Guest: Ron Reagan, Tanya Acker, Brad Blakeman, Dahlia Lithwick, Michael Levenson, Brad Flynn, Gary Sempler, Rahni Sadler
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Tonight, Bush League Justice. Another federal court says no to the Bush administration. Are the courts finally ready to hold this administration accountable?
And we exposed John McCain‘s controversial comments about America that sound a whole lot like ones Michelle Obama got blasted for, why isn‘t the media covering McCain‘s comments about it being tough to be proud of America? Our Teflon John series is back.
Ron Reagan, Tanya Acker, Brad Blakeman, are with us.
And a stunning new development today on the story about those 17 pregnant high school girls in Massachusetts and the supposed pact they made to get pregnant.
VERDICT starts now.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the show.
A top McCain adviser suggests in a new interview that an attack on America might just be a good thing for McCain‘s chances of winning in November. And Obama blasted by, of all people, Karl Rove. Is that a Win, Lose or a Draw for Obama?
As always, we‘re On Their Trail: Assessing who won and lost this day on the campaign trail.
First up, McCain‘s chief strategist, Charlie Black, did an interview with “Fortune” magazine, quote, “Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” meaning McCain.
Campaigning in California today, McCain forced to quickly distance himself from his own adviser‘s comment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE: I cannot imagine why he would say it, it‘s not true. It‘s—I‘ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America, and, so, I would if he said that and I do not know the context, I strenuously disagree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Black also apologized for the comment. Late today, the Obama camp pounced, saying his remarks are, quote, “a complete disgrace and exactly the kind of politics that needs to change.”
Here now: Political commentator, Ron Reagan; Democratic strategist, Tanya Acker; and, Republican strategist, Brad Blakeman.
Ron, look, politically, it‘s probably true but that kind of thinking only politically, I would think, has to hurt the McCain camp.
RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think so. And I‘m not sure that it‘s exactly true either. I mean, it may be and it may not be. And it‘s one thing for us to speculate about what might happen if there was another terrorist attack, God forbid, on the U.S., but for a campaign operative to express that sentiment is just unbelievably ugly. So, I‘d put this in the win column for Obama and the lose for McCain.
ABRAMS: Yes. I mean, Brad, look, I think that most political observers would think that what exactly what Charlie Black said is true and, yet, the fact that he‘s thinking that way seems to be a lose for McCain, no?
BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is a lose for McCain today and I think the only good thing that came out of this was Charlie Black immediately apologized for those remarks and that‘s the saving grace with this. It was handled correctly. It was handled swiftly by the McCain campaign and life goes on. But that certainly, those kind of thoughts have no place in this political process. If there‘s an attack on America, it doesn‘t hurt anybody but those who suffer.
ABRAMS: And, Tanya, he also said, “‘The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an unfortunate event,‘ says Black. ‘But his knowledge and ability to talk about it,‘” referring to McCain, “‘reemphasized that this is the guy who‘s ready to be commander-in-chief.
And helped it us.‘”
I mean, this was just not just one comment; it seems to have been a theme throughout this interview.
TANYA ACKER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it‘s one thing to make the argument that Republicans are better situated to handle national security crisis. I don‘t buy that argument, but that‘s a point, that‘s a point of legitimate political debate. I think it‘s another to ascribe political value to these tragedies, another terrorist attacks, to Benazir Bhutto‘s assassination. I mean, to try to ascribe some positive political value to those things is really appalling to me. It‘s pretty shocking.
ABRAMS: Well, yes. And remember, these are political advocates. So, everything they say, I think, has to be viewed through the prism of advocacy and that‘s why this is so dangerous—is in using this kind of event for the potential to be an advocate‘s point. This has to go down as a lose for McCain. As political analysis, as I said, it‘s probably true as a campaign political strategist, you couldn‘t choose worse words, I think, or a worse theme than he did.
Next up: It was only a matter of time, a new attack book against Barack Obama is reportedly now in the works. It‘s being penned by conservative journalist, David Freddoso and it‘s tentatively called “The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media‘s Favorite Candidate.”
It‘s said to be released on August 4th, Barack Obama‘s birthday, by the same publishing company that put out the book, “Unfit for Command,” which helped to rail John Kerry‘s White House hopes in 2004.
A clue to what the tone of the book might be—here‘s what it‘s author wrote recently about one of Obama‘s attacks on John McCain over the economy, quote, “For all of his talk about a new politics, Obama appears to be practicing the old politics and he‘s not very good at it. Obama is beginning to demonstrate a deceptive pattern—voters are lied to all the time, but, obvious and easily proven lies are insulting to everyone.”
Brad, is this going to be a good thing for McCain?
BLAKEMAN: I can‘t think of a better birthday president than to have this come out on his birthday. Look, these books are going to come out and they are going to come, and they have come out against John McCain, they‘re coming out against Barack Obama. I‘m not going to judge the book by its cover. It hasn‘t even come out yet. Having said that, I think that every book that comes out should be scrutinized for the content that‘s within it. And I think that a little truth in the campaign is a good thing.
