'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011
Guest host: David Shuster
watch whole playlist
#5 'Occupying Obama', Tim Dickinson
#5 'Press vs. NYPD', Jonathan Turley
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#4 'Keeping The Peace', Daniel Ellsberg
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Mitt-Guided Attack', Alex Pareene
#2 'Assault & Peppered'
#1 'Dumb FOX', Christian Finnegan
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
printable PDF transcript
On the show: Daniel Ellsberg, David Shuster, Jonathan Turley, Christian Finnegan, Alex Pareene, Tim Dickinson
DAVID SHUSTER: Now, on "Countdown" — 67 days of no direct comment, 67 days of no direct questions from the press corp. After 67 days of Occupy, the protest comes to the president.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: So, before I came to school today, I had — I had coffee.
SHUSTER: Message received — Occupy, Day 67. Romney's first attack, but not against any of the GOP candidates.
(Excerpt from audio clip) OBAMA: If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.
(Excerpt from audio clip) MITT ROMNEY: I am going to do something to government. I call it the "smaller, simpler, smarter" approach to government.
SHUSTER: The problem is Obama was referring to somebody else. It is not his quote. Perhaps Mitt does have what it takes to win the Republican nomination. From the people who brought you, "Water boarding isn't torture" —
(Excerpt from video clip) MEGYN KELLY: It's like a derivative of actual pepper. It's a food product, essentially.
SHUSTER: Of course, it's food. What harm could food do?
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN #1: It felt like my face was peeling off.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN #1: I spent the next hour dry heaving and vomiting.
(Excerpt from video) MAN #2: I was coughing up blood. I was puking.
SHUSTER: And speaking of Fox, a new poll reveals how well-informed Fox viewers are. Let's just say, this is more informative than Fox News —
(Excerpt from video clip) HANS MOLEMAN: Ooh!
SHUSTER: All that and more, now on "Countdown."
(Excerpt from video clip) HOMER SIMPSON: The ball, his groin. Ha ha.
SHUSTER: Good evening from New York. This is Tuesday, November 22nd, 350 days until the 2012 presidential election. I am David Shuster, sitting in tonight for Keith Olbermann.
Occupy Obama. It happened in Manchester, New Hampshire today. The president was there to talk about extending payroll-tax cuts due to expire at year's end. The demonstrators were there to rally support for a movement that's seen some 4,000 arrests so far.
Our fifth story on the "Countdown" — the president hearing from Occupy, the NYPD hearing from the press about mistreatment of journalists covering Occupy, and the re-occupation of U.C. Davis by Occupy students. We start in New Hampshire, where Mr. Obama bounded on stage at Manchester High School and was barely into his remarks when a familiar cry broke out.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Hello, New Hampshire. So, before I came to school today, I had -- I had coffee.
(Excerpt from video clip) CROWD #1: Mr. President.
(Excerpt from video clip) CROWD #2: Mr. President.
(Excerpt from video clip) CROWD #1: Over 4,000 peaceful protesters.
(Excerpt from video clip) CROWD #2: Over 4,000 peaceful protesters.
(Excerpt from video clip) CROWD #1: Have been arrested.
(Excerpt from video clip) CROWD #2: Have been arrested.
(Excerpt from video clip) CROWD #3: Fired up! Ready to go! Fired up! Fired up!
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: No, no. no. That's okay.
SHUSTER: After quieting his supporters, most of them high school students, Mr. Obama went back to his remarks, including several aimed directly at Occupy.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: In the Occupy movement, there is — there is a profound sense of frustration — there is a profound sense of frustration about the fact that the essence of the American dream — which is if you work hard, if you stick to it, that you can make it — feels like that's slipping away.
SHUSTER: The president also connected Occupy with an issue he credited himself with trying to solve.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: A lot of the young people who are in New York and around the country, they are worrying about student loans. On our own, without Congress, we reformed the student-loan process to make it easier for more young people to pay off their debt.
SHUSTER: Once the speech had ended, Mr. Obama was handed a note from Occupy that read, in part, "Mr. President, over 4,000 peaceful protesters have been arrested, while bankers continue to destroy the economy with impunity. You must stop the assault on our First Amendment rights."
We will have more on Occupy, and the president with Rolling Stone national political correspondent Tim Dickinson in a moment. But, elsewhere in the Occupy movement, students at the University of California, Davis have re-occupied the area on campus where students were brutally pepper sprayed last week.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: I came here just to show the administration that we're not backing down and that we're a community that needs to be taken seriously.
SHUSTER: Meanwhile, protesters with "Occupy the Highway" ended a 240-mile march from New York to Washington D.C., an effort to bring the Occupy message to rural communities along the way.
Protesters at Occupy Los Angeles were offered a deal by the city government there — leave their camp by City Hall, in return for 10,000 square feet of office space, land for farming and housing for the homeless.
Meanwhile, a dozen tents at Occupy Duluth where torn down by Minnesota police, but with no arrests. And protesters at Occupy Charleston were allowed to keep their camp at Marion Square while Mayor Joe Riley tries to move them to an alternative site.
For more now, we are joined by Tim Dickinson, national political correspondent with Rolling Stone. Tim, thanks for being with us.
