Unethical Quote of the Month: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow

“Yes, this has happened to a smaller degree before. In 1994, in the first mid-term election after the last Democratic president was elected, we got a slate of candidates that included Helen Chenoweth of Idaho and Steve Stockman of Texas. These two were so close to the militia movement in this country that Mr. Stockman actually received advance notice that the Oklahoma City bombing was going to happen.”

—-Rachel Maddow, rising MSNBC star, attacking the current slate of anti-big government Republicans and Tea Party stalwarts.

As I have mentioned here before, when the going gets tough, the tough get unethical. As the certainty of a Red Tide washing over Congress, the Senate and the state houses becomes more inevitable with each passing day, frustrated partisans in the blogosphere and news media are lashing out in frustration, allowing their commentary to become even more shrill and their respect for essentials like facts and fairness to shrink to the vanishing point.

Maddow is an especially depressing case in point. She is a talented television personality and a sharp analyst, but her passionate progressive leanings sometimes overwhelm her professionalism, and this time, she crashed over all ethical lines. Maddow doesn’t hide her liberal/progressive bias, but it usually doesn’t cause her to engage in slander and falsehood. Her political darlings have botched their shot at the reins of power, however, with incompetence, corruption and arrogance, and they are going to pay the piper at the polls, just as the equally incompetent, corrupt and arrogant Bush Republicans did before them. Maddow, understandably, doesn’t like this development,  so she is throwing around accusations and innuendo, adding to the politics of anger rather than providing illumination.

I’m sure everyone can figure out the ways in which Maddow’s comment is unethical, but for the record:

  • Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho of Idaho was “so close to the militia movement in this country” that Stockman received advance notice that the Oklahoma City bombing? How does that work? How does Stockman’s supposed “advance notice” indict Chenoweth in any way? Obviously, it doesn’t. Maddow skipped a line or missed a connection, but when you are accusing people of supporting murderers, you have an obligation to be careful.
  • Chenoweth is dead, the victim of an automobile accident. She has no staff to issue a rebuttal, nor can she defend herself—not that it’s exactly clear what she is being accused of. In addition to making no sense, Maddow’s accusation is unfair.
  • The rumor that Stockman was tipped off to the Oklahoma City bombing before it occurred was just that, a rumor…as Maddow, who sometimes claims to be a journalist as well as a pundit, could have easily discovered if she read something besides “Mother Jones.” For example, in a very anti-Stockman column in the Houston Press (in 1995), Jim Simmon, whom Maddow would consider an ideological compatriot, wrote:

“…as it turned out, Stockman had been done a minor injustice in the early reporting of the “cryptic fax” (as it was later described ad nauseam) sent to his congressional office on the morning of the Oklahoma City bombing from an associate of “Mark from Michigan,” the janitor-cum-conspiracy theorist who expounds on nationally broadcast call-in shows. Contrary to suggestions in some initial reports, Stockman’s office had received the fax after the bombing and promptly passed it on to the FBI (ironically, the initial misunderstanding about the fax was propagated by the National Rifle Association, Stockman’s chief patron)…”

There is, in fact, no credible source that still maintains that Stockman received “advance notice” any more, nor has it been shown that the Congressman was”close” to the militia groups. Nobody knows why he was sent the fax about the bombing. Maddow, however, thinks it is fair and responsible to suggest that Stockman allowed 168 people to die, without citing any source for her contention.

Maddow slandered Stockman while simultaneously slandering the late Rep. Chenoweth by somehow connecting her to the imaginary complicity of Stockman in the Oklahoma tragedy, and used both trumped-up claims to imply that current G.O.P. congressional candidates are as bad or worse….as bad as or worse than a Congressman who, according to her, could have warned a lot of innocent citizens that their building was going to be bombed, and didn’t. This is the kind of attenuated, irresponsible sliming that her MSNBC colleagues, and Maddow herself, justly condemns when Glenn Beck does it.

There is nothing wrong with Maddow having a point of view. There is nothing really wrong with her being incapable of seeing the flaws, failures and misconduct of the politicians she favors; plenty of other commentators cover that territory. If she is going to be taken seriously, however, either as a reporter or as a pundit, she can’t make exaggerated accusations based on discredited rumors. It is unfair to those she accuses, unfair to her audience, and, I had thought, beneath her.

I’m sorry your party blew it, Rachel.

Now get a grip.

[ Credit to Newsbusters, the conservative counterpart of Media Matters, for flagging the Maddow quote.]


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