Blitzer, Hannity praised Steele's "spectacular" and "principled" campaign, ignoring misleading campaign tactics

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge the assertion of Michael Steele, a losing Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Maryland, that he "did not see ... until a couple of days after the fact" a flier that misleadingly referred to "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats" and falsely suggested that certain prominent African-American Maryland Democrats endorsed Steele and Republican Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Both Blitzer and Sean Hannity praised Steele's campaign in their interviews with him without noting Steele's 10-point margin of defeat.

On the November 15 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge outgoing Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's (R) assertion that he "did not see ... until a couple of days after the fact" a flier labeled "Democratic Sample Ballot" that referred to "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats" and falsely suggested that certain prominent African-American Maryland Democrats endorsed Steele for Senate and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for re-election. In fact, several of the Democrats listed on the flier had endorsed Steele's Democratic opponent, and none of them had endorsed Ehrlich. Steele previously took credit for the flier on the November 12 edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal, asserting: "[T]hat's the same tactic Democrats have used in previous campaigns against each other, and I've borrowed from that."

Blitzer also left unchallenged Steele's baseless claim that "[t]he Dems have engaged in such behavior in the past," failing to ask for the names of Democratic candidates who have distributed campaign materials that suggest they are Republicans and falsely listed prominent Republicans as supporting their campaigns. Rather, Blitzer let Steele assert that "I looked -- look America in the eye, I looked my state in the eye and said, 'This is who I am, this is what I believe and I want to go to the United States Senate.' " Blitzer also did not mention Steele's bumper stickers and signs that read "Steele Democrat," with the word "Democrat" in smaller type beneath the word "Steele."

Additionally, Blitzer praised Steele's campaign without noting that he lost by 10 percentage points. On The Situation Room, Blitzer failed to challenge Steele's false claim that "we were competitive. The final number [margin of defeat] is like seven points." Instead, Blitzer introduced Steele as "a winner to a lot of Republicans, indeed, to a lot of Americans," and told Steele "you've got to feel like you emerged as a winner because ... you really did run a spectacular campaign in a very Blue State like Maryland."

Blitzer also did not question Steele's defense of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS). Steele said that Lott's praise of Sen. Strom Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregationist presidential campaign at Thurmond's 100th birthday party was simply a matter of Lott "get[ting] caught up in the moment." Steele added that "[f]olks know where his heart is, and I think he's going to be a good leader in the Senate." Blitzer failed to note Lott's pattern of public statements and actions that were attacked as racially insensitive and, in several cases, as indicating support for racist entities, as Media Matters has documented.

Prior to the midterm elections, various media reports noted Steele and Ehrlich's misleading "Democratic Sample Ballot" fliers. For instance, according to a November 7 Associated Press report, fliers handed out on Election Day, "[u]nder the heading 'Democratic Sample Ballot,' ... urge[d] voters to select Ehrlich for governor and Steele, his lieutenant governor, for U.S. Senate." The AP reported that Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the fliers were "paid for in part by the Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee, as well as the Steele committee, as well as the Maryland GOP." Additionally, a November 9 Washington Post article noted that the flier was "[e]ntitled 'Ehrlich-Steele Democrats,'" and "pictured three influential Democrats -- Wayne K. Curry, Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and [former NAACP president] Kweisi Mfume -- and said at the bottom, 'These are OUR choices.' " The Post article noted that "Curry had endorsed Steele," but incorrectly asserted that Mfume and Johnson had not "endorsed either candidate." A November 8 Washington Post article noted that "In fact, Johnson and Mfume endorsed Steele's opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), as well as Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Ehrlich's Democratic rival for governor."

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Moreover, according to The Washington Post, "the GOP campaigns had bused in poll workers from Philadelphia," who later reportedly stated they believed they were supporting Democrats, to hand out the misleading fliers. In a November 8 Post article, DeLeaver "said the group 'Democrats for Ehrlich' arranged for distribution of the fliers." Steele spokesman Doug Heye said: "Our campaign hasn't brought in anyone from Philadelphia. It's not anything our campaign has been involved in. I don't know anything about that." A November 13 Post article described the buses as "motorcoaches draped in Ehrlich and Steele campaign banners," and reported that the campaign workers were greeted by "Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s wife, Kendel." A November 8 Baltimore Sun article reported that two of the "out-of-state volunteers" who handed out the fliers were Philadelphia residents Sylvia Haines, who "felt as though she had been duped into working for Republicans," and James Cooke, who "thought he was working for Democrats." The Sun also said, "The practice was also employed by Ehrlich during the 2002 election" when Steele was Ehrlich's running mate. A November 1 article in The New Republic noted of the 2002 campaign:

Campaign aides went to predominately black Bowie State College and to Washington, D.C.'s largest homeless shelter to hire African Americans to campaign for Ehrlich and Steele on election day. They didn't try to win them over politically; they offered them between $100 and $150 and free meals to pretend they were backing Ehrlich.

