quick it got done, I`m -
- I`m feeling --
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
It makes me feel optimistic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They said it couldn`t be done!
Today, President Obama signed into law the reauthorization of the
Violence Against Women Act -- finally. It took a long time, but it finally
got done. And it got done in the end mostly because Republican leaders in
the House decided to get out of the way.
Look, when it passed in the House, it got more Democratic votes than
Republican votes. That is usually not how it works. Usually the party in
control in the House won`t allow something to come up for a vote unless
their own side is for it. But in this case, Republican leaders in the
house decided to get out of the way. They folded. And as a result we got
a rare signing ceremony today in Washington.
I almost feel like I will jinx it if I point it out, but things are
actually sort of starting to happen in Washington. And they are happening,
I think, to the extent that things can get done around the Republican
leadership in Washington.
Look at this, this very short piece of tape. But watch carefully.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was him. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Was that him? Yes, it was. Really? Was that him? Yes.
The him in this case would be Paul Ryan -- who was invited to the
White House today to talk about the budget.
Now, typically, it would be the House speaker, John Boehner, who`d be
going to the White House to talk with the president. But today, no. They
went around the Republican leadership and just talked to the guy who`s not
in the leadership but who`s working on the budget.
Similarly, last night, President Obama hosted a dinner with 12
Republican senators. Importantly, none of the 12 were members of the
Senate Republican leadership.
And here`s why that matters. Quote, "As for Obama`s dinner last
night, it went very well, according to various NBC conversations with the
GOP participants. In fact, one senator told us that he learned for the
first time the actual cuts that the president had put on the table.
Leadership had not shared that list with them before."
Huh? Republican leaders didn`t share that information with some of
We`ve just gone through three months or so of hand-to-hand political
combat on spending cuts, and Republican leaders in the Senate apparently
never told their members what President Obama was putting on the table.
This kind of seems like a big deal, right? And does not seem to be an
One whippersnapper reporter who has been documenting this phenomenon
at work in Washington is our own Ezra Klein. He`s also a columnist for
"Washington Post" and the "Bloomberg News".
Ezra, it`s great to have you here. Thank you.
EZRA KLEIN, WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: So President Obama offered something in negotiations.
Republican leadership did not tell the rest of Republicans in Congress that
that was true. They apparently don`t have Google so they can`t find out
for themselves. We only learn about it after President Obama stops talking
to the leadership and took a senator guy out to dinner directly to tell him
to his face.
Have you seen this dynamic at work even before last night?
KLEIN: I would like to tell you I have not. I have seen it a lot. I
was in a briefing with a very senior Republican member of Congress about a
week and a half ago, and it was a background briefing so, I can`t say who.
But this was a genuinely good guy, very informed guy, one of the folks
who knows this issue very well. And there was a bunch of reporters in the
room. And somebody said to him, well, would it matter if President Obama
put chained CPI, which is a way of cutting Social Security benefits on the
table? And the member of Congress said absolutely, that would be a huge
And one of the other reporters said, but he did. It`s right there in
his budget. And the congressman said, well, who did? And the reporter
said, the president. And the guy said, well, I`d like to see that.
And it`s literally, this is not one of those issues, chained CPI,
where you need to rely on the reporting out of the secret negotiations with
John Boehner. It`s on the Web site. If you just look at the sequester
plan, it is literally in bold letters.
Then, a couple of days later, I was talking with Mike Murphy who`s a
fairly moderate Republican strategist on Twitter and he too was saying
Obama needs to put chained CPI on the table and we said, well, he did. And
he said, well, that was a gimmick, he wanted revenues in return for it.
This happens a lot. The lines of communication to folks who are not
in the Republican Party leadership are much weaker than one would expect.
Now, part of that is on the White House for not having a great
congressional outreach operation. Part of it is, of course, on members of
Congress, who should probably be going and reading plans on the Web site.
But whoever you blame, people do not have the information they should
frankly have in this town.
MADDOW: Well, what`s the motivation of the Republican leadership to
not tell its members what the White House is actually doing? I mean, it is
disappointing that members of Congress don`t believe things that are
publicly known unless they`ve been delivered to them personally by John
But why would John Boehner and Mitch McConnell not actually tell their
members what`s really been offered?