ABRAMS: Ron, a potential lose here for Obama?
REAGAN: No, I don‘t really think so. You know, there‘s a reason that swiftboat is now a verb with a very negative connotation. Maybe these people will claim that he didn‘t really win the Purple Heart that they thought he did in Vietnam. I don‘t know what sort of lies they‘re liable to make up about him.
But the public is on to this kind of stuff. They know what this sort of stuff is. They‘ve seen through, they‘ve seen it before, and they‘ve seen through it now and this is going to be a negative for McCain. There will be a backlash.
ABRAMS: Tanya, I‘ve got to say, I think that‘s wishful thinking. I think this has a dangerous potential for Barack Obama. We‘re going to do a segment later in the show about how attacks on Michelle Obama stick and, yet, the ones on John McCain aren‘t sticking. And I think that this has got to be a great fear of the Obama campaign is whether you call it smears, whether you call it negative reporting, whatever you call it, that has got to be a grave concern for this campaign.
ACKER: Dan, I think you‘re absolutely right. I think you‘ve seen the campaign already try to anticipate this type of thing with the “Fight the Smear” Web site. I think that it‘s one of the reasons that Barack Obama has, it‘s one of the reasons that he put forward in suggesting why he needs all the money that he‘s going to be able to raise because I do think the stuff sticks and I do think that the campaign has to be really careful about these attacks. You know, you don‘t want to give them too much attention, but by the same token you just can‘t let them slide.
ABRAMS: Yes. Real quick, Ron.
REAGAN: I don‘t want to be “pollyannaish” about this, but I‘d just think people are beyond this now. I think this stuff doesn‘t work like it did four years ago.
BLAKEMAN: I disagree. I think negative campaigning does have its place, provided that it‘s accurate and the American people, say they don‘t -
REAGAN: Well, there you go. That‘s the problem, isn‘t it, Brad?
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to move on, but I‘ll tell you, Ron, what I‘ve seen in this campaign is that the negative attacks against Obama, in particular, Michelle Obama, that they‘ve been sticking in a way, you know, a lot of them total falsehoods. I‘m going to call this a lose for Obama. Look, I don‘t know what will be in this book, but I think this is very dangerous ground for Obama, and, I think, they‘re going to have to figure out how to deal with it quickly.
Next up: McCain may have said more than he wanted to today in California. Last week, McCain flip-flopped on offshore drilling saying drilling for oil off the U.S. coast will help relieve pressure on Americans now facing $4 a gallon gas. But today in California, McCain seemed to acknowledge that drilling wouldn‘t really impact the prices.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I don‘t see an immediate relief. What I do see that exploitation of existing reserves and the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have a psychological impact that I think is beneficial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Psychological impact?
REAGAN: Suddenly, he‘s Sigmund Freud.
ABRAMS: I mean, Brad, Americans are looking to feel better about gas prices or do they want actual gas price reductions?
BLAKEMAN: Hey, look, sometimes perception is reality and it‘s important to send a message to the public that we‘re going to exploit our own resources while we demand others to exploit theirs. We‘re beating up on the Saudis for not giving us another (INAUDIBLE).
REAGAN: But here on the reality-base community we need alternative energy.
BLAKEMAN: Yes, it‘s part of an overall strategy. It‘s smart.
ACKER: Brad, come on. No, it‘s not smart to say that we‘re going to deplete our national resources and drill -
BLAKEMAN: We‘re not depleting them at all.
ACKER: And drill off our offshore coasts - hang on just one second—and drill off our coast lines even though I didn‘t think we should do that before. It‘s not smart to say we‘re going to do that just to make people feel better.
BLAKEMAN: No, it‘s part of an overall strategy.
ACKER: We don‘t solve the oil crisis by feeling better.
REAGAN: There‘s no strategy here, we use about 1 billion barrels of oil every month and a half. Even President Bush says there‘s only about 18 billion barrels of oil available. So, do the math. We‘ve got about two years of oil.
BLAKEMAN: But we don‘t even know, Ron.
REAGAN: (INAUDIBLE) 25 years from now, 25 years from now.
ABRAMS: Brad, let‘s talk about whether there is a level of consistency. Here‘s what McCain said earlier when talking about this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 17)
MCCAIN: In the price of a gallon of gas in America stands at more than $4. But as a matter of fairness to the American people, and a matter of duty for our government, we must deal with the here and now and assure affordable fuel for America by increasing domestic production.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Brad, I‘m going to give you the final word here. But you‘re not going to suggest to me that McCain has flip-flopped on oil drilling for any reason apart from the fact that gas prices are now over $4, are you?
BLAKEMAN: Well, look, there are some Democrats who are absolutely against drilling offshore until we have gotten into this crisis. They‘re the ones that should have the foresight to get on board when we needed this.
