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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: David Corn, Tyler Mathisen, Jonathan Alter, Tyler Combelic, Michael Waldman, Lauren Ashburn, John Neffinger, Nina Burleigh

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Built union strong. Big labor joins
the fight against Wall Street.

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight: Uprising. Those anti-Wall Street protesters are
getting a big shot in the arm from big labor. Powerful unions are joining
the demonstrations, lending credibility to the cause. We may be watching
the start of a populist movement on the left, but what is it? And what
does middle America think about it? And will this anti-Wall Street fervor
help or hurt President Obama as he runs for reelection? That`s our top
story tonight.

Plus, five million. That`s the number of voters in this country that
may be disenfranchised by all those new voting laws across the country,
laws largely championed and passed by Republicans. We`ll have the latest
on the effort to make it harder for some to vote.

Then: Is it fair to draw conclusions between Chris Christie`s weight
and his discipline? The governor says he doesn`t mind the jokes, but he
says being overweight doesn`t mean that he lacks discipline, as some
pundits have suggested.

And American Amanda Knox is back home in Seattle after successfully
appealing her murder conviction in an Italian court. Let`s look at the
role public relations played in winning her acquittal.

And "Let Me Finish" with a new low in the civility of our political
discourse, the case of Hank Williams, Jr.

We begin with the demonstrations against Wall Street. Tyler Combelic
is with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Tyler, thank you so much for
being here. Please help us. Define what this movement represents.

TYLER COMBELIC, OCCUPY WALL STREET: This movement is really a call to
arms to the American people to get involved in the political process again,
above all else. We want an active democracy in this country. We want
everybody to get informed on the issues.

And really, if they have frustrations they want to get out, if you
think something`s wrong in corporate America, if you think something`s
wrong in government, let your voice be heard because if enough come out and
we speak our minds and we say what we think is wrong and how to fix it,
government has to listen. Corporate America has to listen. And we can
really start making a change for the American people, rather than for
corporate greed.

SMERCONISH: What are the issues that tie everyone down there on Wall
Street together? What`s the common denominator, as you see it, of the
people who are showing up?

COMBELIC: Economic justice is definitely one of our biggest issues.
We have Libertarians down here. We have socialists down here, and everyone
in between, Republicans, Democrats. And they all feel like there`s
something very unjust about our current economic climate, whether it be the
corporate influence in government, whether it be lobbyists` influence. And
that`s definitely one of our largest rallying cries.

And the thought of accountability -- why is no one going to jail over
the fact that billions were stolen from the American people after the
recession these last five years? Why is it that government can just say,
Oops, we`re sorry, over the fact that Freddie and Fannie failed? And we`re
just angry that the idea of accountability does not apply to those in

SMERCONISH: Allow me to put on the screen what we pulled from your
Web site that discusses what the group is all about. And it says, "Occupy
Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors,
genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is
that we are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and
corruption of the 1 percent. We are using the revolutionary Arab spring
tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize
the safety of all participants."

It occurs to me that the group that you`re not representative of --
you know, it`s not all greed and corruption. I mean, Michael Bloomberg is
a very successful and very wealthy guy. Steve Jobs is a very successful
and very wealthy guy -- Warren Buffett. I mean, so it`s not a campaign
against all those who are wealthy, is it?

COMBELIC: No. It`s not a general blanket statement that if you`re in
the 1 percent, you`re somehow bad. But it is a statement that the 1
percent currently get tax breaks and certain laws that are -- that give
them a certain edge that the average American doesn`t. Warren Buffett`s
secretary, as President Obama said the other day, should not be paying more
taxes than Warren Buffett. And we want an equal playing field where
everyone has the same chance to fulfill the American dream.

SMERCONISH: Are you a supporter of free market capitalism?

COMBELIC: I personally absolutely am. I run my own Web design
business, and without this free market capitalist system, I wouldn`t be
able to get to where I am.

SMERCONISH: Some have described this movement in revolutionary terms.
You can see how it would easily be painted with a broad brush as something
that seeks to overturn capitalism as we know it.

COMBELIC: I think that the word "revolution" scares a lot of people
because they assume that means overthrow of the government. But I think we
need to have revolutionary ways of thinking about how do we go forward as a
nation? Do we want to just fix the current system? Or are there ways that
we can change the current system in which it`s going to benefit every
single American equally?

SMERCONISH: Tyler Combelic--

COMBELIC: And that`s really the discussion we want.

SMERCONISH: -- many thanks for your time. We appreciate your being

COMBELIC: Thank you very much for having me on.

SMERCONISH: David Corn is an MSNBC political analyst and the
Washington editor of "Mother Jones" magazine.

David, is this good news at the White House? As they`re watching the
footage that we`ve just shown, how`s it being received?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: My guess is that it`s not a big
enough matter yet--

SMERCONISH: Getting there!

