MSNBC discussed Giuliani's attack on Democrats over terrorism, did not question Giuliani's own record on terrorism

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On the April 25 edition of MSNBC Live, hosts Norah O'Donnell and Chris Jansing discussed an April 24 speech by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) in which he asserted that if a Democrat is elected president in 2008, "[W]e are going on defense" in combating terrorism. Giuliani further stated, "If we are on defense, we will have more losses and it will go on longer." But in discussing the strategy behind Giuliani's argument, neither O'Donnell and Jansing nor their respective guests -- McClatchy Washington Bureau chief political correspondent Steven Thomma and U.S. News & World Report chief White House correspondent Kenneth Walsh -- noted questions surrounding Giuliani's record on the issues of terrorism and national security, which Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented. Indeed, in a speech televised on MSNBC less than an hour before O'Donnell's segment, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) appeared to make reference to Giuliani's questionable record on those issues.

In the speech, in which McCain officially announced his presidential bid, he appeared to attack Giuliani's record on emergency preparedness, as blogger Atrios (Media Matters Senior Fellow Duncan Black) noted. New York Times reporters Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper wrote: "McCain sought to undercut what had been the former mayor's biggest political claim to fame -- his stewardship of New York City after the attacks of Sept. 11 -- by noting the problems with firefighters' radios on the day of the attack that made it impossible for city authorities to order rescue workers out of the Twin Towers." An April 26 Los Angeles Times article further reported that McCain "alluded to accusations by Giuliani critics," but also reported that "McCain ...denied later that he was specifically referring to Giuliani." From McCain's speech:

McCAIN: We must also prepare, far better than we have, to respond quickly and effectively to another terrorist attack or natural calamity. When Americans confront a catastrophe, natural or man-made, they have a right to expect basic competence from their government. They won't accept that firemen and policemen are unable to communicate with each other in an emergency because they don't have the same radio frequency. They won't accept the government's failure to deliver bottled water to dehydrated babies or rescue the infirm from a hospital with no electricity. They won't accept substandard care and indifference for our wounded veterans.

That's not good enough for America. And when I'm President, it won't be good enough for me.

In the book Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (HarperCollins, 2006), Village Voice senior editor Wayne Barrett and senior producer Dan Collins cited what they said were Giuliani's terrorism-related failures before, during, and after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For instance, Barrett and Collins wrote that "[e]veryone agrees that a critical problem that day was that the police and fire departments could not communicate; that's one of the reasons the lack of interoperable radios became such a focus of fury" (Page 343). Indeed, on 9-11, the New York fire department was using outdated VHF radios that were incompatible with the police department's UHF radios. After 9-11, Giuliani baselessly suggested that the fire department continued using radios that were incompatible with the police department's radios because "[t]hose [compatible] radios do not exist today" (Page 218). However, Barrett and Collins noted that at the time of Giuliani's statement, most other cities had interoperable radios: "The U.S. Conference of Mayors had just completed a study of 192 cities that found that 77 percent had radios that were interoperable across police and fire departments" (Page 218). Moreover, Giuliani's administration spent millions of dollars and several years procuring UHF radios for the fire department. However, after issuing those radios on March 14, 2001, the fire department took them out of service less than two weeks later after problems with them arose.

As a result, Barrett and Collins wrote, on the day of the attacks, the fire department was using "the same radios ... as it had in 1993. In fact, it essentially had been using the same radios since the 1960s, though they were more suitable for a burning three-story walk-up than for a steel inferno" (Page 49). Because the old radios were not powerful enough, "as many as eight Fire Department companies in the North Tower did not receive the evacuation order 'via radio or directly from other first responders,' " according to the 9-11 Commission (Page 50). And because the radios were not interoperable, fire department rescuers never heard the police helicopter "pilot warning that the South Tower was about to fall" or "the pilots repeatedly warn[ing] of the North Tower collapse, as early as 25 minutes before it happened" (Page 51).

As Media Matters noted, a March 15 Cox News Service article reported: "As revered as he is by many for his efforts after the attacks, Giuliani is reviled by some firefighters who believe he mishandled the development of a radio system that could have saved lives on 9/11 and turned his back on first responders' remains in the rubble." A March 30 Associated Press article further noted criticisms by the International Association of Fire Fighters and by Sally Regenhard, chairwoman of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign and mother of a firefighter killed on 9-11. The AP noted that the Giuliani "administration's failure to provide the World Trade Center's first responders with adequate radios [is] a long-standing complaint from relatives of the firefighters killed when the twin towers collapsed. The Sept. 11 Commission noted the firefighters at the World Trade Center were using the same ineffective radios employed by the first responders to the 1993 terrorist attack on the trade center."

Additionally, as Media Matters has documented, Barrett and Collins wrote that when Giuliani heard about the disaster on 9-11, his "original destination" was the "much-ballyhooed command center he had built in the shadow of the Twin Towers," in the 7 World Trade Center (7 WTC) building (Page 6). However, when Giuliani arrived, then-New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik "decided it was too dangerous to bring the mayor up to the command center he had so carefully and expensively built" (Page 340). In settling on the downtown location, Giuliani "overruled" warnings from Howard Safir, a previous police commissioner, and Lou Anemone, chief operating officer of the New York police department, not to put the command center at 7 WTC and rejected "an already secure, technologically advanced city facility across the Brooklyn Bridge" (Page 41). Later on 9-11, the 7 WTC building collapsed.

