Ignoring key facts, MSNBC's Witt agreed with Freddoso that Obama's opponents in 1996 race were disqualified on a "technicality"

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

During an interview with David Freddoso, MSNBC's Alex Witt baselessly adopted a word Freddoso used to describe how Sen. Barack Obama challenged his opponents' qualifications for appearing on the ballot of the 1996 Illinois state Senate Democratic primary for the 13th district, saying that Obama's opponents were disqualified on a "technicality." In fact, one of Obama's opponents in that 1996 race reportedly admitted that he "now suspects" some of the signatures his campaign collected were forged, while another reportedly had some of her signatures disqualified because they were from voters who lived outside the 13th district -- facts Witt did not raise during the interview.

During an August 6 MSNBC Live interview with David Freddoso, author of the recently released book The Case Against Barack Obama (Regnery), anchor Alex Witt baselessly adopted a word Freddoso used to describe how Sen. Barack Obama challenged his opponents' qualifications for appearing on the ballot of the 1996 Illinois state Senate Democratic primary for the 13th district, saying that Obama's opponents were disqualified on a "technicality." In fact, one of Obama's opponents in that 1996 race reportedly admitted that he "now suspects" some of the signatures his campaign collected were forged, while another reportedly had some of her signatures disqualified because they were from voters who lived outside the 13th district -- facts Witt did not raise during the interview.

From Witt's interview with Freddoso:

WITT: I'm gonna get right into this with you here, David, because, in the beginning, you're accusing Barack Obama of having thrown all of his opponents off the ballot -- this during his run for Illinois Senate back in 1996.

FREDDOSO: Yes, that's right.

WITT: Now, these were eliminated because apparently some signatures they were mandated to have, they were declared invalid. A technicality --

FREDDOSO: Yes.

WITT: Absolutely.

FREDDOSO: Right.

WITT: But --

FREDDOSO: Perfectly, you know, perfectly legal, this sort of thing is done. What's interesting particularly, though, in this case is that Senator Obama begins The Audacity of Hope, by -- his book -- by describing how he had gone around the wards of Chicago's South Side and told everybody, hey, don't be cynical about politics. Politics is worthwhile. We can accomplish something if we work together. And then, what he says in the book is, I don't know if they loved the speech that much but they liked it enough that they made me their senator. Well, in fact, they made him their senator because they didn't have a choice on the ballot. Senator Obama sent his volunteers in to challenge thousands and thousands of signatures. Even once they'd thrown the incumbent state senator off the ballot, that wasn't enough. They decided they would challenge over 1,000 more signatures and throw even the hapless perennial candidate off the ballot as well.

However, in his book, Freddoso undermines his own assertion that the "incumbent state senator" he referred to during the interview, then-state Sen. Alice Palmer, was "thrown ... off the ballot" on a "technicality," by quoting from a 1996 Chicago Weekend article explaining that Palmer's signatures were disqualified because some of the voters who signed lived outside the 13th district -- a fact Witt did not mention. Additionally, Tribune reporter David Mendell wrote in his book Obama: From Promise to Power (Amistad, August 2007) that Palmer acknowledged at the time that her signatures had not been properly collected.

Further, while Freddoso did not name the "hapless perennial candidate" he referred to in the interview, on Page 3 of his book, he cites an April 4, 2007, Chicago Tribune article that described Gha-is Askia as "a perennially unsuccessful candidate" who was stricken from the ballot in 1996 following a challenge by Obama. However, while uncritically repeating Freddoso's claim that Palmer and Askia were disqualified because of a mere "technicality," Witt also did not mention that the same 2007 Tribune article Freddoso references in his book also reported that Askia "now suspects" some of the signatures his campaign collected were forged, as Media Matters for America has noted.

Media Matters has documented numerous other pieces of misinformation in The Case Against Barack Obama.

During a later discussion about Freddoso's book with Democratic National Committee senior adviser Jamal Simmons, Witt said: "[O]ne main point in this book is that Barack Obama is much more liberal than people think. And the National Journal reported back in January that Obama voted liberally in 65 out of 66 votes that were posed to him. They say that is proof that he is the most liberal senator in the country. Is that a problem?" Simmons responded: "Well, there are a lot of arguments about which votes were included in that designation when the National Journal did it. And in fact, depending on how you do the calculation, that's not necessarily the case." Indeed, contrary to Witt's assertion, the National Journal did not evaluate all of the votes "posed to" Obama, but rather based its rankings on a group of votes "selected by NJ reporters and editors, to place every senator on a liberal-to-conservative scale." In contrast, a study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis, using every non-unanimous vote cast in the Senate in 2007 to determine relative ideology, placed Obama in a tie for the 10th most liberal senator.

