Maddow Offers 'Corrections' of Buchanan's Remarks on Race - And Misquotes Him

Viewers of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on July 20 were treated to something seldom seen -- a political analyst trying to set the record straight after an argument, in the absence of the second pundit.

Maddow preceded her criticism of MSNBC colleague Pat Buchanan by saying this tactic is "not cool" and "not fair" before proceeding with it anyway --

MADDOW: It's not cool to talk about guests after their segment is over. It's also not fair to relitigate these arguments in the absence of one of the parties who participated in the argument and I will not try to do that now.

But what I do feel obliged to do is to correct some of the things that were said in the course of my argument with Pat that were stated as fact that were not true. I feel an obligation just to correct the factual record as we would with anything else that was stated as fact on this show that was not true.

Maddow then launched her broadside at Buchanan, which can be seen in its entirety here at Maddow's MSNBC site, along with the original argument. The two segments, consisting of the argument and Maddow's follow-up, last almost 18 minutes altogether. The video in the post condenses what I consider questionable aspects of Maddow's response and the initial exchange.

It's not just that Maddow misquoted Buchanan -- and in the context of what she described as corrections. Worse, there appears little doubt that Maddow's misquoting was motivated by a conscious attempt to deceive.

Among her criticisms, Maddow claimed Buchanan said this --

MADDOW: Pat also said, quote, the US track team in the Olympics, they're all black folks. Uhm, the US Olympic track team is not all black, folks or otherwise (stated while showing photo montage of team members). Also the US Olympic hockey team is not all from Minnesota either, which he also said.

Here's what Buchanan actually said, absent Maddow's filter --

BUCHANAN: I believe everybody should get a chance to excel and be on the United States Supreme Court. But if I look at the US track team in the Olympics and they're all black folks, I don't automatically assume it's discrimination. I will say, I think maybe those are the fastest guys we got, that maybe they're the fastest guys in the country, maybe they're the fastest in the world. If they're all, or, Olympic team in hockey is eight white guys from Minnesota, I don't assume discrimination.

Buchanan was clearly suggesting hypotheticals -- "if I look at the US track team ...", "If they're all ... eight white guys from Minnesota" on the Olympic hockey team. And how did Maddow portray Buchanan's words? By slicing, dicing and stating them as fact, which Buchanan hadn't done.

The reason I believe what Maddow did was deliberate is twofold. First, Maddow showed clips of Buchanan from their argument four times -- but not when citing his remarks about athletes. Then, curiously, no footage of Buchanan was shown. Instead, viewers heard Maddow's claims about what Buchanan said.

Second, if Maddow played footage of Buchanan's remarks that she claimed he said, it would have come across as suspiciously short --

MADDOW: Pat also said, quote, the US track team in the Olympics, they're all black folks.

BUCHANAN: But if I look at the US track team in the Olympics and they're all black folks, I don't assume discrimination.

Note the missing word in Maddow's misquoting -- "and." If Maddow showed video of the fragment she extracted from Buchanan's remarks, it would not hold up as a quote -- "the US track team in the Olympics and they're all black folks." Huh? Clearly there's more to the sentence. Why not convey in its entirety, by repeating verbatim or showing footage of Buchanan saying it? Not only would this run the risk being fair to Buchanan, the sentence begins with a pesky "but". Which would beg another question -- "but" what? The only way to answer that would be by quoting what Buchanan said just before "but" -- to wit, "I believe everybody should get a chance to excel and be on the United States Supreme Court."

In fairness to Maddow, her other criticisms of Buchanan weren't off-base, not in my opinion. Buchanan claimed Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has "never written anything that I've read in terms of a law review article or major book or something like that on the law." Maddow said her staff turned up five law review articles written by Sotomayor, the most recent in 2004. Scholars can argue over whether any of the articles are considered "major" and I'll take Buchanan at his word that he hasn't read them.

Buchanan asserted it was "affirmative action" that won Sotomayor a place on the Yale Law Review; Maddow found a Yale law spokesperson to dispute this.

"White men were 100 percent of the people that wrote the Constitution," Buchanan said, "100 percent of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks ..."

Hmm, not a single person of color among the thousands of dead in the pivotal battles of the Civil War? Maddow effectively undermined Buchanan's assertions in her response, declaring "the idea that only white people built America is a fantasy."  Maddow also turned up evidence by way of "Nixonland" author Rick Perlstein that Buchanan, a vocal opponent of affirmative action, apparently supported a variation of it while working in the Nixon White House, a version that favored ethnic Catholics.

Had Maddow ended her criticism of Buchanan there, I'd have little to criticize her here. But she didn't -- Maddow piled on, emboldened by liberal indignation, unwilling to let accuracy get in the way of a good polemic.

In the process, Maddow refuted an assertion she made in her argument with Buchanan --

MADDOW: For you to argue that there's no basis on which the United States benefits from having Hispanics be among the people who we choose the best and brightest from, defies belief. The idea that you think we're best served by only choosing from among 99.5 percent white people for these jobs, I don't believe you believe it, Pat.

But of course Maddow believes this -- as shown by her hatchet job on Buchanan the following Monday. And this dubious assertion was preceded by Maddow claiming a line of argument by Buchanan that he never made.

Despite Maddow's professed concern for accuracy, don't hold your breath waiting for her to correct these inaccurate claims stated as fact.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts