Lawrence O’Donnell: Not Ready for Primetime?

Lawrence O'Donnell at 2009 Polliwood film premeire

Lawrence O’Donnell is in dire need of a fact checker. O’Donnell, the former aide to New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and a producer and writer for part of the run of “West Wing” on NBC, is getting his own show on MSNBC this fall. He has been a frequent guest host for Keith Olbermann, and unfortunately for him, it seems like he must be using Olbermann’s fact checkers.

Last week, for example, O’Donnell was on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, interviewing New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg. He was accusing him and the GOP of being against extending unemployment benefits. Gregg, as you can see in this lively exchange, assured him that the Republicans did support extending the benefits, but wanted them paid for, rather than added to the deficit. O’Donnell then said that Gregg had voted for such benefits back in the early ‘90s without paying for them, when, O’Donnell said, we had a $500 billion deficit in 1993.

This Congressional Budget Office document shows that the federal deficit was $340 billion in 1992, the highest ever in absolute dollars until this past decade, and in 1993 was $300 billion. Nowhere near the $500 billion.

Then on July 26th, substituting for Olbermann, O’Donnell was making the tired charge that Republicans are the “Party of No,” and said that “The Republican leadership believes that it will not pay a price for all their ‘no’ votes, even against the extension of unemployment benefits.” By now he must know that Republicans were not opposed to the extension of unemployment benefits, but wanted to hold the Democrats to the bill they passed earlier this year known as PayGo. Under PayGo, unless something is categorized as an emergency, Congress would have to find something to cut, or raise a tax, to pay for new spending.

This is what President Obama said about it when he signed it into law this past February:

“It’s pretty simple. It says to Congress, you have to pay as you go. You can’t spend a dollar unless you cut a dollar elsewhere. This is how a responsible family or business manages a budget. And this is how a responsible government manages a budget, as well.”

But on that point, I would like to know if there is a point at which O’Donnell and other liberal Democrats, and the Republicans who support it as well, would say it was time to end unemployment benefits. Two years? Five years? What’s the number? Do they not believe that unemployment benefits ultimately subsidize unemployment and result in higher unemployment rates? The amounts paid out vary dramatically from state to state, and there should be a logical thought process to determine how best to handle this so that it doesn’t work to the detriment of the overall economy.

Shortly afterwards on Olbermann’s show, O’Donnell asked Ezra Klein of “Journolist” infamy, “Now what about the ‘Party of No’ and how it’s working politically. And the Republicans seem absolutely convinced, as they were, by the way, in 1994, that being the ‘Party of No,’ and just stopping things, was good enough to win the congressional elections and they were right in ’94. Can that work again?”

Now surely O’Donnell must know that in 1994, Republicans didn’t run as a “Party of No.”  In fact they ran on the “Contract with America,” something that was so successful, many people wonder why they haven’t tried it again. Obviously he didn’t agree with those priorities the Republicans pledged to vote on if they became the majority party, but it was far from a platform of “No.”

As O’Donnell is about to go up on MSNBC’s version of Mount Rushmore, we hope that he will try to bring a little balance to the evening line-up. And we want to congratulate the MSNBC family for finally adding a person of color to their line-up of hosted shows, as reflected on their Mt. Rushmore image. Tamron Hall is an outstanding journalist.

Roger AronoffRoger Aronoff is a media analyst with Accuracy in Media, and is the writer/director of the award-winning documentary, “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.”

He can be contacted at

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