CNN Contributor Avlon: Christine O'Donnell 'Queen of the Wingnuts'

Kyra Phillips, CNN Anchor; & John Avlon, CNN Contributor, The Daily Beast.com Columnist | NewsBusters.orgCNN contributor John Avlon returned to his consistent theme of bashing conservatives on Monday's Newsroom, labeling Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell the "new queen of the wingnuts." Avlon also referenced Reason magazine's label of O'Donnell as a "crackpot of the first order" and didn't provide the full context of her 1997 remarks on AIDS.

Anchor Kyra Phillips led the 9 am Eastern hour of Newsroom with the Republican's 1999 appearance on ABC's Politically Incorrect where she cited how she "dabbled" in witchcraft as a teenager. After playing a clip from the 11-year-old appearance, Phillips continued that O'Donnell's remarks are "raising eyebrows and some concerns from the GOP establishment" and brought on Avlon, who has a knack for being tougher on his identified "wingnuts" on the right than those he picks from the left. The anchor referenced The Daily Beast writer's September 15 column in her first question: "O'Donnell actually canceled two Sunday talk show appearances after this came to light, and now, you are calling her the new queen of wingnuts."

Avlon confirmed his label of the Delaware candidate and went right into citing Reason magazine and made his mischaracterization of her 13-year-old comments on AIDS from an appearance on C-SPAN:

AVLON: Ah, the queen of the wingnuts. Yes, and this week in the Values Voters [Summit], she was very clear to say that she was not a wingnut. She was very specific about that. But this new revelations haven't helped, and when you cancel Sunday shows at the last minute, that is sign of a campaign in crisis and damage control mode. This is just the newest revelation, but in reality, these sorts of claims have been dogging her campaign from early on. I mean, the libertarian Reason magazine called her a crackpot of the first order before the primary. So this is just the latest information, and whether you find this witchcraft claim more controversial or offensive than statements like- say, that AIDS sufferers shouldn't be called victims, that's a judgment call. But there's a lot more where this comes from.

The writer failed to mention that O'Donnell was criticizing what, in her view, was a "gross disproportionate allocation of funds" going towards dealing with HIV/AIDS. She made an analogy with heart disease: "When somebody finds out that they're at high risk for heart disease, they cut out the fatty foods, they start exercising, they quit smoking. However, our approach to AIDS, when you're in a high risk behavior, is to eliminate the consequences so that you can continue in your lifestyle which brings about this disease." Speaking of "politically incorrect," that's how one could qualify pointing out the fact that lifestyles such as drug abuse or male homosexual activity put people at much higher risk for HIV than other activities, something that the CDC clearly underlines.

Later, Phillips got it wrong about O'Donnell's apparent lack of endorsements inside the GOP: "Now, no one has come out- well, Republican-wise and had her back. Mike Pence was even on American [Morning] this morning, he skirted around the issues." Actually, both Senator Jim DeMint and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have thrown their support behind the Senate candidate.

Near the end of the segment, the CNN anchor made light of the witch issue with a reference to the popular "Bewitched" TV series: "I don't know, John. Can you imagine just kind of twitching your nose, doing a little 'Bewitched' action, being able to change policy? I don't know....Elizabeth Montgomery would be the positive witch model."

Avlon has repeatedly bashed conservatives in past TV appearances. During a October 23, 2009 appearance on CNN's American Morning, he equated conservatism with racism. He labeled the "saving freedom" theme for CPAC 2010 "a little extreme" and "a little far out" during two February 2010 segments. The Daily Beast writer also lamented Senator John McCain's tack to the right during the Arizona primary on August 25 and slammed Glenn Beck as a "professional divider" on CBS's Early Show two days later.

The full transcript of Kyra Phillips and John Avlon's segment from Monday's Newsroom:

PHILLIPS: All right, it's getting harder to be shocked by anything in politics. But here's a story that sure meets the challenge: a politician admits that she dabbled in witchcraft, and it's not some local crackpot running for dog catcher. It's Christine O'Donnell, a Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, and a darling of the surging Tea Party movement. Here's her surprising claim resurfacing from a 1999 interview.

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (from 1999 episode of ABC's 'Politically Incorrect'): I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven. But I did, I did.

JAMIE KENNEDY, ACTOR: Wait a minute. You were a witch?

