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During MSNBC's special November 7 coverage of the midterm elections, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell repeatedly failed to confront her Republican and conservative guests when they dismissed reports of alleged voter intimidation in Virginia. According to a report from MSNBC correspondent David Shuster posted at 8:15 a.m. ET on NBC News' First Read weblog, at issue are "complaints of suspicious phone calls to voters that attempted to misdirect or confuse them about election day." In his report, Shuster stated that the secretary of Virginia's Board of Elections confirmed that the FBI is investigating the matter. But O'Donnell never mentioned the specific allegations being investigated when three different guests attempted to dismiss such allegations with charges that Democrats were "crying wolf":
- When O'Donnell asked Benjamin Ginsberg, former national counsel to the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, about the "charges of voter intimidation in the state of Virginia" that she said the FBI was "looking into," Ginsberg claimed that "the charges in Virginia in particular are somewhat off the mark." He then discussed a "flyer": "I think the flyer that tells people to skip the election was sent, I'm told, to hard Republican households. If you flip over the piece, there are pictures of liberal icons. It is meant to motivate the Republican base to go out."
But O'Donnell never challenged Ginsberg with the specific allegations the FBI is investigating, which, according to Shuster's report, involved claims that phone calls, not flyers, misled voters.
- O'Donnell also failed to challenge MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson when they dismissed Democratic complaints of voter intimidation in Virginia. Scarborough stated: "[T]hat voter intimidation thing -- talk about Democrats crying wolf. How many times can they do it?" Carlson agreed, saying, "I have seen it in every campaign I've covered; it's always the same story." Scarborough concluded: "I'm yawning."
O'Donnell also never mentioned that the Republican National Committee has a history of using so-called "ballot security" programs, which, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted in a November 21, 2005, article, "have involved confrontations with voters at the polls on election day, uniformed guards at polling places, posters warning of the criminal penalties for illegal voting and challenges to voter registrations." The RNC, in particular, continues to operate under a legal consent decree it agreed to after being sued by the Democratic National Committee in 1981 for minority-targeted "ballot-security" programs.
From the 10 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC's special election coverage on November 7:
O'DONNELL: That's interesting to know, and let me bring in Ben Ginsberg because, certainly, one of the big stories that we're following this morning, as we look at how tight these closes are: charges of voter intimidation in the state of Virginia, where the Democrats are saying the Republicans are engaged in dirty tricks with this voter intimidation. The FBI now says it's looking into it. Are Republicans playing dirty tricks?
GINSBERG: No. These charges are about as regular as the sun coming up on Election Day. It's an unfortunate situation in the country as a whole, but charges of voter intimidation or voter fraud are often used as get-out-the-vote motivators, which is probably the wrong motivation. But the charges in Virginia in particular are somewhat off the mark. I think the flyer that tells people to skip the election was sent, I'm told, to hard Republican households. If you flip over the piece, there are pictures of liberal icons. It is meant to motivate the Republican base to go out. They forgot some of the details in making the charges.
O'DONNELL: That's a particular instance. But let me ask you then about what -- what is when we've heard -- hear that the National Republican Campaign Committee has spent -- the national Republicans have spent $90,000 in Missouri in the last two days --
GINSBERG: In the robocalls?
O'DONNELL: -- almost $20,000 in Tennessee in robocalls. Craig, what does that mean -- robocalls? I mean, what are they saying in these robocalls?
CRAIG CRAWFORD (Congressional Quarterly columnist): Well, these robocalls are, you know -- this is also something that happens, you know, to get the vote out, and some of the messages that are in those calls are maybe inappropriate, maybe even illegal in some cases. But, I would --
GINSBERG: But not here. You don't know of any instances here where that's true.
CRAWFORD: I'm with you on the idea that -- I hate to see -- I hate to get in the middle of these stories. It's kind of like trying to read, you know, the encyclopedia in the middle of a forest fire because you can't focus on what the truth is because both sides are hurling charges. You know, time's a-wasting, and then we find out what the truth is weeks later when it's all over.
O'DONNELL: [CNBC chief Washington correspondent] John Harwood, what about that in those robocalls and voter contact? I spoke with a Republican yesterday who said they're doing very well, they believe, in Missouri and Tennessee, of course, two Senate races where they've got to hold on. But they acknowledge, in Virginia, they do not have a 72-hour get-out-the-vote operation there because they thought it was going to be a cakewalk for Senator [George F.] Allen, and that's a real impediment to his re-election.
O'DONNELL: Well, Virginia's going to be a watch -- a race that we watch so closely tonight, Alan, because there's now charges of voter intimidation, but also because of Senator Allen, once a rising star in the Republican Party.
We're out of time, guys, but you're going to have plenty of air time tonight, so I know we'll see you back --
O'DONNELL: We'll see --
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Norah, it seems like a lifetime. Thanks for having me.
O'DONNELL: That's unfortunate.
SCARBOROUGH: And by the way, that voter intimidation thing -- talk about Democrats crying wolf. How many times can they do it? Where's the Jesse Jackson rally?
CARLSON: I have seen that in every campaign I've covered; it's always the same story.
SCARBOROUGH: I'm yawning.
O'DONNELL: All right. Well, thanks to both of you.