On the final day of last week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sat down with NewsBusters to discuss amongst other things our favorite topic - liberal media bias.
In the course of our lengthy discussion, McConnell addressed Chris Matthews's claim that Republicans are being racist when they accuse President Obama of engaging in Chicago-style politics (video follows with transcript, Matthews section at minute 8:30):
NEWSBUSTERS: I'm sure you've seen some of the egregious behavior by the media as it pertains to the convention the past few days. What do you think about that, not just as a Senator, but as an American?
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KENTUCKY): Well, it's certainly irritating. I try not to get too spun up about this kind of people, but it's certainly irritating, and it's important for them to be called out when it is stupid, outrageous things.
NEWSBUSTERS: What's been offending us as media analysts is they're trying to depict Romney, Ryan, Republicans as racists, and this is an all lily white Party, an all lily white convention. And they invite a number of very, very high-powered minorities and women to the convention to speak, and they decide not to show them.
MCCONNELL: Well, look, if you have a crummy record, then you can't talk about it. You have to make the election about something else. So you engage in ad hominem attacks on prominent people who don't fit the left-wing mode, and you try to destroy the people you're running against. If you can't win the argument, what are you left with?
These folks, at least based on their record and the American people's opinion of what they've done, have lost the argument that this is four years that's been value-added for the American people. That argument's over. So, they know they can't really talk about stimulus or ObamaCare or the deficit or the debt or the 41 straight months of unemployment above eight percent. So they want to tear down anybody who validates the opposition and the opposition itself with ad hominem attacks. It's entirely consistent with the way they've operated over the years: do anything to win. Anything, no matter what you have to do to win.
NEWSBUSTERS: One of the other things we've seen really since the beginning of January was this whole “Republican War on Women.”
NEWSBUSTERS: Do you feel at war with women, Senator?
MCCONNELL: You know, you have to just kind of laugh about the absurdity of it all. I just hope the American people are going to get it and not be fooled by this kind of foolishness. I don't think most independent women, most people that were not going to already support them anyway are going to buy this for a minute.
NEWSBUSTERS: A big component of that strategy is the news media. We've seen almost craven repetition of the latest talking point of the day from the Democrats in the media. Has this been the worst you've seen or have you seen worse than this?
MCCONNELL: Well, they are really desperate because no longer does [New York Times publisher] Arthur Sulzberger determine the national debate. There's been a proliferation of new voices. You look at just the TV ratings for example. I noticed this morning that Fox News Channel did better than NBC, CBS, ABC. So there are audiences leaving them, and they're desperate to get them back, and I guess they figure the only way to get attention is to try to validate some of these crazy left-wing allegations, absorbing and somehow capturing a disappearing audience.
I think comparing today's media to when I started my career: totally different. The publisher of the New York Times determined what we talked about in the country. Everybody else echoed that. Today nobody dominates the national discussion. And the traditional media – all of which is in the tank for the left – has less and less influence and fewer and fewer people in the audience.
NEWSBUSTERS: Free speech has been one of your signature issues. Has it been interesting to watch so many journalists not be interested in preserving free speech? They're only interested in preserving it for themselves and not for others.
MCCONNELL: Absolutely. Take the Citizens United case, by the way which was a spectacular case absolutely correct on the facts. All it did was talk about corporate speech. Prior to Citizens United, if you were a corporation that owned a media outlet – in other words, Arthur Sulzberger owns the New York Times – you had total free speech. You could say anything about anybody you wanted to up to the day before the election both on the news page and on the editorial page. But if you were a corporation that didn't own a media outlet, you couldn't. All Citizens United did was say everybody has to be treated the same. Nobody has a preference. Nobody has a set aside under the first amendment.
So now we have voices all over the place, and this dissemination of voices and proliferation of audience has been very good in my view for the American people. These folks have genuine competition. The reason, for example, they don't do any better on talk radio is because they can't get an audience. They can't get an audience, they can't get a sponsor. Which tells me once again that the American public is center-right, and they've been sold a bill of goods by the arrogant elitists who dominated the media till the last few years, which of course with great assistance to the Democrats. Great assistance. They've lost that advantage in large measure, and I think that is a very, very good thing for the country.
Charles Krauthammer one night on Fox for example to get back to them for a minute just as one example of this said, “The genius at Fox is they discovered half the American population.” And of course organizations like yours are demonstrating that there are people out there anxious to hear a different point of view, and willing to switch allegiances, and are frequently relieved to find out there's somebody out there that may have a similar view to me.
If we're able to save this country from the left, it will be in large measure I think because we've been able to reach the real American electorate, a significant percentage of which is found between the two coasts, and been able to lift their spirits and let them know that there are a lot of people out there that feel the same way they do.
