Rachel Maddow Confuses Allegation With Fact in Covering for Former Air America Chum Al Franken

November 14th, 2008 1:12 PM

Most recent unintentionally hilarious moment on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC cable show -- her interview with Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie over the upcoming recount in the Senate race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger/reformed court jester Al Franken.

The interview on Wednesday night's show began innocuously enough, with a news caption at the bottom of the screen identifying Ritchie.

Ritchie described the mechanics of the looming recount, which is triggered by state law for margins of victory less than one-half percentage point. The next news caption read, "Sen. Norm Coleman (R) Has 206 Vote Lead Over Challenger Al Franken (D)" (albeit all in capital letters, as with all the captions).

Then came this eye-opener of a caption, presented as fact as with the preceding two when it is an allegation and a kneejerk one at that -- "Before Recount, GOP Trying To Smear Minnesota Secretary of State."

Says who ...? All that was needed to make this bird capable of flight were two more words ... "Democrats allege."Adding that, however, might convey an attempt by MSNBC to appear fair and balanced, the last thing its goo-goo viewership wants.

What made the caption even funnier was its placement beneath a breathless "BREAKING NEWS" headline and Maddow at that moment appearing more Truly, Madly, Deeply Concerned than ever (not to worry, she'll be more concerned about something else today).

Then came Maddow's tentative foray into a substantial question, which Ritchie flicked away with a banal non-answer, seeing how a candid response might have meant  tip-toeing through a minefield of awkward follow-ups, were Maddow so inclined.

MADDOW: Mr. Secretary, have there been any irregularities or signs of potential tampering that you have been worried about yet thus far in the counting process?

RITCHIE: Not yet, but keep in mind, we have not started the recount. The recount is triggered by the state canvassing board if an election is within a half-a-percent. Because we are within that half-a-percent we will be ordered by the state canvassing board next week to start and we will begin the morning of the 19th. So that counting process will begin totally in public. There'll be challengers from both campaigns. Any ballot that the challengers do not agree with the election officials' determination of the intent of the voter go (sic) into a challenge piles (sic) and all of those come back to the state canvassing board in December.

Gee, Mr. Secretary, if the state of Minnesota has "not started the recount," as you claim, why has Sen. Coleman's initial lead of 725 votes plummeted to slightly more than 200? You mean the recount hasn't "officially" begun, right?

What about these "newly discovered" ballots that keep popping up after the election? For example, the 100 votes discovered in Pine County -- all going to Franken -- and another 100 votes found in Mountain Iron -- again, all to Franken -- as described by Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten. Gosh darn, what are the odds of that?

Franken also gained 246 votes in Two Harbor, supposedly since local officials were off in their initial tally. Yet "none of the other contests" in the liberal enclave "recorded any changes in their vote totals," as pointed out by an editorial in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.  

How odd indeed that during the recount before the recount, nearly all "newly discovered" ballots are breaking Franken's way. Erick Erickson at Red State blog elaborates --

I spent six years as an elections lawyer. I handled a lot of very wacked election canvasses and recounts. One thing they all had in common: when new votes were found, they generally went both ways -- a few for one candidate and a few for the other candidate. It didn't quite follow the polling, but then close races only happen at the 50-50 margin.

Here's something that never happened: the votes did not all go 100 percent for one candidate except in the two instances where there was only one misplaced ballot discovered.

In Minnesota, though, the votes are all going for Al Franken — pretty much all 600 of them. That defies statistical probability.

 ... Not in the Age of Obama, when anything is possible and the laws of physics -- and elections -- must be adjusted accordingly.

As for that alleged "smear" of Ritchie posited as fact by MSNBC? Maddow made the claim based on the Republican National Senatorial Committee releasing a three-page list of reasons "no one should trust Secretary Ritchie." Among the reasons, Maddow chortled, was "an unsourced claim in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article that the Communist Party USA wrote encouragingly of his candidacy" in 2006.

Left unmentioned by Maddow, but pointed out by Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten,  is that "Ritchie gained office with the help of the Secretary of State Project (SOS), an independent 527 group co-founded by former MoveOn.org leader James Rucker. SOS is based in San Francisco, and is funded in part by ultra-liberal kingmakers such as George Soros."

Not surprisingly, Coleman questioned why so many post-election votes are going to Franken, especially seeing how the recount -- the official one, anyway -- hasn't even begun.

This led to the bizarre spectacle of Ritchie accusing Coleman of wanting to "win at any price" -- and later that same day denying he said it.

Was Maddow obligated to tell viewers that she and Franken are former colleagues at Air America Radio? Arguably so, but considering the negligible difference in editorial content between Air America and MSNBC, such a disclosure risked stating the obvious.