Matthews Follows Fox's Lead On New Black Panthers Story Now That GOP Senators Are Pushing Their Race Baiting As Well

Now that Fox has been pushing this race baiting non-story on the New Black Panthers for the last month or so or longer and now that all seven Republic
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Now that Fox has been pushing this race baiting non-story on the New Black Panthers for the last month or so or longer and now that all seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have decided that ClusterFox witch hunting is now in season, Chris Matthews allows radio talk show host Michael Smerconish to come on his show and rant breathlessly about how he thinks there needs to be some investigations of this case even though he can't cite any proof that the Justice Department was wrong in not pursuing the it for lack of evidence.

I still haven't decided what's more annoying about this interview; the fact that Matthews is basically repeating Fox's spin but putting a kinder, gentler face on it with Smerconish, or that every time he asks E. Steven Collins a question he talks over him before he's allowed to answer him and that he treats him like some hostile witness in a criminal trial with the manner in which he asks him to defend the decisions of the Attorney General's office, like he's responsible for them or might know the answers to his questions.

If Matthews was doing his job he would not be hammering a radio host to explain things that his staff could find out for themselves by picking up the phone and making a few calls to the Attorney General's office.

I also have to wonder if he even wanted to cover this story or if his producers forced him to cover it given he ends the segment with this.

MATTHEWS: I hope we don`t have to revisit this. I hope something gets done. Well, maybe it shouldn`t get done, but I hope we don`t have to talk about this one again!

I'll just say I agree with that sentiment completely. I hope you don't cover it again either since you seem to desperate to give some "balance" to the story that you're willing to overlook facts and talk over your guests that are attempting to give them to you.

Transcript via LexisNexis below the fold.

MATTHEWS: Let`s start with all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who sent a letter to Democratic committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont on Friday pushing for a hearing, a big public hearing, on a 2008 election day incident in Philadelphia involving two members of the New Black Panthers and whether they violated any voter intimidations laws.

In their letter, the Republican senators write about their concern. Quote, "concern about the politicization of the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice." What`s this latest push about?

Michael Smerconish is a syndicated radio host and MSNBC political analyst. And E. Steven Collins is a Philadelphia radio host. I want -- Michael, you`ve written about this. I want you to start, then E. Steven, jump in here. I want to try to get a thoroughgoing presentation of what happened two years ago, as best we can understand it. Give us a sense of the neighborhood involved, the voting division involved, what happened, Michael, on that day when we all voted, or most of Philadelphia, I should say, voted for -- and certainly that division voted for -- Barack Obama for president?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it`s the 14th ward. It`s the 4th division. It`s a public housing development. And as I wrote, it is a division where there didn`t need to be any voter intimidation in support of Barack Obama of any kind. In 2004, you`re talking John Kerry 501 votes and George W. Bush 24. So it was a foregone conclusion, because of the minority composition of that voting locale, that Obama was going to clean house.

I have always said this was a case that was about TV and not about turnout. These are a couple of knuckleheads. They are well known to anybody who walks adjacent to City Hall in Philadelphia. They are always looking to create a spectacle. So therefore, I think that their mission was accomplished. They are on HARDBALL yet again tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Having said that -- having said that, I still think you need an investigation because you`ve got a Department of Justice lawyer, now former Department of Justice lawyer, who is saying under oath that there was some blowback because there was some...

MATTHEWS: OK...

SMERCONISH: ... political appointees in Justice who didn`t want this case prosecuted.

MATTHEWS: OK. Before -- in other words, we`re talking about a classic Civil Rights case, where the -- where the Civil Rights of the voters in this case were violated, allegedly, by a group -- by the fact the government did not investigate. In other words, the Justice Department itself, you say, has to be investigated. That`s what you`re saying right now, Michael, the Justice Department of Eric Holder has to be investigated.

SMERCONISH: I am saying that where you a Department of Justice lawyer who under oath is, My colleagues would not pursue this...

MATTHEWS: Right.

SMERCONISH: ... because they didn`t want a colorblind...

MATTHEWS: OK...

SMERCONISH: ... application of the law, you`ve got to go to the next step.

MATTHEWS: OK. Who would do the investigation?

SMERCONISH: Well, in this case, I think that the criminal prosecution should have been permitted to continue...

MATTHEWS: No, no. Who investigates the investigators?

SMERCONISH: There should have been a trial in this case! I -- Chris...

MATTHEWS: OK, what do you want now? What do you want now, Michael?

SMERCONISH: What I`d like now is a continuation of the criminal process, the criminal process in this particular case that was forestalled by Justice because, frankly...

MATTHEWS: OK.

