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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, October 19, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show


October 19, 2009



Guests: Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Alan Grayson, Suhail Khan, Kate Sheppard, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I think if I thump loudly on the wall next to me, we might actually be able to do this in a more seamless way.


MADDOW: Thanks, Keith. I'll see you later.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

It is unofficially "careful what you wish for" night.

The opposition to health reform wanted a fight. Now they have it.

And they appear to be losing that fight.

The Republican Party thought that Congressman Alan Grayson's "die quickly" speech was a gift, but things aren't working out that way for them either.

Local officials spring to the defense of a besieged Republican senator in South Carolina. They spring to his defense by arguing that the senator is very Jew-like in some ways.

Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressman Alan Grayson will both join us this hour.

Plus, there was a big fat political, practical joke played at the National Press Club today. We've got the tape of that.

It is all ahead.

But we begin with high-stakes negotiations going on tonight inside the building that is over my shoulder, the U.S. Capitol back there. A small exclusive team of negotiators gathered behind closed doors attempting to hammer out the Senate version of the biggest change in American domestic policy since at least the Beatles, maybe since the days of Shirley Temple and Cole Porter.

Democrats in the White House have to make two Senate bills into one, which then needs to pass the Senate, which then needs to be brought to terms with what passes the House. They still got a ways to go, in other words. But negotiations now are about what exactly Democrats want reform to be like.

The opposition to health reform appears to have gone mostly silent or at least mostly wildly off-message. Take Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, this weekend, parried a question about Americans not having health insurance by saying this.


SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA: I'm not sure that it's a fact that more and more people die because they don't have health insurance. But because they don't have health insurance, the care is not delivered in the best and most efficient way.


MADDOW: Actually, it is a fact that people die because of a lack of health insurance. Just last month, Harvard Medical School researchers published a landmark study of the correlation between not having insurance and dying.

If you control for factors like education and income and obesity and drinking and smoking, what makes the difference in death rates among Americans? Health insurance. You're 40 percent more likely to die if you do not have health insurance, all other things being equal. Statistically speaking, you can blame 45,000 deaths a year in America on people not having health insurance.


KYL: I'm not sure that it's a fact that more and more people die because they don't have health insurance.


MADDOW: Senator Kyl grounds out to shortstop.

Now, the chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, then said in an interview with Univision over the weekend, quote, "I don't think we need a comprehensive overhaul of our health care system."

Now, nothing was lost in translation there, even though this was Univision. Mr. Steele was speaking English. His answers were just translated into Spanish and his words verbatim were, "I don't think we need a comprehensive overhaul of our health care system."

For all the myriad of messages Republicans have tried against health reform this year, there's a reason they haven't gone with "everything is fine, leave health care alone." Mr. Steele strikes out swinging.

As the Republican opposition to health reform falters, the other factor to consider is what's happening outside the Republican Party in the conservative movement, and in the conservative movement media. You may recall the anti-health reform activist doctor who mass-emailed this horrendous image of President Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose, who's also somehow a communist witch doctor-the hammer and sickle there.

The activist who emailed around that racist image is a Florida doctor named David McKalip.

After Talking Points Memo publicized Dr. McKalip's circulation of that witch doctor thing, Dr. McKalip publicly apologized. And he said at that time that he was going to withdraw from the debate over health reform. He's now back. He's now back on the FOX News Channel being cited by them as an expert on health reform.


DR. DAVID MCKALIP, ACTIVIST DOCTOR: Americans can stop this. They need to call Congress and they can go to places like They can go to If hundreds of thousands of people call the senators in their own district, this government takeover of medicine will stop.


MADDOW: The Republican Party chairman says health care is fine the way it is. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona says health care is frankly just overrated, and the FOX News Channel is hosting expert commentary on health reform from "the president has a bone through his nose, racist, witch doctor" e-mail guy. Groundout, strike out, knock yourself out.

If this is the opposition, the chances for health reform from this vantage point, at least, never looked better.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He's a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Brown, thanks for coming in tonight.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Good to be here.

MADDOW: Good to see you.

BROWN: In person, Rachel. Thanks.

MADDOW: Good to have you here.

BROWN: Nice to be here.

MADDOW: You can tell from my introduction that I believe that the opposition to health reform looks weak right now. "Roll Call" today says the Republican strategy against reform is delay, define and derail. How confident are you that a bill passes?

BROWN: That's really been what it's been all along. I mean, it started-it started with, you know, all the charges of euthanasia and all the kinds of things, killing granny and all of that. That clearly backfired.

By late August, early September, I had my first big town hall meeting. I want to the most Republican conservative part of Ohio, University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati. And even then, I could see things begin to change. Two-thirds of the audience of 1,500 were supportive of the bill.