ABRAMS: But you cant‘s say, or McCain now can‘t say it‘s going to provide psychological effect and not reduce gas prices when his point in initiating this was because of gas prices, right?
BLAKEMAN: Look, it‘s an overall strategy of exploiting our own resources and getting new technologies on board. It‘s important for the Americans to know that help is on the way, both domestically and internationally.
ABRAMS: All right. I‘m giving this a lose for McCain.
Next up: Karl Rove reemerges to attack Obama as an elitist. During a breakfast with Republican insiders in Washington today, Rove reportedly said of Obama, quote, “Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He‘s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.”
ABRAMS: Now, let me get right to it, all right? Tanya, what do you make of it?
ACKER: Well, part of it, maybe the upside to it is that this is Karl Rove‘s way of saying he thinks Michelle Obama is hot. But what it really points out is that this sort of like schizophrenia amongst that element of the Republican Party. I mean, you know, first, Obama is this, you know, anti-American, Farrakhan-loving, you know, dangerous guy who‘s a closet Muslim, and the next thing, he‘s like, you know, another George Bush growing up in the country club with a martini and a beautiful woman.
I feel they can‘t make up their minds what to do with him, so they‘re just sort of dancing between caricatures. I find this really funny.
ABRAMS: Go ahead, Brad.
REAGAN: And where do you put the terrorist fist bump, too?
ABRAMS: I mean, you know, Brad, there‘s also—look, there‘s also the racial aspect of this. It‘s the notion that, you know, this African-American guy, you know, country clubs are notorious for having race issues and sort of suddenly, Obama‘s the depicture of the guy at the country club standing there. I mean, you know, there‘s something kind of absurd about it.
BLAKEMAN: I don‘t think it‘s absurd at all. I think the guy has exhibited himself to be kind of snobby. And I think, look, speaking before a mock presidential seal, next thing - he‘s going to paint his house white and put flags on his car. I mean, the guy has (INAUDIBLE) problem.
ACKER: Oh, my goodness.
ABRAMS: Hey, Ron, let me ask you about that real quick because the presidential seal also came up today, widely panned by critics. It was seen as sort of arrogant and presumptuous. They pulled it immediately. This was a mistake, wasn‘t it, by the Obama camp?
REAGAN: Yes. You know, I went back today and looked at that seal and it‘s pretty ugly and it is pretty presumptuous. And so, you know, I am going to split the difference here. I‘m going to call this a draw. Any time Karl Rove says something bad about you, it made you a winner but that seal makes him a loser. So, it‘s a draw.
ABRAMS: All right. I‘m going to call this one a draw. So, on a one hand it‘s a fellow victim of Rove‘s attacks indicated by the five-page letter that he sent to me, I can tell you, it‘s a win to be attacked by him, but, that seal, the Obama camp came up with, I think, negates what may have been a win here.
That‘s my final scorecard for the day. So, it seemed that based on my scorecard, McCain had a little bit more of a losing day than Obama.
Brad, win or lose today for Obama or McCain?
BLAKEMAN: I think it was a draw for McCain today, just based on Charlie Black‘s comments. So, I‘d call it a draw.
ACKER: I think it‘s a draw on both. I think that Charlie Black‘s comments were appalling, but, again, you know, there‘s only so much that McCain can do to try to erase from that the memory.
REAGAN: I gave Obama the win. I‘m for Obama.
ABRAMS: Everybody staying with us.
Coming up: A federal court deals the White House another blow today. For the first time, an appeals court just says no to declaring a detainee an enemy combatant. Are the courts finally going to hold this administration accountable?
And days after we first highlighted John McCain‘s comments that could blunt efforts by the far right to smear Michelle Obama on patriotism, why is the rest of the media ignoring it? Does this further prove that he is Teflon John?
We‘re back in 60 seconds with Why America Hates Washington.
ABRAMS: Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: The U.S. government shelling out millions on an Arabic TV and radio station that sometimes talk trash about the U.S. Since 2003, the U.S. has spent nearly $500 million on Al-Hurra TV hoping it would counter Al Jazeera with more pro-U.S. coverage of events in the Middle East, but instead of being a voice of balance, Al-Hurra has given holocaust desires and Islamic extremists the platform to rail against the U.S. and its allies.
The president of Al-Hurra, apparently, couldn‘t even speak Arabic, so he had no idea exactly what his station was broadcasting. The government paying for extremists to get a voice while complaints about the station‘s mismanagement fell on deaf ears: Another reason Why America Hates Washington.
We‘re back with Bush League Justice. Today, a new ruling that suggests the courts may finally be ready to hold this administration accountable, in a moment.
ABRAMS: Today, for the first time, an appeals court has rejected the military‘s designation of a Guantanamo detainee as an enemy combatant. The D.C. circuit court is ruling that there was not enough evidence to hold, Huzaifa Parhat and that he can now seek his release with a federal judge.