KLEIN: Well, I could actually see this being a reasonable thing,
right? So it`s typically considered a bad thing to leak the other side`s
Now, it happens quite a bit. It`s something that I rely on quite
But it would be a bad thing if the day after the negotiations with the
White House, John Boehner sort of put out an all representatives e-mail and
sent out everything the White House has done in paper to everybody sort of
on the e-mail that would leak in a minute, and then it would seriously
degrade any trust between the two sides going forward.
Now, if the senator had gone up to Mitch McConnell or Boehner and
said, what was actually on the table there? My hunch is they probably
would have gotten a fairly good idea. I mean, also, the reporting of this
stuff has been fairly clear.
And finally, again, President Obama, unlike at this moment the House
Republican or Senate Republican leadership, does have a fairly detailed --
not incredibly detailed but fairly detailed proposal on the Website that
specifically delineates what he wants to cut and how he wants to raise
You can just go -- these folks can just go read it. There`s no reason
it should be a mystery if you want to know about it. That doesn`t mean the
White House shouldn`t be trying to get that information to people.
But this stuff doesn`t have to be secret if you don`t want to be
MADDOW: Especially if one of the things you that control as a member
of Congress is a staff who`s supposed to read stuff for you. Just amazing.
Ezra Klein, columnist for "The Washington Post" and "Bloomberg News"
and, of course our MSNBC policy analyst -- Ezra, thank you very much for
being here tonight.
KLEIN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Republican leadership, I will say, has let go a little bit in
the House and they`re just being circumnavigated around in the Senate.
If Republican leadership is sort of out of the way, I think we may see
some stuff move.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Our special report on smoking on television is coming up
And second of all -- happy birthday, honey.
I`ll be back with the smoking thing in a second.
MADDOW: OK. These are the four precious words that every 10-year-old
staying up too late longs to hear. "Viewer discretion is advised."
In this specific case, what your parents were advised to not let you
see, even though they could not help staring at it themselves, was this
guy. Morton Downey Jr., talk show host.
For a few years in the late 1980s, Morton Downey Jr. was the king of
the syndicated talk show world. "The Morton Downey Jr. Show" came
barreling out of New York every Friday night and barreling straight for the
national id. Morton Downey Jr. was the king of shock before America knew
it wanted one of those.
And he got just other-worldly guests. He got Joey Ramone, not
sedated. He got KISS guitarist Ace Frehley without all the KISS makeup on.
He got professional wrestlers, real ones, fighting over race and workers`
rights in debates that I for one believe were just as real as their
fighting in the ring.
Morton Downey Jr. even got Jerry Falwell, so you could watch on TV
live the shock jock and the televangelist trying to outdo each other. Like
a snake eating its tail.
Viewer discretion is advised.
Sometimes, like when he need to physically grab a wrestler for effect,
Morton Downey Jr. would walk around his set empty-handed. But that was an
exception because most of the time in his studio he carried a lit
cigarette, almost all the time. Smoking for him was almost existential.
It was a fundamental, elemental part of him, to be Morton Downey Jr. was to
stalk around on television with a cigarette, tapping the ash, staring down
guests while the smoke drifted up past his ears.
Morton Downey Jr. smoked his way through one conversation with Ron
Paul back when Ron Paul was first running for president as a libertarian.
In that interview, as in so many interviews, Morton Downey Jr. decided to
yank Ron Paul`s chain, because the conversation was about the war on drugs.
Downey called Ron Paul, "The man who could be snorting cocaine in the Oval
Office." And that was just the opening.
Let`s join the program in progress. Viewer discretion is advised.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: You`re giving libertarians a distorted
MORTON DOWNEY, JR., TV HOST: No, sir. You people gave it to yourself
in your platform.
PAUL: No, let me explain that. The answer is that we are allowed to
do what we want. We even permit people to smoke cigarettes. That happens
to be the most deadly drug in the United States. It kills 320,000 people -
DOWNEY: I appreciate it. I wish you`d ban it. I wish you`d ban it.
If you would, sir, I`d put it out in your eye right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I wish you would ban my cigarette so I could put it out in
your eye right now.
That was kind of the Morton Downey, Jr. shtick. In the early 1990s,
Mr. Downey became a board member and spokesman for something called the
National Smokers Alliance. It was not that big a leap, right? Fronting
for the National Smokers Alliance, since Morton Downey, Jr. was himself all
but a synonym for smoking.
But then, Morton Downey Jr. got sick.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Morton Downey Jr., former talk show host and
lung cancer survivor, joins us this morning.
Good morning, Morton.
DOWNEY: Good morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you doing?