CORN: -- for the White House to worry about. And you know, we`re all
sort of watching this fledgling movement and trying to discern if it`s
going to, you know, continue and get bigger. The unions this week, as you
know, in New York City and elsewhere, have been endorsing, and have, more
importantly, been contributing bodies and money to try to expand this
movement, and you know, maybe give it a little more political, ideological
coherence. We`ll see if that takes down the road or not.

So bad weather is coming in New York City in a couple of weeks. Will
people be able to maintain the presence in the park in sufficient numbers
that the media doesn`t just blow this away as a flash in the pan?

SMERCONISH: I`m wondering how it plays in middle America. I`m
wondering how it plays in the minds of independents who are going to play a
critical role. And I ask you to keep that thought in mind--

CORN: Right.

SMERCONISH: -- as I roll for you a montage of some of the voices of
protesters from around the country. Let`s all watch and listen.

CORN: Sure.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the beginning really of a people`s
movement, a people`s revolution, nonviolent, if you will, in this country.
And frankly, it cannot be ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s for all of you who are tired of watching the
banks get bailed out while we get sold out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wealth disparity, corporate personhood, these
things are unacceptable, while millions are on the streets starving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We as North Carolinians have to stand up against
the bank corruption and the greed that is going on on Wall Street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s the rich and there`s the poor. And then
there was us (ph). And the rich are stepping on our necks! They`re trying
to squash us down. But this is called an uprising, and we are taking back
what is ours!


SMERCONISH: David, nobody could quarrel with the existence of income
disparity that exists today.

CORN: Right.

SMERCONISH: But when you voice it in terms of a people`s revolution,
I`m not sure that plays so well for the Ds in middle America if this gets
tied to that end of the scale, politically speaking.

CORN: Yes. I don`t know if it`s going to be tied to the Democrats.
The Republicans were much more closer, ideologically speaking, to the Tea
Party types than the Democratic Party is to the people in Zuccotti (ph)

For a social movement to succeed, I do think you need to connect with
middle America to a certain degree and people watching. If they agree with
the sentiment -- I think the sentiment here is an 80 percent proposition in
this country, and that is that Wall Street and corporate America has gotten
too much power, and they quite frankly, have abused it. They abused it in
the last few years. They have too much influence in the political system.

I think independents are down with that. I think they understand
that. But I think the challenge here is to make the connection with people
beyond your -- you know, the anarchist drum circle types who are there.
And I know (INAUDIBLE) A good comparison is what happened in Wisconsin,
where you had demonstrations by teachers, firefighters and police officers
and others who really sort of brought the -- the -- the surrounding
community in and supported them, and they channeled a lot of electoral
power that really caused a problem for Republican governor Walker.

SMERCONISH: I think a lot of people -- I think a lot of people are
home, you know, on the sofa or in their Barcalounger and they`re looking at
that and they`re saying, Do I see myself there? You know, Do I see anyone
with whom I have a common denominator?

Let me ask you another political question. Mitt Romney said this was
dangerous class warfare. Today presidential candidate Newt Gingrich
weighed in on the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Here`s what he said.


I can`t imagine a sadder commentary than the failure of the Obama
presidency. (INAUDIBLE) This was a guy who was bringing them hope, change
you can believe in, transparency, bipartisanship. These demonstrations are
the deepest proof of Obama`s bankruptcy as a leader of anything you can


SMERCONISH: Newt says it`s a sad commentary on the Obama presidency.

CORN: Yes. That is one of the most ridiculous comments I`ve ever
heard from Newt, which really raises the bar pretty high, because if Obama
had been doing a lot of what these demonstrators wanted him to do, Newt
would be the first one out there saying that that was bankrupt. So he`s
just being exploitative and opportunistic, and it`s not a serious comment.

What we`ll see here is that these protesters are tapping into a wide
sentiment. Two years ago, I wrote a piece for "Mother Jones" magazine
asking, Where`s the anger? Where`s the resentment from middle America
about what was happening with bail-outs and other matters?

It seemed muted at the time. But while Obama went ahead and supported
the bail-out, and I think saved the financial system from its own excesses,
and did so with the auto bail-outs, steps that were very unpopular but
perhaps saved the economy from going over a bigger cliff--

SMERCONISH: I would just say to you that I think it matters greatly -
- and this puts a lot of power in the hands of the media -- who or what
group of individuals become the face of this movement.

CORN: Right.

SMERCONISH: You know, I remember there was a Tea Party event in
Washington where Congressman Louis was subject to some ugly behavior.

CORN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: And the more people you get together, you`ve always got
kooks in the crowd, and if some misbehave, it will characterize this group.