The president and the Occupy movement — he's pretty much stayed away from it. How come? And aren't these some of the same people who helped put him in the White House?
TIM DICKINSON: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, in a sense we're seeing a splintering of Obama's base. You had, you know, this president elected by a movement of his own creation, but the minute that Obama got into the White House, he sort of — Saul Alinsky was out the window and Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers were next door.
And so, you know, I think it's somewhat surprising that protesters — progressive protesters — waited this long to confront the president on issues of importance to them, and they sort of stayed quiet for two years and now they're speaking up and speaking to him directly. And so, you know, we saw that today in New Hampshire.
SHUSTER: The president told The New York Times last month that the Occupy movement expressed the frustrations the American people feel about the financial crisis, and how our financial system works or doesn't work. Today, he connected it — or tried to connect it — with student loans and the failure of the American dream. Is the movement itself amorphous enough that the president can connect it to whatever issue he feels like talking about?
DICKINSON: You know, I think Obama gets it. I think that these are real issues to the movement. If you look at the "We are the 99 percent" blog — you will see people there, and that is the essence of their story. These are people who have worked hard and played by the rules, studied hard, gone to school and they are getting steamrolled.
And especially students who are, you know, racking up debt with the promise of a good job in the end, and there's no jobs and they can't discharge their debts through bankruptcy. So, they're, sort of, starting their working lives as — in this, you know, this impossible debt.
And so, I think these are real issues and I think the president — to his credit — is being responsive to the Occupy movement to the extent that he can be. But I think that the movement is, in general, looking for much more serious and sweeping and structural change than executive orders that make the student-loan process easier.
SHUSTER: And given the — the violence — the police pepper spray at U.C. Davis, the violent confrontations in New York — isn't it incumbent upon the president, at a certain point, to speak out about the police violence? I mean, in the statement, the protesters — in this note — said, "You must stop the assault of our First Amendment rights." Doesn't the president have an obligation to at least respond to what has been gripping so many people around the country?
DICKINSON: I mean, I think so. The president certainly had moral clarity when, you know, protesters where in Tahrir Square — that their rights should be respected and shouldn't be suppressed — and we're seeing, you know, brutal police suppression with, you know, instruments that — frankly — the federal government has funded through Homeland Security funding since 9/11. And so, there is a real element here that Obama has a degree of ownership over it. Obviously, he is not controlling these local police departments, but he should be a voice for respecting the right of peaceful protesters.
SHUSTER: Polls have shown that voters' opinions keep shifting back and forth on Occupy. Even as more voters decry some of the Occupy methods, many still support its overall message. How close is the Occupy message about the system being corrupt — how close is that message to the one President Obama hopes to put out as he campaigns?
DICKINSON: Well, I mean, this is interesting. You know, the tea party grew up around some of the similar ideas — the system is broken, Washington needs to be changed — but they were an opposition party, and so Republicans could get out in front of that pretty cleanly.
You know, this is a movement that is — in some respects — rising up to confront the failures of the Obama administration to deliver the change that was promised. And so, I think Obama has sort of smartly tried to remain — remain in contact with this — with this — with this energy and the enthusiasm, all of this youthful exuberance. He needs that if he is going to win re-election. But he is kind of in a pickle. He needs — he needs all of that, but he also needs Wall Street money from — you know, to fund his campaign — and there's a, you know, just a very natural conflict here, as he also needs to appeal to swing voters — soccer moms and office-park dads who want, you know, no part of, you know, confrontations with riot cops.
SHUSTER: Is it clear what the politics would be if he were to align himself more closely? Or is it because it's so confusing — perhaps even to the White House — one of the reasons that he's keeping some distance?
DICKINSON: Well, I mean, every day — this is a movement that is sort of is built on confrontation — and so, every day there is a new combustible moment, you know. And I think the protesters in — at UC Davis, you know, displayed magnificent restraint and the sort of true power of nonviolence. And that, for the moment, is the face of this protest.
But you could see this — you know, any day this could go terribly off of the rails and you could have another Kent State. And so, I think it's politically very dangerous to try and get out in front of a movement that is, by its very nature, trying to, you know, blow things up a little bit.
SHUSTER: Such a great point. Tim Dickinson, national political correspondent with Rolling Stone. Tim, thanks as always for coming on the program.
DICKINSON: Great to be here with you, David. Thank you.
SHUSTER: For the press, covering the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York has led to a series of violent confrontations, not with the protesters but with the New York police. Hundreds of arrests were made Tuesday when a camp at Zuccotti Park was broken up. Hundreds more when Occupy staged a march and rally on Thursday. Among them — ten working journalists, including half with official NYPD credentials. Photographers seemed to be special targets for the police, at least those that tried to work close to the action, instead of within the confines of a special press pen blocks away.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: She's a journalist. She works with me. She's a journalist!
SHUSTER: This camerawoman with the French news agency AFP filmed her own arrest.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: I'm with the press. Please let me out. Please let me out. Please let me out. I'm with the press. I'm with the press.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: Nobody gets out.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: I'm with the press. Please!
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: You're under arrest.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: I'm with the press.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: Get back in there.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: I'm with the press.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: Lock her up. Somebody lock her up.