DOWNEY: I`m fine, thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s great to see you and in such good health.
DOWNEY: I`ve got to tell you, you look a lot better than Wally.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, Morton. I hope he`s not watching.
So tell me, how are you feeling?
DOWNEY: I feel like a million bucks, thank God. Yes. I feel great.
It`s almost a year since I had --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has it been a year?
DOWNEY: -- my two lungs, my two lobes on the right side excised,
removed, gotten rid of. And I`m hanging in there pretty good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It must have been such an ordeal. How did that
change your life?
DOWNEY: You know, it changed it for the better. A, I don`t smoke
anymore. Which I was a four to five-pack a day smoker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Morton Downey Jr. eventually died of lung cancer. But not
before he repented publicly for the smoking habit he used to glorify, for
the smoking industry he used to represent.
When a man named C. Everett Koop died last week, if you`ve heard
anything at all about his death and his legacy, you probably heard about
his real heroism on the issue of smoking. Dr. Koop was appointed surgeon
general by President Ronald Reagan and I think much to everyone`s surprise
once he was in that position, he used that position to wage a war on
He did a lot of other good besides. But at a time when the public was
still arguing about whether smoking really was even all that bad for you,
whether it was even worth warning people that smoking might be an
unhealthful thing, C. Everett Koop, surgeon general, oftentimes in his full
dress uniform, C. Everett Koop was unassailable. He was blunt as all get
out, totally unequivocal in saying conclusively, yes, smoking is bad for
From his "New York Times" obituary, quote, "Dr. Koop said he had begun
campaigning against smoking after studying the research into its link to
cancer, heart disease, stroke and other diseases. He was dumfounded, he
said, and then plainly furious at the tobacco industry for attempting to
obfuscate and trivialize this extraordinarily important public
Surgeon General C. Everett Koop changed the national understanding and
the national conversation about tobacco. Once he punctured the tobacco
companies` disinformation and denial on smoking being so bad for you, that
put the focus on those companies for having hidden that information, for
having covered up the fact that if you use their product as directed, it
will hurt you. They knew that. And they kept that information from their
Now, facing that turn in the conversation, the companies tried to
protect themselves. They tried to protect themselves by in effect creating
a heat shield for themselves -- a fake populist heat shield that was called
the National Smokers Alliance. The idea was to keep the industry itself
out of the news and out of the discussion, so it didn`t just seem like a
fight between one side that cared about your health and another side that
wanted to make as much money as it could off of the process of killing you.
So, it wouldn`t seem like it was the industry itself fighting the
regulation of smoking and tobacco. The companies bankrolled this heat
shield. They bankrolled this Morton Downey Jr. thing, this National
Smokers Alliance. You can see the fine print there, right? Funded by
Brown & Williamson Cigarette Sales.
The National Smokers Alliance made sure that whenever a town someplace
thought about restricting smoking in restaurants and bars, officials in
that town would suddenly get flooded with protest postcards, "stop the ban
in Houston", or "stop the ban in Portland, Maine", or "stop the ban in
Monongahela County, West Virginia."
They all got the same cards, mass produced for any place and every
place overnight, clearly trying to look local, right? Trying to look
grassrootsy and not like something mass produced by the tobacco industry,
which of course they were.
The National Smokers Alliance printed up these coasters that magically
appeared in your corner bar so when you were there drinking your beer you
could rest your beer on their tobacco industry message. Quote, "You are
being targeted. The prohibitionists want to prevent you from smoking
If that was too scary, maybe you`d prefer to set your beer on this
little cute coaster instead, "resist prohibition."
See? Here`s that same image again, little duck, see, on the so-called
newsletter from the National Smokers Alliance. It`s called "The
The next year, the newsletter featured the launch of "Feet on the
Street," a nationwide grassroots effort designed to recruit new members.
Grassroots, yes, right. The local papers would soon report this supposedly
grassroots effort with came with a bounty of 75 cents per head. The
tobacco industry would pay to sign people up for their fake front
organization that was supposed to look like a popular uprising of smokers
getting together to defend their rights.
The heat shield was phony. It was obviously phony. It was dreamed up
by the P.R. firm Burson-Marsteller. It was not a big grassroots thing.
Big tobacco tried to use it but they were not good at it.
Maybe it would have gone better if their spokespeople had not trotted
out the exact same sound bites everywhere they tried to stop smoking bans.
Lines like, "accommodation and common courtesy can solve this problem."