CORN: That`s always a problem and a risk for mass movements. You
can`t control it. The question now is, can it expand beyond the circle
that got it going and make those connections with the people on the
Barcaloungers that you talked about?


CORN: Those people feel the anger, and I think they feel the same
fear that--

SMERCONISH: David, I agree. But they`re trying to decide -- they`re
trying to decide, Is this my movement? And I think the jury is still out.
Thank you. Appreciate--

CORN: I agree with you on that.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

A new study is coming up, and it finds that 5 million American voters
-- 5 million -- could be disenfranchised by new state laws around the
country. That`s a huge number, enough to turn an election, and that may be
just what the authors of those laws have in mind. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH: Sighs of relief at the White House as Democrat Earl Ray
Tomblin won that special election last night for governor of West Virginia.
Tomblin eked out a 3-point victory after the Republican challenger, Bill
Maloney, surged in the last week. Maloney tried to tie Tomblin, who`s been
serving as acting governor, to President Obama. The president`s job
approval ratings in the Mountain State are among the lowest in the country.

We`ll be right back.



Since the 2000 election, many Americans have come to realize the
importance of having every vote counted, but many new Republican-led
statehouses across the country have been leading the charge to rewrite
voting laws, in effect making it more difficult for some to vote.

The Brennan Center for Justice has just published a comprehensive
study which shows that a staggering number of people may be disenfranchised
by these new laws, which would require voters to show photo identification
at polls, cut back early voting and hinder voter registration efforts.

The Brennan Center study shows that legislators in a total of over 34
states have introduced new laws, and of those, seven -- including Alabama,
Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin --
that have already enacted new voter ID laws this year.

This new trend, which may work to actively nullify many of the votes
has a number of people worried, including President Barack Obama. Listen
to what he told me this past Friday on my radio program.


OBAMA: Some of these moves in some of the other states that we`ve
seen, trying to make it tougher to vote, restricting ballot access, making
it hard on seniors, making it hard on young people -- I think that`s a big
mistake. And I have made sure that our Justice Department is taking a look
at what`s being done across the country to ensure that people aren`t being
denied access to the franchise.


SMERCONISH: So who will these changes affect the most?

Joining me now to talk about the Brennan Center for Justice report is
Michael Waldman. He`s the executive director.

Michael, thank you for being here.

How do you get to the 5 million number? How is it that you think 5
million people could be disenfranchised? And I`m going to put a graphic up
on the screen that may assist.

me. As you say, these are people who might have their votes affected, who
might find it a lot harder to vote. One of the biggest factors, as you
say, is these new voter ID Laws. And I have a driver`s license. You have
a driver`s license. But many of our fellow citizens just don`t have a
government-issued photo ID. In fact, the best number is that it`s 11
percent. So when you have this kind of requirement, it actually makes it a
lot harder or impossible for those people to vote.

SMERCONISH: Well, allow me to interrupt you on that score because I
know, having had this conversation with my radio audience, many people say,
Well, wait a minute, I show a photo ID for every aspect of my life. Why
shouldn`t I show some level of identification to go vote?

WALDMAN: Well, and of course, voting is a right and we want to treat
that extra special. It`s different than going and renting a video. But
the fact is, I actually don`t have a problem with voter ID. I have a
problem with requiring forms of ID that people don`t have.

There are all kinds of ways of people showing who they are. But to
give you a sense of the political nature of how precisely these laws seem
to target certain voters, Governor Perry in Texas just signed a law saying
that you can no longer use your University of Texas ID to vote, but you can
use your gun license.

That`s the kind of political gamesmanship that, unfortunately, is
pervading this thing. Nobody wants fraud. Only eligible people should be
able to vote. But my goodness, we ought to be able to come up a way to
require ID that people actually have.

SMERCONISH: All right, let me ask you about another one because I
know that efforts for community organizations to engage in voter
registration are also contemplated to be curtailed. Now, you raise this
issue, and you hear people say, Well, that`s justified because what about
ACORN in the last cycle? Your response?

WALDMAN: Well, folks might not know, ACORN is actually out of
business. And there are safeguards that prevent -- even when there`s a
problem with the name of a person being registered, they actually can`t
vote. "Mickey Mouse" might be on the registration rolls, but he can`t show
up to vote, even in Orlando, where they know him.

And so you have a situation in a state like Florida, where there`s a
new law that really cracks down on non-partisan voter registration, where
the League of Women Voters, which is not, you know, a well-known subversive
sect -- I mean, it`s the League of Women Voters -- has shut down their
voter registration operation. And these kind of voter registration drives
are often a way young people or poor people get to register to vote.

SMERCONISH: In other words, I think what I hear you saying is, just
because there -- there were shenanigans with some individuals who I think
had a financial incentive to--


SMERCONISH: -- go out there and register, you know, the whole Dallas
Cowboys, it doesn`t mean those individuals actually -- or anybody showed up
and actually voted in those instances.