At Washington's homeless shelter, the campaign workers were instructed to say they were "volunteers" and to conceal that they were getting paid. They were told to go into black areas of Prince George's County and tell voters that by electing Ehrlich, they would give Maryland its first African American lieutenant governor. At Bowie State, students who agreed to campaign were given shirts with "Democrats for Ehrlich" written on them and a picture of Steele. One student who was recruited told The Baltimore Sun, "They had young African-Americans standing out there like we were supporting him, when they know most African-Americans are Democrats."

As Media Matters for America noted, the Post reported on September 24 that at a rally in Baltimore, "Steele supporters waved signs and grabbed bumper stickers that said 'Steele Democrat.' " The signs and bumper stickers are, like Steele's website and other campaign gear, blue -- the color that came to represent the Democratic Party in the 2004 election -- and the word "Democrat" appears in smaller type beneath the word "Steele."

As Media Matters noted, on the November 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Blitzer failed to challenge Steele's assertion that "I'm the only candidate that's required in this race to put his party affiliation ... on the placard" by noting Steele's "Steele Democrat" campaign paraphernalia. Blitzer also failed to ask Steele to clarify his conflicting positions on the war in Iraq.

Similarly, on the November 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity told Steele that he had run "one of the best, one of the funniest, one of the most principled campaigns this year" without noting the "Democratic Sample Ballot," the "Steele Democrats" materials, or Steele's 10-point margin of defeat. Hannity also allowed Steele to make the false claim that "when you look at the leadership of our state now -- all white males -- [it] is not representative of the party at all." In fact, Anthony Brown, who will replace Steele as Maryland lieutenant governor, is an African-American. Rather than point this out in response to Steele's assertion, Hannity asked about the "percentage of the African-American vote" that Steele won (25 percent), a figure Hannity deemed indicative that there are "still racial issues" in Maryland.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the November 15 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: He lost his bid for a Senate seat, but Maryland's lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, remains a winner to a lot of Republicans; indeed, to a lot of Americans. He's joining us here in The Situation Room.

I can't say congratulations to you because you lost, but you've got to feel like you emerged as a winner because --

STEELE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- you really did run a spectacular campaign in a very Blue State like Maryland.

STEELE: It is a Blue State, a tough climate, and it was -- it was just poisonous throughout the year. But we had a conversation with Maryland. We got a significant number of African-Americans to come and support the effort, at 25 percent, the largest ever. And so, we were competitive. The final number is like seven points. And you consider some of the incumbents who lost on the Republican side by double digits in much more favorable climates and states than Maryland, I think we did pretty well.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little politics because -- I've got a bunch of issues I want to go through.


BLITZER: Trent Lott, the comeback kid we're calling him --

STEELE: I know. I know.

BLITZER: -- in the Senate today. He's going to be the minority whip. Four years ago, he made some controversial comments, as you well remember, about Strom Thurmond --


BLITZER: -- and he had to step down as the majority leader. What do you make of this?

STEELE: I think, I think -- you know, again, that episode behind him. I think he -- he asked for forgiveness and received it from the party and from the country. And I think he's going to make a good leader in the Senate.

BLITZER: Do you forgive him?

STEELE: Absolutely. I mean, look, you can't hold stuff like that against him. It was a birthday event, you know? The guy's sitting there in the chair. What are you going to say? You say nice things. You get caught up in the moment. Folks know where his heart is, and I think he's going to be a good leader in the Senate.

BLITZER: Some people are floating your name right now as a leader in the Bush cabinet, perhaps, if there is an opening, or maybe some other job. What are you looking at right now?

STEELE: Well, you know, I'm taking time to get reacquainted with my wife and the kids. You know, it's funny to see your picture on the refrigerator saying, "Anyone see this man, send him home," you know? So we're taking some time right now, just sort of down time. And then we'll have conversations with whoever wants to have a conversation.