BILL MAHER: Yes, she was a witch.

KENNEDY: You were a witch.

O'DONNELL: I didn't join a coven. I didn't join a coven. Let's get this straight.

KENNEDY: Wait a minute. I love this. You're a witch. You're going Halloween-'I was a witch.' I mean, wait a minute.

O'DONNELL: That's exactly why.

KENNEDY: How did you used to be a witch?

O'DONNELL: Because I dabbled into witchcraft, I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do.

PHILLIPS (live): Okay. Well, O'Donnell's comments are raising eyebrows and some concerns from the GOP establishment. But what matters most is what voters are thinking, just six weeks ahead of the midterm elections.

CNN's Jim Acosta will join with the results of a weekend straw poll in just a second, and CNN contributor John Avlon looks at O'Donnell's mission: damage control. John, let's go ahead and start with you. O'Donnell actually canceled two Sunday talk show appearances after this came to light, and now, you are calling her the new queen of wingnuts.

AVLON: Ah, the queen of the wingnuts. Yes, and this week in the Values Voters [Summit], she was very clear to say that she was not a wingnut. She was very specific about that. But this new revelations haven't helped, and when you cancel Sunday shows at the last minute, that is sign of a campaign in crisis and damage control mode. This is just the newest revelation, but in reality, these sorts of claims have been dogging her campaign from early on. I mean, the libertarian Reason magazine called her a crackpot of the first order before the primary. So this is just the latest information, and whether you find this witchcraft claim more controversial or offensive than statements like- say, that AIDS sufferers shouldn't be called victims, that's a judgment call. But there's a lot more where this comes from.

PHILLIPS: Well, and Karl Rove weighed in, of course, not showing her any love, and she actually Tweeted Sunday night on that and said that if she did have the powers of a witch, then Karl Rove would be backing her candidacy. (laughs)

AVLON: (laughs) Well, that's one way to spin it. (laughs) I mean-

PHILLIPS: Well, does she owe an explanation to her fellow Republicans?

AVLON: You know, I mean, I don't think this should be taken that seriously. What it's indicative of- this is a comment made on 'Politically Incorrect' 10 years ago. What it's indicative of is a candidate who's got a huge amount of baggage, who will be radioactive to voters in the common-sense center of America because of this and many, many other statements and questions about her candidacy- questions that other Republicans were raising before the primary, saying- hey, folks, we've got a good chance to pick up Joe Biden's seat in the Senate if the nominee is Mike Castle, but a really bad chance if it's Christine O'Donnell, who's never held elected office before, but has run for the Senate three times in the last five years.

PHILLIPS: Now, no one has come out- well, Republican-wise and had her back. Mike Pence was even on American [Morning] this morning, he skirted around the issues. We got six weeks and counting, John, and this is not her first obscure moment, shall we say? (both Phillips and Avlon laugh) You've talked about- you know, I mean, we watched them. We've covered it. You mentioned the-

AVLON: Just the tip of the iceberg- yeah.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. Well, that's what we're wondering. Is this just the tip of the iceberg and how long-

AVLON: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Until someone gets behind he,r or just says that's it, got to go? You're out.

AVLON: You know, I think she's in. Look, she won a close partisan primary fairly decisively. But the problem is that's not representative of the entire electorate. But she has the strong backing of the Tea Party Express- put a quarter of a million dollars in her campaign in the last 10 days. But this is going to keep coming out. There is a lot more where this comes from because, throughout the 1990s, she was essentially a professional social conservative activist, going on television shows, from MTV to Politically Incorrect, and playing the kind of evangelical ingenue role here, and that is something that's going to create a lot of vulnerabilities. There is videotape and a lot of it, of her saying some things which can really alienate or raise some reasonable questions among reasonable-minded people.

PHILLIPS: I don't know, John. Can you imagine just kind of twitching your nose, doing a little 'Bewitched' action, being able to change policy? I don't know. That might be-

AVLON: That's the positive vision [unintelligible]-

PHILLIPS: Yeah! That's actually a nice way to look at it.

AVLON: Elizabeth Montgomery would be the positive witch model.

PHILLIPS: There you go. (laughs) Oh boy. Boy, did we age ourselves there. John Avalon, great to see you.

AVLON: (laughs) Good to see you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center