Factcheck: Olbermann Repeats Incorrect Anti-Scott Brown Claims of Racism and Vulgarity
Published: 1/21/2010 6:36 AM ET
On Wednesday's Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann defended his recent attacks on Massachusetts Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown by insisting that some of the incorrect claims he made are true when, in fact, two are factually without merit while the third represents one of Olbermann's typical episodes of distorting the words of a target. Among other complaints, Olbermann on Wednesday claimed that Brown "swore at" high school students at an assembly in 2007, that he has refused to renounce a vulgar threat made against Attorney General Martha Coakley by an audience member at a Sunday rally, and that he demonstrated racism in once suggesting that he wasn't sure if Barack Obama's parents were married at the time of his birth.
The Countdown host repeated a myth promoted by the liberal blog bluemassgroup.com that, in February 2007, then-State Senator Brown "swore at a hall full of high school students" as he appeared before a group at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Massachusetts. In reality, Brown was not alleged to have "sworn at" the students, but rather, he angrily responded to and complained about vulgar comments that some students had written about him and one of his daughters - comments which had been posted on the Facebook page of a pro-gay rights teacher at the school - as Brown read the uncensored comments from the site, naming some of the students, in front of the assembly. His actions sparked criticism because he read aloud the profane words as they appeared on the Facebook page, but he was not alleged to have "sworn at" the students.
Olbermann also incorrectly claimed that Brown "never refuted" a vulgar threat made at one of his recent campaign rallies during which one audience member called for a curling iron to be "shoved up the butt" of Brown's opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, because of a controversial case in which Coakley was accused of not being aggressive enough in prosecuting a child rapist who assaulted a baby using a curling iron.
Even though the Boston Herald's Daily Briefing blog and Politico.com both reported on Monday that Brown contended that he had not heard the remarks as he was speaking and went on to denounce the comments as being out of line, Olbermann on Tuesday and Wednesday claimed that Brown had not issued such a repudiation.
Olbermann referred to a video clip released by Democratic activists which shows Brown speaking at a rally, and, as Brown was pausing for audience reaction, one audience member can be heard in the background shouting, "Shove a curling iron up her butt!" Moments later, Brown smiles and says, "We can do this," presumably referring to winning the campaign, though Democrats have charged that he was responding favorably to the audience member's vulgar suggestion.
On Wednesday's show, Olbermann contended: "This past Sunday, when a man at a Brown rally shouted they should, quote, 'shove a curling iron up' Martha Coakley's 'butt,' Brown responded by answering, 'We can do this.' Or, if that remark was unconnected to the shout, he never refuted, condemned, nor disassociated himself from the call to violence and even sexual assault."
But on Monday, January 18, 2010, at Politico.com, in the article "Massachusetts Gets Ugly," Ben Smith reported: "Brown called the supporter's words 'inappropriate' and said he hadn't heard them."
And also on Monday, according to the Boston Herald's Daily Briefing blog, in the article, "Brown Denounces Curling Iron Comment," Hillary Chabot reported: "GOP U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown said a supporter's remarks about shoving, 'a curling iron up (Martha Coakley's) butt,' were innapropriate today. 'If I had heard it I would have said something,' said Brown today."
During the 2008 campaign, Olbermann similarly tried to hold then-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin accountable for an anti-Obama outburst to "kill him" from an audience member at a campaign rally even though the words came half an hour before Palin arrived on stage.
As for Olbermann's claim that Brown was being "racist" in September 2008 when he seemed to hint that Barack Obama's mother may not have been married when her son was born, Olbermann was quoting from a television appearance in which Brown was debating an unidentified woman, presumably the show's host, who was pointing out an apparent double standard by conservatives in praising Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol after revelations she had conceived a child at age 17 out of wedlock. Scott apparently thought it relevant to recount that Barack Obama's mother also gave birth at age 18, leading the unidentified female host to dismiss his point by responding that she was married at the time.
Notably, the timeline of events suggests Obama was conceived while his mother was still 17 and that she and Obama's father became married three months into her pregnancy, which is quite similar to how Bristol Palin's situation began.
Scott sought to find similarity between Bristol Palin and Obama's mother as he responded, "Well, I don't know about that." After chuckling lightly, he continued, "But, more importantly, the fact is she had him at 18 years old."
It is unclear what Brown was thinking about the circumstances of Obama's birth - whether he was unsure of whether Obama's parents were already married at the time of his birth or whether he was absent-mindedly alluding to Obama's out-of-wedlock conception - but it is a stretch to claim Brown's words as evidence of racism, especially since both Bristol Palin and Barack Obama's mother were subjects of the conversation and are both white.