Let me ask you about another one, if I might, because you just
referenced Florida. And I understand that Governor Rick Scott has signed
into law in Florida something that would eliminate the opportunity for
voting the Sunday before Election Day. Why do you think that would have a
disparate effect on different segments of society?

WALDMAN: And you`re seeing that in other states as well.

You know, this phenomenon of early voting that we have seen in recent
years is really very popular. It`s a very successful innovation. It lets,
you know, working people go and vote who might not be able to vote on a
Tuesday. And you`re seeing in Florida and elsewhere that Sunday voting has
gotten turned off, and it turns out that people who go to church and often
they believe vote near the church or get organized at a church might be
affected by that, and that turns out quite significantly to affect African-
American churches, and to some degree Hispanic churches.

SMERCONISH: In other words, the custom, the habit, particularly in
the minority community, is that that Sunday before the election, perhaps
because they have heard something from the pulpit, but whatever the reason
is, that`s largely a day when they go out and exercise the franchise, and
so if you say no voting the Sunday before Election Day, it will have a
disparate effect on the minority community.

WALDMAN: That`s what we think, and it`s a good example because one
wouldn`t think that early voting should have any partisan impact at all.
In some years the Republicans benefit and in other years the Democrats.

The way these laws were passed as soon as the Republicans took control
of these state legislatures, it`s pretty clear they were aiming at the
Democrats, but they hit the voters.

SMERCONISH: One final question, if I may. Is it your belief that
this is a concerted action on the part of GOP statehouses, you know? Do
you believe that it`s -- I don`t want to use the word conspiracy because I
don`t think conspiracy fits, but do you think that they are all acting in
concert with one another in a deliberate fashion?

I have only got 30 seconds, if you can answer that.

WALDMAN: Well, I don`t think it`s a conspiracy, but it would
certainly be quite a coincidence. It`s pretty clear that a lot of these
candidates ran arguing there should be these voter restrictions. There are
conservative groups who are pushing for this, and we just want to make sure
that everybody who is eligible to vote gets to vote.

SMERCONISH: Right. We want -- I think we all want the maximum number
of people to go out and exercise the franchise and to do it legitimately.

WALDMAN: That`s right.

SMERCONISH: All right.

WALDMAN: And -- and that ought to be easy to do without the partisan
games on anybody`s part.

SMERCONISH: Michael Waldman, many thanks for your report, and thanks
for being here.

WALDMAN: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: Up next, does Michele Bachmann want to impeach President
Obama? She certainly left the door open. We have got the video, and you
can judge for yourself. That`s next in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time now for the "Sideshow."

And, first up, standing by the supporters. Sounds like a decent
strategy for a presidential candidate, but really at what cost? Last week,
GOP candidate Michele Bachmann thanked a caller during an appearance on an
Iowa radio program after he said he`d sooner vote for Charles Manson than
President Barack Obama. There`s a cringe-worthy statement.

Too bad it wasn`t a one-time-only lapse in judgment. Let`s take a
look at a new example from a Bachmann event yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we will impeach him and get him of the way?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s -- we should be.

BACHMANN: I will tell you, it is -- I agree. I agree. People are
really upset.


SMERCONISH: Well, it certainly sounds like they are on the same page
there, but after eyebrows were raised came the clarification. According to
her spokeswoman -- quote -- "She wasn`t saying that she agrees that Obama
should be impeached. She agreed with the man on what they were talking
about before, that people are frustrated."

It didn`t look like she was dodging the question when she gave the guy
a pat on the back, the guy who had asked it.

And next up, break out the comedy chops, kind of unexpected coming
from Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren who before launching
her campaign was trying to get Washington to take on Wall Street. No
nonsense there. Well, in last night`s Democratic debate in her home state
of Massachusetts, Warren managed to score some of the biggest laughs of the

Let`s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What superhero would you be and why?

for Wonder Woman.


WARREN: She has such a cool outfit and bracelets. I mean, they were
the whole thing for me, so that`s what it`s got to be for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To help pay for his law school education, Scott
Brown posed for "Cosmo." How did you pay your college education?


WARREN: I kept my clothes on.




SMERCONISH: My hunch is we`re going to be seeing that Scott Brown
photo again in the upcoming cycle.

And now for the "Big Number." The Republican National Convention set
to take place in Tampa, Florida, is now less than a year away, and local
officials down in the Sunshine State are starting to get their things in
order. And one of the first orders of business, security cameras and lots
of them. And we`re not talking just on street corners. This is the real
deal, cameras on aerial drones, on people`s bodies, on top of cars, the
whole nine yards.