SCHUSTER: A New York police spokesman insisted he didn't see any journalists manhandled, and that reporters were kept away from Zuccotti Park for their own safety. Local and national media groups disagree. The New York Times, Post, and Daily News joining NBC Universal, Dow Jones, Thompson-Reuters and others in a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly demanding a meeting, and insisting that police actions of the last week have been more hostile to the press than any other recent memory.
The letter specifies journalists have been "identified, segregated, and kept from viewing, reporting, and photographing," "restricted to a 'press pen' away from the action." And that there were "numerous incidents where police officers struck or otherwise intentionally impeded photographers." For his part, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted the press was kept away from the story for their own safety.
For more on the NYPD's efforts to keep the media from reporting its efforts to suppress Occupy Wall Street, we're joined by Jonathan Turley, constitutional law expert and professor at George Washington University and a "Countdown" contributor. Jonathan, always great to see you.
TURLEY: Hi, David.
SHUSTER: The mayor and the NYPD's claim that they're keeping the press from the story so journalists can be safe. Is there a safety clause in the First Amendment that's been kept from us?
TURLEY: Well, unfortunately, that is something of a mantra in cases of police abuse of reporters. They're always saying that "We're doing this for your own safety. We're keeping you from the scene so that you won't be hurt by the felon." Even when the felon is in cuffs, and in a cruiser, this is something that reporters deal with all the time.
Many of us have represented reporters, and we're constantly rebutting those arguments and saying "You're clearly trying to keep our clients and journalists from these news-making scenes, and also from seeing things that may be embarrassing. You know, I am lead counsel in the current World Bank case — which is now almost ten years old — of a mass arrest in Washington D.C., including journalists, including credential journalists. It was the same exact scene that you're seeing in New York. And officers again said that they never really saw any credentials. But, the fact is that journalists were being kept out of what was — has been shown to be — an unconstitutional mass arrest of people without probable cause.
So, we see this happen with great regularity. And, you know, the problem is that, you know — we're not getting any responsible public officials who are coming forward and saying this is wrong. And instead, we're having some Orwellian language coming out of people like Mayor Bloomberg saying that, you know, the protesters were denying people free speech. And, you really just sort of take a double take and go — Really? How?
SHUSTER: How do the courts — or how have they usually — dealt with these sort of arguments? Whether it's "Oh, we're protecting reporters for their own safety." Or, these, I mean, bizarre claims that somehow reporters were trespassing in Zuccotti Park the other night, and were therefore arrested.
TURLEY: Well, the problem is that these types of abuses generally go without any penalty whatsoever. What happens is they prevent reporters from being present, of seeing what people allege to be abuses, and then, they release the reporters. And so, there's not much of an ability to bring a lawsuit, because there's no criminal charges. And, many police officials know that. So, they can really get away with this.
The only weapon that the media has, and has always had since the beginning of this republic, is to let citizens know, to let the public know that this is happening. I mean — for the vast majority of American citizens — their eyes and their ears remain the journalists, who are the boots on the ground, who are trying to get close to the action so they can see what the government is doing.
SHUSTER: Speaking of action, we just saw the video of some demonstrators essentially pulling apart a barricade. I'm so intrigued by this effort in New York City to actually put the press in some sort of pen where they can't actually see what's taking place. Is that a new tactic? And have city governments been able to get away with that before?
TURLEY: That is a — that is a very common tactic, to create press areas that just happen to be removed from areas that could be embarrassing, or areas where they could film abuse. And it is something that the press always works against. But, this is very, very common for the police to try to pen in the media.
What's happening in New York is far more aggressive than we've seen in many years. It was a clear and well-planned effort by the police to pen in the media and prevent them from seeing things that the police did not want them to see — which is to clear out hundreds of people, conducting massive arrests, and the types of problems that that produces.
SHUSTER: I've been going down to Occupy D.C. every couple of days. It doesn't look like the police are going to clear up that camp. But, if they tried to do it — for myself and other journalists, what's the guidelines now? Or what's the legal advice you would give us, for those of us who want to cover a story, and simply report out what's happening.
TURLEY: Keep your credentials open and obvious, make sure you repeatedly state that you are a credential journalist. Go to -- ask to talk to a supervisor. That is, you're going to have beat cops who say "You got to go into that area." Demand to talk to their supervisors. Get those names. Make it clear that you're recording their names. You know, you've got to be very aggressive, most journalists are -- well-trained, and well-suited to play that role. But you can't accept this effort to be cordoned off so that they can regulate what you see and what you film.
The -- the point about trespass is important. It is often the case that journalists are told "You're trespassing, and I can arrest you." Well, if the scene is a protest and demonstration, and people are all trespassing, the selective removal of journalists is a violation of policies and rules governing the media. You should not be restrained.
And finally, keep a number of a lawyer handy. You know, you've got to be assertive and there's a lot of us out there to make sure that you do your very important job.
SHUSTER: Well, Jonathan, no worries. I have your number on my speed dial, so. Jonathan Turley, thanks as always. We appreciate it.
TURLEY: Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: Thank you. Coming up, that pepper spray incident at U.C. Davis. You won't believe what Fox News is saying about it.