When you say that awkward and weird thing in all sorts of places all over
the country, it`s clear to everybody you`re not a local effort, you`re
reading from some mass produced script.
What big tobacco was up to was transparent almost from the start.
They weren`t good at that time it. They did not get their money`s worth
from Burson-Marsteller. Accord together "L.A. Times," behind the fuming
bar owners is a highly sophisticated public relations campaign, much of it
orchestrated by tobacco industry-backed group based in Virginia called the
National Smokers Alliance, assisting that group is one world`s largest P.R.
This is the way it was being reported at the time they thought they
were duping everybody. It was bad. They were bad at it. They were
busted. Their fake grassroots were showing.
It did not help big tobacco that reputable officials like C. Everett
Koop were being so relentlessly credible and confrontational on the subject
even in the face of tons of opposition from, say, tobacco state senators.
It did not help them that Morton Downey Jr., their chosen spokesman, smoked
his way to lung cancer and then publicly repented about it.
But they also just did not do a good enough job with this fake
populist heat shield strategy of theirs, and it failed. And this is how
you can tell it failed.
Pursuant to being hounded in the courts, to being sued for selling a
product that when used as directed can kill you, the chief executives of
the nation`s tobacco companies got hauled into Congress to get asked the
miserable questions they had sought for so long to avoid. The industry
wanted to stay out of the debate. They paid to invent a whole fake smokers
rights group to debate in public so they wouldn`t have to.
But it didn`t work. They couldn`t get away from the lawsuits. So
they couldn`t get away from Congress. So they couldn`t get away from the
public. They could not hide.
Welcome to the spotlight of accountability. It`s hot, isn`t it?
Things went so bad for tobacco the industry ultimately got forced into
a multibillion-dollar settlement that required them to pay for ads against
their own products. Like this one showing piles of body bags outside a
Or this one where a real Marlboro man comes riding into New York City
and he`s not looking so hot.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: The tobacco industry`s heat shield did not work. Do you want
to see what it looks like when it does work? That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me. (INAUDIBLE) How many people tobacco
kills every day?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what? We are going to leave this here
for you so you can see what 1,200 people actually look like.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That ad was paid for how over reluctantly by the tobacco
industry. The famous body bags ad and others like it were part of a
multibillion dollar legal settlement that tobacco companies paid out over
the harm done to regular people by those companies` products.
The tobacco company tried and failed to stay out of the debate over
cigarettes. Their attempt at creating a heat shield was a fake group they
made up called the National Smokers Alliance, with talk show host Morton
Downey, Jr. for a spokesman before he got lung cancer and repented.
The public saw through it. Everybody knew it was the company`s
operating a front group. Their heat shield failed to shield them. And the
tobacco industry itself got held accountable. They were forced to change.
So it didn`t work for them. But trying that at a strategy makes some
sense, right? I mean, if you`re an industry that sells a product that
kills people, if your profits depend on the continued or increased sales on
something that kills Americans, the strategy of having someone else stand
up for you is in the debate, that strategy is not dumb.
That strategy can work and here is what it looks like when it works.
Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association testifying before
Congress after the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary. And, of course, it
is the NRA sitting there testifying in 2013, instead of the gunmakers.
It`s the equivalent of the made up National Smokers Alliance sending Morton
Downey, Jr. to testify in the `90s, instead of the cigarette makers. It`s
the same strategy, it`s the same tactic.
The modern National Rifle Association is the tool funded by the gun
industry to take the heat on this issue so that the companies themselves
don`t have to.
Consider the names on just this list of NRA corporate partners. Names
like Berretta and Brownells and Benelli and Strum, Ruger and Winchester and
on and on.
The NRA represents itself as a grassroots group, just gun owners
standing up for gun owner`s rights. But they are a gun industry group,
funded by the industry that makes gun owners because those companies want
the anti-gun reform side of the argument to be argued by somebody other
than themselves. They put the NRA out there so the people who profit off
selling guns don`t have to themselves be identified as the source of the
argument that gun sales can`t be restricted in anyway.
The NRA is propped up and funded by the industry to make that case
from a gun rights perspective, instead of a protect my business perspective
and they are put out there to take all of the criticism and all the
attention so the industry doesn`t have to.
And that is why since December 14th, since those shootings at Sandy
Hook Elementary School, the industry that makes its money selling guns has
been largely invisible. But Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, they are
everywhere, by design.