So when all is said and done, how many cameras are on the convention
security wish list? -- 238, a far cry from the grand total of five that
currently exists in downtown Tampa to keep tabs on traffic. No real
surprise that organizers do not expect the entire list to be granted, but
they do estimate that the convention will lure the attendance of around
10,000 protesters -- 238 cameras, that`s tonight`s "Big Number."

Up next, Chris Christie says he doesn`t mind jokes about his weight,
but is it fair for pundits to suggest his weight means he`s not
disciplined? That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. I`m Tyler Mathisen
with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

A solid rally on pretty light volume today on Wall Street, the Dow
Jones industrial average up 131 points. The S&P 500 added 20 and the
Nasdaq climbed 55. That`s well over a 2 percent move there.

More optimism about the European debt crisis and some-better-than
expected economic reports here at home. Those helped lift those averages.
Germany`s Angela Merkel said for the first time today that Berlin is
prepared to back its banks, and is willing to discuss broader E.U.-wide re-
capitalization of banking companies.

Here at home, private sector employment jumped more than expected in
September with employers adding about 91,000 new jobs, but the number of
planned layoffs also surged in September to 115,000. In stocks, Yahoo!
gained on reports that Microsoft may be considering a buyout bid.
Microsoft later denying it. Costco slumping after missing earnings
estimates and announcing a membership fee hike.

And KFC parent company Yum! Brands slipped despite in-line earnings on
concerns about slowing growth in China, which is its biggest market.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think you guys know this. I`m
not particularly self-conscious about this. Like, it`s not a news flash to
me that I`m overweight, you know?



That was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday in his press
conference announcing his decision not to run for president. Take a listen
to him going after political pundits and columnists who had been commenting
on his weight.


CHRISTIE: The people who pretend to be serious commentators who have
wrote about this are among the most ignorant people I have ever heard in my
life. You know, to say that because you`re overweight you are, therefore,
undisciplined, you know, I don`t think undisciplined people get to achieve
great positions in our society. And so, you know, that kind of stuff is
just ignorant.


SMERCONISH: So what was he responding to? Well, it was columns like
this one by Michael Kinsley last week, who said -- quote -- "Controlling
what you eat and how much is not easy, and it`s harder for some people than
for others, but it`s not as difficult as curing a chemical addiction with a
determined, disciplined effort. Christie could have thinned down, and he
should, because the obesity epidemic is real and dangerous, and the
president inevitably sets an example."

For more on this, I`m joined by Jonathan Alter, a Bloomberg View
columnist and MSNBC political analyst, and Lauren Ashburn, a former
managing editor at "USA Today" and now she`s a contributing editor at The
Daily Beast.

Lauren, you go first. What reaction do you have to Governor Christie
drawing a line in the sand and saying it`s OK for the comedians, but these
pundits, they got it all wrong?

LAUREN ASHBURN, THE DAILY BEAST: I think that he needs to reexamine
what he`s saying. And I`m going to be one of those ignorant pundits, I

But I think that obesity is an extremely important issue in this
country. You know, the CDC says that 75 percent of us are either
overweight or obese. And for him to laugh this off at a press conference
and say, yes, I`m fat, sends a terrible message to society.

I think leaders are held to a different standard. And, you know, I
understand that he has struggled with his weight. I have been up and down
with my weight. I have had three kids. I get it. I know how hard it is,
but I just think it`s a different standard when you`re a governor of a
state or if you`re running for president.


SMERCONISH: Does it necessarily follow that if -- if he`s
undisciplined in his diet, that he`s undisciplined relative to his
governance? Isn`t there some level of compartmentalization here?

ASHBURN: I think it`s a perception, Michael, frankly.

And the dirty little secret is, guess what? Discrimination exists in
the workplace, and at a very high level. You know, people who are
overweight -- and let`s talk about double standards here -- women who are
30 pounds overweight, those women, you know, they are discriminated
against, but only men who are obese are discriminated against.

They don`t get pay raises. They don`t get hired sometimes and they
aren`t considered for promotion.

SMERCONISH: Let me ask Jonathan Alter to react to this.

Jonathan, go ahead.

agree with the premise of your question about compartmentalizing.

I agree with what a lot of what Lauren said, but you -- just because
you`re undisciplined in one part of your life doesn`t mean you`re
undisciplined in all parts of your life. And I think the ultimate example
of that is President Clinton, who practically invented the idea of

We know that he was extremely undisciplined when it came to his sexual
appetites, even though he managed to discipline his eating habits and
didn`t go to McDonald`s as much and was otherwise a disciplined president.

President Bush, by contrast, is extremely disciplined in everything,
but so disciplined that he became rigid and his presidency suffered for it,
so I think that getting into this area of, you know, what constitutes
presidential discipline is a, simply--

SMERCONISH: You`re channeling -- you`re channeling Frank Bruni, who
wrote in "The Times" on this subject, as did I.


