MSNBC's Battleground America let conservative misinformation fly
MSNBC's October 24 special, Battleground America, was rife with conservative misinformation, Republican talking points, and falsehoods. Wall-to-wall coverage of the midterm elections, now less than two weeks away, contained a slew of previously debunked claims made -- or left unchallenged -- by NBC News journalists. In one segment, MSNBC political analyst Monica Crowley listed Democrats who would be in line to become committee chairs if the Democrats gained a majority and stated, "This is what you are going to get, ladies and gentlemen, if you vote the Democrats into power. So, I understand dissatisfaction with the Republicans, but think twice before you vote."
In the hour hosted by NBC News Washington bureau chief and Meet the Press host Tim Russert, Russert failed to challenge a host of false and baseless claims by Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman.
In his first question, Russert cited an article  by Nicole Duran in the October 24 edition of Roll Call, headlined "Love Chafee, Hate Bush," asking Mehlman whether he agreed with a pollster's depiction in the article that "[i]f [incumbent Republican Sen.] Lincoln Chafee loses his [Rhode Island Senate] race [against Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse], it's because of President George W. Bush." But Russert left unchallenged Mehlman's response that, in 1998, Republicans "tried to make the election a referendum on President Clinton, while he was being impeached, we ended up losing six seats," a claim Mehlman made as purported evidence that "what's going to matter is who's on the ballot and the individual choices between the candidates running on the ballot." But, as Media Matters for America has previously noted , Mehlman's comparison to the situation now and then is baseless. While President Bush's job approval rating  is currently in the 30s, Clinton's approval rating was never lower than 58 percent in 1998, according to the Gallup poll.
Mehlman then suggested that a Democratic Congress would come at the expense of "surrender[ing] the tools we've had after 9-11," a claim similar to one he made on the October 20 edition of NBC's Today, when he told co-host Meredith Vieira that a Democratic Congress would come at the expense of "all the post-9-11 tools we've had," as Media Matters documented . In fact, Democrats have repeatedly said that they support the employment of all effective tools in combating terrorism, in compliance with the law.
During the first hour of Battleground America, Slate.com chief political correspondent John Dickerson claimed, without explanation or elaboration, that "[y]ou don't know where the Democratic Party is, as a whole, on the war" because "the Democrats are trying, basically, to be all things to all people." Dickerson did not elaborate on the charge, and NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory did not challenge his remark.
In fact, as Media Matters has noted , all but six Senate Democrats voted for an amendment introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) calling for the Bush administration to begin redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2006. Further, neither Dickerson nor Gregory mentioned recent attempts  by Republicans to change their "stay the course" rhetoric on Iraq or note dissension  from Republicans on the administration's plan for Iraq. Additionally, Dickerson and Gregory did not mention the fact that Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) claims  he knows "there are at least three" Republican Senators who, if the Democrats regain control, will be "freed up to go out and join, in a bipartisan way, to tell the president, 'We are seriously off course.' "
During an interview by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Crowley baselessly claimed that "most Americans still do not want a classic liberal in a position of power, and that is [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi [CA]." Crowley made her comment just moments after NBC News correspondent Chip Reid reported that polling shows that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has higher negative ratings than Pelosi, saying that "it's possible he is hurting Republicans more than she is hurting the Democrats." Further, as Media Matters noted , public opinion polls do not support Crowley's assertion that "most Americans do not want" Pelosi in a position of power.
Crowley then cited a series of Republican talking points purporting to advise potential listeners to "think twice before you vote." Crowley came to her conclusion after citing a number of Democratic lawmakers who would purportedly become committee chairs "if you vote the Democrats into power" and warning that "it's not just" Pelosi who would likely gain a leadership position.
One of the Democratic congressional members Crowley mentioned was Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY), who she said "never met a tax hike he didn't like." Crowley's comment echoed those of conservative media figures, such as Fox News political analyst and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who falsely claimed  that Rangel "promise[d] to raise taxes" if the Democrats take over the House in the midterm elections.
While reporting on the Virginia Senate race, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson said that incumbent Republican Sen. George F. Allen is now in a tighter race with Democratic challenger Jim Webb because he called a "guy 'Macaca,' whatever the hell that means." Macaca is a genus of monkey and is also reportedly a slur used in Europe and North Africa  against people of African descent. S.R. Sidarth, the volunteer to whom Allen addressed his comment, is of Indian descent, but he was reportedly born and raised  in Virginia.
As Media Matters noted , on the September 18 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, Carlson described Sidarth as "[t]hat whiny little kid." Carlson added that if Allen "loses because he called this kid 'Macaca,' that's got to be the worst possible reason to lose a race." Carlson asked people who were "gonna vote against George Allen" because of the "Macaca" incident to "[p]lease, have some dignity," and repeatedly stated of the issue: "Who cares?"
On the August 24 edition  of Tucker, Carlson also stated, "He's not calling [Sidarth] a widely recognized racist term. ... I've never even heard that word before." He then asked, "[W]ho cares?" On October 24, Carlson repeated his assertion. After Hardball host Chris Matthews asked about the "Macaca" comment and the effect it has had on the Virginia Senate race, Carlson said: "It's hard to disentangle my own feelings, which are, 'Who cares?' "
From MSNBC's October 24 special, Battleground America:
RUSSERT: Joining us now, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman. Ken Mehlman, welcome. And I'll refer you to the Rhode Island race. This is the front page of the Roll Call newspaper today: "Love Chafee, Hate Bush." And the pollster says very clearly, "If Lincoln Chafee loses his race, it's because of President George W. Bush." Do you agree?