This defeat for the administration comes after the Supreme Court stung them with a ruling earlier this month, that Guantanamo detainees have the right to challenge their confinement in U.S. courts. That followed two other setbacks in the Supreme Court for the administration.
The Bush administration is facing another legal challenge today, this one from Congress. Congressional lawyers in a federal court today are trying to force White House staffers, including Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers to testify before Congress about the U.S. attorney scandal.
Karl Rove was also discussed. Now, he has been subpoenaed by the judiciary committee about allegations he was involved to the prosecution of the former Democratic governor of Alabama. So far, Rove has refused to testify.
But, look, the big question tonight, with less than seven months left in the Bush administration—does it seem that the courts are finally ready to hold the Bush White House accountable for what we have called on this program “Bush League Justice”?
Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor for Slate.com, who writes about legal issues. And back with us is Brad Blakeman, Republican strategist and lawyer.
All right. Dahlia, I mean, it seems that there has been a unique effort, willingness on the part of U.S. federal courts to just say no to the Bush administration in the past couple of years and even today, seeing them battling in two separate, one ruling and one battle in a court, sure signals to me that there may be a big change under way here.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE.COM: Well, I think to be fair, Dan, the courts have actually been the only entity that have pushed back at all, historically. So, I think, you know, to sort of suggest that they‘re only coming out shooting now at the 11th hour, you know, I think at least at the Supreme Court level, the court has, to the extent that anyone has reviewed the Bush administration sort of systemically over the course of this war on terror, it has been the courts.
I think you‘re right that at this very granular level now, we‘re seeing the courts really saying, “We‘re just not making big sort of pronouncements about esoteric oratory notions like, you know, the general notion of the Geneva Convention. Now, we‘re really drilling down and saying, “You, you get to go home and that is different.”
But I do think that the courts, unlike Congress, have been willing to push back for years now, and I think we should give them credit where it‘s due.
ABRAMS: It‘s a fair point. I mean, you have 2004, you‘ve got 2006, you‘ve got 2008 -- that the U.S. Supreme Court in major rulings related to Guantanamo, military tribunals, about the sort of rights of detainees, the courts have said no to the Bush administration. But it does seem it‘s now trickling down to some of the lower courts. I think the fact that a federal appeals court has said to this administration, “Sorry, you can‘t classify this person as an enemy combatant,” is an enormous step and something that we haven‘t seen up to this point.
LITHWICK: That is breathtaking. I mean, what happened today, the notion that you mislabeled this guy an enemy combatant, either give him a proper habeas tribunal or ship him out, is truly breathtaking.
And I think, you know, the (inaudible) of your point is really true, that time and again, when some courts have been confront would this sort of sweeping, sort of nearly demented, expansive arguments about unitary executive, expansive arguments about executive privilege, and expansive arguments about what constitutes a state secret, the courts have buckled. Historically, the lower courts have buckled, time and again.
And so, you‘re right, that when the lower courts are getting in on the action, like what we‘re seeing today, that is dramatic, that is exciting.
ABRAMS: Yes. I mean, Brad, this seems to me to be a series of rulings now. And again, let‘s be clear. The Supreme Court, seven of the nine justices have been appointed by Republicans. Let‘s not talk about an activist Supreme Court that‘s siding with Democrats on every case.
The bottom line is, when you have a court seven of the nine who were appointed by Republicans and time and again, they‘re coming back with rulings against the administration. And now, the D.C. circuit, again, many of those judges on that court also appointed by the Bush administration or by Republicans, saying, “Hey, we‘re sorry, we‘re not just accepting everything this administration says at face value,” it seems we‘re really seeing a turn here.
BLAKEMAN: I don‘t think so, Dan. You‘ve got to judge this case today by the circuit on the facts of this case. Many of which we‘re not to going to ever know about because the court deems them to be classified. Having said that, this guy is a Chinese-Muslim terrorist and the court today said that, “OK, we ruled at this guy is not an enemy combatant.”
The bad news is, this guy has no where to go. The Justice Department and the United States tried to place other detainees in Albania and we did that and now there‘s no more room at the inn. But if we send him back to China, he‘s going to be killed.
ABRAMS: Right, let‘s be clear. So, you‘re saying that even though the courts have said there‘s no evidence to suggest - the evidence, basically, was he had trained in a camp, not in an al Qaeda camp but a camp with a group that had sympathies to al Qaeda—you‘re saying that because of that, they should continue to be able to hold him indefinitely, classify him as an enemy combatant without any sort of access, et cetera, access to the courts, any trial, nothing.
I‘m not saying this applies to anyone captured on the battlefield. I‘m saying, this is an example of our justice system working where they‘re taking the worst examples from Guantanamo. The people where there‘s just no evidence to continue to hold them and pick and choose very carefully to say, “You know what, this is that one case,” and on this one case you‘re saying, “Oh, it‘s the activist courts,” right?