SMERCONISH: ... I think it`s a worse reflection on the administration...

MATTHEWS: OK.

SMERCONISH: ... if it comes to a close now instead of running to its end...

MATTHEWS: OK, OK.

SMERCONISH: ... because, Chris, this was a one-off case. I`m not looking to whip anybody into a hysteria.

MATTHEWS: All right, let`s go...

SMERCONISH: These were two guys in one polling place.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me -- let me go to E. Steven on this. Your thoughts? You know this story better than I do. This is a Philly story. It`s gotten a lot of swirl. The right wing is loving it because...

E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Only -- only-

MATTHEWS: ... it`s white-black. Your thoughts?

COLLINS: But Chris, the only people who are concerned about it are people that watch Fox TV. I mean, African-Americans, first of all, were not intimidated by a couple of guys, one who wore some jackboots, another guy with a -- with a bat. I mean, I`ve seen...

MATTHEWS: You`re looking at them right now.

COLLINS: I`ve seen -- I`ve seen worse things happen on election day, first of all, in Philadelphia. Second, this is inner-city Philadelphia, where nobody -- people waited in lines to vote. And it didn`t work, if they were attempting to intimidate...

MATTHEWS: OK...

COLLINS: ... someone. Now, that`s number one. Number two, there was an investigation, Michael, and they concluded there was no evidence. So there was no criminal behavior. There was no criminal conduct.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK.

COLLINS: And so what are we talking about?

MATTHEWS: E. Seven, I don`t care about Milton Street 20 years ago out in front of the gallery, telling the white people to go back to the suburbs. We`re all used to that crap. I`m worried whether the Republican precinct workers, the division workers there. Were they intimidated by these guys? Was there any intimidation by poll watchers, any illegality here?

COLLINS: If there was...

MATTHEWS: You say none.

COLLINS: ... illegality -- it wasn`t just a matter of the federal government. You had Philadelphia police and the district attorney`s office in Philadelphia, and they looked at it, and nothing came of it. So...

MATTHEWS: And they let that guy stand there with a nightclub, looking like a policeman.

COLLINS: Well, was that -- did it stop anybody from voting?

MATTHEWS: I`m asking. No, but did it intimidate the Republican precinct worker there, the division worker there?

COLLINS: Did he file a complaint?

MATTHEWS: If there was one.

COLLINS: I didn`t see a complaint.

MATTHEWS: Well, OK. I`m not a lawyer. I`m asking these questions, E. Steven...

COLLINS: Well, I...

MATTHEWS: ... because a lot of people are wondering.

COLLINS: And I`m suggesting to you this is small potatoes...

MATTHEWS: OK...

COLLINS: ... as the columnist has written about. This is another attempt...

MATTHEWS: OK, if I went to vote and I saw those two guys there, I would not think it was small potatoes. Anyway, Abigail Thernstrom`s the Republican vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and here`s what she wrote for "The National Review." "Forget about the New Black Panther Party case. It is very small potatoes"...

COLLINS: Very small.

MATTHEWS: ... as E. Steven Collins just said. "Perhaps the Panthers should have been prosecuted under section 11-B of the Voting Rights Act for their actions on November 28th. But the legal standards that must be met to prove voter intimidation, the charge, are very high. In the 45 years since the act was passed, there`s been a total of three successful prosecutions."

So OK, let`s go back to Michael on this. You say there ought to be an investigation. You don`t think this is just right-wing swirl...

SMERCONISH: Well...

MATTHEWS: ... this is just an attempt by the people on the right, I guess especially Fox, to just keep pushing this -- this beach ball in the air until it finally creates some noise.

SMERCONISH: There`s a lot of swirl associated with this case. I will grant you that. I remember very well on election day when there were individuals who were trying to spin this as indicative of what was going on across the city, or indeed, across the country. And it`s all very clear now it was a one-off incident. My position is there`s no such thing as small potatoes.

MATTHEWS: OK...

SMERCONISH: One instance is enough that needs to be prosecuted. Wait a minute, Chris. How about this. What if there were a white hood and a sheet involved and someone -- and otherwise, the facts were the same? Would there then be the prosecution of the Klan? Hell, yes, there would be. And there should be in this case.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to E. Steven Collins. I get -- I mean, E. Steven, I think there`s a challenge here to the administration of Barack Obama that may well be ethnic. He`s president of the United States, the first African-American. Eric Holder`s the first African-American, I guess, attorney general, actually.

COLLINS: Sure.

MATTHEWS: And I hadn`t thought about that, but I guess it`s the case. We`re trying not to think about these things all the time. But there`s some people that like to -- would like us to be thinking about race all the time. Is that what`s going on?