MEHLMAN: I think Lincoln Chafee is going to win his race and he's going to win it because the people of the state know him. I remember back in 1998, Tim, when we tried to make the election a referendum on President Clinton, while he was being impeached, we ended up losing six seats. At the end of the day, what's going to matter is who's on the ballot and the individual choices between the candidates running on the ballot, not just in Rhode Island, but in states all over the country.
RUSSERT: Chairman Mehlman, last call, do you hold the House and the Senate?
MEHLMAN: I believe we hold both the House and the Senate. I think that voters are going to fundamentally ask themselves the following questions: Do you want to see if you're a family of four making $50,000 a year, your taxes go up by $2,000? That will happen if Democrats take control of either of the two houses of Congress. Do you want to surrender the tools we've had after 9-11? Like the Patriot Act, the surveillance program, the detention program, and the interrogation program for people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Do you want to surrender missile defense? In all these areas, the Democrat [sic] leadership has been in favor of surrendering these tools and making America weaker in the war on terror. Republicans have wanted America to be stronger. I think as our nation faces economic challenges in a global economy and we face a global war on terror, we don't need higher taxes and a weaker national security.
RUSSERT: Republican chairman Ken Mehlman, thank you for joining us. Be safe on the campaign trail.
GREGORY: John, it's interesting -- so here is where -- Harold Ford running as a more centrist, faith-based Democrat, and yet, at the same time, there is a disconnect between that message and the message of the national Democratic Party, which, particularly on the war, is far to the left of center on how to handle the war.
DICKERSON: Well, you don't know where the Democratic Party, is as a whole, on the war. I mean, you have some people who are quite far to the left of center, and then you have Harold Ford. And the Democrats are trying, basically, to be all things to all people.
But I was talking to some of the Democrats in -- or strategists involved in these races, the second - and third-tier races -- races Democrats didn't think they were really going to be competitive in -- and they talk about Speaker Pelosi and this notion that she might be speaker -- it's been getting in the papers -- and this is not necessarily helping them in their districts where they're trying to pick up those independent voters and even some Republicans who don't like the image of a more liberal Democratic Party, which Pelosi embodies.
GREGORY: All right, we're going to take a break here; we're going to come back with more from John Dickerson and Dan Clydeman.
REID: And, of course, Joe, Republicans are trying to turn her into some kind of symbol of the Democratic Party -- too liberal, too weak on national security -- but in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 43 percent didn't even know who she is. So, it's going to be a long slog to try to turn her into a real factor in this election. Now, it is 25 percent negative but, in that same poll, Dennis Hastert was 32 percent negative. So, it's possible he is hurting the Republicans more than she is hurting the Democrats.
CROWLEY: Yeah, but, you know, Joe, that was a different time and a different place in Washington, D.C. What I cannot understand is why Karl Rove and the national Republicans aren't out there every day telling voters what exactly they're going to get if Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Monica, that's what's so striking, isn't it? They are back on their heels. They haven't been on the attack for six, nine months.
CROWLEY: Yeah, and it's a huge mistake, because as dissatisfied as many voters are with the Republican Party, you know, most Americans still do not want a classic liberal in a position of power, and that is Nancy Pelosi. And look, Joe, it's not just her.
If you get Democratic control of the Congress, all of those chairmanships are going to change. You're going to have [Sen.] John Conyers [D-MI], who's talked about impeaching the commander in chief in the middle of a war, as head of the judiciary committee. You are going to have Charlie Rangel, who never met a tax hike he didn't like, as head of a -- writing the tax laws in this country.
You are going to have Betty Johnson [sic: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS)], head of the homeland security committee. Betty Johnson [sic] voted against the Patriot Act and against border security. You're going to have a whole litany -- oh, and I forgot to mention [Rep.] Alcee Hastings [D-FL], in charge of the nation's intelligence in the House. Alcee Hastings, as a judge, was impeached for corruption and perjury.
This is what you are going to get, ladies and gentlemen, if you vote the Democrats into power. So, I understand dissatisfaction with the Republicans, but think twice before you vote.
CARLSON: You would think, again, that this -- this would be one of the races that would be fought on the issues. Instead, as you said, it turned on this -- this moment where the incumbent Senator Allen was caught calling this guy "Macaca," whatever the hell that means. It's not been clear at this point.
That really was kind of a metaphor, I think, for concerns voters had about George Allen. My own analysis is that Allen, for all his strong points -- and he was a very popular governor here in Virginia -- was considered not only too close to the president on the issues, but too much like the president -- that his personality, his mannerisms, his style of governance are very, very close to those of George W. Bush. They seem like similar guys. And if you don't like George W. Bush, you're probably not going to like George Allen. So, this race, I think, maybe more than any other in the nation, it is, and has been since day one, a referendum on President Bush.
CARLSON: It's hard to disentangle my own feelings, which are, "Who cares?"