BLAKEMAN: No, it‘s wrong to say that there‘s no evidence. We don‘t know how the court ruled on the evidence because the evidence is classified. Now, they made their ruling. Clearly, in the court‘s mind,
this guy isn‘t an enemy combatant within their definition. Having said that, we tried to get rid of these guys, there‘s no place to go. This guy should we parole him? Do you want him living next to you?
ABRAMS: So, the answer—again, let‘s be clear, Brad. So the answer, I want to get Dahlia the final word—so, it sounds like Brad‘s answer is, “Well, you know what, if we can‘t figure out what happens next, let‘s just simply hold them without trials, without,” I mean, look, the bottom line is they‘re going to probably appeal to Albania, wherever the country is, that may take this guy, but, Dahlia, I mean, look, I‘m going to let you get the final word on this. What is your response to Brad‘s question?
LITHWICK: Brad‘s point is the same as Justice Scalia as last week in the (INAUDIBLE) opinion about the habeas corpus rights which, “Oh, my God, these people at Guantanamo are really dangerous and if we release them, they‘re going to come kill us.” But both Brad and Scalia, I think, are lied over the fact that we‘ve been holding them for six years at Guantanamo and they‘re really mad at us. I mean, if we hadn‘t created this situation
BLAKEMAN: No, that‘s not right. We would love to get rid of this guy, but there‘s no where to go.
ABRAMS: Yes, OK. And so, Brad, your answer is just to keep them in Guantanamo even though there‘s nothing to suggest he should be held there, right? Let‘s just be clear that‘s your answer.
BLAKEMAN: Well, what should we do them? Just send them off in the ocean? Do you want them living next to you, Dan?
ABRAMS: Brad -
LITHWICK: We created Guantanamo, we did this. And to suggest that the consequences -
BLAKEMAN: This is a very bad guy.
LITHWICK: The consequences of holding them there are that we should keep holding them there. That‘s deranged.
ABRAMS: That‘s always my favorite argument about anyone held at Guantanamo, no matter how much the evidence is lacking, it‘s—he‘s a bad guy. And you know what, Brad, in this system, we‘re going to need just a tiny bit more than that than just to say he‘s a bad guy.
I‘ve got to wrap it up. Dahlia Lithwick, Brad Blakeman, thanks.
Coming up, the far right smears on Michelle Obama continue about her comment about being proud of her country. So, why hasn‘t the rest of the media picked up on the McCain comment we found where he talks about when he started to love his country and how it can be crowd—how it‘s tough to be proud?
ABRAMS: It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.
First up: The FOX News smearing of Barack Obama continued Friday after report on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urging Jewish voters to denounce rumors that Obama‘s secretly a Muslim. FOX‘s Jim Angle offered up this carefully crafted qualifier about Obama‘s religion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SPECIAL REPORT”/FOX NEWS/FRIDAY)
JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Obama says he is a Christian and denies ever being a Muslim
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: I assume John McCain also says he‘s a Christian and denies ever being a Muslim.
Next up: While FOX made sure viewers know that Obama says he‘s a Christian and denies being a Muslim, on Friday, contributor Angela McGlowan made sure viewers know that McCain works well with the Jews. This comment came after she blasted Obama on campaign finance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUST IN/FOX NEWS/FRIDAY)
ANGELA MCGLOWAN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He didn‘t have any credibility since he‘s flip-flopping, you don‘t know where he stands and John McCain actually had authored campaign finance reform with Feingold, a Jew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Oy vey! What does Feingold being a Jew have to do with the fact that they worked on campaign finance legislation together?
Finally, thank goodness for election watchdog Lou Dobbs over on CNN keeping us honest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST: The idea, watching national news organizations across the board, electronic and print going in the tank for Obama is just silly. I mean, having people say this is a movement instead of a campaign. I mean, the man—It‘s an absurdity, aren‘t you embarrassed?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Lou, we were. We looked back to see which national news organizations might have made this absurd comment about a movement that set you off. We found it, from your network the day before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He‘s simply willing to take the criticism and take the risk for the sake of his movement.
Something more than a campaign, it really is a movement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Lou, an internal memo to the best political team on television is a lot easier than blaming everyone. Don‘t you think?
Up next, Teflon John‘s back. We‘ve received loads of e-mail about the e-mails about the comments we exposed of John McCain saying he didn‘t always love his country and he can understand why it‘s tough to be proud of America. Why is the mainstream media giving him a pass on this while the attacks on Michelle Obama for similar comments continue and today the mayor of the town where 17 high schoolers are pregnant suggesting that it may be a hoax.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. It sure feels the mainstream media is giving John McCain a pass for the comments we uncovered last week where McCain said that he didn‘t always love his country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: What does it to do to a person to spend that smutch time in solitary confinement.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it makes you a better person, makes you love America. I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company, but probably the most important thing about it, Sean, is that I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve in the company of heroes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: I‘ve said repeatedly I think those comments were eloquent and inspiring. But why the obsession when Michelle Obama‘s comments about pride in America are McCain‘s remarks that much different.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA‘S WIFE: For the first time in my adult life I‘m proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: The media‘s been blasting Obama for months over that, particularly right wing media, yet they ignored a similar remark John McCain at a virtual town hall just over a week ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: The question is from a gentleman who was educated both at Princeton and Harvard and the simple question was, how can he be proud of his country. Ah, I‘ll admit to you, that it‘s tough. It‘s tough in some respects.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Why are we the only ones covering it? Are the media too enamored with John McCain? Back with me is Ron Reagan and Brad Blakeman.
