By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
During the 5 p.m. hour on January 31st, the day of the Florida primary, Chris Matthews was on with New York magazine’s John Heilemann and Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman. It was the usual pile-on of the GOP candidates, not that they’re not doing a good enough number on each other. Clearly they are. But that doesn’t excuse the lies and the sloppiness of the commentary.
Heilemann was explaining that the negative campaigning in 2008 between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama never was anything like what we’re seeing among the Republicans, particularly between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Heilemann, along with Mark Halperin, wrote the book that is the liberals’ favorite account of the election, Game Change. So you would think he knows the history of that campaign pretty well.
Here is a transcript of the three of them talking:
Heilemann: Howard and I were talking before, you know people think back to the Clinton-Obama race in 2008 and how negative that was, how tough it was, etc. There was not a negative ad run between Clinton-Obama until March in that race. We’ve seen negative ads [in this Florida primary] on an unprecedented scale.
Matthews: I’m trying to remember, guys, how bad it got between now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. What I remember when the now President said something we all thought then was pretty rotten, he said, “She’s likable enough,” Well that was considered very ungentlemanly, to put it lightly. That would be like the morning starter. They [Romney and Gingrich] don’t even say anything even remotely that nice.
Fineman: Liars, phonies, erratic, crazy!
Heilemann: Hillary Clinton, when she had the outburst in Ohio, “Shame on you, Barack Obama.” Again, that was considered a moment of great, emotional outburst and people talked about how bitter this campaign was getting.
Matthews: She didn’t call him a liar.
Heilemann: She didn’t come out and call him a liar, they didn’t call each other unfit for office. Nobody taunted, and kind of belittled the other one. Nothing quite like we’re seeing right now in this Republican race.
But Heilemann was simply wrong. A Google search turned up loads of examples of negative attacks, both publicly and in ads, between the two, and well before March of 2008. There were many to choose from, but I’ve just picked a few that were described as such on CNN, ABC, CBS, The Young Turks and Robert Reich’s blog. Perhaps Heilemann doesn’t agree with their characterizations of these ads and comments as “negative.”
For example, Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary wrote this in his blog on January 24, 2008: “Bill Clinton’s ill-tempered and ill-founded attacks on Barack Obama are doing no credit to the former President, his legacy, or his wife’s campaign. Nor are they helping the Democratic party. While it may be that all is fair in love, war, and politics, it’s not fair—indeed, it’s demeaning—for a former President to say things that are patently untrue (such as Obama’s anti-war position is a “fairy tale”) or to insinuate that Obama is injecting race into the race when the former President is himself doing it. Meanwhile, the attack ads being run in South Carolina by the Clinton camp which quote Obama as saying Republicans had all the ideas under Reagan, is disingenuous.
And here is just a small sampling of stories about negative ads, in the months leading up to March 2008, when Heilemann said the first ones began.
From CBS, on February 16, 2008—Obama Counters Clinton’s Negative Ad;
From ABC on December 31, 2007—Obama Launches First Negative Ad;
From The Young Turks on the Hillary Clinton—“3 a.m. wake-up call” ad;
A YouTube from a debate in which Hillary accused Obama of plagiarism;
The key difference is that when Hillary and Obama called each other, or their campaigns, liars, or plagiarists, or not ready or unfit for the office, the media usually tried tamping it down, and kept it from becoming a media circus. With the Republicans, the liberal media, particularly the clowns at MSNBC, want it to be as ugly as possible. They have an agenda, which is getting Barack Obama reelected. No question about it.
Later on in the evening of the Florida primary, after the results were in, with Romney winning over Gingrich by 14 points, the whole crew had a little love-fest with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairperson of the Democratic National Committee. They were yukking it up about what they see as the Republicans’ self-destruction, and Obama’s great compassion for the middle class.
Howard Fineman said that he had just spoken to some Democrats close to the White House and “They’ve been assuming Romney is the candidate. What they focused on is that they want to attack Mitt Romney on character, the way that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were going at each other here. So if you think it was nasty now, wait till you see what the Democrats have planned for Mitt Romney,” said Fineman with a great sense of an insider’s righteous glee.