BLITZER: Has anyone from the White House approached you yet?


BLITZER: So you're ready to move on. One of the things that some pundits suggested -- had you decided to run in Maryland against Ben Cardin not as a Republican, but as an independent --

STEELE: Right. Right.

BLITZER: -- in other words, take the [Sen.] Joe Lieberman route [CT] --

STEELE: Right. Right.

BLITZER: -- were you ever thinking of doing that?

STEELE: No, because, you know, that would be -- I couldn't walk away from the values that drew me to the party in the first place. And, yeah, the party was -- it was tough being a Republican in this cycle, and I made comments to that effect earlier in the year, and it was borne out on Tuesday a week ago.

But at the end of the day, I want to see this party succeed. I want to see a viable two-party system in Maryland. I think it's healthy for the state. I think it's important for governance purposes. And so I will continue to build that out and do the same nationally, because I think our party right now needs to pick itself up, look each other in the eye and say, "We're going that way, and we want to take America with us."

BLITZER: There was some hanky-panky in this campaign. There's always a little dirty tricks going on.

STEELE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

BLITZER: That ballot that was distributed -- you saw that, right?

STEELE: I saw that after the fact.

BLITZER: We put it up there behind you.

STEELE: Right. Yeah.

BLITZER: And it had a Democratic sample ballot. The Washington Post reported it. And it had you listed as U.S. Senator Michael Steele.


BLITZER: Did you have anything to do with this?

STEELE: No, we didn't. No, not at all. Not at all. In fact, I did not see that ballot until a couple days after the fact. I heard about it during the Election Day but did not really see it until a couple of days later. And, like you just said, those things are tactics that are done. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. The Dems have engaged in such behavior in the past. And so we're -- you know, people were upset about it --

BLITZER: But you denounce this kind of tactic?

STEELE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean at the end of the day, it's silly. And it doesn't really achieve the objectives that you want anyway because people are smart enough to figure out, you know, who's on their -- who's on the Democratic ballot.

BLITZER: Is there anything, looking back -- because we're almost out of time -- you wish you would have done that you think could have made a difference?

STEELE: No. I don't have any regrets about this. Man, I put it all out there. I ran hard. I looked -- look America in the eye, I looked my state in the eye and said this is who I am, this is what I believe, and I want to go to the United States Senate, trust me to get something done.

It's nice to hear everybody talking the "Kumbaya" language now. Now it's time for them to step up and get something done. And that's what people in this country want.

BLITZER: He's a star in the Republican Party.

From the November 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: The voice of the Democratic Party, DNC chairman Howard Dean, warns Democrats that they need to encourage more black candidates so they, quote, "do not have another Michael Steele problem in Maryland," end quote. So what is Dean suggesting? Here to respond is the Maryland lieutenant governor, Michael Steele. By the way, I want to -- I want to praise you, Lieutenant Governor. You ran, I think, one of the best, one of the funniest, one of the most principled campaigns this year. I wish the outcome were a little bit different, but I really credit you.

STEELE: Thanks, Sean.

HANNITY: Your ads were some of the best I've seen in politics, so I'm sorry you lost.

STEELE: Thanks, man.

HANNITY: What do you think of this comment by Howard Dean?

STEELE: Well, I found it rather amusing. I mean, you know, Howard Dean has put his foot in his mouth so many times when it comes to the black community and the African-American vote, from the very first day of his chairmanship when he referred to African-American hotel workers and to the present. He just doesn't know how to deal with us. And he doesn't know what to make of someone like myself, who has his own views of the world that are very different from his and very different from the mindset that he's a part of. And what I think folks need to recognize in Maryland, for example, is that the problem isn't Michael Steele. The problem is the Howard Deans of the Democratic Party who feel that, you know, you know, we're a monolithic people that, you know, because there's a "D" behind your name that you follow lockstep. And when you look at the leadership of our state now, all white males, is not representative of the party at all, so, you know, I find it somewhat amusing and, you know --

HANNITY: Let me ask you this.


HANNITY: There are still racial issues. What percentage of the African-American vote did you get in your estimation, about 25 percent?

STEELE: Twenty-five percent is a record in the state's history for a Republican candidate to get that much.

Posted In
Fox News Channel, CNN
Sean Hannity, Wolf Blitzer
Hannity & Colmes, The Situation Room
2006 Elections
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