CRITICS WHO ALLEGE LIBERAL MEDIA BIAS point to specific examples. During the 2004 election campaign such examples have included a report by CBS News anchor Dan Rather based on fabricated documents and a memo by ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin directing the network’s reporters to treat misstatements by Republican President George W. Bush more harshly than misstatements by his Democrat opponent John Kerry.
But perhaps the most dramatic example cited as bias was committed by MSNBC Senior Political Analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, who during a brief news interview last Friday accused a Kerry critic an astonishing 39 times of being a liar.
In this October 22, 2004 interview on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” O’Donnell attacked John O’Neill, co-author of the book Unfit for Command that reflected the views of 264 of Kerry’s fellow Swiftboat Vietnam veterans. The book and television ads featuring some of these veterans had damaged Kerry by disputing his claims to have been a war hero. O’Donnell, as journalist co-interviewer of O’Neill with substitute show host Pat Buchanan, interjected epithets and repeatedly cut off O’Neill’s answers after a few words in an apparent attempt to prevent what the guest was saying from being heard by the audience.
Below, from the full interview transcript, is an extract done by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal of some of Lawrence O’Donnell’s inquisition:
It's one of the many lies that the book advances. To me the most interesting lie, John O'Neill, that I would submit to you that you should answer, is, you make a lying claim
that John Kerry's antiwar activity prolonged the amount of time that prisoners of war were held in Vietnam. . . . That's a lie, John O'Neill! Keep lying, it's all you do! . . . Lies! . . . Which is not in John O'Neill's book, 'cause it's a lie! . . . That's a lie! It's another lie! That's a lie! Absolute lie! You lie in that book endlessly! . . . You lie about documents endlessly! . . . You're just lying about it! And you lied about Thurlow's Bronze Star! You lied about it as long as you could until the New York Times found the wording of what was on the citation that you as a lying writer refused to put in your pack of lies! . . . Disgusting, lying book! . . . You have no standards, John O'Neill, as an author, and you know it! It's a pack of lies! You are unfit to publish! . . . He just lied to you! He spews out this filth! Point to his name on the report, you liar! Point to his name, you liar! . . . You just spew lies! . . . I just hate the lies of John O'Neill. I hate lies. It's not an argument; they're proven lies. . . . O'Neill's a liar, he's been a liar for 35 years about this, and he's found other liars [unintelligible]. . . . They lied! . . . They're lying somewhere! . . . Lies! Just tell me the initials, you liar! Creepy liar! . . . You are a liar who makes things up! . . . You want the lies! That's how you make your living, on lies!
“Wow, we can sure see how Larry O'Donnell got his job as a senior political analyst with MSNBC. The guy is nothing if not sagelike,” wrote Taranto. “But does he sound as though he thinks his man is going to win the election?”
Days earlier, in his frequent role as a liberal panelist on the syndicated political show “The McLaughlin Group,” O’Donnell dismissed questions about whether negative political statements about Iraq were damaging the morale of U.S. troops fighting there.
“It’s not our job to lie about war to make troops feel good. And I don’t care what they feel…. If John Kerry thinks this war is a mistake and if the United States of America elects him president, the troops are going to have to live with that….” said O’Donnell. “I don’t care if they’re demoralized.”
“But if you’re going to be commander-in-chief,” replied fellow McLaughlin panelist Buchanan, “you cannot be demoralizing the troops in wartime, even if you think the war is a mistake.”
Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. was born in 1955 in Boston to an Irish-American family. After graduating from Harvard College in 1976, he headed west to seek fortune as a Hollywood screenwriter.
O’Donnell’s 1983 non-fiction book Deadly Force was adapted as a CBS television movie, “A Case of Deadly Force,” in 1986. The book and movie told the “true story” of how a policeman-turned-attorney Lawrence O’Donnell, Sr. (played by Richard Crenna) and his four sons fought successfully to prove the innocence of a black man shot and killed by two white Boston police officers, who covered up their mistake by claiming their victim was a robber. Writer son Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. was played in the movie by actor Tate Donovan.