And you could just see one thing after another, what Senator Kyl said, what Chairman Steele said, as you point out, that it's just been from the negotiations on. It's been: how do we slow it down, how do we stop it? It really is the party of no. It's been the party of no. It's just more evident now because it's getting more and more desperate as this bill gets closer.

We're going to have a good health care bill by December to the president's desk. It's going to have a strong public option and I feel more certain of that than other times on the show. When I-I've thought it-I've thought it all along. I think it more-I believe it more strongly now that's what's going to happen.

MADDOW: The White House says that the public option is the president's preference, but that it shouldn't be fetishized, that the public option is a means to an end, it's a means to get a lot of people covered and to control costs, but you can do it other ways, too. They won't insist on a public option.

BROWN: Nothing works better than a public option in terms of keeping the insurance industry honest, in terms of covering people and providing alternative competition, if you will, in particular underserved areas, in getting costs down. Nothing fills that function like a public option.

I don't think the public option is the most important thing in the world in this bill. There are lots of other things that really matter but 90 percent of the Democrats in the House and Senate are for the public option. Seventy percent of doctors, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study of three weeks ago for the public option. Two to one of the public, two-thirds of the public consistently-all summer and fall-have been for the public option.

It's going to be part of the bill because the-over, as I said, the overwhelming number of Democrats in the Senate, in the House, want a strong public option that really will keep the insurance industry honest.

MADDOW: Well, as we figure out the path between now to December, all of the legislative action on health care reform right now is happening really among Democrats. I mean, all those examples that I cited were Republicans talking on television shows, because they're not really necessarily right there dealing with the negotiations right now.

Are you comfortable with how the process is going and what commitments have been made by leadership in terms of what their bottom lines are?

BROWN: Yes. I think leadership will come up with a good bill to put on the Senate floor. I think we'll pass a bill with a public option. I think the House will pass a stronger bill. And in conference committee, we'll get a good, solid bill with public option.

It will-it will do all the things that we care about. It will have insurance reform. It will have universal coverage. It will have some kind of employer mandate so everybody is covered.

And we will see-you know, I look at it this way, Rachel. As this goes through, you know, I look back at the days of Medicare when people were-a lot of people that voted against Medicare realized they were on the wrong side of history later because they voted against it. And I think more and more people are going to see this makes sense. Democrats and Republicans alike that aren't-are not quite as sure about the bills you and I are, that this in fact will matter for-that a year from now, five years from now, this will look increasingly good to the public.

MADDOW: I know that we're going to hear a lot from Republicans, because they telegraph what their strategy is, about Medicare cuts. There's going to be tax increases, premium increases and seniors are going to pay. There's going to be Medicare cuts.

I talked to my 94-year-old grandmother this weekend about what she's thinking about health care reform right now. She's enjoying the benefits of Medicare, including hospice care right now. And as a very smart, strong, connected woman, she's afraid, from what she's heard, that her Medicare is going to be cut.

What would you say to her? What do you say to seniors who are afraid, regardless of the facts of the bill?

BROWN: Well, I start with people that are saying there are going to be Medicare cuts and want to act like defenders of Medicare, the same group of people, conservative Republicans that have tried to privatize Medicare in the Gingrich days and ever since. And, frankly, they never supported Medicare, that group of people, that conservative wing-particularly the far-right wing of the Republican Party never supported it in the 1960s to begin with.

Second, the only real cuts are going to be those overpayments to the insurance industry that the Republicans have been shoveling more money to insurance industry to privatize form of Medicare to HMOs ever since-well, since the early part of the Bush years. They kept increasing subsidies to insurance companies and at the same time really taking away from Medicare fee for service.

So, we're going to just-we're not going to continue to subsidize the insurance industry. The insurance industry is clearly overreached and in the last 10 years with-in the entire Medicare system, let alone the rest of private insurance and the rest of our health care system.

And I think that we're going to see that-our party will never cut Medicare. We're the ones that supported it. Most of us want in this bill a Medicare look-a-like in the public option. I mean, that's-obviously, that really does underscore our commitment to Medicare and that kind of government delivered health insurance.

MADDOW: Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, great to see you in person. Thank you.

BROWN: My pleasure. Thanks.

MADDOW: Senator Brown is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

OK. When Florida Congressman Alan Grayson recently said this.


REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA: The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.


MADDOW: When Congressman Alan Grayson said that on the floor of the House, common wisdom inside the Beltway was that his career would take an immediate and long walk off a very short pier. It turns out the reports of Congressman Grayson's political demise have been greatly, greatly exaggerated. He joins us right here-next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: One of the weirder things that's ever happened to me in news and politics happened on Friday, when out of the blue, the first President Bush, President George H.W. Bush, volunteered to CBS Radio that in his opinion, Keith Olbermann and I were both, and I quote, "sick puppies." It's very strange way to end the week.