And, is it ever a good idea — in your very first campaign ad — to deliver a big lie that could be easily debunked Most political experts will tell you "No, don't do that." So, what's with the Romney campaign? This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Mitt Romney looks past his Republican opponents with an attack ad against President Obama based on a lie. He takes a quote out of context and distorts it. Any journalism school would suspend him.
Speaking of flunking journalism, we'll check out how Fox News shrugs off the pepper spray attack at U.C. Davis. It's just food. Pass the pepper, please. We'll take their take with a grain of salt.
You need more Fox News followings? Well, a recent study by a respected university reveals that exposure to Fox News makes you less informed than if you watched no television news at all.
While all the Occupy protests are not identical to the peace movement of the 1960s and '70s, there are some similarities. A man who knows the difference is Daniel Ellsberg. He joins us next.
SHUSTER: Occupy Wall Street is now drawing comparisons to the 1960s anti-war movement, with protesters across the country engaging in non-violent resistance. The most recent example, of course, is those pepper sprayed UC Davis students. And perhaps no one is more familiar with civil disobedience than our next guest, activist Daniel Ellsberg, who you will remember leaked the infamous Pentagon papers that contributed to the end of the Vietnam War.
In our fourth story tonight — Ellsberg, who has been arrested an incredible 83 times in acts of non-violent resistance, joins us to talk about the future of the Occupy movement. Ellsberg was a rifle company commander in the Marine Corps in the '50s before joining the Defense Department, where he worked on the escalation of the Vietnam War. In 1971, he became one of the most famous whistleblowers in history when he leaked 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to The New York Times and 18 other newspapers. The documents revealed that the justification for war was based on decades of lies.
(Excerpt from video clip) WALTER CRONKITE: A name has now come out as the possible source of the Times/Pentagon documents. It is that of Daniel Ellsberg, the top policy analyst for the Defense and State department.
(Excerpt from video clip) DANIEL ELLSBERG: I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of these decisions.
SHUSTER: Those decisions helped to bring about the end of the Vietnam War and drew the scorn of President Nixon.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICHARD NIXON: Daniel Ellsberg, whatever his intentions, gave aid and comfort to the enemy.
(Excerpt from audio clip) NIXON: We got to get this son of a bitch.
SHUSTER: In fact, it turned out to be the other way around, with the leaked papers figuring in Nixon's impeachment proceedings. That wasn't the end of Ellsberg's activism, though. In the decades since, he has been involved in acts of civil disobedience to protest nuclear weapons, U.S. military interventions and crackdowns on whistleblowers. And now, 80-year-old Ellsberg's involved in the Occupy movement, camping out alongside protesters at UC Berkley, and speaking about how best to create change peacefully.
As promised, here is activist Daniel Ellsberg. Mr. Ellsberg, thanks so much for your time tonight, we really appreciate it.
ELLSBERG: Thank you for the opportunity.
SHUSTER: How does this movement — the Occupy movement — compare to the anti-war protests of the 1960s?
ELLSBERG: Well, in some ways it's a throwback for me. What I was seeing on the steps of Sproul Plaza — or what's now called the Mario Savio Steps — is a reborn youth movement. The movement against the war then — and even before the draft was a major issue — was the youth movement. The civil rights movement was very largely a youth movement, Free Speech movement at Berkeley. We haven't seen that much of it for a long time. I'm not — nobody's been quite clear why, and I was just very euphoric to see this happening now.
We don't have the draft, but of course, the students are facing — not only crushing student debt and rising tuition — but they're being drafted into the army of the unemployed. That's the future they have looking at them. And I think this particular movement took off from college graduate in Tunis, who could only get work as an unlicensed vegetable seller — Mohamed Bouazizi, who actually burned himself to death in protest against the corruption of the police brutality and the corrupt license fees that they were getting on him.
And then, one other thing happened — WikiLeaks published one of many — a number of cables that were put out by one individual, an American patriot. We don't know for sure who, but the man accused is Bradley Manning, who's sitting in a prison right now in Leavenworth. And those cables showed that the American government was well aware of the corruption of the Ben Ali regime in Tunis, which we'd been backing for years and supporting in various ways. And that lead to an occupation of Tunis Square, and that, in turn lead to the occupation of Liberty Square — Tahrir Square — in Egypt. Both of which actually toppled those corrupt and dictatorial regimes.
Now, my understanding is that this Occupy movement here took heart and inspiration from that very invention of non-violent protest — the idea of a persistent occupation, not just the demonstration that lasts one day. And I hope it will change the corruption in this country.
SHUSTER: It also appears to be fueled, now, by these police tactics that we're seeing over and over. I got to ask you — those images of the students being pepper sprayed at UC Davis — what went through your mind as you saw it, and how do you think that incident, in particular, impacts the movement?
ELLSBERG: I'll tell you exactly. When I was sitting on the steps I was invited into a tent by some young people there on the steps and, in the course of it, they'd been — were still feeling — the effects of being, as the AP put it, "nudged by police batons." And you have probably seen the YouTube pictures of these people being rammed by large batons. Batons are better called bats.
