MSNBC host Chris Matthews falsely accused an accurate ad by Americans United for Change of smearing Tom DeLay.
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On the January 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews falsely attacked a television ad that associates former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) with money laundering. Matthews falsely claimed that the ad -- produced by Americans United for Change -- accused DeLay of bribery, saying, "That's not a charge against him. His charge is this thing about hard money, soft money." In fact, contrary to Matthews's accusation, a video clip he played of the ad showed pictures of DeLay, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby while an announcer said, "What time is it when Republican leaders are indicted for money-laundering, bribery, and obstruction of justice, while political friends get appointed to run life-or-death agencies?" The ad showed the image of DeLay while the announcer said "money-laundering," then switched to Abramoff as the announcer said "bribery," and to Libby as he said "obstruction of justice."
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and The New York Times' Anne E. Kornblut were guests on the program and did not dispute Matthews's mischaracterization. Indeed, Milbank agreed and dismissed "these ads" -- Matthews also aired one put out by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) -- as lacking credibility: "Right. But nobody holds these ads to any sort of standard at all."
DeLay was indicted on October 3, 2005, for money-laundering and conspiring to launder money. Abramoff pleaded guilty on January 3 to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials and on January 4 to conspiracy and fraud charges in a separate case. Libby was indicted on October 28, 2005, on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements.
Matthews on several occasions has made false accusations against Democrats over a document the party released following the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.
Matthews's January 25 false attack was first noted by the weblog Daily Kos.
From the January 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Maybe they're right. Let me ask you about this -- let's take a look at the Abramoff scandal. Democrats and interest groups are ramping up their attacks on Republican ethics. Take a look at a new ad from a liberal group, Americans United, followed by an ad from Republican Senator Conrad Burns, who has been the target of some of this stuff.
[begin video clip]
ANNOUNCER: What time is it when oil company lobbyists sit at the White House helping write their own tax breaks, while you stand at the gas pump, paying $40 to fill your tank? What time is it when Republican leaders are indicted for money-laundering, bribery, and obstruction of justice, while political friends get appointed to run life-or-death agencies?
[end video clip]
[begin video clip]
BURNS: Those attack ads, they are just a big bunch of you-know-what. Plus they're paid for by the same Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff's clients. He's the guy who ripped off his Indian clients for millions and lied to anybody and everybody. I don't know who Abramoff influenced, but he never influenced me.
[end video clip]
MATTHEWS: Dana, you've got to love it. This is America in action. Have you noticed in the Democrat ad, though, they do a close-up on Tom DeLay and they said "bribery"? Well, that's not a charge against Tom DeLay. His charge is this thing about hard money, soft money. It's a political little bit of a fandango. But nobody's accused him yet of bribery. But that ad sure does.
MILBANK: Right. But nobody holds these ads to any sort of standard at all. Now, the ads are taken seriously --
MATTHEWS: You say blithely, but you're not the target of one of these things.
MILBANK: No, there's no standard for accuracy or truth in these things. It's all about whatever innuendo you can put out there. Look, this is the group that helped sink the president's Social Security plan. They should be taken seriously. Clearly the Republicans know how to answer, and that is to tarnish everybody. And I think the Democrats may be falling into their hands a bit by getting behind this bipartisan lobbying reform.
KORNBLUT: Well, I mean, can anyone say Swift Boat? I mean, Dana makes a really good point about these ads. I think that he's right. This is -- you know, these ads are coming from, you know, a group that has already successfully sunk Social Security, and I think --
MATTHEWS: What's the name of the group?
KORNBLUT: What is it, Americans United? Don't do that to me. But I think he's right that, in a way, they could be playing into the hands. It's awfully early in the cycle for them to be doing what the Republicans are going to claim is a smear campaign.
MATTHEWS: You know, it worked against Mike Dukakis. We'll be right back with Anne Kornblut and Dana Milbank. This is Hardball on MSNBC.