A series of false characterizations of a Democratic memorandum concerning Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. advanced by MSNBC host Chris Matthews on October 31 continued to reverberate in the media echo chamber on November 1. Media Matters for America documented Matthews's falsehoods on November 1.
Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC contributor and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and Matthews himself all repeated the false claim that Democrats were attacking Alito on the basis of his ethnic background and accusing Alito of leniency toward the Mafia. Buchanan and Limbaugh took the falsehood even further, accusing Democrats of suggesting that Alito was connected to the mob.
On October 31, the day of Alito's nomination, Matthews claimed during MSNBC's live coverage that a Democratic memorandum, available here, accused Alito of being "lenient on the mob" and that the party was "going after [Alito's] ethnicity [as] an Italian-American." Later that day on MSNBC's Hardball, he claimed that the supposed "attack sheet" accused Alito of being "lenient on the mob" during a 1988 criminal trial against 20 members of the Lucchese crime family in New Jersey. Alito, then a U.S. attorney, prosecuted the case, in which all 20 defendants were acquitted of 77 criminal charges and the defense called no witnesses.
In fact, the memorandum made no claim about Alito's treatment of the suspects in the case and made no mention of his ethnicity; the memo pointed out simply that Alito failed to win a conviction and that an Associated Press news article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune at the time described the loss as a "stunning defeat" for the government.
Matthews's false claims about the memo were echoed on several conservative weblogs and the Republican National Committee's website. On November 1, the baseless accusations made their way further into the media, helped along once more by Matthews himself on Hardball, by Buchanan on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, and by Limbaugh on his radio show.
During an interview with Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, Matthews claimed that Democrats had made the 1988 case their "No. 1 concern." He continued, "They're out there saying this Italian-American guy is too weak on the mob." As Media Matters noted on November 1, it was Matthews who injected ethnicity into the discussion about the memo, which makes no claim about Alito's treatment of the mob.
Buchanan went a step further in a telephone interview on host Don Imus's show, saying that "one of these Democratic groups" was advancing the notion that "Italian folks are somehow mobbed up and things like that."
Limbaugh made a similar claim on his radio show while playing clips from Matthews's October 31 Hardball interview with Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean: "Now they're going after Alito. 'Maybe he's got mob ties!' That's the purpose of the document. 'Maybe he's got mob ties. Alito? Scalito? Lucchese? Maybe he let these guys off, maybe he didn't try them; maybe he's got mob ties.' "
From the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about something you will like to talk about. Yesterday, the Democratic party responded within minutes -- or not the party, I should say Democrats responded, as I'm informed -- responded within minutes to the nomination of Sam Alito by issuing a report that said that one of the things he has done wrong in his career was, he wasn't tough enough on the mob back in 1988 in a case involving a mob family in New Jersey. Do you think that's playing a little ethnic politics? How would you size that up? That they donned that as their No. 1 concern. Here's what they said, some strong stuff.
MEHLMAN: I was pretty surprised to see that as the first thing they put out. I'm not sure what the motivation was. One thing I know, they don't want to talk about Sam Alito's credentials. They don't want to talk about all the good things they said about him.
MATTHEWS: They're out there saying this -- the Italian-American guy is too weak on the mob. Give me a break. They're weak as they come.
From the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:
BUCHANAN: And one of these Democratic groups came out and said, you know, he's -- he was soft on the mob in New Jersey. And the whole idea that, you know, that Italian folks are somehow mobbed up and things like that --
DON IMUS (host): Uh huh, yeah.
BUCHANAN: -- that imputation was out there. I think that is stupid.
From the November 1 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: You notice how wishy-washy these Dems are on prosecutors? Prosecutor comes along and indicts Scooter Libby, they love! Why, that's "a prosecutor's prosecutor." Now all of a sudden here's Alito, who the Democrats have voted for a hundred to zip twice in the U.S. Senate. He's a lousy prosecutor! Now they're going after -- "Maybe he's got mob ties." That's the purpose of the document. "Maybe he's got mob ties. Alito? Scalito? Lucchese? Maybe he let these guys off, maybe he didn't try them; maybe he's got mob ties." I mean, let this stuff flow from their lips, folks. Let it just keep flowing.