That said, President Bush was not alone last week in singling out this network to try to make a rather unclear political point. On Friday, Liz Cheney's pressure group, Keep America Safe, also launched a Web ad showing clips of her organization receiving critical coverage on MSNBC.

And those clips were interspersed with provocative questions like these: Why don't they want to talk substance? Why are they panicked? Why don't they want to debate the issues? What are they so afraid of?

OK. For the record, one of the primetime MSNBC shows that has broadcast some critical coverage of Ms. Cheney's pressure group is this one that you're watching right now. And our booking producers have been calling Liz Cheney and asking her to come on this show and discuss her ideas, debate the issues, for months. We have called her many, many, many times, including twice on Friday. So far she has declined every single invitation that we have extended.

I understand-a lot of people say no to being on this show, but not a lot of them do so while claiming MSNBC is afraid to debate them. Be not afraid, Ms. Cheney. I promise, I will not bite.


MADDOW: This is Congressman Alan Grayson, who is famous recently for this.


GRAYSON: If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly.


MADDOW: Congressman Alan Grayson said that on the House floor on September 29th and then immediately got everyone inside the Beltway very upset, because even though Republicans say stuff like that all the time about issues like health care, Democrats just don't. Don't believe me?


REP. GINNY BROWN-WAITE ®, FLORIDA: Last week, Democrats released a health care bill which essentially said to America's seniors, "Drop dead."

REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA: And they're going to save money by rationing care, getting you in a long line-places like Canada and United Kingdom and Europe, people die when they're in line.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT ®, TEXAS: One in five had people have to die because they went to socialized medicine.


MADDOW: When Congressman Alan Grayson said on the House floor that the opposition party's health policy was for people to die quickly, no one would have batted an eye had Alan Grayson been a Republican, because Republicans say stuff like that all the time. Democrats don't. So, Beltway common wisdom therefore rose up and declared that Congressman Grayson's "die quickly" comments would cost him his seat, that Republicans had a bull's eye on him anyway and this controversy would make Alan Grayson that much softer a target in the next election.

Don't believe everything you read.

Since Congressman Grayson's "die quickly" remarks, the Republican mayor of Orange, Florida, decided not to run against Mr. Grayson. The Republican speaker of the Florida House decided not to run against Mr. Grayson. A former Republican state senator had named Dan Webster decided not to run against Mr. Grayson. A local Republican businessman named Jerry Pierce decided not to run against Mr. Grayson.

"The Orlando Sentinel" reported on Friday that Republicans might have finally found someone to run against Mr. Grayson. Mr. Grayson's district is here in central Florida. You can see there on the map. Florida Republicans think they found a 28-year-old from here in Coral Gables who's to move across the state to try to run against Mr. Grayson.

There we are-Coral Gables, cheers!

And late-breaking news, we just found out that a Republican candidate running in Florida's 24th district may instead be seeking the nomination in Grayson's nearby district. So, soft target, right? Sure going to lose his seat for that outburst, right?

When it comes to Beltway common wisdom, as one great philosopher once said, "Don't always believe the hype."

Joining us now is the aforementioned, underestimated Democratic congressman from Florida, Alan Grayson.

GRAYSON: Yes, they mis-underestimated me again.


MADDOW: So, you now have somebody moving from another district.

Well, two people, two candidates possibly moving from another district.

GRAYSON: Oh, they've decided they're in and three others. But, you know, we polled. We already polled and found out that people with fake names have better name recognition than people already in the race against me.

MADDOW: You ran like-you made up names?

GRAYSON: We made up names, right. We put them in the poll and the fake names did better than the current opponents.

MADDOW: I know that two of the people who are going to run against you are tea party activists.

GRAYSON: That's right.

MADDOW: Patricia Sullivan and Dan Fanelli. I'm helping them out with their name recognition right now. What do-what do you.

GRAYSON: Well, good. Now four people know them instead of two.

MADDOW: What do you think-I mean, they're coming out of a movement that sees itself as quite separate from the organized Republican Party, but they think they've got a lot of energy. They think that they can rouse some populist interest. What do you think about that?

GRAYSON: You know, the list now is a veritable who's that of central Florida politics. There's nobody in the race right now who actually is known at all. But they're not the ones I'm worried about. I'm worried about the national party.

The National Republican Party spent over $2 million to keep me out of office last time, and now, according to the NRCC's executive director, I'm their number one target and you know why. So, I can only imagine how much 30 pieces of silver they're going to throw this time at the race.