Well, in the course of that night we were expecting — and they were expecting — police assaults on this very peaceful assembly of people sitting and lying and peacefully assembled, a petitioned grievance. And they offered me, one of them, a gas mask from an earlier — the tear gas of the week earlier. I said, "Gas mask, in America?" Peaceable assembly here having to worry about tear gas?" Now, I have been arrested a few times, but never actually tear-gassed or gassed, no chemical war in the course of that.
The last time I ate a lot of tear gas — or breathed a lot — was 40 years ago in Washington D.C., and on that occasion I was maced in the eyes and very impressed, but it wasn't pepper gas. That afternoon, 13,000 people were arrested in D.C.
Well, this to me — if there were pictures like that in Abu Grayb, they would look right at home. This is torture. And it's police torture. The idea — they were spraying these students, as you saw in U.C. Davis, as though they were spraying bugs among weeds, or spraying weeds. And people should be held accountable.
One of the things that is coming out of these Occupations, I think, is 4,000 people peaceably submitting to arrests — non-violently, in civil disobedience — in very dramatic contrast to the zero prosecutions of the people who fraudulently brought this country to its knees in the sub-prime mortgage scandal. Not one person, to my knowledge, has been prosecuted for that at this point. The contrast is very startling.
Corruption in Tunisia —I hadn't heard the word corruption here, although I did hear it earlier on your program, and I was very struck by it. The fact is, that one hundredth of the one percent — not the sports figures, not the movie stars who make millions, but the people who lobby Congress and write our laws — have corrupted Congress, in a way, and the executive branch. They buy the campaigns, they buy the elections and they write the laws.
Nick Johnson, an FCC commissioner 40 years ago, said — at that time — "The problem is not that businessmen break the laws, though God knows they do," he said, "The problem is, they write the laws and they buy the legislators."
A concentrated wealth that this Occupy movement is focusing attention on for the first time has corrupted our democracy, and these young people want to get our democracy back and that's why I'm standing with them.
SHUSTER: Daniel Ellsberg. Mr. Ellsberg, thanks again for your historical perspective and also your courage for these many years. And we appreciate you coming on the program.
ELLSBERG: Thank you very much.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
Coming up, President Obama supporters call Mitt Romney's new attack ad "deceitful and dishonest." Like the president, they are much too polite. A big lie from the man who trails Newt Gingrich in the polls.
SHUSTER: Coming up, how Bill O'Reilly and Fox News cover the U.C. Davis pepper spray story, and, yes, it includes referring to pepper spray as a food product.
But first, the "Sanity Break," and it was on this day in 1921, legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield was born in Long Island, New York. In fact, he was so ugly that when he was born, that according to Dangerfield, the doctor slapped his mother. Known for his constant complaint, "I don't get no respect," Dangerfield went on to star in such films as "Easy Money," "Back to School" and "Caddyshack." A respectful happy birthday to the late Mr. Dangerfield.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Two kittens wrestling in a play WWE ring.
We begin, as we always do, with cat wrestling. Meow! These frisky felines are in the middle of a no-holds-barred grudge match. It's orange versus gray. Kitty Kong Bundy versus Vince McMeow. The match ended as all great matches and catfights do, when somebody threw a ball of yarn and the wrestlers were distracted.
VIDEO: (NO CLIP AVAILABLE)
We travel to Japan, where tourists can stop into this restaurant and watch a bartender drink an entire beer in one second. In position. 3, 2, 1. Man. Drunk. Impressive. Not to mention how classy it looks. The secret is apparently in the furry little ears.
VIDEO: When turkeys attack.
Finally, with Thanksgiving only a couple days away, turkeys are on high alert. These kids are out in the backyard with the bird. Kids, stop playing with your food. But taunt the turkey long enough, it will come after you. You have to understand, this is a very stressful time of year for him. Run!
"Time Marches On!"
Just ahead, Mitt Romney has apparently decided to dispense with any credibility in his campaign ads right from the start. Maybe he really is ready to be the GOP nominee.
And later, Fox News says the pepper spray incident at U.C. Davis wasn't that bad, and wait until you hear the legal analysis from Megyn Kelly. And she claims to be a lawyer.
This is "Countdown" on Current.
SHUSTER: "Countdown" comes to you live each weeknight at 8:00 P.M. Eastern. The program is replayed at 11:00 P.M., 2:00 A.M., 7:00 A.M., noon and 3:00 P.M.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Advice perhaps best directed today at the Romney campaign.
In our third story on the "Countdown" — Mitt Romney is using his first campaign ad of the season to attack President Obama and to deceive voters. While the president was visiting New Hampshire today to promote his job-creation plan, Romney launched a $134,000 ad buy blaming the president for the nation's economic woes.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Hello, New Hampshire! Thank you. Thank you, New Hampshire. How are you all doing tonight? I am confident that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. Who has been in charge of the economy? We need a rescue plan for the middle class. We need to provide relief for homeowners. It's going to take a new direction. If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.
SHUSTER: The only problem — that last part was taken completely out of context. Here is the line, as delivered by then-candidate Obama.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."
VIDEO: Mitt Romeny's "Believe in America" campaign ad, which ran in New Hampshire.
