MSNBC's Brzezinski praised Huckabee as "honest" despite his documented deceptions in response to AIDS controversy

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

On Morning Joe, while discussing the controversy surrounding Mike Huckabee's 1992 statements about AIDS, Mika Brzezinski praised Huckabee for being "charming," "authentic," and "honest," and stated that the way he's handling the issue is "brilliant." In fact, Huckabee has claimed that he "didn't say that we should quarantine" AIDS patients, and he has asserted that "[t]here was still so much confusion about HIV transmission" at the time he made the statements in question. But as several news outlets pointed out, by 1992, it was widely known that AIDS could not be transmitted via casual contact.

On the December 10 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, while discussing the controversy surrounding Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's 1992 statements about AIDS, co-host Mika Brzezinski praised Huckabee for being "charming," "authentic," and "honest." She further said that the way he's handling the controversy surrounding the statements, which he made on a 1992 Associated Press candidate questionnaire during his bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Arkansas, is "brilliant" and predicted that "his response to" the controversy is "going to be effective in a positive way." According to the AP, in 1992, Huckabee wrote on the questionnaire, "If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague." But in purporting to explain that comment, he recently claimed that he "didn't say that we should quarantine" AIDS patients, and he has asserted that "[t]here was still so much confusion about HIV transmission" at the time he made the statements in question. In fact, as several news outlets pointed out, by 1992, it was widely known that AIDS could not be transmitted via casual contact.

After Brzezinski brought up the AIDS controversy, guest host Willie Geist -- who described Huckabee as "our old friend" -- went on to state: "[H]e answered a questionnaire in 1992 when he was running for Senate, and he said, basically, that 'we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague' ... [t]alking about AIDS. He went on to say that 'homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle.' " MSNBC then aired a brief clip of Huckabee responding to the controversy on the December 9 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday. After Geist said that Huckabee "gets points for confronting this" but that "it will stick to him with some people," Brzezinski responded: "I still think it's his response to it though that's going to be effective in a positive way, because unlike some of the other candidates, who I think are, whether it's fair or not, have an aura of being duplicitous and contrived. This guy just shoots from the hip, and is like: 'Yup, I said it. Can't help ya. I'm not going to change it. It was the time. I probably would say it differently today.' He just throws it out there." Brzezinski further stated, "[I]n terms of these issues, and things he said back in 1992, the way he's handling them is brilliant. And ... he's just charming and authentic and honest."

However, during the same Fox News Sunday appearance briefly clipped during the Morning Joe segment, Huckabee denied that he called for a quarantine of AIDS patients in 1992. Huckabee stated: "I didn't say that we should quarantine. I said it was the first time in public health protocols that when we had an infectious disease and we didn't really know just how extensive and how dramatic it could be and the impact of it, that we didn't isolate the carrier." But, as the blog Think Progress noted, according to a December 8 AP article, Huckabee wrote on the 1992 questionnaire:

If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague. It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.

Furthermore, in a December 8 statement responding to the controversy, Huckabee asserted: "There was still too much confusion about HIV transmission in those early years." However, as the December 8 AP article noted, "When Huckabee wrote his answers in 1992, it was common knowledge that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact." A December 9 New York Times article similarly reported, "[B]y the time Mr. Huckabee answered the A.P. survey, it was well established that the virus could not be spread through casual contact." Indeed, as Media Matters for America noted, a December 11, 1991, USA Today article reported that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, AIDS is not "transmitted by casual contact -- including touching, living in the same house, breathing the same air, being coughed on or eating food prepared by an infected person.

In addition, in his December 8 statement, Huckabee asserted that the positions in question were recorded "almost 20 years" ago. In fact, his statements about AIDS on the AP questionnaire were made in 1992 -- much closer to 15 years ago than 20. From the statement:

In the late 80's and early 90's we were still learning about the virus that causes AIDS. My concern, as a Senate candidate at the time, was to deal with the virus using the same public health protocols that medical science and public health professionals would use with any infectious disease.

Before a disease can be cured and contained we need to know exactly how and with near certainty what level of contact transmits the disease. There was still too much confusion about HIV transmission in those early years. Recall that in 1991, Kimberly Bergalis testified in front of Congress after contracting HIV from her dentist, and that summer a study was published showing that HIV was transmitted through breastmilk more easily than had been thought. But the federal government provided some guidelines: Also in 1991 the Centers for Disease Control recommended restrictions on the practice of HIV-positive health care workers.

At the time, there was widespread concern over modes of transmission and the possibility of epidemic. In the absence of conclusive data, my focus was on efforts to limit the exposure of the virus, following traditional medical practices developed from our public health experience and medical science in dealing with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

We now know that the virus that causes AIDS is spread differently, with a lower level of contact than with TB. But looking back almost 20 years, my concern was the uncertain risk to the general population -- if we got it wrong, many people would die needlessly. My concern was safety first, political correctness last.

Additionally, on the December 10 edition of MSNBC Live, after NBC News political director Chuck Todd referred to the AIDS controversy and stated that all three Republican presidential front-runners "are dealing with past baggage," Brzezinski praised Huckabee once more for "dealing with the baggage masterfully."

From the December 11, 1991, USA Today article:

In 1985, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta declared that ''the kind of non-sexual person -to-person contact that generally occurs among workers in the workplace'' does not pose a risk of AIDS transmission.