MADDOW: And they're desperate-they're desperate to knock you off because of the district. And they think that this-they think that you becoming famous for those comments on the House floor make you an easier target. But they can't find-they can't find anybody. They can only find a whole team of people to run against you.

I mean, this is the question: Why is there no native challenger to you?

GRAYSON: There's no need of challenger because the people like a congressman with guts.


GRAYSON: They like someone who says it like it is. And in particular, a Democrat who says it like it is. I mean, a Democrat with guts, as people think of it as some sort of mythological creature like a unicorn. People want to see somebody who spells out what's at stake.

You know, in health care, we're talking about lives. We're talking about huge amounts of money. We're talking about bipartisanship. Nobody had cares about that.

They want somebody who actually understands what's at stake and says what's on his mind. It turns out that that's on a lot of other people's minds as well.

MADDOW: My sense is that you think being outspoken and aggressive is not just a good strategy for you and for your own district, but you think that Democrats broadly need to be pulling out the stops a little more.

GRAYSON: Absolutely. Look, four to one people are favored what I said. In the e-mails and letters that we received, over 10,000 people have come to and made contributions in the last three weeks.

We're doing a money bomb on November 2nd at And people are already piling in. And what that shows is that people really want somebody to stand up for them and call it like it is.

MADDOW: On health reform, let me ask you right now about how you feel about the two sides right now. We talked about at the top of the show, Senator Jon Kyl, Republican, this weekend saying he doesn't believe that death rates are higher for people who don't have health insurance. The chair of the Republican Party says we just don't need health reform.

How do you see the two sides right now?

GRAYSON: I think that the Democrats have been fooled now for months by this fantasy of bipartisanship. You know, bipartisanship is a concept that's become a weapon of mass distraction to keep us from actually doing what we need to do, to give people in this country universal health care, to give them affordable health care, and to give them comprehensive health care, because a lot of people finds they get all the health care they need as long as they don't need any.


GRAYSON: And that has to end. That's not what America is entitled to and that's not the kind of America most people want to see. But instead, we get bogged down in these nuisances. I don't remember hearing a lot about bipartisanship when we're talking about tax breaks for the rich.

MADDOW: Do you think that Democrats are starting to rise to the occasion on health reform? Do you think they're fighting more, appeasing less when it comes to acting for real health reform?

GRAYSON: I think so. Since I pointed out that a Harvard study shows that 44,789 Americans die every single year because they don't have health coverage, now, people in Washington understand what's at stake, and that's life and death.

The cost of delay now people understand is death, and death of many, many Americans. More Americans dying every month than died on 9/11. But that was just had once. And this is month after month after month. That's why I say it's so important that we move it along to save these people's lives.

MADDOW: And strategically, though, do you feel like Democrats have made the pivot-that they've stopped working for-towards bipartisanship as an end rather than as a means, and they've started pushing for what they want?

GRAYSON: I think we're making the pivot because we're making a moral argument in favor of what we want. For too long, we were bogged down in this idea of just simply making it more affordable, when in fact, what we're talking about is life or death. And that's the case the Democrats haven't made until now. And now, I'm seeing it made.

Also, I think we exposed that the Republicans have nothing. I mean, the point of my presentation is that they have no plan. And now, they've had two weeks to come up with something that would actually save these people's lives and they've got nothing. So, now, for a change, they're on the defensive.

MADDOW: Congressman Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida,, says something that that wasn't taken before you took it.


GRAYSON: Good point.

MADDOW: Thank you. Nice to see you.

GRAYSON: All right. My pleasure. Thank you. Great to be here.

MADDOW: OK. Four Republican members of Congress have demanded-demanded-an investigation into whether or not interns on Capitol Hill have committed the grave crime of being interns on Capitol Hill while also being Muslims. This story has gone from gross to inadvertently funny to, oh, I think they're starting to regret this in a very short number of days. We got the latest-next.


MADDOW: Last week, four Republican members of Congress held a press conference demanding that the House sergeant at arms investigate CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. They said they wanted an investigation because they said CAIR had hatched a secret plot to try to place interns on Capitol Hill-Muslim interns.


REP. SUE MYRICK ®, NORTH CAROLINA: Author Paul Sperry and its co-authors investigating team have unearthed a 2007 memo written by CAIR which documents their stated intentions and goals to place interns in congressional offices.

SEN. JOHN SHADEGG ®, ARIZONA: The book which Sue referred to, "Muslim Mafia," is one of a series of books that I would encourage Americans to read.

MYRICK: I did write the foreword for the book.


MADDOW: I did write the foreword to the book.