Brad, is it just that the media loves John McCain too much?
BLAKEMAN: Not at all. John McCain doesn‘t get any special breaks from the media, come on. What Michelle Obama‘s problem was and why she wasn‘t give on the benefit of the doubt when she spoke the way she did was because of the controversy that was swelling around at the time, you had Reverend Wright and you had Father Pfleger and you had Louis Farrakhan and you had Barack Obama taking off his flag lapel pin, giving her the worst possible meaning for what she said. That‘s why she didn‘t get the break maybe she deserved.
ABRAMS: The other theory could be Ron, and I read from Ryan Lizza who read in the “New Yorker”, “hours of exposure to McCain breeds a relationship that inclines journalists to be more careful about describing the context of his statements.” I mean, do you think the media bends over backwards to provides contest?
REAGAN: Yes. John McCain has done an excellent job of wooing the media and he started before the 2000 campaign but really stepped it up then and does it by expressing his own cynicism about the political process and the Washington world that he and the press live in and journalists eat that stuff up. They think, hey, he‘s candid, he talks to us in a way others don‘t. He‘s a good guy and yes they‘re wooed, they fall in love with him, they get on board and cut him some slack.
ABRAMS: Let me play you this, Brad. This was throughout his—in 1999 he was campaigning for the 2000 election, he was saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I was born into America‘s service. It wasn‘t until I was deprived of her company that I fell in love with America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: You would agree with me, Brad, I think, just taking the statements on their own, all the comments we laid out that McCain said and the comments that Michelle Obama made, they‘re not that dissimilar, right?
BLAKEMAN: No, they‘re not dissimilar at all. Although both come from very different experiences. But, again, the reason why Michelle Obama was not given the deference that she could have been given is because these of these other events .
ABRAMS: This is being used, Brad, this is the sword that the right is using to take down Michelle Obama. It‘s not all the other—you‘re saying, well, a lot of other things happening and that‘s why she wasn‘t given the benefit of the doubt. When people talk about it today, that‘s the comment they‘re talking about. They‘re talking about that comment and that comment only and I don‘t understand why that comment only compared to these other comments from John McCain are that different and you agree with me that they‘re not.
BLAKEMAN: They‘re not that different on their face, I agree with you. But Michelle Obama said those at a time when others close to them were saying things that reinforced the worst thing of what she said.
ABRAMS: You‘d agree with me, Brad. Something odd about the lack of media coverage about this. The fact that none of these comments from McCain are being covered anywhere but here.
BLAKEMAN: I‘ve seen John McCain‘s .
ABRAMS: Mainstream media .
BLAKEMAN: I have seen them, not to the extent, of course, Michelle Obama only because of the other actors swirling around the Obamas who seem to give credence to the worst of what she said.
ABRAMS: I have to wrap this, but it was covered no where before Thursday night when we exposed it. Since then a number of online entities that have been doing it and maybe it‘s been covered occasionally, but I‘m talking about the sort of major network coverage, et cetera. You certainly are not going to see on Fox News. But that‘s not - Ron Reagan, Brad Blakeman, thanks a lot.
Next up new, development in the teen pregnancy case in Massachusetts. The high school principal said that girls that school made a pact to get together. Seventeen? Now it‘s the principal that is being accused of speaking out of turn. City and education officials in Gloucester taking issue with Joseph Sullivan, the high school principal during a press conference today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have not been able to confirm the existence of a pact. The information from the principal has not been verified by any other source. We are talking to the folks who work with children one on one and there‘s been no independent confirmation of the alleged pact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Earlier this month for the principal told “Time” that seven or eight sophomore girls made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. But according to the mayor, not only are school officials having trouble verifying his story, he apparently can‘t remember where he heard it either?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is foggy in his memory about how he heard about the information. When we pressed him for specifics about who told him, when was he told, his memory failed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Michael Levenson has been covering the story for “The Boston Globe.” Michael, what are we to make of this?
MICHAEL LEVENSON, “BOSTON GLOBE”: Well, this town is certainly feeling besieged at this point. There was a very large press conference at this historic city hall and really hard-working fishing city up in north of Massachusetts.
ABRAMS: Who do people believe? It sounds like it‘s the principal versus the mayor and the principal is saying, look, we had a lot of pregnancy tests and we had 150 of them for 1,200 students and girls high fiving each other over this, et cetera, and now the mayor is saying, well, we don‘t think there is any evidence to back this up. Who do people believe?