COLLINS: Yes. It appears. That`s what we saw in the Sherrod case. It was such an over -- over-examination of everything that happened and every decision that was made. Somebody edited a tape. It was a bad decision to fire her, to force her resignation. They retreated. They offered her a better job.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COLLINS: They learned something. I mean, people make mistakes, Chris. You can`t use crucify the president and his staff for making a decision. The bigger issue here is the Republicans, the right wing, continue to...

MATTHEWS: OK...

COLLINS: ... attack and attack and attack. And this is small potatoes.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go back to Michael. Michael, I appreciate your thinking because you do try to come down the middle here, and I wonder if there`s a middle. And here`s my question. Could this be, since it`s two years later and on the eve of the big elections coming up this November -- and they know a lot of older white voters are going to run this election because they`re the people that show up in mid-term elections. Michael, you know darn well who the target could be of this campaign. They`re the people who vote in mid-term elections, older white people, because minorities and kids don`t tend to vote as heavily around the country as older white people do in these elections.

Now the question is, is this aimed at Sestak? Is this aimed at Democratic candidates in the burbs and the rural areas, to scare them with big-city black politics, to say the Democratic Party is the party of big- city blacks? Is that what`s going on here?

SMERCONISH: It might be.

MATTHEWS: Even though you may be right about the facts, could that be the motive behind this push?

SMERCONISH: It might be. I mean, Chris, you may thinking three levels beyond where my head is on this issue because I...

MATTHEWS: Oh, come on!

SMERCONISH: ... because I will grant -- I will grant you this...

MATTHEWS: You talk about this on the -- Philadelphia talks race. I know we know the issue. We try to get past it. We have a great black mayor. Whites voted for him heavily. The city really tries to get past its old problems. I know all about that. Is this an attempt to rip the scab off?

SMERCONISH: I don`t know what the motivation might be of those senators. Call me naive. I hope that it`s not what you`re insinuating, but I`ll say this...

MATTHEWS: I`m asking.

SMERCONISH: The more this footage is shown, the more it benefits a turnout campaign for the type of voter that you have described. And therefore, my advice to the Justice Department, to the Obama administration, would have been, politically speaking, prosecute these guys. The best thing you can do politically is lock them up!

MATTHEWS: OK. Right. I agree.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... there`s nothing the Republican Party likes better than a nice, scared white voter. Let`s be honest about it.

COLLINS: You`re implying there was a crime that was committed. And I`m not sure that the Justice Department...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about...

COLLINS: ... and the local district attorney...

MATTHEWS: ... the white sheets...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Suppose those were white folks with white sheets.

COLLINS: Sure. Then you have a legitimate case. I mean, that`s intimidation.

MATTHEWS: Now, wait a minute!

COLLINS: I agree with you.

MATTHEWS: Where`s the symmetry here? You got a bunch of -- two black guys, big guys, wearing big boots and wearing -- it looks like uniforms to me. And one guy is carrying a pretty dangerous stick there, that he could break some heads with, and that wouldn`t intimidate you if you had to walk past them and those were -- just think about the symmetry what your argument is creating -- the problem...

COLLINS: I would. But Chris, honestly, wouldn`t you need to have someone making a complaint and someone saying, We were, in fact, intimidated, we were not allowed, there was undue pressure put on us? No one...

MATTHEWS: No. No.

COLLINS: ... said that.

MATTHEWS: No. I looked at the voting numbers. I looked at the voting numbers. You got 8 votes in that division for the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, in 2000. You had about 24 votes for him again the second time, in 2004. This time, you had something like 13 for the Republicans, about the average of the last two times. So it didn`t look like there was any bottom -- Michael, go back to you -- no bottom line repression here. No bottom line suppression. The voting totals came in about what you`d expect, given the nature of that election in 2008. What evidence do we have, bottom line, of voter intimidation or suppression?

SMERCONISH: We don`t have anybody that I`m aware of...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: We don`t have anybody that I`m aware of that stands up and says, you know, But for the presence of these two knuckleheads, I would have gone in and pulled the lever. But as a lawyer, I would say to you the way in which they appear and their mannerisms and the billy club is a prima facie -- on its face -- case of voter intimidation, in the same way that Steven acknowledged if they were there wrapped in sheets and hoods, it would be a prima facie case on the part of the Klan.

MATTHEWS: OK. I want to thank you both, gentlemen. I hope we don`t have to revisit this. I hope something gets done. Well, maybe it shouldn`t get done, but I hope we don`t have to talk about this one again! Anyway, thank you, Michael Smerconish and E. Steven Collins. I think it was a fair debate.

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