So you see, it’s not negativity that offends these fine journalists so much. Negativity used by Obama against Republicans is just fine.
“What are the targets?” asked Matthews.
“The targets are the notion that he [Romney] will do anything, say anything, to get where he wants to go,” said Fineman, “and therefore is not trustworthy, cannot be believed.” Fineman said the tactics that Romney used, and the negative ads, provide the opening for Obama to go after Mitt’s character. “The Democrats think—they may be deluding themselves—that they have a character case to make against Mitt Romney.”
Then Matthews took class warfare to the point of accusing Romney of committing a crime:
“Let’s go south of Florida, the Cayman Islands, where he put his money, a chunk of his money,” said Matthews. “If I were doing the Democratic ad campaign [You mean, Chris, you’re not? You certainly act as if you are chief flak for the Dems, and you are paid millions of dollars a year to be in that position, making you part of the 1%.], I’d say ‘wait a minute, you’re an angry factory worker, your job’s been shipped overseas, guess what, he’s [Romney] been shipping his money overseas to hide it from the IRS.’ [Emphasis added. Matthews is outright accusing Romney of a crime.] This guy is moving his wealth overseas to avoid taxation, but not only that, isn’t there something unpatriotic about putting your money overseas so it doesn’t face U.S. taxation? Isn’t there something a little subversive in that even?”
Fineman: “It’s the difference between the worldview of the partners of Bain Capital and the view of just about everybody else in America. If you’re a partner of Bain Capital, if you’re a captain of industry, if you’re a Wall Street person, it’s considered the proper thing to do, to send your money abroad.”
Matthews: To bury your money overseas.
Fineman: To bury your money because you’re trying to avoid taxation. And that’s legitimate if it’s legal. But for most American working people, the notion that somebody would do that is just beyond their understanding and it does sound, I think, if the campaign is run right by the Democrats and the President, they’ll make it sound unpatriotic and they’ll have reason to do it with average working people.
Matthews later added, “We’ll see how well Mitt Romney’s money-making stands up under the scrutiny of the press. He may not have a problem with the Republicans but I think he’ll get a lot of scrutiny from the President and his people and their campaign. We’re going to learn a lot more about Mitt Romney and how he hid his money in the last 10 years, before this thing is out,” said Matthews, before invoking God, saying “and thank God we will.”
Let’s see. Matthews works for MSNBC, part of the NBC family, which in 2010 made $14.2 billion worldwide, and $5.1 billion on its U.S. operations, according to The New York Times, and not only paid zero federal income taxes in the U.S., but claimed a $3.2 billion benefit through lobbying, write-offs and loopholes. After much back and forth on this issue, other studies indicated that The New York Times may have gotten their figures wrong, though they stand by them. GE then owned 80% of NBC Universal, and today still owns 49%, with Comcast owning the other 51%. And GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt heads President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can’t make this stuff up.
So what does that make Matthews? A hypocrite? He accuses Romney of hiding money from the IRS. Yet he works for a company that goes to great lengths to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Furthermore, a majority of GE’s more than 300,000 employees are based overseas, after shuttering 28 manufacturing plants in the U.S. between 2005 and 2009. Yet GE’s CEO is ironically the head of the President’s Jobs Council?
To quote Chris Matthews: “Isn’t there something unpatriotic about putting your money overseas so it doesn’t face U.S. taxation? Isn’t there something a little subversive in that even?”
Finally, did Romney invest money in the Cayman Islands to, as Matthews said, “hide it from the IRS?” According to a column by the widely respected economist Alan Reynolds, “The assets of Mitt and Ann Romney have been held in blind trusts since 1993, leaving them with no choice about how or where the money is invested. Accounts in Bermuda or the Caymans would be suspicious only if the resulting interest income was not reported on the tax return—as it obviously was.”
And that’s the point that Matthews foolishly misses. If Romney was trying to hide this money from the IRS, why would he report it on his IRS tax returns, which once released became the basis for how Matthews and others came to know about the accounts?
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.