The "being an intern while being Muslim" accusations come from a new book that is published by WorldNetDaily. WorldNetDaily is the Web site best known for conspiracy theories about things like health care reform and like the "Obama administration secretly planning to round up conservatives to put them in concentration camps."

If this were just about WorldNetDaily pushing another kookie conspiracy theory, this one that Muslims were trying to take over Washington starting with the intern jobs, that would be a "dog bites man" story about the conservative movement and its fringes in the had age of Obama. But this is four sitting members of Congress pushing this idea.

Joining us now is Suhail Khan. He's the fellow for Christian Muslim understanding at the Institute for Global Engagement. He's a former senior political appointee in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Mr. Khan, it's nice to meet you. Thank you for being here.

SUHAIL KHAN, INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: Hey, thank you. Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: As I said, if this were just WorldNetDaily, we wouldn't be covering this story. But it's four serving members of Congress. And I understand that you think these allegations are not only concerning but that you've seen this before.

KHAN: Unfortunately, we have. It's disgusting. It's sad. And we have-particularly after 9/11 -- these same professional bigots-it's what I would call them-have gone after other Muslim-Americans serving their government. In the past, in the Bush administration, when I was serving, and now, they're going after Muslim staffers-starting with interns.

I guess if you know how to make coffee and answer the phone, next thing you do, you'll be taking over the world. So.

MADDOW: Who are the professional bigots that you mean?

KHAN: Well, there's the authors of this book. They've been joined by others on the Internet, and it's really insidious because not only do they go after these innocent Americans who just want to serve their country, but really, they're making money off of it. And that's what this is all about really. They duped these members of Congress, pushed them out in traffic on these charges that are completely baseless, really to sell books.

And that's what it is. It's about fearmongering and about money. It was interesting that they actually had their press conference a couple of days before the book release. I mean, if this is really about national security, you go to the authorities and say, "You've got to stop something and stop it now." Now, this is about going to the media and trying to sell books. It's really sad.

MADDOW: That was-one of the important details today followed up by Talking Points Memo reported that these four members of Congress, after they made the demand that the sergeant-at-arms investigate CAIR for these interns, these four members of Congress didn't actually make the request to the sergeant-at-arms to investigate.

KHAN: Right.

MADDOW: Which implies that they're more motivated by the PR effect of scare-mongering about this than real perceived harm.

KHAN: That's right.


KHAN: And it's sad and it has a real effect. Not only has it scared members of Congress and chiefs-of-staff to hire Muslim Americans who otherwise would be great and loyal Americans serving in their office and serving their country but even those that are working there now are being called in sometimes by their chief-of-staff.

I know of one instance where this has happened. And they're being questioned, saying, "Hey, is any of this true? Is there any truth to it?" And worse, if you're a kid out in Peoria or in California, my home state, and you're thinking about going into public service, you might say, "Hey, maybe I'll just, you know, stay home and stay here and work locally in the private sector because maybe serving my country isn't what I should be doing right now. Who needs this kind of scrutiny?"

It's really just disgusting. The news is only four members of Congress - you haven't seen the Republican leader out there. You haven't seen Mr. McConnell in the Senate out there joining these guys. So it's really that they've been duped by these professional racists out there. And I think if we can work with them, I plan to talk to them and try to educate them about the realities.

MADDOW: That's a generous take toward these four members of Congress. I mean, Sue Myrick wrote the foreword to this book. It seems to me that it is important for Republican politics and conservative politics and American politics, broadly speaking, that there be someone in leadership that's willing to call out stuff like this and be willing either to discipline or bring back on to the reservation these four members of Congress who have gone this way.

Do they not bear some responsibility, though, for having followed this path thus far and for having given this scare mongering press conference?

KHAN: They do. They bear responsibility. We've seen this before, whether it was Jewish Americans or the turn-of-the-century Italian American Catholics. We saw the hate during the 1960 election with President Kennedy.

Unfortunately, at different times in our history, some - very select few - have fear-mongered and tried to raise a specter of fear about different Americans, whether they be Mormons, Catholics, Jewish Americans. Now, after 9/11, it's Muslim Americans. And so, I think - you saw even in this last election, there were issues raised about had Mitt Romney, about Barack Obama and his faith.

MADDOW: Right.

KHAN: It took a hero like Colin Powell, if you recall, to stand up and say, "This has got to stop. We're all Americans here and we need to stand had together as Americans."

MADDOW: Suhail Khan, fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, a former senior political appointee in the George W. Bush administration, I don't have anything to do with this. But as an American, I'm sorry.

KHAN: Well, thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks.

KHAN: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: If you know the name congressman Steve Buyer, it may be from the time that he said smoking cigarettes could sort of be like smoking lettuce. Or it could from the time that he said health reform was a threat to American veterans.