SMERCONISH: In fact, let me put this up, if I can. He said:
"Discipline can also be overrated. A vegan-come-lately, President Clinton
fought and often lost his struggles with his diverse appetites, succumbing
to a Big Mac here, a Lewinsky there. And President Obama was reportedly
still sneaking cigarettes will into the 2008 campaign. He`s been seen
chomping on Nicorette gum to this day."

Lauren, doesn`t he have a point with what he just said?

ASHBURN: Well, I think if you look at how -- the sniping at President
Obama for sneaking his cigarettes, and people saying, oh, what a bad
example he is to his children and everyone is trying to get him to quit,
and the same thing with President -- with President Clinton in the very
beginning when he was going to McDonald`s and on all of these runs, but
they made efforts, they made efforts to try to be healthy. And I--

SMERCONISH: This is going to sound crazy. I want him to smoke and I
want Bill Clinton to have a Big Mac.

ASHBURN: Why? Why do you want him to smoke?

SMERCONISH: Because I think -- because I don`t want them wound so
damn tight. I want them to have a release, because I think we all need


SMERCONISH: It`s always bothered me that W. never had a drink from
time to time.


ASHBURN: You do need a release, but you`re a leader, Michael. You`re
a leader of this country and so what you`re saying -- it`s like a parent
smoking in front of a small child.

SMERCONISH: I don`t know. I want a president, not a monk.

Jonathan, what do you think?

ALTER: Well, I`m with Lauren on this one.

I think President Obama is right to be sneaking it, and I reported in
my book that he occasionally did, at least in 2009. He`d go out on the
South Lawn and sneak one, but he wanted to make sure that he wasn`t doing
it in the White House, and made sure that he wasn`t being -- doing it on
camera, because you are setting an example.

So, you know, should Chris Christie be entitled to pig out if he wants
to in the privacy of his home? Obviously, but I think Lauren makes a good
point that when he is speaking in public should at least pay some lip
service to the idea that he and all the rest of us could do to lose a few.

ASHBURN: Michael--

SMERCONISH: Lauren, we would never sit here with this comfort level
and have this conversation--

ASHBURN: If he were running.

SMERCONISH: -- about a woman who was struggling to control her weight.

ASHBURN: No. No, we wouldn`t, would we?

Look, if Michele Bachmann gained 50 pounds, we`d laugh her out, and
male hosts like you would be talking about it all the time.

SMERCONISH: I don`t know.

ASHBURN: Talk about a double standard.

SMERCONISH: I think there`s -- I think there`s -- no, what I`m saying
is I find it -- you know, sure, we can sit here and talk about his weight.
I don`t think if it were a female, we would be having this--


ASHBURN: We wouldn`t be having this conversation. She wouldn`t run,
Michael. She would not run.

ALTER: Michael, she would not be able to run. A female who is obese
would not even be considered for president of the United States.

ASHBURN: Absolutely not. There`s a minimum standard of
attractiveness for politicians.

SMERCONISH: Well, comedians got a pass from Governor Christie.

Here`s what he had to say about David Letterman and his colleagues.


CHRISTIE: So I saw -- I saw Letterman`s top 10 list and I thought
eight out of the 10 were really funny. Listen, you`ve got to know who you
are in this life, and I think for me their job is to be funny. And if one
of the things they want to make fun of is my weight, then, you know, it`s
fair game. I`m a public figure.


SMERCONISH: Jonathan, are the standards so clearly distinct?

ALTER: No. But I think that he, you know, makes a relatively
defensible point when it comes to people, you know, seriously telling him
that he cannot run for president because of his weight as opposed to
comedians. The other distinction that`s very important, Michael, is
between whether this would have hurt him in a campaign, hurt him
politically. I don`t think it would have.


ASHBURN: You don`t? Come on, guys!

ALTER: I don`t think Americans would have held it against him.

SMERCONISH: It would have helped. It would have helped.

ALTER: It would have made him seem more like an average guy.

ASHBURN: I don`t agree.

ALTER: It would have made him seem like more of an average guy. But
I think it would have hurt him personally as a candidate because can you
not travel that much. Nowadays, to run for president you`re on and off an
airplane four or five times a week. You have to be in physical shape to
run for president.


ALTER: You know, this week, William "Refrigerator" Perry is only in
his 40s. He is so fat, he doesn`t weigh that much more than Christie, that
he`s not healthy enough to go to the reception at the White House for the
old Chicago Bears team.

SMERCONISH: That`s a shame.

ASHBURN: Look at the flack that Dick Cheney got.

ALTER: It`s very unhealthy to fly when you weigh that much.

SMERCONISH: I`m out of time. I wish we had more. Thanks for a great
conversation, Jonathan Alter and Lauren Ashburn.

