MSNBC's O'Donnell claimed Penn "on his own brought up cocaine" -- but Matthews started conversation

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

On the December 13 edition of Tucker, Norah O'Donnell asserted that during the same day's Hardball, Clinton adviser Mark Penn "once again brought up cocaine -- twice" in relation to Sen. Barack Obama and later claimed that Penn "on his own brought up cocaine." In fact, the entire Hardball segment was devoted to controversial remarks regarding Obama's past drug use made by Clinton's campaign co-chair, who later resigned. Chris Matthews explicitly asked Penn at least three distinct questions about the topic, and Penn had offered at least two specific responses before he used the word "cocaine."

During the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, guest host Norah O'Donnell highlighted an exchange from the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball in which host Chris Matthews interviewed Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) chief strategist, David Axelrod, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) chief strategist, Mark Penn, and adviser to former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) Joe Trippi. Matthews and his guests discussed controversial remarks about Obama's past drug use made by William Shaheen, a Clinton campaign co-chair who subsequently resigned. O'Donnell asserted that Penn "once again brought up cocaine -- twice" and later claimed that Penn "on his own brought up cocaine." In fact, contrary to O'Donnell's assertion that Penn "on his own brought up cocaine," the entire Hardball segment was devoted to the controversy over Shaheen's comments. Matthews explicitly asked Penn at least three distinct questions about the topic, and Penn had offered at least two specific responses before he used the word "cocaine." Moreover, the video clip of the Hardball exchange aired on Tucker did not include any of Matthews' questions and began with Penn's third distinct answer, the first in which he mentioned "cocaine."

Talking Points Memo blogger-reporter Greg Sargent made these same points in response to an article by New York Times reporter Katharine Q. Seelye, which contained the following sentence: "They argued with one another, and it was there that Mr. Penn dropped the word 'cocaine,' saying that the Clinton campaign had not raised the issue of 'cocaine use.' " Sargent wrote:

It's hard to overstate how reckless this representation of the facts is. Seelye simply tells you that the advisers "argued" without saying what they argued about -- and then says Penn dropped the "cocaine" word, suggesting he brought up the drug question out of nowhere.

But if you watch the actual exchange, which is posted over at Taylor Marsh's site, you see that virtually the entire segment was about the drug flap, and that they'd been talking about the drug thing for literally minutes before Penn said "cocaine." Even if you want to read something into Penn using the word "cocaine," rather than "drug," failing to tell readers that this whole conversation was about the drug flap is a blatant misrepresentation of what happened. And no, slugging this a "news analysis" doesn't make it okay -- this is a factual misrepresentation, and it is the key piece of evidence offered to support the entire speculative premise of the piece, i.e., that the Hillary camp wants to keep this alive.

Matthews first asked Penn, "Mark, given the fact that this has reached into the spin room today and there were several questions to David Axelrod about whether his candidate, Senator Obama, has in fact shared or sold drugs, do you expect the Republicans to use this against the Democrats, no matter who wins the election -- the nomination fight, I should say?" Penn replied, "Oh, I don't know," before going on to say: "I'm really disappointed. I think this thing with Billy Shaheen, he's stepped down. It was never a part of this campaign. It was unacceptable."

Matthews then asked Penn, "Did you tell him to step down? Did you tell him to step down? It took 24 hours for him to do it. Do you think he did it in time to stop this from becoming a story?" Penn replied: "I think this story is over. I think we made it very clear yesterday that we didn't condone it. We weren't part of these -- of the story that he went on with. And we absolutely apologized. And the senator went on the tarmac of the airport as we were all coming down to this debate and apologized personally, because this is not part of her campaign."

Matthews continued, asking Penn: "These comments that are coming out of your campaign from different directions -- and I'm not sure how they're coming, and nobody does -- but going after his perhaps youthful drug use, which he admitted in his book, and going after comments he made as a student and as a kindergarten student in fifth -- at the age of 5, I should say, do you think those are appropriate shots at the opponent, or are they below the belt?" It was in response to this third question that Penn said: "Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising, and I think that's been made clear." In total, Penn answered questions from Matthews and spoke for 1 minute and 43 seconds from the time he responded to Matthews' first question until he said the word "cocaine."

Matthews began the segment with Axelrod, Penn, and Trippi by asking Axelrod, "[A]re you satisfied with the explanation from the Hillary Clinton campaign that the comment by Mr. Shaheen about drug use by your candidate was not something coming from the top?"

From the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

O'DONNELL: But this was a big issue on Hardball tonight. And Mark Penn, who is Senator Clinton's chief strategist, was on Hardball, and he once again brought up cocaine -- twice. Take a listen.

[begin video clip]

PENN: Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising, and I think that's been made clear.

I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator --

TRIPPI: I think he just did it again. He just did it again.

PENN: This kindergarten thing, after what the senator did --

TRIPPI: Unbelievable. They just literally --

[crosstalk]

PENN: Excuse me.

TRIPPI: No, no. No, no, Mark, excuse me.