That's how you knew Congressman Buyer before. Now, there's a new way to remember his name. Congressman Buyer now admits, after denying it had initially, that he spent quite a bit of $800,000 intended to be scholarship money for kids who can't afford college playing golf in exotic locations. But he swears he did not enjoy the golf. I'm not kidding. More next.

Thank you. But first one more thing. A Democratic had state senator recently criticized Republican Senator Jim DeMint for not bringing had enough federal money home to South Carolina. Two-county level Republican Party chairmen from his home state came to Mr. DeMint's defense.

Bamberg County GOP chairman Edwin Merwin and Orangeburg County GOP chairman James Ulmer wrote a guest editorial in the "Times" and "Democrat" newspapers saying, and I quote, "There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way, not by watching the dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves."

By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina, Sen.

DeMint is watching our nation's pennies. In other words, just like a Jew. I don't know how this particular argument is going to go over with South Carolina voters, but, well, yes, actually, I think I just have to leave that one where it is. Just leave it.


MADDOW: There are pranks. There are really big pranks. And then, there are pranks used as political tactics. Today, one of those got pulled on the United States Chamber of Commerce. It was a doozy. We have the tape of the fake press conference and we will talk to a reporter who was there and saw it all go down. That is all coming up.

But first, a couple of holy mackerel stories in today's news. This is Indiana Republican Congressman Steve Buyer, already famous on this show for claiming that health reform was a secret plot for hurting veterans and that smoking tobacco is a lot like smoking lettuce.

The congressman is once again under public scrutiny now, thanks to something called the Frontier Foundation. It's a scholarship charity that shares an address with the congressman's political action committee which had Congressman Buyer daughter as its president, which had his finance director as its secretary treasurer and which sent out letters from his office and which, in six years of its existence, has yet to actually give out a single scholarship.

Instead, out of the $880,000 the Frontier Foundation has raised so far, much of it from corporations and from organizations with business before the congressional committees on which Congressman Buyer serves, only $10,000 has been spent in grants.

Nearly half of that went to a charity run by a powerful Washington lobbyist who now says he'll return that money. The foundation has also donated to the National Rifle Association Foundation.

Well, now, a week after his press spokesmen said it's not Congressman Buyer's foundation, Congressman Buyer is admitting that it is his foundation. And he says the media scrutiny of it is, quote, "vicious and ugly."

The foundation has raised lots of funds, which means lots of golfing and fundraising trips for the congressman. As for those, Congressman Buyer says those were, quote, "not fun for me." I'm sure that as long as it wasn't fun for the congressman, the kids who didn't get these promised scholarships won't mind at all.

Next up, two summers ago, an air force crew in Minot, North Dakota, accidentally loaded six live nuclear warheads on a B-52 stratofortress and flew them to another airbase in Louisiana.

Six live nuclear missiles, totally unaccounted for until hours after the plane landed when someone on the ground at the base in Louisiana said, "Hey, now. Howdy? Wait a minute, those are live nuclear weapons mounted on that plane out there. I don't think we're supposed to have those."

In the ensuing fury, lots of Air Force officers were relieved of command by Defense Secretary Bob Gates, up to and including the secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force chief-of-staff. Still, after that, the good folks safeguarding our nuclear missiles as Minot, North Dakota failed their first nuclear surety inspection the following December.

Then they failed the one after that as well, something about guards playing video games on their cell phones when they were supposed to be, you know, watching the nuclear missiles.

Then, last July, a truck at Minot, carrying the rocket booster for a minute-man missiles ran off the gravel road and crashed. Price of the cleanup there was $5.6 million.

Then in August, they lost another truck carrying intercontinental missile parts and liquid rocket fuel. This time they blamed a, quote, "large insect that flew into the driver's open window and landed on the driver's back." Apparently, the driver was so freaked out by the large insect on his back that while he was trying to swat at it, he drove his rig and its intercontinental ballistic missile parts and its liquid rocket fuel right off the road.

Now, the good airmen of North Dakota have been like the keystone cops except they're keystone cops in charge of safekeeping America's live nuclear arsenal. The head of the 91st missile wing at Minot and the maintenance group commander and missile maintenance squadron commander were all fired and replaced last week.

The new commander telling local reporters that his plan was to, quote, "get back to basics." The basics like not accidentally flying nuclear weapons around the country and losing trucks full of missile parts to attacks by moth - you know, the basics.

And finally, a quote falsely attributed to talk show host Rush Limbaugh recently it resurfaced during the debate over whether or not he would or should be part of a group bidding to buy the St. Louis Rams football steam.