The human immunodeficiency virus, which causes acquired immune-deficiency syndrome, is extremely fragile and dies easily once outside the body. It is not transmitted through telephones, toilets, machinery, clothing or work surfaces.

Nor is it transmitted by casual contact -- including touching, living in the same house, breathing the same air, being coughed on or eating food prepared by an infected person. Although a few virus particles have been found in saliva or tears, no cases of AIDS have been reported resulting from contact with those fluids. The CDC says the risk of getting HIV from sweat, tears or saliva is almost non-existent.

[...]

AIDS is spread through unprotected sexual contact (anal, oral or vaginal) with an infected person, hypodermic needles used by an infected person and blood or blood products contaminated with HIV. It also can be passed on by an infected woman to her child during pregnancy.

From the December 10 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

GEIST: Let's look at the Republican polls. Let's go into those real quick. Mike Huckabee, 32 to 20 percent in Iowa.

BRZEZINSKI: My gosh!

GEIST: Look at that. Mike Huckabee, 12 percent -- our old friend Mike Huckabee there. Fred Thompson coming in at third -- that's a little progress for him. But also, the big story in South Carolina now, Mike Huckabee neck-and-neck, basically in a statistical tie with Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, but, you know, a lot of the talk has been, he's appealing to people in Iowa, in that state, but now we're seeing it goes beyond Iowa for Mike Huckabee.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, and so, Mike Huckabee, no longer an Iowa story as you look at these South Carolina numbers, and as Tim Russert pointed out, some of the things that have been, I guess, put under the microscope pertaining to Huckabee, the latest information about some comments he made back in 1992 pertaining to AIDS --

GEIST: Yeah.

BRZEZINSKI: -- not necessarily gonna sway the voters in Iowa against him.

GEIST: No, he -- and these comments you're talking about, he answered a questionnaire in 1992 when he was running for Senate, and he said, basically, that "we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague" --

BRZEZINSKI: Wow.

GEIST: -- talking about AIDS. He went on to say that "homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle." Now, these are comments he made 15 years ago. He responded to them yesterday.

HUCKABEE [video clip]: We didn't think that there was a casual transmission. There were studies that showed that, but there were other concerns being voiced by public health officials. Now, would I say things a little differently in 2007? Probably so, but I'm not going to recant or retract from the statement that I did make, because, again, the point was not saying we ought to lock people up who have HIV/AIDS.

GEIST: So, Mika, we've been talking about it. He gets points for confronting this, for being authentic, admitting the mistake, but the fact remains he said it, and it will stick to him with some people.

BRZEZINSKI: I still think it's his response to it, though, that's going to be effective in a positive way, because unlike some of the other candidates, who I think are, whether it's fair or not, have an aura of being duplicitous and contrived. This guy just shoots from the hip, and is like: "Yup, I said it. Can't help ya. I'm not going to change it. It was the time. I probably would say it differently today." He just throws it out there.

GEIST: But that -- so then under that logic, though, you can say anything as long as you were honest about it.

BRZEZINSKI: You know what?

GEIST: You could say that dinosaurs never roamed the Earth.

BRZEZINSKI: I gotta tell you, I hear you. I mean, I think there are some issues with Huckabee that we're going to have to address with him and ask him about foreign policy, because I think those -- that's serious. And if his lack of experience in foreign policy could pose a problem as president, that's something we look at. But in terms of these issues, and things he said back in 1992, the way he's handling them is brilliant. And I'm -- he's just charming and authentic and honest, and I think people find that more refreshing than, quite frankly, whatever views they want to hear on certain issues.

From the 9 a.m. ET hour of the December 10 edition of MSNBC Live:

BRZEZINSKI: A new MSNBC/McClatchy poll shows Republican Mike Huckabee has come out of nowhere to take the lead in two of the first three primary states. I think he has a 12-point lead in Iowa --

TODD: Stunning.

BRZEZINSKI: -- and a 3-point lead in South Carolina. It is stunning. However, I'm just wondering also at this point if the Republican Party and then voters there haven't found themselves yet, and I mean, has Huckabee turned this race upside-down, or is it still an open field do you think?

TODD: Well, he has, but I think it's absolutely an open field. I mean, is Huckabee or -- are these folks flocking to Huckabee? Or is he sort of "none of the above"?

BRZEZINSKI: Right.

TODD: And it does feel like that he might be "none of the above." It's now up to him to close the sale, and the fact is, you know, all of a sudden we're getting, you know, he's now on Day Eight of what's really been a candidate playing defense. I mean, the only positive news in the last week for Mike Huckabee has been these polls, whether it was the poll last week that showed him up some 20 points, ours that shows him up double digits outside the margin of error, the only candidate in either party up outside the margin of error in one of these early states. But he's having to suddenly deal with his past, whether it was his past statements about AIDS in '92, or whatever.

What's interesting is the entire Republican -- all three of the Republican front-runners, if we're going to call Mike Huckabee a front-runner now, Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, all three of them have had to deal with -- are dealing with past baggage.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

TODD: And the question is: Which one of them is going to overcome that baggage best?

BRZEZINSKI: My take is Mike Huckabee so far is dealing with the baggage masterfully. I mean, just --

TODD: Well, he is the most skilled orator, and I think it's coming across.

BRZEZINSKI: He's coming across for sure. Chuck Todd, thanks very much. Look forward to more from you.

Posted In
Elections, Health Care, HIV/AIDS
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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