Scarborough and Geist repeated Limbaugh's defense of "phony soldiers" comment without noting its holes

››› ››› NIKI JAGPAL

On MSNBC's Morning Joe, contributor Willie Geist stated that he had gone "back and looked at the full transcript" of Rush Limbaugh's recent description of soldiers who support withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as "phony soldiers" and asserted that Limbaugh had been "talking about a specific soldier, this guy Jesse MacBeth," who falsely claimed to be an injured Iraq war veteran. Joe Scarborough agreed that Limbaugh's remark has "been blown out of context." However, the transcript and audio included in the original Media Matters item documenting Limbaugh's comments makes clear that he referred to "phony soldiers," plural.

On the October 2 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough and contributor Willie Geist discussed Rush Limbaugh's recent description of soldiers who support withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as "phony soldiers," as Media Matters for America documented. After stating that he had gone "back and looked at the full transcript," Geist asserted that Limbaugh had been "talking about a specific soldier, this guy Jesse MacBeth," an anti-war activist who pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the Department of Veterans Affairs for falsely claiming to be an injured Iraq war veteran. Geist added that Limbaugh "was actually talking about a person who actually was a phony soldier." Scarborough responded, "Yeah, so it's been blown out of context."

But while Geist claimed that Limbaugh had been referring to a "specific soldier," the transcript and audio included in the original Media Matters item documenting Limbaugh's comments make clear that he referred to "phony soldiers," plural. Responding to a caller's statement that supporters of withdrawal "like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media," Limbaugh said, "The phony soldiers" [emphasis added]. Moreover, Limbaugh made no reference to MacBeth until 1 minute and 50 seconds after his "phony soldiers" comment. As Media Matters documented, Limbaugh subsequently cropped the audio clip of his show to falsely suggest that his reference to MacBeth almost immediately followed his "phony soldiers" comment.

Geist's assertions that Limbaugh had been referring to a specific soldier echo Limbaugh's own misrepresentations of his original remark. On his September 28 program, Limbaugh claimed that he was "talking about one soldier with that 'phony soldier' comment, Jesse MacBeth" -- until a caller pointed out that he had used the plural.

Moreover, as Media Matters noted, Limbaugh's assertion that he was talking only about MacBeth is further undermined by the fact that in a conversation immediately before the one in which Limbaugh referred to "phony soldiers," he appeared to question whether a caller advocating withdrawal from Iraq had actually been a soldier, as he had claimed. So, beyond appearing to question his caller's self-identification as a former member of the military, at no point prior to making the "phony soldiers" comment did Limbaugh refer to any soldiers he considered to be fake.

Finally, Limbaugh further undermined his own claim that he had not been referring more broadly to service members who oppose the war by expanding his group of "phony soldiers" two days after his September 26 broadcast to include Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) and Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who is currently serving in Iraq. As Media Matters noted, in asserting that he was originally "talking about a genuine phony soldier," Limbaugh went on to state during his September 28 broadcast: "And by the way, Jesse MacBeth's not the only one. How about this guy Scott Thomas who was writing fraudulent, phony things in The New Republic about atrocities he saw that never happened? How about Jack Murtha blanketly accepting the notion that Marines at Haditha engaged in wanton murder of innocent children and civilians?"

From the October 2 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

SCARBOROUGH: And finally, you know, Media Matters went after Bill O'Reilly. And I just have to put a little asterisk here, I went after Bill pretty hard too because I thought what he said was ridiculous. But I heard a lot people this weekend, like liberals on the upper West Side as I was walking up and down Broadway, you know, people smoking dope saying, "Hey, Scarborough, I think you're being a little tough on O'Reilly."

GEIST: Really?

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, I did, I did, I, seriously. And so, some people around here saying it may have been blown out of proportion. I don't know. But now you've got Media Matters going after Rush Limbaugh. This really does look like a phony story about a phony soldier.

GEIST: Once again, Joe, as we did with O'Reilly, we went back and looked at the full transcript. The comment they're talking about is the, quote, "phony soldiers" comment --

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.

GEIST: -- that Rush Limbaugh made while he was talking to a caller on his show last week. Well, he was talking about a specific soldier, this guy Jesse MacBeth, you might remember, who claimed to have served in Iraq and came back and was criticizing the war. He never went to Iraq, never served.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, hold on one second. By definition, can I Google "phony soldier"?

GEIST: Yeah, I don't think you have to Google on this one.

SCARBOROUGH: OK.

GEIST: So, it's sort of hard to argue that he was -- that Limbaugh was right on this one. Again, no context ever given. They see the quote "phony soldiers," and that's all they hear. But he was actually talking about a person who actually was a phony soldier.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, so it's been blown out of context.

GEIST: Of course.

SCARBOROUGH: And I'm sure Media Matters will make a lot of money for blowing it out of context because people hate Rush Limbaugh, you know. And so who knows? Maybe George Soros will write them a big, fat, million-dollar check.

[...]

SCARBOROUGH: And Willie, we -- you know, we've been talking about O'Reilly this past week. Now it looks like Rush Limbaugh is in the sights of MediaMatters.com. [sic]

GEIST: Yeah, the story, Joe, is that Rush used the term "phony soldiers," talking about people who fought in Iraq. He's getting a lot of heat from Media Matters and other groups.

SCARBOROUGH: And Harry Reid goes on the Senate floor --

GEIST: Harry Reid [sic: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)] actually went on the floor and said, "Maybe he was on drugs again" --

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Oh my.

GEIST: -- talking about Rush Limbaugh when he said that. So, personal attacks against Limbaugh. In this case, as we did with O'Reilly, we want to give a little context. Limbaugh was talking about a specific soldier, a guy by the name of Jesse MacBeth who, in fact, was a, quote, "phony soldier."

SCARBOROUGH: He was [unintelligible]

BRZEZINKSI: Well, there you go. So, then, the term was --

GEIST: Matter of fact, he admitted to falsifying his military record. He was sentenced to five months in prison. So he was, in fact, a phony soldier. He came out and talked about the atrocities he'd seen his own soldiers commit, killing children and women and innocent bystanders. But in truth, he never fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. Limbaugh was talking about this Jesse MacBeth guy, but again, we've lost context, it seems.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, lost context, but you know what? Media Matters is going to make a lot of money because libs who hate Rush Limbaugh will give them money for attacking.

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