On June 3rd, as I was reporting on opposition to then-Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, I was among the people who erroneously referred to the quote if Mr. Limbaugh had said it.

To set the record straight, Rush Limbaugh apparently never said that Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassin should receive the Medal of Honor. And I was in error when we reported that we had. Mea culpa. While we're setting the record straight here though, here is some of Rush Limbaugh's verifiable record on matters of race, just for context.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Barack Obama has picked up another endorsement: Halfrican American actress Halle Berry.

We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, because his father was black. He just wants to have the same health care and plan that he had in Kenya. Obama's entire economic program is reparations.


MADDOW: So let the record, now corrected, speak for itself. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a fraudulent press conference, OK? He's misrepresenting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


MADDOW: Today, the country's largest business lobby, the Chamber of Commerce, got punked. It began early this morning when a press release went out purportedly from the United States Chamber of Commerce that said that the chamber was taking a very dramatic step. They would be switching positions on climate change legislation.

Amazingly, the release said that the chamber would now support this legislation that it spent months fighting against. Reporters were surprised and probably confused at this odd turn of events. But that was nothing compared to what actually happened at the press conference when it was held later on this morning. Watch this tape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clean coal is a technology that has not only not been proven. It basically doesn't exist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. This is - I'm here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is not an official U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. So I don't know what pretenses you're here. I know some of you in the press world, but this is a fraudulent press activity and a stunt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who are you really sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And do you have a business card? Are you with the U.S. Chamber?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do. We can discuss afterwards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Can I see your business card?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I see yours? If you would like to have a press conference, you can have your own press conference, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your position?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you can't come in here and barge in and interrupt our press conference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your position? What is your position at the Chamber of Commerce?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just spoke of my position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your title, your official title at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the assistant to Mr. Donohue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. This guy is a fraud. He's lying. This is, you know, a stunt that I've never seen before. So if you'd like to actually talk to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, I've got my business cards outside.

This gentleman, I will assure you, does not have any business cards and he's not legitimate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry. Excuse me, sir. We rented this room.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to have to refund us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fraudulently. Fraudulently. Under fraud - it's fraud. It's illegal. Anyone else want my business card? Come on outside, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the chamber support the climate legislation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you are. Who are you?





MADDOW: And that is how you punk at the Chamber of Commerce. The fake Chamber of Commerce guy at the beginning was one of the famous anti-corporate pranksters known as the Yes Men. The guy who was really mad at the end, was not.

The woman who you just saw at the end of that video, she is a real reporter for "Mother Jones," Kate Sheppard. Kate, thanks for coming on the show.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So at the end there, he demanded to know who you were because he thought you were part of the hoax.

SHEPPARD: I think he might have thought that. It was a little questionable. The folks who were setting up the hoax had invited a number of actors to come in and sit in as reporters.

But there were also a number of real reporters there who thought this was a real press conference. And up until the point where he walked in and started yelling thought this was a change on the part of the chamber.

MADDOW: Which of those camps were you? And did you know that this was going to be a hoax? Did you figure it out? Did you believe the initial press release?

SHEPPARD: I received the press release this morning at about 9:30 a.m. And I thought it was real for about a half hour until luckily, someone tipped me off of the fact that it was a hoax.

One of my sources let me know, let me in on the fact. But I went over to check it out and see what would happen. I did not know it was the Yes Men until I arrived and found a Yes Man at the podium. I just thought it was a regular old band of activists but came in to find one of the infamous Yes Man at the helm here.

MADDOW: So walk me through how this goes. The fake Chamber of Commerce guy, the Yes Man guy gets in front of the room. And some reporters around you think it's legitimate and think that the Chamber of Commerce is completely changing its point its view on climate change. And some people are in on the joke.

SHEPPARD: It seemed that way, yes.

MADDOW: OK. And how did the rest of the press corps react when the real angry pencil-behind-the-ear Chamber of Commerce spokesman came into the room and confronted the fake guy?

SHEPPARD: There were a number of people who seemed utterly confused. They were asking, you know, which one is the real chamber? I mean, have they really changed? I mean, who's this guy running in? Which one do we believe? The actual chamber representative had his business cards available and offered some commentary at the end.

MADDOW: He was very insistent on the business cards being the thing that proved his authenticity.

SHEPPARD: Apparently, but as we saw in the press release it's pretty easy to mimic someone's official seal.

MADDOW: Right. Exactly. Well, during your cameo appearance in the video, the real Chamber of Commerce spokesman gets kind of confrontational with you. The question that you asked was, "Does this mean you're not changing your position?"

SHEPPARD: I actually hadn't asked a question.

MADDOW: Oh, you did not?

SHEPPARD: I just checked the business card to make sure that was, in fact, the person I thought it was. But I'd dealt with this individual before so I knew him to be an actual representative of the Chamber of Commerce.