SHUSTER: President Obama's re-election spokesman called the Romney ad "a deceitful and dishonest attack," and White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was an ad in which they deliberately distort what the president said, adding, "It's a rather remarkable way to start and an unfortunate way to start, and I'm pleased to see numerous news organizations point out the blatant dishonesty in the ad."
As for the Romney campaign, they're defending their piece of work, saying, "We used that quote intentionally to show that President Obama is doing exactly what he criticized McCain of doing four years ago. Obama doesn't want to talk about the economy because of his failed record."
From the latest poll numbers, though, it would appear that Romney might want to focus his attention back on his actual race right now. A Quinnipiac University poll shows Newt Gingrich now leading the GOP pack with 26 percent. Romney is second place with 22 percent and Herman Cain has dropped to third with 14 percent. And if you aren't already suffering from debate fatigue, you can get your fix tonight, as the Republican candidates are now meeting for their 11th go-around.
Joining us now — senior writer for Salon, Alex Pareene. Alex, thanks for your time tonight.
ALEX PAREENE: Thanks for giving me an excuse to skip the debate.
SHUSTER: Why would the Romney campaign feel the need to make such an obviously deceitful ad in their first ad out of the box?
PAREENE: Well, one big reason is — this is the very first ad out of the box, as you said. It's only airing in New Hampshire. One ad buy in New Hampshire has now gotten national attention and been repeated endlessly for free on media markets all across this entire nation, which is a very cheap way of getting your message out there.
SHUSTER: But, he probably would have gotten a lot of replay of the ads just by the fact that he was releasing this first ad, and if you're going to release one, why make it that, sort of, obviously deceitful? Why not make it at least a little more subtle?
PAREENE: I don't — you know, I sort of half think — maybe — they made it that bad just so that there would be even more coverage, but part of it is, I mean, the — you know, I am not sure that people that put together political attack ads really actually have that many scruples about whether or not they're honest.
SHUSTER: Is this a sign of what's — what's coming in both the primary elections as the candidates — Republicans — get up with their ads? Never mind what they're going to run against each other, but then, also, the general election, no matter who the nominee's going to be on the Republican side.
PAREENE: This is definitely a sign of things to come. It's really, I think, only going to get worse from here.
SHUSTER: And the Romney campaign, particularly — how do they justify it? I mean, he's supposed to, sort of — I mean, he was complaining — we just saw the clip that earlier today, there was Romney complaining, as you may remember, about John McCain taking a Romney statement about Iraq out of context, and Romney's on tape badgering John McCain. "Why don't you talk to me? I'm the person that made that statement." And yet, there he is with this obviously deceitful ad.
PAREENE: Yeah, their — I don't know, their justification is just, sort of — it's almost hilarious. I mean, they're saying, "It doesn't count as dishonest because it's a quote, it's the words that he said. The president said these words." And they're like, "But also, the point is that he is talking about the economy, which is bad." I mean, it's really just a very half-hearted, like, justification. I don't really know how he's going to defend it. If it comes down to a debate between the two of them, if it comes up, I really don't know what Romney can say to defend it.
SHUSTER: Fair to say that there is an advantage, though, for Mitt Romney to — essentially — appear to be taking on President Obama? Never mind his Republican challengers, but giving people a taste of "Here's the kind of fight I would wage in a general election."
PAREENE: Yeah, exactly. It's the — Romney's been playing the inevitability game this whole time, basically acting as if the nomination is his, even when his poll numbers have always been very shaky, and this is just him going after Obama, basically saying "I'm already, basically, the nominee. I'm already going to go after the president."
SHUSTER: As far as Newt Gingrich, the Quinnipiac poll that show that Newt Gingrich is in the lead. Based on Newt's past of self-destruction, how long can Newt's lead reasonably last?
PAREENE: That's what we're all going to find out now. I mean, this is really just — the game we're playing now is how long will this last? Like, there's a chance the game lasts until Iowa. Like, it could keep it up until voters actually start voting, but, you know, we'll see what he says or does in the next couple of weeks.
SHUSTER: And as far as Herman Cain, it now appears — and I guess the polls are always, sort of, lagging indicators — but it now appears that his numbers have really taken a hit over the last couple of weeks. Is his campaign done?
PAREENE: Yeah, he's got a loud core of supporters, like most of the rest of the GOP candidates -- and they're going to continue to be a loud core of supporters — but there's no way he's picking up new supporters.
SHUSTER: And as far as the debate — the debate is going on this evening — anything that we should be looking to as we start to go through the transcripts later, and the clips? What should we be looking for out of this debate?
PAREENE: It's going to be fun to see whether or not Rick Perry can use complete sentences. That will be what — I'll, personally, be looking for that, and also, just, like — are people going after Romney? Are they being cordial to each other, or are they all piling on Romney in the hopes that one of them can emerge as the non-Romney candidate.
SHUSTER: Alex Pareene. Alex, great to talk to you, as always. Thanks for coming on the program.
PAREENE: Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
Even by the low standards of Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly, this sleazy bit was special. On Fox News, they rationalized the pepper-spray attack against students who were sitting still. Their mind-bending logic seems like a satirical spoof, but it's the truth, Ruth — at least the way they see it. This is "Countdown" on Current.