LEVENSON: Well, it‘s interesting. Talking to people in the city today, a lot of people believed the principal. They said that there‘s sometimes not enough activities for teens. Not enough constructive stuff for them to do, so they, you know, resort to other things and they pointed to movies and television that can encourage teen sex and they seem to take up with the principal.
ABRAMS: Is it possible that the city and the officials there are just so embarrassed about this that they‘re now trying to downplay it?
LEVENSON: That could be part of it. The principal was notably absent from the press conference today. He really hasn‘t been heard from since he made the comments to “Time” magazine. So you have the superintendent of schools and the mayor coming out saying he‘s wrong. Or we haven‘t been able to verify what he said, but, really, the man who made the statement hasn‘t disavowed it himself.
ABRAMS: Michael Levenson, thanks a lot, appreciate it.
LEVENSON: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Up next five years after his wife died mysterious while scuba diving on their honeymoon, a husband charged with murdering her. Prosecutors say he shut off her oxygen tank.
This is 11 days after they were married. The man who took this eerie image. That‘s her in the background there will be here with us. We‘re back in 60 seconds.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. Twenty-six-year-old Tina Watson of Alabama died at the bottom of Australia‘s Great Barrier Reef while scuba diving on her honeymoon just 11 days after her wedding. Her death originally ruled an accident but five years later her husband is charged with her murder. DATELINE NBC‘s Dennis Murphy has details.
DENNIS MURPHY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was the way people thought it would be. Happy newlyweds starting their adventure. But on this October day in 2003, this picture would be the one people would remember. Tina and Gabe Watson from Alabama were on their honeymoon, a week-long diving trip to Australia Great Barrier Reef, but a few minutes into their first dive together, Tina, a novice, drowned.
This chilling snapshot by another diver happened to capture her in the background lying motionless 100 feet down on the ocean floor. What happened to Tina Watson? It was a question Australian authorities would spend years pursuing. Gabe Watson said Tina panicked in a strong current and his bride was too heavy for him falling too fast so Gabe, a certified rescue diver made a decision to surface for help.
GABE WATSON, CHARGED WITH MURDER: She was looking up, had both of her arms out and stretched out and almost like looking at me reaching her arms up to grab.
MURPHY: But Australian police sent down divers to reenact Gabe‘s account and they say his scenarios are just not possible. Some investigators believe Gabe held his bride in a bear hug as he turned off her scuba tank‘s air supply and let her drop unconscious to the ocean floor. On Friday, Australian authorities charged Gabe Watson with murder and issued a warrant for his arrest.
Watson‘s lawyers have said in the past, there‘s no evidence of a crime. What‘s more, they argue, the husband had no motive. But Tina‘s family still hopes for answers as to why their vivacious 26-year-old daughter lost her life, just days after walking down the aisle.
ABRAMS: Here now, Gary Sempler who took the photo of Tina lying on the bottom of the ocean, correspondent Rahni Sadler with Channel Seven Australia and Sergeant Brad Flynn of the Helena, Alabama Police Department who is the lead American investigator on the case. Sergeant, all right, you hear the question at the end of that piece. What could be the motive? Is there something with regard to life insurance?
SGT. BRAD FLYNN, HELENA, ALABAMA P.D.: Yes, there is. Life insurance, a financial motive has been discussed, as well as possibly a jealousy motive. To be honest with you we don‘t know what the Australian prosecutors are going to go with at this time. But both of those motives have been discussed.
ABRAMS: Did he make some conflicting statements?
FLYNN: Yes, he did. Subtle variances in his story and you would think if your wife of 11 days dies in front of your eyes that it would be etched in your memory and there wouldn‘t be any change in your story. That has not the case here.
ABRAMS: All right, Gary. Look, you were on the boat with them and you took that picture, tell me how you went about getting that shot?
GARY SEMPLER, TOOK PICTURE OF ALLEGED MURDER: I was just taking a picture of my wife and we discovered a few hours later that I captured Tina in the background. We were, as you can see in the picture also that the dive instructor Wade Singleton was giving us an orientation dive and both he and I saw her at about the same time and we both initially thought that it was just somebody on the bottom observing some small life in the sand, but I think two or three seconds later after I took the picture and was bringing the camera down that I noticed Wade Singleton going towards the diver as fast as he could and I noticed at that point there were no bubbles and realized that something was not right.
He signaled to us to continue with our dive. There were two or three of us that he was taking on this orientation dive and he signaled for us to keep going and grabbed her, dropped his weight belt and shot to the surface as fast as possible.
ABRAMS: Was there anything about the way they were interacting on the boat that led anyone to be suspicious?
SEMPLER: I personally didn‘t see anything that struck me as odd on the boat. This was only the first day of the trip, you know, we all met each other the night before and this was the first dive on the first day, so we didn‘t get a real chance to get to know them, but everything seemed, you know, nothing seemed out of the ordinary to me.