From Page 3 of The Case Against Barack Obama:

They had thrown an incumbent state senator off the ballot.

While they were at it, Obama's campaign got the other three candidates disqualified as well.

One of them was Gha-is Askia. He never had much of a chance of winning anyway, but he had gathered 1,899 signatures, and Team Obama took the time to challenge them as well.6 Askia spoke to the Chicago Tribune in 2007 about it:

"Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates?" Askia said. "He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?"

From the 10 a.m. ET hour of the August 6 edition of MSNBC Live:

WITT: Back to politics, though -- Barack Obama isn't just battling John McCain these days, he's fighting allegations in a pair of new books. These kinds of attacks hurt John Kerry last time around but they may be particularly tricky for a political newcomer like Obama. So, is this a case of swift-boating all over again? David Freddoso is the author of the book, The Case Against Barack Obama, and David joins me now. Good morning to you.

FREDDOSO: Good morning, Alex.

WITT: I'm gonna get right into this with you here, David, because, in the beginning, you're accusing Barack Obama of having thrown all of his opponents off the ballot -- this during his run for Illinois Senate back in 1996.

FREDDOSO: Yes, that's right.

WITT: Now, these were eliminated because apparently some signatures they were mandated to have, they were declared invalid. A technicality --

FREDDOSO: Yes.

WITT: Absolutely.

FREDDOSO: Right.

WITT: But --

FREDDOSO: Perfectly, you know, perfectly legal, this sort of thing is done. What's interesting particularly, though, in this case is that Senator Obama begins The Audacity of Hope, by -- his book -- by describing how he had gone around the wards of Chicago's South Side and told everybody, hey, don't be cynical about politics. Politics is worthwhile. We can accomplish something if we work together. And then, what he says in the book is, I don't know if they loved the speech that much but they liked it enough that they made me their senator. Well, in fact, they made him their senator because they didn't have a choice on the ballot. Senator Obama sent his volunteers in to challenge thousands and thousands of signatures. Even once they'd thrown the incumbent state senator off the ballot, that wasn't enough. They decided they would challenge over 1,000 more signatures and throw even the hapless perennial candidate off the ballot as well.

WITT: And so, what's your interpretation of that in here?

FREDDOSO: Well, you know, Senator Obama has created this media image of himself as someone who stands for hope and change and an end to cynicism. But getting all your opponents thrown off the ballot so you can run unopposed doesn't necessarily seem to match with that message that he -- and that image that he's created.

[...]

WITT: David Freddoso, this book is called The Case Against Barack Obama. Thanks for sharing part of it. You might want to stick around because we're going to bring in right now Jamal Simmons, who is senior adviser for the Democratic National Committee. And Jamal joins me to talk about this. Jamal, you listened to the interview, I presume, with David here, and I know the argument from David Freddoso is that Obama has essentially gotten a free pass up to this point. What do you say to that?

SIMMONS: I think Barack Obama would argue with the free pass comment. It's been a pretty tough and long year and a half of campaigning for Barack Obama. The American public has gotten to know him fairly well over the course of these last couple years. And listen, I don't think it's in anybody's interest for us to be trying to sell books for David Freddoso and Regnery press, and the same group of people who put out some of this hateful stuff about John Kerry four years ago. This just does not -- is not the kind of debate the American public is really looking for right now when they are facing high gas prices and 51,000 people have lost jobs, and John McCain is arguing with Paris Hilton about energy, you know. I mean, this is not the kind of adult conversation that I think the American public has signed up for in this campaign.

WITT: OK. Then, Jamal, how about this angle of things? Because one main point in this book is that Barack Obama is much more liberal than people think. And the National Journal reported back in January that Obama voted liberally in 65 out of 66 votes that were posed to him. They say that is proof that he is the most liberal senator in the country. Is that a problem?

SIMMONS: Well, there are a lot of arguments about which votes were included in that designation when the National Journal did it. And in fact, depending on how you do the calculation, that's not necessarily the case. But if Republicans are calling a Democratic nominee for president liberal, I'm not sure that's exactly news.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Alex Witt, David Freddoso
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
Stories/Interests
Freddoso's "The Case Against Obama"
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