Chris Matthews: Is Al Qaeda "trying to get people to vote Democrat for president?"

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

On the July 8 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, host Chris Matthews echoed unsubstantiated claims that Al Qaeda would like Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to beat President George W. Bush in the November presidential election.

In a discussion with Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), Matthews asked, "What happens, Senator Breaux, if it looks like Al Qaeda is playing cards here, playing a game of trying to get people to vote Democrat for president to basically make their case worldwide? Doesn't it put your party in a terrible position of having Al Qaeda rooting for you?" Then, referring to the March terrorist attack in Madrid, Matthews said: "They basically blew up the train systems over there and basically made the case, you got to get rid of your pro-war government, and the people did just that in the elections. Are they going to try the same thing here [in the U.S.]?"

Matthews made explicit what could have been inferred from self-serving predictions by Bush administration officials. President Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice have both expressed concern that terrorists might try to affect the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. As Media Matters for America previously noted, a June 7 New York Daily News article reported that President Bush said to NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw anchor Brokaw: "It worries me that the Al Qaeda leadership says, 'Well, we may be able to affect the election of the United States.'" And on May 28, Media Matters for America pointed out claims that Rice made after the Madrid bombings (which some believe led to the ouster of Spain's pro-Bush prime minister in elections held three days after the attack). As Suzanne Malveaux reported on the April 18 broadcast of CNN's Inside Edition, Rice voiced concern that terrorists might try to bring about a particular result in the U.S. election in November -- suggesting that their desired result is a Kerry victory. However, as MMFA also noted, a March 17 Reuters article reported evidence suggesting terrorists have precisely the opposite preference. In a statement claiming responsibility for the March bombings in Madrid, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades -- a terrorist organization claiming ties with Al Qaeda -- said it wants to see President Bush reelected in November.

Matthews's claim that the ouster of the "pro-war government," or Spanish Populist Party, resulted directly from the Madrid bombings -- an assertion many U.S. media outlets made -- is questionable. Although opinion polls taken before the attack showed the Populist Party's lead over the rival Socialist Party to be between as little as three and as much as six percentage points, these figures fall at or near the statistical margin of error. Furthermore, in the March 21 European edition of TIME magazine, Paris and Brussels bureau chief James Graff reported, "[J]ust hours before the bombings, results leaked from private PP [Populist Party] and PSOE [Socialist Party] polling showed the parties in a dead heat, according to the veteran Madrid journalist José Antonio Martínez Soler." After the bombings, the Populist Party was publicly accused of a cover-up when, as Graff noted, the "government [led by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar] persisted in blaming the Basque terrorists of ETA -- even after news broke of an al-Qaeda connection," as possible retaliation for "Aznar's support for the war in Iraq, which 90% of Spaniards opposed." As a result, Graff reported, "[O]n election day, the Socialists surged to an astounding 5% lead over the PP."

As Media Matters for America previously noted, CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena reported -- under the guise of a statement of fact -- on the May 27 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, "[T]here is some speculation that Al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House."

One day before Matthews's remarks, during the July 7 broadcast of MSNBC News Live, anchor Amy Robach asserted -- without citing a source -- that New York City will be a "bigger target" than Boston during this summer's national political conventions. Robach questioned whether that was because New York will host President George W. Bush and the Republican National Convention -- "the same government that chose to go to war with Iraq and Al Qaeda has much of a beef against." Robach's statement on MSNBC recalled The New York Times' July 4 assertion that "New York is regarded as a higher risk than Boston [the site of the Democratic convention] by counterterrorism officials because President Bush is a Republican and because of consistent intelligence."

From the July 8 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: What happens, Senator Breaux, if it looks like that Al Qaeda is playing cards here, playing a game of trying to get people to vote Democrat for president, to basically make their case worldwide? Doesn't it put your party in a terrible position of having Al Qaeda rooting for you?

[...]

MATTHEWS: Everybody saw what happened in Spain a little while ago. They basically blew up the train systems over there and basically made the case, you got to get rid of your pro-war government, and the people did just that in the elections. Are they going to try the same thing here?

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2004 Elections
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