While discussing the recent Fox News-sponsored Republican presidential debate on the May 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, NBC News political director Chuck Todd repeatedly asserted -- three times during the course of his appearance -- that Republican presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani "owns 9-11."
But two days earlier, The New York Times had reported numerous flaws in the Giuliani administration's approach to the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The administration's handling of environmental concerns during the cleanup at Ground Zero has led to health problems for thousands of first responders, according to the Times, some of whom are suing the city for damages. The Times reported:
Administration documents and thousands of pages of legal testimony filed in a lawsuit against New York City, along with more than two dozen interviews with people involved in the events of the last four months of Mr. Giuliani's administration, show that while the city had a safety plan for workers, it never meaningfully enforced federal requirements that those at the site wear respirators.
At the same time, the administration warned companies working on the pile that they would face penalties or be fired if work slowed. And according to public hearing transcripts and unpublished administration records, officials also on some occasions gave flawed public representations of the nature of the health threat, even as they privately worried about exposure to lawsuits by sickened workers.
"The city ran a generally slipshod, haphazard, uncoordinated, unfocused response to environmental concerns," said David Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a labor group.
City officials and a range of medical experts are now convinced that the dust and toxic materials in the air around the site were a menace. More than 2,000 New York City firefighters have been treated for serious respiratory problems. Seventy percent of nearly 10,000 recovery workers screened at Mount Sinai Medical Center have trouble breathing. City officials estimate that health care costs related to the air at ground zero have already run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and no one knows whether other illnesses, like cancers, will emerge.
Additionally, as Media Matters for America has noted, in their book, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (HarperCollins, August 2006), authors Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins cited what they said were Giuliani's terrorism-related failures before, during, and after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For instance, they wrote that "[e]veryone agrees that a critical problem that day was that the police and fire departments could not communicate; that's one of the reasons the lack of interoperable radios became such a focus of fury" (Page 343). Indeed, on 9-11, the New York fire department was using outdated VHF radios that were incompatible with the police department's UHF radios.
As Media Matters has also noted, a March 15 Cox News Service article reported: "As revered as he is by many for his efforts after the attacks, Giuliani is reviled by some firefighters who believe he mishandled the development of a radio system that could have saved lives on 9/11 and turned his back on first responders' remains in the rubble." A March 30 Associated Press article further noted criticisms by the International Association of Fire Fighters and by Sally Regenhard, chairwoman of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign and mother of a firefighter killed on 9-11. The AP noted that the Giuliani "administration's failure to provide the World Trade Center's first responders with adequate radios [is] a long-standing complaint from relatives of the firefighters killed when the twin towers collapsed. The Sept. 11 Commission noted the firefighters at the World Trade Center were using the same ineffective radios employed by the first responders to the 1993 terrorist attack on the trade center."
Yet, on Hardball and in other MSNBC appearances, host Chris Matthews has repeatedly ignored these reported failures in favor of, as Media Matters has noted, repeatedly reinforcing the notion of Giuliani's purported heroism on the day of the attacks, calling him a "hero," "gutsy," and "tough."
From the May 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
GIULIANI [video clip]: Wendell, may I make a comment on that?
That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement -- as someone who lived through the attack of September 11 -- that we invited the attack, because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11.
MATTHEWS: Well, just in political terms -- and I mean crass political terms -- that was a big moment for Rudy, wasn't it, Jonathan?
JONATHAN CAPEHART (Washington Post editorial member): A big moment -- a home run for Rudy. There's no denying it.
And I knew that what Rudy was saying was heartfelt, and he meant it, because, when you look at his eyes, you've never seen him more serious, more focused. Those -- his pupils were the size of laser beams. He was upset. He was angry. And I think he tapped into, not only the mood of the crowd, but also the mood of the country, in a sense.
MATTHEWS: I think you're right. Chuck?
TODD: He stole the debate from McCain. You know, McCain was on his way to basically winning this debate. I think he was on his way. And maybe on points, if you were scoring like a boxing match --
TODD: -- McCain would have won. But it became the moment. It's the one thing this debate will definitely be remembered of. And, you know, he owns 9-11.
MATTHEWS: Ron Paul has a big problem, by the way. I do think we've got to understand the simmering hatred and the hostility -- the sea of hostility over there that allows so many people to commit suicide to kill us, and including the ones who, at 9-11, they flew into those buildings squealing with delight as they killed themselves.
But, you can't say it's because we put troops in Iraq, over the fly -- no-fly zone, because they tried to blow up that same building back in '93, before all these skirmishes over the no-fly zone. You can't say that particular argument. Chuck, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
TODD: No, no, no, it's fine. I mean, I just think -- look, it -- Rudy, he owns 9-11, and he just proved it. The way John McCain has the high ground on torture, and there's no way anybody can question his opinion on the issue --
MATTHEWS: I know.
TODD: -- Rudy owns 9-11, and there's nobody on that stage -- you know what struck me the most after that exchange? You know, they gave -- they gave Paul a chance to respond to Rudy.
And, then, remember when, like, six of them glommed, and they were like, "Ooh, ooh, me, me, please, let me try."
MATTHEWS: [inaudible] "I want a piece of this guy" -- yeah.
TODD: It was pathetic.
MATTHEWS: It reminds me of the old days of the Philadelphia Phillies when Robin Roberts would serve up those gopher pitches, you know, right over the middle, high and fast.
TODD: Oh, right.
MATTHEWS: And Rudy hit that baby right over centerfield wall, and that's what politics is. It's opportunity. It's exploitation --
TODD: He seized it.
MATTHEWS: -- and it's luck. Anyway, thank --
TODD: It's a Reagan microphone moment.