Matthews claimed Hillary Clinton's voter data operation "just like" NSA's warrantless domestic spying

››› ››› JOE BROWN

MSNBC host Chris Matthews claimed that a recently reported data-mining initiative led by Harold Ickes -- an adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) -- is "just like we saw the NSA doing" in conjunction with President Bush's controversial warrantless domestic eavesdropping program. But the initiative run by Ickes, according to news reports, relies on commercially and publicly available information that Republicans have used for years in their data operations. Matthews made no mention of these Republican operations.

On the March 8 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews claimed that a recently reported data-mining initiative led by Harold Ickes -- an adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) -- is "just like we saw the NSA [National Security Agency] doing" in conjunction with President Bush's controversial warrantless domestic eavesdropping program. But while the data mining conducted by the NSA reportedly includes retrieving data from e-mail messages and transcripts of phone calls to and from Americans -- obtained without warrants, in apparent violation of the law -- the initiative run by Ickes, according to news reports, relies on the same commercially and publicly available information that Republicans have used for years in their data operations. Matthews made no mention of these Republican operations.

Matthews cited a Washington Post article as his source of information on the Ickes data initiative but failed to note its description of the Ickes effort -- a private venture called Data Warehouse -- as an effort to counter Republican voter database operations, which have helped the GOP achieve an advantage in get-out-the-vote efforts. The Post article did not assert any resemblance between the nascent Data Warehouse program and the data mining conducted in conjunction with Bush's NSA program.

Matthews also cited the Ickes venture as evidence that "the people around Hillary know she's not popular with the country" and said the program is "a recognition she [Clinton] won't win big" if she runs for president in 2008. Matthews offered no evidence to back his claim, and numerous public opinion polls show a consistent plurality -- and often a majority -- of Americans holding favorable opinions of Clinton.

During a roundtable discussion of the upcoming 2008 presidential race, Matthews stated:

MATTHEWS: According to The Washington Post, the Democratic insiders with Hillary Clinton -- aide Harold Ickes is at the helm.

[...]

They've put together the information they need to win this election, they're out there with data mining, just like we saw the NSA doing, digging up information, finding out who might like to vote Democrat, who is pro-choice or whatever on whatever issue, anti-war, and put together enough information to find voters and win the election against whoever the Republicans run.

The initiative the Post described is distinctly different from the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program. Ickes's Data Warehouse, apparently a conscious effort on the part of some Democrats to mimic Republican get-out-the-vote success, will reportedly use information from publicly and commercially available sources. By contrast, the Bush administration has engaged in the surveillance of U.S. persons, without warrants, in apparent contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Data mining is a process in which computers are used to discover patterns and correlations in pre-existing data, to make sense of large quantities of information. In a political context, data mining can be used to identify potential financial donors or to identify individuals who might be receptive to a candidate's message. As The Washington Post reported March 8:

The pressure on Democrats to begin more aggressive "data mining" in the hunt for votes began after the 2002 midterm elections and intensified after the 2004 presidential contest, when the GOP harnessed data technology to powerful effect.

In 2002, for the first time in recent memory, Republicans ran better get-out-the-vote programs than Democrats. When well done, such drives typically raise a candidate's Election Day performance by two to four percentage points. Democrats have become increasingly fearful that the GOP is capitalizing on high-speed computers and the growing volume of data available from government files and consumer marketing firms -- as well as the party's own surveys -- to better target potential supporters.

The Republican database has allowed the party and its candidates to tailor messages to individual voters and households, using information about the kind of magazines they receive, whether they own guns, the churches they attend, their incomes, their charitable contributions and their voting histories.

This makes it possible to specifically address the issues of voters who, in the case of many GOP supporters, may oppose abortion, support gun rights or be angry about government use of eminent domain to take private property. A personalized pitch can be made during door-knocking, through direct mail and e-mail, and via phone banks.

In addition to the Post article Matthews spoke of, two guests on Matthews's Hardball panel also noted that the Democratic data program will emulate the Republican program. New York Times reporter Anne E. Kornblut stated that "the Republican Party, the RNC, has a machine like this [the Ickes effort] already in existence. It's why they won in 2004." Similarly, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson stated that Clinton, who is advised by Ickes, is "putting together a machine like the Republicans have."

Matthews also asserted:

MATTHEWS: I think the people around Hillary know she's not popular with the country. If she wins, she'll win with like 48 percent, in a squeaker, because the other guy blew it.

They know it's going to come down to a few hundred thousand votes. They're going to identify those key undecided voters. They're going to try to turn it on a very close election. This particular vote by voting [sic] attempt and data mining is a recognition she won't win big, they've got to squeak it.

But numerous polls show that a majority or at least a plurality of Americans view Clinton favorably. In a March 2-5 ABC News/Washington Post poll of adults nationwide, with a +/- 3 percent margin of error, 52 percent of respondents said they had a "favorable" impression of Clinton, compared with 46 percent who said they held an "unfavorable" impression of her. Similarly, in a February 16-19 Diageo/Hotline poll of registered voters, with a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error, 52 percent of respondents said they held a "favorable" opinion of Clinton, compared with 41 percent who said they held an "unfavorable" opinion of her.

From the March 8 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, which featured radio host and columnist Michael Smerconish, Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens, Robinson, and Kornblut:

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the Democrats. Hillary Clinton has raised her head here. According to The Washington Post, the Democratic insiders with Hillary Clinton aide Harold Ickes at the helm. They're out there, they don't apparently trust Howard Dean.

They've put together the information they need to win this election, they're out there with data mining, just like we saw the NSA doing, digging up information, finding out who might like to vote Democrat, who is pro-choice or whatever on whatever issue, anti-war, and put together enough information to find voters and win the election against whoever the Republicans run.

Michael, what's Hillary up to?

[...]

HITCHENS: I read the piece this morning and I thought, what's it reminding of? And it suddenly hit me, it's Dick Morris again. There was a time, if you remember, when the Democratic Party, congressionally and elsewhere, thought it was running the party and in fact, Mr. Clinton and his wife, with a small cabal in the White House, arranged by Dick Morris, were doing all the fundraising, all the polling, all the work. For part of the time, Dick Morris was the president during the impeachment.

KORNBLUT: I would say that's the fault of the RNC, though. I mean, the Republican Party, the RNC, has a machine like this, already in existence. It's why they won in 2004.

HITCHENS: Well the Democrats have penis envy for that and have had for a long time.

MATTHEWS: I'm talking about Hillary Clinton. Is Hillary Clinton grabbing the party control?

ROBINSON: Well I think she's trying to. I mean, you know, she's in a position to make the attempt, and I think, you know, she's putting together a machine like the Republicans have. You have to have the data, you have to analyze it and slice it and dice it and understand it.

In the final analysis, you have to make people want to vote for you, and I think the one vulnerability here is the idea that Hillary Clinton will kind of contort herself into any position that kind of maximizes her votes.

MATTHEWS: In other words, they want to find out where people stand so she can stand there.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

SMERCONISH: But everybody already stands on Hillary. In other words, there are no undecided voters relative to Hillary Clinton. You're either for or you're against her.

[crosstalk]

MATTHEWS: I think the people around Hillary know she's not popular with the country. If she wins, she'll win with like 48 percent, in a squeaker, because the other guy blew it.

They know it's going to come down to a few hundred thousand votes. They're going to identify those key undecided voters. They're going to try to turn it on a very close election. This particular vote by voting [sic] attempt and data mining is a recognition she won't win big, they've got to squeak it.

Posted In
Elections, Voting Rights & Issues, Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Hillary Clinton
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