ALTER: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Up next, Amanda Knox is a free woman, at home in Seattle,
after stunningly winning her appeal and her freedom in Italy. We`re going
to look at the successful campaign by her family to overturn her conviction
when we come back.

And if you want to follow me on twitter, remember, you`ve got to know
how to spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH: President Obama`s best strategy for re-election may be to
run against Congress a la Harry Truman. A new "Washington Post"/ABC News
poll finds that only 14 percent approve of the job Congress is doing.
That`s an all-time low in the poll.

And when it comes to who voters trust to create jobs, President Obama
wins the day, 49 percent to 34 percent over congressional Republicans.
That`s a change from a month ago, which suggests the president`s jobs plan
is working for him, at least politically.

We`ll be right back.



AMANDA KNOX, CONVICTION OVERTURNED: I`m really overwhelmed right now.
I was looking down from the airplane and it seemed like everything wasn`t
real. What`s important for me to say is just thank you to everyone who has
believed in me, who has defended me, who has supported my family.


SMERCONISH: We`re back.

That was Amanda Knox last night after arriving back in the United
States. She was set free by an Italian court on Monday night after four
years behind bars for the murder of her former roommate, Meredith Kercher.
Her family and friends never believed she was guilty. They waged a
tireless and expensive campaign to help free her.

Ultimately, she was set free because the DNA evidence used to
initially convict her was almost entirely discredited at her second trial.

But the legal battle was only part of the fight that was going on. On
Monday, the family of the victim talked about having to battle a large P.R.
machine. According to "The New York Times," the Knox family hired a
Seattle-based P.R. company early on after her arrest and encountered the
image emerging overseas that she was a she-devil.

For more on the case and the P.R. strategy, we`re joined by Nina
Burleigh, the author of "The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Italian Trials of
Amanda Knox," and John Neffinger, a public relations specialist at KNP

Nina, did P.R. convict her initially? In other words, was it the
climate created by the tabloids and in Italy that caused her to go down in
the initial trial?

were a lot of things that caused her to go down in the initial trial, but
it just -- I just want to point something out to you because you bring up
the "New York Times" article today. The idea that a P.R. campaign
countered and sort of influenced what was going on over there is just --
it`s just a mean that has been part of this case throughout from the very

Had a P.R. -- had an effective P.R. campaign been waged, she would not
have been walking into that courtroom during the -- during the first trial
in a Beatles hoodie smiling at the cameras. It was -- if it was a P.R.
camera, it absolutely failed.

What they are talking about when they talk about the P.R. campaign is
the Knox family after being silent for many weeks, I think after the
arrest, you know, watching this sort of juggernaut of "Foxy Knoxy" innuendo
in the British tabloids, went to this P.R. firm who then started setting
them up with the bookers on American morning programs, and morning
television program producers want the face. They want the person on

So, they were putting them on camera, and they weren`t doing -- you
know, they weren`t playing hardball with them, and they weren`t giving them
to reporters in Italy.

SMERCONISH: Well, I just --

BURLEIGH: They got very upset about it, and they presented it as this
was -- you know, this is a massively funded P.R. campaign. And I`m not
sure -- I mean, I didn`t encounter that when I was over there. I actually
never even dealt with that public relations firm.

SMERCONISH: Well, I guess what I`m saying is that from thousands of
miles away that the initial trial had all the "Foxy Knoxy" headlines, and I
did follow it in the British tabloids and these fantastical tales of the
sex game began awry dominated the headlines.

And, John Neffinger, it seemed like in the second go-round, it was now
being told, at least stateside, from the perspective of an innocent woman.
What`s your reaction to how the P.R. campaign changed or affected this?

definitely did shift the coverage and the perception her in the media
entirely. I think he`s right that it`s not -- in terms of the actual legal
proceedings, it`s not clear that any of this circus really had that much to
do with the outcome, but looking at it from afar, and it has been quite a
media event, and understandably fascinating to both the media and the
public that they serve.

It`s a totally different situation now from what you had initially,
where you had this sort of mysterious young woman at the center of this.
We don`t know, it`s this lurid crime. So the tale of her guilt was such an
involving one. As fantastical as it was, it was also very captivating to
the public.

SMERCONISH: Well, John, did you notice changes in the way she
conducted herself? Again, based on the television presentation, was there
a change in her demeanor, her eye contact, how she was looking and so forth
between the initial phase and more recent?

NEFFINGER: Well, I would certainly say there`s a dramatic change
between a lot of the images that we saw earlier on, which to me is saying
there was sort of an inappropriate mysterious smiling, which people didn`t
know how to make heads or tails out of. And the other thing about the way
that she presented herself, and I think -- I can`t imagine there`s any
public relations advising her to do this, but often, she was pictured in
public looking down with a fearful look on her face, and she looked lost in
her own thoughts.