SHEPPARD: But we've had - "Mother Jones" has been reporting about a lot of the chaos surrounding the chamber of late with businesses leaving the group in protest of their climate policy. So they have not been particularly big fans of our work on that issue.

MADDOW: And it has been a rough few weeks for the chamber. I mean, they are a membership-based organization. The businesses belong to the chamber - that's what gives them their power and their stake in Washington in addition to the money that they spend.

And they're a membership organization - the organizations that are members of them have been leaving specifically on the climate change issue. From your reporting, are you able to tell if that's becoming a crisis for the chamber?

SHEPPARD: It's clear that it's becoming a PR crisis for them. They don't really know how to handle it. In the past few weeks, several large utilities have left, PG & E, PNM, Exelon, and then Nike left the board and Apple is leaving.

So it's really been a lot of high-level businesses leaving the group. And then on top of that, last week, my colleague, Josh Harkinson reported that the chamber has been inflating numbers for years saying that they have 3 million members when in fact the real number is somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 to 300,000.

So overnight, their numbers dropped by 90 percent when they had to clarify that no, in fact they did not represent 3 million businesses. So they've just been - they issued all kinds of press releases in the last week. They've done different press events and they've really been trying to clarify their position on climate change. But it's been really hard for them as they see a number of, you know, big name businesses leaving the group.

MADDOW: Yes. And I will say in terms of their tactics, the spokesman knew enough to not answer the direct question or say, "Listen, we want to make it clear that we are still totally against the climate change legislation and we totally believe in the clean coal."

I mean, the idea of the Yes Men style prank is that corporations or whoever the villain is - whoever the victim is of these pranks is forced to define an unpopular stance in opposition to the pranksters. And they knew - this guy at least knew enough to not do that.

SHEPPARD: Yes, it's a hoax.

MADDOW: It's a hoax. It's a hoax.

SHEPPARD: Exactly. He knew enough not to try to say, "No, no. Trust me. The chamber really doesn't want to do anything about climate." And that's been the hard spot they've been in. They've been saying all along that they don't believe in any of climate change legislation that has circulated on the Hill. But now, they're trying to say they could believe in climate legislation passing and that it's a good thing but, you know, just not anything that they've ever seen.

MADDOW: Just that anything that's real.

SHEPPARD: Right. At the same time, they've been denying climate change is happening, you know, in other press material.

MADDOW: Kate Sheppard, reporter for "Mother Jones," nice to see you.

Thanks for coming in.

SHEPPARD: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Lost among the politics of the health care fight is the fact that even if the bill includes a public option, nine of 10 Americans probably won't be allowed to use it. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon joins Keith Olbermann on "COUNTDOWN" to talk about that.

And the creative hoax that was balloon boy spawns even more creativity on the nefarious Internet. That's next. We will be right back.


MADDOW: We turn now to our inspirational aeronautics correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. The saga of Falcon, the "not actually in the balloon" balloon boy ...

MADDOW: Oh, yes.

JONES: ... may have been a fail for the truth, but it's been a bonus for songwriters and video makers who spent the weekend turning his airborne-less non-adventure into art. Check it out.


(voice-over): Did you find Falcon's story to be a high energy romp? Then, let's start with this perky track which will float aimlessly in your head all day. Promise.


The immortal "99 Luft Balloons" gets some snarky new lyrics here.


Or was it the "wizard of oz" for our times? Here is a song called "The Attic" which would have to be the "Citizen Kane" of balloon boy videos.



MADDOW: OK. This didn't happen too long ago. Who had that much time to put that much together?

JONES: I don't know. They got some 40-hour days or something to work on those. These are amazing. All of those.

MADDOW: Unbelievable.

JONES: Well done.

MADDOW: I'm so happy that it wasn't just tape and tape and tape of the barfing. That was really the part I focused on.

JONES: No. I know that and you might want to let that go now.

MADDOW: I know.

JONES: Well done to all the videographers there.

MADDOW: Seriously. Balloon boy will always be about barfing to me. I have a quick and very happy and un-snarky and un-cynical moment for you, Kent.

JONES: Very nice.

MADDOW: A "Newsweek" reporter named Maziar Bahari has been in jail in Iran for nearly four months. We hosted his wife, his pregnant wife, on the show a couple months ago talking about his detention. He has been released on bail.

JONES: Excellent.

MADDOW: In time for the birth of his first child. And it's great news. Yes. It's almost four months in Iran. He is allowed to post bail. It's great news, so congratulations to Maziar Bahari and his family.

JONES: Indeed.

MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. "COUNTDOWN" with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a good one.



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