SHUSTER: We all know about unfair and unbalanced, but a respected new poll shows that watching Fox News Channel also makes you unaware. Really? Unbelievable.
And Stephen Colbert recently said that Megyn Kelly of Fox News has the sort of face the Alfred Hitchcock would use for a femme fatale, but even if the master of suspense attacked Kelly with angry birds, he would never blast her with pepper spray. Would he?
DAVID SHUSTER: We are all familiar now with that iconic pepper-spray incident at U.C. Davis. This is how it was handled last night by "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News.
(Excerpt from video clip) BILL O'REILLY: Here now, attorney and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. You see her at 1:00 P.M. each weekday. First of all, pepper spray — that just burns your eyes, right?
(Excerpt from video clip) MEGYN KELLY: Right. I mean, it's like a derivative of actual pepper. It's a food product, essentially, but a lot of experts are looking at that, saying, "Is that the real deal? Has it been diluted because —"
(Excerpt from video clip) O'REILLY: Yeah, they should have more of a reaction than that.
SHUSTER: In other words, because the spray didn't kill the protesters or knock them out immediately, the police show restraint. Megyn Kelly quickly trying to save viewers from herself with this:
(Excerpt from video clip) KELLY: That's really beside the point. I mean, it was something that was, obviously, abrasive and intrusive.
(Excerpt from video clip) O'REILLY: And they wanted them —
(Excerpt from video clip) KELLY: Several went to the hospital.
(Excerpt from video clip) O'REILLY: Right. They just wanted them to get out of there, stop blocking what they were blocking. They wanted to scatter them.
(Excerpt from video clip) KELLY: This was on the chancellor's orders. The chancellor ordered the police to go in and force these students to disperse.
SHUSTER: Ah, yes. Fox News Talking Point #2 — it's not the police's fault. It is somebody else's fault — the chancellor. You know that mantra about conservatives, about personal responsibility? In this instance, forget about it. Now, what about the legal issues, lawyer Kelly?
(Excerpt from video clip) KELLY: Listen, I know the tape looks bad. I agree it looks bad. All I'm saying is that, from a legal standpoint, I don't know that the cops did anything wrong. We're going to have to learn more about the facts.
SHUSTER: "I don't know that cops did anything wrong." You don't know, Megyn, because you apparently didn't bother to review the facts, look up any case law, or call somebody who has.
Legal claims in this case will involve the 1989 Supreme Court decision in Graham versus Connor. The court held that allegations of excessive force by police should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's "objective reasonableness" standard, and based on that standard, the Graham ruling requires an officer to give "careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the suspect's crimes, the immediacy of the threat posed by the suspect to the safety of the officers or others, whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight."
Police Chief Spicuzza, who has been place on leave, claims her officers used pepper spray because police were "surrounded by students." "Cutting the officers off from their support" and allowing "no way out of that circle." No way out? Watch the videos. Police didn't spray the people who surrounded them, only the students and faculty sitting quietly on the ground. And the university reported no violence, or fears of violence.
Now, as for the key issues raised by the Supreme Court case law, how severe was the crime? The students were sitting peacefully on their campus quad, blocking nobody. That is not severe. How immediate was the threat? The students posed no threat, immediate or otherwise. Were the students resisting arrest and a flight risk? Again, the students were already subdued and sitting down. One more point — California's own case law history is filled with liability rulings against police for actions far less severe than what the cops did at U.C. Davis.
In other words, lawyers who do their homework will tell you the police actions were wrong, and will likely result in the university and the cops having to pay the protesters huge awards in civil lawsuits.
Of course, you will never hear any of that on Fox News because Megyn Kelly gets her Neanderthal talking points from Roger Ailes. "I don't know the cops did anything wrong." Come on, Megyn. That is lazy and pathetic.
And by the way, if you and Bill O'Reilly think the pepper spray was somehow diluted, or essentially a food product, on your next show please invite the UC Davis officers to join you in studio and spray it in your face. Take a good whiff, and let's see how it goes down with you. Or — how about mustard gas? That's also essentially a food product. Right? You, Bill, mustard gas and pepper spray. Now, that would actually educate your viewers.
DAVID SHUSTER: On a recent trip down to Occupy Wall Street, a Fox News reporter was drowned out by chants of "Fox News lies." incredulous, the anchor in the studio responded, "I have no idea what they're talking about."
In our number-one story — listen up, Fox News anchor. According to a recent poll, Fox News viewers are less informed than people who watch no news. In a poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, respondents were asked where, if anywhere, they got their news. They were then asked a few simple questions about current events. When asked if opposition groups had been successful in bringing down Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, only 49 percent of Fox News viewers were able to answer "yes," correctly, the lowest of all the groups. Twenty-four percent of Fox Newsers incorrectly said, "no." and 27 percent responded, "don't know" both the highest out of all news groups.
The question then went on to Syria and the uprising there. Twenty percent of Fox viewers thought the Assad regime had been brought down. Again, the highest percent incorrect. They were, once again, the lowest in answering correctly at 45 percent. All in all, Fox News viewers were 18 percent less likely to answer correctly about Egypt and six percent less likely to answer correctly about Syria.
Dan Cassino, an analyst for the poll summed it up, "The results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don't watch any news at all."