ABRAMS: Rahni, the Australian authorities, the ones who brought the charges here, A, any sense of what the main evidence is going to be. And, B, what is the sense in Australia of this case?
RAHNI SADLER, CHANNEL SEVEN AUSTRALIA: Australian authorities are not releasing much into what they‘re going to present in this case. What we did here in this inquest that went for several weeks started in November last week, as you said, just on Friday that the coroner made this finding. We heard things that like Tommy, her father, said she told him that there was going to be this life insurance that they had that her husband had asked her to increase that to $1 million just before the wedding and that he, himself, had told her, no, no, you don‘t have time to do that now, but just tell your husband that it‘s being done. And so he was feeling tremendous guilt about that.
There were all these inconsistencies. We heard a few of them then. All the statements made immediately afterwards. Gabe Watson‘s immediate voluntary statement and then the statement he gave after that as well as stuff he said to police when Queensland police traveled to the U.S. last week. So many inconsistencies just like the fact that he, himself, is a certified rescue diver and the first and the thing that everybody knows about diving is you never leave your buddy. Any basic diver knows that, let alone a certified rescue diver and he made the decision to leave the bottom and come up and to leave her there. He also said she is too heavy to bring up. Anyone who has tried to lift anyone or anything under water is weightless. He talked about his little computer and said ...
ABRAMS: Sergeant, I only have 15 seconds left. Those kind of things about the way divers act, very important here, right?
SADLER: Absolutely ..
ABRAMS: I‘m sorry.
FLYNN: Oh, very important.
Yes, it‘s very important to this case. Everything he did was way out of the norm for what a normal diver would do in those circumstances, especially a rescue diver.
ABRAMS: We‘ll continue to follow this case, thanks very much. Gary, Rahni, Sergeant Flynn, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
FLYNN: Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be Larry Birkhead who finds an odd way to find Dannielynn to remember her mom Anna Nicole and it involves underwear. Or Christie Brinkley at war with her estranged husband and finding support in odd places.
Plus, your e-mails are in the P.O.‘d box, when we come back.
ABRAMS: Time for tonight‘s winners and losers. Time for just the big ones tonight. Our big loser Larry Birkhead, you know, Anna Nicole‘s ex. He spent $3,000 buying Anna Nicole‘s underwear worn during her “Playboy” shoots at a celebrity auction. Why you ask. So their daughter Dannielynn can remember mom.
Larry said, quote, “I have a lot of history to put together that Dannielynn doesn‘t know about. It‘s not something I can show her today, but something down the road.”
Larry, when that time comes, do me a favor and conference in Child Protective Services.
Our big winner of the day, Christie Brinkley, now, she seems to be getting support from just about everyone associated with her divorce from architect Peter Cook. A judge ruled in her favor Friday that next month‘s trial will be open to the media, despite her husband‘s effort to keep it private. The step father of the 19-year-old who Cook had an affair with saying, quote, “Every dog has its day. I think Cook is the only one that has something to be nervous about,” and that may include allegations that Cook trolled the Internet for porn and swinger sites.
Abrams. Time for the P.O.‘d box. Tell me what you hate or love about the show. Last night we uncovered statements—last week by John McCain which could undermine right-wing attacks against Michelle Obama.
Alexis Tardy writes, “I agree with you. I don‘t really have a problem with the statements. But it does annoy me that the right-wing nuts insists on attacking Michelle on her statements.”
Russ Gerson said to me, “Are you really serious? Can‘t you see the difference between McCain saying he didn‘t love his country until he was in prison because he was serving his country compared to a privileged woman who said she wasn‘t proud of her country until her husband was considered a serious candidate for president. Are you really serious?”
I am serious if they‘re both silly attacks. I am also serious that, the comments are fundamentally not that different. And yet no one is talking about his comments.
Lisa Zanghi-Owen says, “The media always puts everything McCain says into context but not with the Obamas, why is that?”
Finally, many writing in to supposedly correct me on Michelle Obama‘ remarks on that statement.
Kyle Freeman. “You misquoted Michelle Obama at least once, maybe more on Thursday‘s show. She famously said, no excuse to misquote her, ‘For the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country.‘ You left out the really. It makes a difference.”
We got a lot of e-mails about this. Kyle and everyone who else said this. I‘m sorry you are wrong. Michelle Obama said it twice. Once she said “proud of my country,” the other time “really proud.” It wasn‘t edited. We didn‘t take an edited version. We played a sound bite from what she said.
That‘s all the time we have for tonight. But a final note. A big thank you to all of you, everyone out there for making us the number one show in cable news at 9:00 p.m. on Friday night in that crucial demographic. Thank you. We‘re hoping to keep it going. You can e-mail me about the show email@example.com.
Please include your name, where you‘re writing from, our Web site, verdict.msnbc.com. We will see you back here tomorrow night. Thanks for watching.
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