But there's no reason to expect Olbermann to check into the context of why the circumstances of Obama's birth were brought into the conversation by Brown since doing so might contradict the MSNBC host's perpetual quest to find racism in every Republican's shadow.
Olbermann has a well-known history of using distortion to attack conservatives, sometimes to portray them as racists. The MSNBC host is so notorious in this regard that liberal actor Ben Affleck - himself an admitted Keith Olbermann fan - during the 2008 campaign took part in a Saturday Night Live skit highlighting Olbermann's tendency to distort the words of his targets, including making accusations of racism.
Below is a complete transcript of Olbermann's "Quick Comment" attack on Senator-elect Scott Brown from the Wednesday, January 20, Countdown show on MSNBC, followed by a transcript of the television appearance posted on YouTube in which Brown raised the circumstances of President Obama's birth:
#From the Wednesday, January 20, Countdown show on MSNBC:
We stay with the Massachusetts special Senate election for tonight's first "Quick Comment." Here's the real takeaway from the election of Scott Brown: If the far right disagrees with it, it's a lie. The latest is from an assistant editorial page editor at the Dallas Morning News named Michael Landauer who writes that I, quote, "smeared Brown all night sort of correcting the record in one rant, dismissing the responses to lies he had told earlier, and coming back with more name-calling." Mr. Landauer is writing on the Internet, and, thus, in theory, has an infinite amount of space and time to fill. That was it - no refutations, no specifics, just the word "lies," as if designating them were Mr. Landauer's exclusive right.#From a September 2008 television appearance posted on YouTube:
I said Mr. Brown was irresponsible. Specifically, he swore at a hall full of high school students in 2007. Last night, he paraded his daughters out and told the nation they were, quote, "available."
I said Mr. Brown was homophobic. Specifically, in 2001, he said that two women having a baby together was, quote, "not normal," and, in 2007, he voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
I said Mr. Brown was racist. Specifically, in September 2008, a fellow guest in a TV interview noted Barack Obama's mother was married when he was born. Mr. Brown returned to the oldest racial stereotype of them all when he said, quote, "Well, I don't know about that, huh, huh."
I said Mr. Brown was reactionary. Specifically, that is defined as "extreme conservatism, opposing political or social change."
I said Mr. Brown was an ex-nude model - specifically, in the June 1982 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.
I said Mr. Brown was sexist. Specifically, nine years ago, he said a woman Massachusetts state senator had, quote, "alleged family responsibilities."
I said Mr. Brown was tea bagging. Specifically, as recently as the 2 nd of this month, Mr. Brown was the star of a fund-raiser with the Greater Boston Tea Party Group at Westborough Mass.
Then I said Mr. Brown was a supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees. Specifically, this past Sunday, when a man at a Brown rally shouted they should, quote, "shove a curling iron up Martha Coakley's butt," Brown responded by answering, "We can do this." Or, if that remark was unconnected to the shout, he never refuted, condemned, nor disassociated himself from the call to violence and even sexual assault. Scott Brown is an "irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, sexist, ex-nude model, tea bagging, supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees."
And all the rabid right-wing howling about that only helps prove it. The response to lies is to offer the truth. The response to truths you don't like is to simply call them "lies."
STATE SENATOR SCOTT BROWN (R-MA): Your Democratic spokesperson there said, you know, women can do anything. Well, apparently, just not Sarah Palin, because if this was a Democrat or someone like Hillary Clinton or somebody else, you know, they'd be erecting statues at this point. This is a woman who has a lot of good core values. She's a hard worker, hard charger, and, quite frankly, I think there's a lot of sexism in the fact that no one's talking about the fact that this is 2008, not 1908, and you have people, you have a husband there who's going to be the backbone of that family and be there and supporting her wife and their family. It's not just Sarah going off to solve the world's problems, the husband and the rest of the family members are going to be there contributing.-Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE HOST: This is interesting because when I spoke with women and other folks, they said, you know, this has been the party that's been talking about family values, family values, family values, and now we have this particular situation, and many times when you talk about a teenager that's become pregnant, when I speak with folks, they say, oh, well, that teen's morals were corrupted in some kind of way, blah, blah, blah. I am not saying that the Palin family has corrupted morals. It's just very interesting to the people I've interviewed - and these include Democrats, independents and Republicans - that suddenly, well, that's not the issue, the issue is that they chose to keep the baby, that they want to have a solid family.
BROWN: Well, you don't have to say anything. You inference is pretty clear as to the feelings. A lot of folks are very supportive - at least in Massachusetts and other surrounding states - of the situation. And, quite frankly, Barack's mom had him when, what, she was 18 years old-
FEMALE HOST: And married.
BROWN: Well, I don't know about that. (LIGHTLY CHUCKLES "Uh huh") But, more importantly, the fact is she had him at 18 years old.