Barrett and Collins also wrote that "Giuliani's preference for the comfort of a huge entourage had disconnected the city's management and its fighting force at a crucial moment" during the response on 9-11, and they pointed to Kerik as "a prime example of this managerial dysfunction." They reported that in the 102 minutes between the first impact of a plane into the World Trade Center and the collapse of the North Tower, "Kerik became Giuliani's bodyguard, just as he had been in the 1993 mayoral campaign," rather than leading the police's efforts (Page 350).

During their appearances on MSNBC, Thomma and Walsh suggested that Giuliani was going to campaign on terrorism but did not note questions about his record on the issue. Thomma told O'Donnell: "[F]or Mayor Giuliani or, basically, any Republican to say they think they would keep the country safer than the Democrats seems to me the perfectly legitimate and probably vital part of the coming campaign." Walsh told Jansing: "I think he is trying to appeal to this Republican security core, the people who are most concerned about keeping America safe from terrorism, which is Giuliani's core supporters, too, in the Republican primaries."

On-screen graphics during the two segments were titled "Giuliani: GOP Makes U.S. Safer" and at various points read: "Rudy Giuliani Argues Democrats Want to Put the U.S. on 'Defense' "; "GOP Frontrunner: Dems Want to Return to Pre-9/11 Mindset"; "Rudy Giuliani: GOP Will Shorten Terror War, Save American Lives"; and "Bush Administration Has Argued the Dems Have Wrong Approach to War."

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the April 25 edition of MSNBC Live:

O'DONNELL: And according to Rudy Giuliani, Democrats don't understand our enemies and will surrender in Iraq if they win the White House in 2008. Speaking about the opposition party last night, Giuliani said, quote, "If one of them gets elected, it sounds like to me we're going on defense. We're going to wave the white flag on Iraq. We're going to try to cut back on the Patriot Act. We're going to cut back on electronic surveillance. We're going to cut back on interrogation. We're going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we'll be back in our pre-September 11 mentality." Steve Thomma is chief political correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Steve, thanks so much for joining us. Let me ask you --

THOMMA: Hi, Norah.

O'DONNELL: -- what do you make of Rudy Giuliani sort of laying this on the table when it comes to his Democratic opponents?

THOMMA: Well, it's kind of two things at work here, Norah. In the first, for Mayor Giuliani or, basically, any Republican to say they think they would keep the country safer than the Democrats seems to me the perfectly legitimate and probably vital part of the coming campaign. Why else would you run if you didn't think you could do a better job? It's when you start talking about -- and I think he also said that if the Democrats win, we'll have more casualties, in effect saying more Americans will die if the Democrats win, then it gets into the kind of politically inflammatory rhetoric that I think we've seen in the past couple of months Americans don't like. George Bush tried that at the midterm elections when he said, "If the Democrats win, America loses, and the terrorists win." They voted the Republicans out.

O'DONNELL: Well, we've already seen the Democrats respond pretty harshly this morning. Let me read you a statement from Democratic Senator Barack Obama [IL], who said, quote, "Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low, and I believe Americans are ready to reject those kind of politics. America's Mayor should know that when it comes to 9-11 and fighting terrorists, America is united. The threat we face is real and deserve better than to be the punch line of another political attack." Could it that be that Rudy Giuliani's words -- essentially, once again saying Democrats will bring us back to pre-9-11 mentality -- that that could back fire on him?

THOMMA: Oh, sure. I think it could. As I said, in the '06 midterm elections just a few months ago, the American people voted the Republicans out and voted the Democrats in despite very similar warnings. And we see from the polls since then, a majority of Americans now trust the Democrats more than the Republicans on national defense. That's a historic change. Not for 40 years that Americans trusted the Democrats on national defense, and I think a big part of it is -- and this goes back to the Bush strategy when he linked the Iraq war to terrorism -- that once the Iraq war started going bad, people started trusting Republicans less to defend against terrorism.

O'DONNELL: Steve Thomma, thanks so much.

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of the April 25 edition of MSNBC Live:

JANSING: Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani is throwing down the gauntlet on national security, not going after his primary challengers, but Democrats who he says want to wave the white flag on the war on terror. Speaking at an event in New Hampshire, Giuliani warned that if a Republican doesn't win the White House, the result will be the loss of more American lives. Ken Walsh, the U.S. News & World Report chief White House correspondent, joins me now. Hi there, Ken.

WALSH: Hi. Nice to be back.

JANSING: Let me tell you exactly what Giuliani said. I'm quoting here, "I listened to the Democrats and if one of them is elected, we are going on the defense. We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation, and we will be back to our pre-September 11 attitude of defense." What's Giuliani's strategy here?

WALSH: Well, obviously, I think he is trying to appeal to this Republican security core, the people who are most concerned about keeping America safe from terrorism, which is Giuliani's core supporters, too, in the Republican primaries. But I think there's a real risk in that it arises -- causes to arise a lot of the concerns about Giuliani that people have. Polarizing -- he was a very polarizing figure as mayor. A lot of people feel that he will go back to that again. And if he alienates too many Democrats and independents by seeming to be too polarizing -- and he's already gotten a lot of negative response from Democrats about this.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Norah O'Donnell, Chris Jansing
Rudy Giuliani, 2008 Elections
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