MSNBC's O'Donnell failed to identify Matalin as Allen campaign adviser, misrepresented recent polls


During the November 7 edition of MSNBC's Decision 2006: Battleground America, host Norah O'Donnell did not identify Republican political strategist Mary Matalin as an adviser to the campaign of incumbent Sen. George Allen (R-VA), despite a question from O'Donnell about potential "monkey business" in the Virginia Senate race. As Matalin denied the charge "that Republicans are engaged in dirty tricks in Virginia," on-screen text throughout the interview identified Matalin simply as a "Republican strategist." As Media Matters for America has noted, Chris Cillizza, editor of's political weblog The Fix, wrote in an April 6 post that Matalin had "join[ed] Team Allen" to "oversee fundraising for the Allen Victory Committee. Funds raised for the state GOP will go to get-out-the-vote efforts, according to Allen chief of staff Dick Wadhams." On October 29, the Allen campaign issued a press release in which Matalin, who was identified as an "informal advisor to the Allen campaign," attacked Allen's Democratic opponent, former Navy Secretary James Webb.

Earlier in the interview, O'Donnell failed to challenge Matalin's claim that "[i]f you look at all the polls from over the weekend, it shows that it's closed considerably." As Media Matters noted, while some polls do show the gap between Republicans and Democrats has narrowed to seven percentage points or lower, several other recent polls -- including those from Time, CNN, and Newsweek -- show Democrats with a lead in excess of 15 percentage points over Republicans. The two most recent polls, from CNN and Fox News, show Democrats with double-digit leads. Later, during an interview with Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, O'Donnell noted a Pew Research Center poll, which shows the generic congressional race tightening, but again failed to note any of the polls that show Democrats with at least a 15-point lead in the generic congressional poll. She then left unchallenged Mehlman's claim that "you've had four public polls that have come out in the last 48 hours all showing big Republican gains, showing the generic ballot between Republicans and Democrats cut in half."

From the 10 a.m. ET hour of the November 7 edition of MSNBC's Decision 2006: Battleground America:

O'DONNELL: But first we're joined by Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Mary, good to see you.

MATALIN: Miss O'Donnell, good morning. Happy voting day.

O'DONNELL: Happy voting day to you. First I want to ask you about the general landscape today. All the great political prognosticators out there say that it looks like the Democrats will retake the House, and in the Senate, it is going to be very close. Why has this year been so tough for Republicans?

MATALIN: Well, all the prognosticators have been proved slightly off the mark from where they were last week, which was a tsunami, a wave, the Republicans were going to be wiped out. If you look at all the polls from over the weekend that it's closed considerably. And races that are in the margin of error, which are many, particularly those in the House. And we've seen independents and moderates switching. We've seen the job approval of the president and on Iraq, approval of Iraq going up. We've seen the generic ballot close, so we've seen -- and we've seen conservatives come home, which they always do. So the prognosticators of last week are hedging their bets this morning.


O'DONNELL: Mary, let me ask you about -- I know you live in Virginia, of course you're a voter there -- about what's going on now. Democrats say that Republicans are engaged in dirty tricks in Virginia. Is that what's going to be this about later tonight? That we're going to find out that there was a lot of money business going on?

MATALIN: Whoa, there's a big surprise. I have been doing this for 26 years. I've never been in an Election Day where Democrats didn't charge if they lose it's because of some kind of fraud. We put $4 billion into improving the voting machines and all of that business. This is a perennial charge. It's not happening. People are working like crazy out there to get out the vote. And Virginia is a 50 -- well, is, you know -- Allen has won by narrow margins there, but he does have a long history. People know him there, and they know his record of accomplishments from high tech to education. And, you know, he'll be able to get it out. But it's a changing demographics [sic] in that state, and it's going to be close.


O'DONNELL: Ken, I know under your leadership, the RNC has certainly been touting that you believe there is more enthusiasm in the final week among Republican voters, that you have closed the gap to some degree, perhaps limited your losses in many of these races, that according to the Pew poll. But do you acknowledge, though, that the House is pretty much gone at this point?

MEHLMAN: I do not. I think that there are a number of races, probably 30 races that are jump-ball races and the margin of error right now, and we'll see how those races actually turn out.

O'DONNELL: Can you be specific? Because many people might hear you say that and say, "Are they just trying to be optimistic?"

MEHLMAN: No, I mean, I can be specific --

O'DONNELL: What specifically gives you optimism that Republicans will be able to limit losses?

MEHLMAN: A couple things. One is the fact that you've had four public polls that have come out in the last 48 hours all showing big Republican gains, showing the generic ballot between Republicans and Democrats cut in half. If you average those polls, the generic ballot is 6 percent for the Democrats, the same place it was in '98 when you fundamentally had a status-quo election.

Posted In
Mary Matalin, Norah O'Donnell
2006 Elections, Polling
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