Despite this lucky flash of Hollywood success, by 1987 Lawrence O’Donnell admitted he was “unable to make any kind of living” as a screenwriter and sought help from his family back in Boston.
O’Donnell’s cousin Kirk O’Neill, son of his father’s identical twin brother Leonard, was a power in Washington, D.C. Kirk was, along with Chris Matthews and two others, one of the “four horsemen” who controlled the staff of Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill, the Boston Irish-American Democratic boss of Congress. With this powerful connection, O’Donnell was soon on the payroll as Director of Communications for the re-election campaign of Irish-American U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D.-NY).
“I knew absolutely nothing about politics and thought I have absolutely nothing to contribute to this,” wrote O’Donnell, “but the way I read New York politics, the guy doesn’t need any help. If I were to occupy a chair in that office, I couldn’t do any damage. He ended up winning with 67 percent of the vote in 1988 – one point higher than what Tim Russert [now NBC Washington bureau chief and host of “Meet the Press”] has gotten him in the previous election.”
After Moynihan’s reelection, O’Donnell stayed on the payroll as Special Advisor and was named Democratic Chief of Staff to the two Senate committees Moynihan chaired, the powerful Finance Committee and the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“I was more than in over my head,” wrote O’Donnell. “I was in an absolutely foreign territory. I had no idea how to advise anyone on anything political. But I knew that I had Kirk’s phone number.” The Senate job O’Donnell saw as temporary lasted seven years. The connections he built with fellow Democrat operatives like Chris Matthews, now host of his own show “Hardball” on MSNBC, O’Donnell parlayed to become this cable network’s Senior Political Analyst.
During the 2000 presidential campaign O’Donnell, turning from government to media work as his patron Senator Moynihan retired, wrote about politics for New York Magazine.
Politics also provided the back door through which Lawrence O’Donnell returned to his first love, Hollywood. As Bill Clinton’s Administration wound down, a group of Democrat Washington insiders gathered in 1999 to create the still-successful NBC prime time drama “The West Wing,” set in a Democratic White House so liberal in its politics and preachments that the show is widely known as “The Left Wing.”
O’Donnell, along with Jimmy Carter Administration pollster Pat Caddell, wrote or contributed to at least nine “West Wing” episodes during its first two seasons. He also worked as the series’ executive story editor and producer. He even acted in one 2001 episode. He then departed to create two short-lived TV series, “First Monday” and his own creation “Mr. Sterling,” about a U.S. Senator, both set amid the politics and intrigues of Washington, D.C.
O’Donnell embodies the current attraction that liberal Hollywood has for Washington, D.C. and vice versa. He has found status and wealth by acting as a bridge between these two worlds.
But after his bizarre behavior in 2004 during the MSNBC interview with John O’Neill, according to what Pat Buchanan told viewers on October 25, O’Donnell was required to promise that he would never again act so irresponsibly. O’Donnell was not fired by MSNBC, a network currently headed by liberal close friend and supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton Rick Kaplan.
In exchange for his promise of good behavior, delivered not personally but via a surrogate, Lawrence O’Donnell was able to prevent Kerry critic John O’Neill from being heard and thereby doing further damage to Kerry days before the 2004 national election.
O’Donnell’s high-handed behavior, and this NBC-co-owned network’s refusal to fire him, has damaged the credibility of news channel MSNBC and of NBC as a whole.
It must also have left viewers wondering whether O’Donnell had exchanged his citizenship in Washington, where real politics is affected by compromise, for residency in a Hollywood fantasyland. Has O’Donnell begun to live inside his own “West Wing” delusion, where liberals always triumph because liberal screenwriters control what every character is allowed to say and how every story ends? O’Donnell’s bullying and shouting down of the soft-spoken John O’Neill seemed to reflect a solipsistic megalomania at or past the borderline of madness.