NEWSBUSTERS: One of the other things that's interesting about the free speech issue in the wake of Citizens United is we're seeing a new attack by the left, and that's on free speech associated with folks like the Koch brothers who are out there doing what is constitutionally legal, and the Supreme Court has said it's completely legal. But the media are out getting them whenever they possibly can. What's that say?
MCCONNELL: What happens if you criticize this administration, they bring the government down on you. They get the IRS after you. If you're a media outlet, you have to worry about the FCC. The Obama campaign itself rifling through the divorce records of some donor to Mitt Romney's Super PAC. There's a reason why a number of donors give to 501(c)(4)s because they're afraid of the government coming down on them. They're afraid of reprisals from this administration which uses Chicago-type politics inside the administration to attack its political enemies.
The President's willing to go so far, and I bet you've written about this already, the President has come out for amending the first amendment. For the first time in 235 years you've got a president of the United States saying we ought to amend the first amendment, carve a nitch out of the first amendment, so the government itself could in effect reverse the Citizens United decision. That's an act of genuine radicalism. Genuine radicalism. And expressed by no less a personage than the president of the United States.
NEWSBUSTERS: Do you realize that according to Chris Matthews at MSNBC you were just speaking racially...
NEWSBUSTERS: ...because you brought up Chicago?
MCCONNELL: Oh really? [Laughs]
NEWSBUSTERS: Yes, Chris Matthews yesterday said that, I think it was Paul Ryan or someone brought up Chicago politics regarding Obama, and that that's racist.
MCCONNELL: All I can say is it's hot down here, and maybe the heat is getting to old Chris.
NEWSBUSTERS: It's interesting that you say that, because there are folks that are saying that some of the behavior that we're beginning to see in the media and on the left – the Debbie Wasserman Schultzes – the way these folks are behaving is a sense of desperation that they're almost acting like caged animals.
MCCONNELL: Precisely. Precisely. When you've got a crummy record, you have to make the election about something else. A campaign is about trying to figure out how to win. And I'm sure they know. I know they know. They sat down at the beginning of the year and they said, “Nothing we've done do people like. They don't like anything we've done. So we have to define this whole contest in a different way.” In other words, “It's really not the President's fault. These people got in his way. And our opponents, by the way, are a bunch of sleazeballs who are completely unacceptable. Even if you're not happy with me, you surely wouldn't elect him.” They're left with nothing else.
But it is illustrative that the President had a choice. Let me tell you what I'm talking about. After the midterm correction in November '10, he could have done what Bill Clinton did. He could have said, “I got the message. People didn't like what I did the first two years, and I'm going to go to the political center.” Bill Clinton, although I'm sure it wasn't first on his agenda, went along with Welfare reform. Bill Clinton probably was not too interested in balancing the budget, but he did. And the only thing that Clinton is remembered for positively he did after the Republican Congress took over.
Ronald Reagan sat down with Tip O'Neill and saved Social Security for a generation by entering into a bipartisan agreement to raise the age. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did the last comprehensive tax reform. I was hoping – because, after all, we weren't just sent to Washington to spar all the time. We would like to do things that the country needs – I was hoping after the mid-course correction in November of 2010 that the President would pivot to the center. We all know that the biggest threat to the future of this country is deficit and debt. It's completely unsustainable. We now have a debt the size of our economy. That alone makes us look like Greece now. Not some other day. Now.
The Speaker and I and almost all of our members were ready to join with this guy and do a bipartisan agreement that deals with entitlement reform. 60 percent of what is spent every year we don't even vote on. We vote on about 40 percent of it. 60 percent of it is interest on the debt, and very popular entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Trustees at Social Security and Medicare say Medicare's got about eight or ten years to go and it's finished. Tanked. So, we made a major effort to get the President to deal with the big problem confronting the country – this thing that guarantees we aren't going to leave behind for our children the same kind of country our parents left behind for us. He was AWOL. He hunkered down on the left, didn't want to do it.
The irony of it is I think it would have made him look good. It would have given him, it would have made it look like he got from under his desk and quit hiding and actually tackled something that everybody agreed needs to be done in an adult, mature way. He didn't do it.
So, he's got nothing he can talk about. None of the stuff they did when they owned the government do people like, and he passed up on an opportunity to work with us to do something the country – the biggest, single problem the country has looking down the road. So, we better destroy our opponents, discredit anybody who validates our opponents, run $100 million of negative ads in the summer and see if we can make Mitt Romney seem so unacceptable nobody will ever vote for him. And going into this convention before we had a chance to introduce Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney to the broader audience, and before Mitt Romney did what he's going to do tonight, which is to lay out where he would take the country, dead even race. Dead even race after $100 million of attack ads.
So, I think the American people would like this election to be about big things. They know the country's in deep trouble. They know Mitt Romney spent a lifetime fixing things, big things, and if ever there was a country that needs fixing it's ours, and the time to do it is now.