And on the one hand, that`s perfectly consistent with her thinking,
what`s happening to me? On the other hand, it`s also perfectly consistent
with her thinking, what have I done? And so -- yes --

SMERCONISH: Nina, if I might ask, you did make the trip and written
the definitive book on this -- sitting here today, are you comfortable and
confident that justice has been served with her release? Was she innocent
of the murder of Meredith Kercher?

BURLEIGH: Well, you know, we`ve talked about this before, Michael.
And I -- you know, if you`ve read the book, it`s a complicated case. It`s
not a 30-second sound bite. But it`s a simple crime story, with an
incredibly complicated story put around it. It`s a simple crime, with a
incredibly complicated story that`s been created around it.

Has justice been done? In my opinion, they did not have the evidence
to back up the claim that she led two men into a sex game and stabbed her
roommate to death.

Personally, I think it`s a robbery gone wrong, a very simple crime,
and the whole media circus and all of the story that`s been created around
it -- it`s very complicated, it has to do with many different things,
Italian culture and the media, and the legal system over there, and her
presentation, and the way she behaved. And --

SMERCONISH: One man sits in jail tonight. Her boyfriend has been
released, Raffaele Sollecito, so too has she, obviously. The guy who`s in
the slammer tonight, is it your belief that he`s the one who did it and
acted alone?

BURLEIGH: Well, Rudy Guede, whose name nobody remembers because they
were focused on the woman in the center of this crime story was -- you
know, he`s convicted of murder. He has been convicted of murder and he has
never denied being in the room where this poor victim, Meredith Kercher,
was bleeding to death. His handprints and fingerprints are all over the

So, you know, let the legal -- let the record speak for itself.

SMERCONISH: John Neffinger, I`ve only got 30 seconds. Book deal,
telemovie for television, where is it headed next for Amanda Knox?

NEFFINGER: My guess is she did not want to be any more of a public
figure than she has been. In fact, the words that she said on her release,
that even just looking down from the plane, it looked unreal. It didn`t
look real to her.

That to me sounds like she wants to get back to the real life that she
knew before. A book deal could actually help that, she could tell her side
of the story and kind of put some of the lingering questions to rest. But
a TV, no way.

SMERCONISH: And pay some of those lingering legal and P.R. bills as

NEFFINGER: That too.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Nina Burleigh.

BURLEIGH: You`re welcome.

SMERCONISH: And thank you, John Neffinger.

When we return, allow me to finish with what may be a new low in
political incivility. It doesn`t get much worse than this.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH: Allow me a final word about the incivility that has been
become all too common in our political discourse. This week`s poster boy
is Hank Williams Jr., who with regards to the president playing golf with
the speaker of the House, made some inane analogy to Hitler and Netanyahu.
And I think we all know who in Williams` mind was supposed to be the Hitler

Yesterday, while reading about Hank Williams, Jr., I let my eye wander
in search of other stories then in the news that could have provided for
legitimate criticism of the White House and there were plenty. Hank could
have talked about e-mails just released showing that the administration
overlooked written concerns about Solyndra, the solar equipment
manufacturer that was the beneficiary of $528 million in loans, and is now
in bankruptcy. They show that the White House was so anxious to
orchestrate a presidential visit that caution was thrown to the wind.

And speaking of emails, another batch shows that senior Justice
Department officials were aware that ATF agents allowed firearms to be
walked into Mexico as part of the Fast and Furious program which ultimately
lost track of more than 2,000 weapons.

Third, he could have raised constitutional questions about the killing
of an American terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.

Fourth, he could have highlighted a report that Pakistani military
units have traded fire with American and Afghan government troops along the
Afghanistan border several times over the past year and then he could have
asked why do we continue to send billions to the Pakistanis.

And, surely, he could have found fault in some aspect of the
president`s $447 billion American Jobs Act.

My point is, that there is plenty of room for legitimate debate about
the direction of the country. But substance doesn`t have the pull of
salaciousness. What sells? Openly wishing for the president to fail,
saying that he has a deep-seated hatred of white people. Or, now, a
misguided Hitler reference.

What always amazes me is when they cheap shots are offered by
observers anxious to proclaim their own patriotism.

No, you can`t have it both ways. There`s nothing patriotic about
calling the commander-in-chief the enemy, which is something else Hank
Williams Jr. did. Whether the occupier of the Oval Office is George W.
Bush or Barack Obama, that sort of commentary is un-American.

Yesterday, Hank sort of apologized. He said he was very sorry, quote,
"if it offended anyone," and then he added, "This was not written by some
publicist." We can tell, Hank, because a professional would have told you
to take out the qualifier "if."

If you offended? Clearly you did, and for good reason.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.



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