For the companies, for the gun manufacturers, invisibility means their
strategy is working. It`s the exact same tactic now that was used by the
tobacco industry then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The National Smokers Alliance existed for one
purpose, to defend the individual freedoms of 50 million adult Americans
who choose to smoke.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA: It`s on behalf of those millions of decent,
hardworking, law-abiding citizens that I`m here to give voice to their
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a lonely, and it is, in fact, a frequently
LAPIERRE: We will not be demonized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty million individual citizens and taxpayers
whose relationship with the tobacco industry consists of purchasing a legal
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: The incursions on their rights have gone really
more than far enough.
LAPIERRE: For God`s sake, leave the good and honest, decent, law-
abiding people all over this country alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new taxes on cigarettes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That we are going to a lazy tax, a fat tax, some
kind of regulation on that. It`s a scary area.
LAPIERRE: What they are serious about is banning, taxing and taking
what they want.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We already over a million members, well over a
LAPIERRE: We at the NRA are now nearly 5 million strong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the comments I hear most commonly both from
our members and from people in generally is I don`t smoke but I think it`s
gone far enough, I`m very concerned about this trend. I think that smokers
LAPIERRE: The vast majority of the American people are behind us.
They don`t have the right to take that right away.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: What the tobacco industry tried in the 1990s and failed is
the same thing that the gun industry is doing right now to us right now.
Only now, this industry, the gun industry, they are succeeding.
Here`s one specific way you know they`re succeeding. As Congress
moves forward right now with what they believe can be done or at least can
be considered as potential gun reforms after Newtown, what`s on that list?
Making gun trafficking a federal offense, that passed out of committee
today in the Senate. It only got one Republican vote, but still it passed.
Also, funding schools to upgrade their school safety measures if they want
to. Also, universal background checks on not just some people who buy guns
get background checks, but everybody does. And a ban on some specific
military style weapons, including limits on high capacity magazines.
That`s the agenda, right?
One of the ways you know that the strategy is working, the strategy of
keeping themselves out of the debate and out of the limelight, one of the
ways you know that`s working is that what is not on Congress`s rather
modest list about how to reform gun laws after Newtown is anything at all
about the companies that sell guns.
Cigarettes kill people right? The tobacco industry got sued for their
product killing people and then lying about it. Those lawsuits turned up
dramatic evidence of what the companies have done wrong. The companies got
before Congress to answer for it. Their products got regulated, the
companies paid big time and now, a heck of a lot fewer Americans smoke.
And now, a lot of those companies are focused on how many Chinese
people they can get smoking instead of how many Americans they can get
smoking because frankly, it is a harder sell here.
The gun companies also make a product that kills people. But the gun
companies cannot be sued for that.
Congress in 2005 passed a specific law to give gun companies immunity
from lawsuits for how they`re products get used. That`s not on the agenda
that may be repealed or discussed?
However much Wayne LaPierre howls and kicks about Hollywood and
videogames and law abiding, target shooting enthusiasts and protecting your
family at the end of the world, the fight against gun reform is not really
about that, it is about the gun makers who want to keep selling as many
guns as possible and who therefore fund the NRA.
They pay old Wayne to howl and kick as lousy and distractingly as
possible. It is all about protecting the gun makers from becoming the
This week, Republicans in the Senate filibustered a nominee for the
U.S. appeals court in Washington, D.C. That court is sort of the minor
leagues for the Supreme Court. Federal judgeship seat in the appeals court
is very important. The nominee is named Caitlin Halligan. She`s widely
seen as qualified for the job.
Qualification for the job is not why the Republicans blocked her
nomination. This is why they blocked her nomination. Quoting Senate
Republicans, "In New York versus Sturm & Ruger, a New York state court
case, Ms. Halligan argued that gun manufacturers created, maintained and
contributed to a public nuisance of illegal handguns in the state. As
solicitor general of New York, Ms. Halligan vigorously advanced a specious
legal theory attempting to hold gun manufacturers liable."
Gun manufacturers will not be held liable for the products they sell
and they will not argue that publicly. They will not argue publicly if
they just want to keep selling them no matter what. That would look bad.
So, they have the NRA to do it for them and they stay in the shadows.
At bottom, this is gun makers protecting themselves from "we the
people" turning on them. It`s just heat shield politics. It did not work
for the cigarette manufacturers and they got held accountable and the
country changed because of it. And a lot more Americans are alive because
It working right now for the gun manufactures and they are not being
held accountable so far. But maybe that can change.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell.
Have a great night.
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