Let's bring in comedian, actor — and, hopefully, not a Fox News viewer — Christian Finnegan. Christian, great to meet you in person, and thanks for coming on.
CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN: Thank you. No, I only watch Fox News when I want to make sure I can still feel. Like secret cutting.
SHUSTER: Starting with the obvious, what is it about people watching Fox News that leaves them less informed?
FINNEGAN: Well, you're making the weird assumption that Fox News — that their goal is to inform you. No, no, no. Fox, basically, what they do is they provide light, intellectual cover for the gut prejudices you already have. It's like a — like a vibrating massage chair for your id.
SHUSTER: Right. Should we be — should we be surprised by these findings? I mean — isn't it like, I don't know, discovering a lot of boxers have brain damage?
FINNEGAN: Well, I don't know. It's kind of like a chicken-and-an-egg thing. It's like — is it that Fox makes you dumb, or is it just that dumb people flock to Fox like moths to a cartoon drawing of a flame? I'm not — what I'd like to see is like a time-elapsed thing, where you took somebody who had never watched Fox before, and then just, like 10 years of watching Fox, and just watching them devolve and see how long it took them to start playing with their feces.
SHUSTER: The Fairleigh Dickinson poll did not break it down by show, but who would you suggest is the biggest misinformer of Fox?
FINNEGAN: Oh, come on — it's got to be "Fox & Friends." It's gotta be. I mean, you know, Chris Wallace, you know, is smart a guy. I mean, a force for evil, obviously, but at least he's actually just reading words off a prompter. There might be a fact in there somewhere, where it's like — once the banter gets started on "Fox & Friends," it's like the world's worst improv troop, and you don't get any information, none of things you want to know — like, what's up with Brian Kilmeade's weird, drag queen eyebrows?
SHUSTER: How else should Fox News, sort of, see these results? I mean — as proof that they are failing or that they're succeeding by deliberately misleading people?
FINNEGAN: Well, I don't — I mean, these are not really questions that are in the, sort of, Fox-viewer wheelhouse. I mean, Egypt's here — who cares about that? They should ask questions that Fox viewers would know like — "Is Obama Satan or simply a minion for Satan?" "How long is the McRib available?" "Name five brands of motorized scooter." They'd ace that test.
SHUSTER: This is not the first — the first poll that has suggested this. Listening to NPR — a constant source of Fox News attacks -- well, NPR did very well. Just as NPR did in a similar poll, several years ago. Is that why Fox News goes after NPR so much, sort of like high school — the dumb popular kid picking on the smart, nerdy kid?
FINNEGAN: Yeah, I mean, they can't actually reach their underwear to give them the wedgie, so they have to sort of do it on the air. And this is — and they're always gonna win, by the way. I mean, there's — in a debate between a smart person and a stupid person, stupid will always win, because you can't argue against somebody going "uh, uh, uh." That's basically what Fox is — 24 hours a day of that kid in school, when you would say something he would go, "uh, uh, uh." You know, you can't — they're gonna win every time.
SHUSTER: What is the one group, not polled, that you think would answer better than Fox viewers?
FINNEGAN: You know, they're taking a beating. I'm not going to make fun of Fox anymore. I'll just mention some of the groups that they actually did rate higher than — actual foxes, teething infants and people who went to see the new Adam Sandler movie on opening night.
SHUSTER: I have to ask you — you mentioned "Fox & Friends" — Steve Doocy. There is something kind of charming about him, even if he's, kind of —
SHUSTER: Doesn't know what he's talking about, right?
FINNEGAN: Kind of like that doofy, like, vice principal at your high school? You know, the one who would like, try to wear a leather jacket 'cause he think it was cool, but then you're like, "Oh, that's so not cool on you." He has that, sort of, dumb-uncle sort of quality that's affable, if nothing else. I hate that he actually is in a news position, but —
SHUSTER: Do we think that Fox executives, producers, correspondents even read university polls?
FINNEGAN: Oh, I'm sure that they read them, and then they cry all the way to the bank. You know, I don't think they're terribly concerned with, "Oh, no, NPR viewers are smarter than us?" Like, you know — I don't think it's really gonna keep them up too much at night.
SHUSTER: And what's the danger for the rest of us? Other than the laugh value and entertainment value of, you know, Fox viewers being so misinformed?
FINNEGAN: Oh, well, because their vote counts as much as mine does. And that hurts. I feel like that should be a disqualifying factor. If we could rate — we could somehow hook the DVR box up to the polling center, and you should be accorded votes by how many hours of Fox you listen to. Like, for every hour of Fox, like, your vote should, like, be 10 percent less impactful.
SHUSTER: Christian Finnegan, do you see — ever hear from Fox News, by the way?
FINNEGAN: All the time. They're — I am way up on their list of people to bring on the show.
SHUSTER: Christian Finnegan, comedian, actor — also coming to D.C. in December. Christian, thanks so much, we appreciate it.
FINNEGAN: Indeed. Thanks so much, David.
SHUSTER: And that is our show for this evening. I'm David Shuster in for Keith Olbermann. On behalf of all of us here at "Countdown," thanks for watching, everybody, and have a great night.