PENN: Excuse me. Excuse me

TRIPPI: This guy's been filibustering on this. He just said "cocaine" again. It's like --

PENN: I think you're saying "cocaine."

TRIPPI: No, no.

PENN: I don't know. I think you're saying "cocaine."

[crosstalk]

TRIPPI: You just did it.

PENN: I don't know why you're saying it.

[crosstalk]

MATTHEWS: OK, Joe Trippi's turn.

[end video clip]

O'DONNELL: That, of course, is Bill Trippi who is with -- Joe Trippi, rather --

BILL PRESS (nationally syndicated radio host) : Joe Trippi, right.

O'DONNELL: -- who is with the Edwards campaign, and Axelrod, who is with the Obama campaign. But Mark Penn, the chief strategist, on his own brought up cocaine. What does that tell you, Bill?

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, David Axelrod, are you satisfied with the explanation from the Hillary Clinton campaign that the comment by Mr. Shaheen about drug use by your candidate was not something coming from the top?

AXELROD: Look, I have no way of knowing that. They say that, and we have to accept them at their word. I'll say this, Chris. When you, when you launch a negative attack and you say that this is the fun part of the campaign, you send a signal down the line to others in the campaign that leads to this kind of thing.

And so whether or not there was an instruction to Mr. Shaheen, I think it's important that a signal get sent right from the top of the campaign that this isn't encouraged, that it's not the fun part of the campaign, that we ought to be lifting up this country instead of trying to tear each other down.

MATTHEWS: Are you serving notice by your comment right now and your comment in the spin room that any further negative attack or suggestion by one of the Clinton people will come from Hillary?

AXELROD: Well, I -- I'm not suggesting that, Chris. But I will say this. Unless there's a strong, consistent signal from the top, unless we refrain from saying things like, "Negative campaigning is the fun part of the campaign," you're going to have that happening. There's sort of -- it's sort of a wink-and-a-nod thing. Everybody down the line says, "Oh, well, this is what this is about."

So, I would think that it would be important for all the candidates to send a strong signal to their troops that this isn't where we're going go with this campaign. We're not going take it into the gutter.

MATTHEWS: Mark, given the fact that this has reached into the spin room today and there were several questions to David Axelrod about whether his candidate, Senator Obama, has in fact shared or sold drugs, do you expect the Republicans to use this against the Democrats, no matter who wins the election -- the nomination fight, I should say?

PENN: Oh, I don't know. I think, though, I'm very disappointed by David's comments. I mean, you know, he's trying to rewrite history here. It is his candidate, Senator Barack Obama, on the front page of The New York Times that called Senator Clinton disingenuous.

He started a wave of direct, personal negative attacks. And the senator finally began to reply very substantively that his plan leaves out 15 million people, whereas hers covers every single person. And he kept bringing up an Iran vote that he, in fact, skipped.

So, I'm really disappointed. I think this thing with Billy Shaheen, he's stepped down. It was never a part of this campaign. It was unacceptable.

MATTHEWS: Did you tell him to step down?

PENN: The senator made that clear.

No, he stepped down. And he made clear --

MATTHEWS: Did you tell him to step down? It took 24 hours for him to do it.

Do you think he did it in time --

PENN: No. No.

MATTHEWS: -- to stop this from becoming a story?

PENN: I think this story is over. I think we made it very clear yesterday that we didn't condone it. We weren't part of these -- of the story that he went on with.

And we absolutely apologized. And the senator went on the tarmac of the airport as we were all coming down to this debate and apologized personally, because this is not part of her campaign.

MATTHEWS: Right.

PENN: And I think it's very important. She has been running a year-long positive campaign in which she's out there talking about ending the Iraq war and health care for all.

MATTHEWS: These comments that are coming out of your campaign from different directions -- and I'm not sure how they're coming, and nobody does -- but going after his perhaps youthful drug use, which he admitted in his book, and going after comments he made as a student and as a kindergarten student in fifth -- at the age of 5, I should say, do you think those are appropriate shots at the opponent, or are they below the belt?

PENN: Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising, and I think that's been made clear.

I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator --

TRIPPI: I think he just did it again. He just did it again.

PENN: This kindergarten thing, after what the senator did --

TRIPPI: Unbelievable. They just literally --

[crosstalk]

PENN: Excuse me.

TRIPPI: No, no. No, no, Mark, excuse me.

PENN: Excuse me. Excuse me

TRIPPI: This guy's been filibustering on this. He just said "cocaine" again. It's like --

PENN: I think you're saying "cocaine."

TRIPPI: No, no.

PENN: I don't know. I think you're saying "cocaine."

[crosstalk]

TRIPPI: You just did it.

PENN: I don't know why you're saying it.

[crosstalk]

MATTHEWS: OK, Joe Trippi's turn.

[crosstalk]

TRIPPI: No.

MATTHEWS: Joe Trippi's turn.

Posted In
Elections
Person
Norah O'Donnell
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live, Tucker
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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