MSNBC's Joe Scarborough Slams Misinformation Spread on 'Hardball'

"Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough on Thursday attacked misinformation spread by a guest during a segment on the previous day's "Hardball." Ex-CIA agent Bob Baer appeared on Chris Matthews' program on Wednesday to claim that no information was gained from waterboarding and that using the practice on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed left the terrorist "almost brain dead." Scarborough derided this kind of comment as "vomit[ing] out bad information" and later apologized if people were confused by Baer. [Audio available here]

Scarborough quoted a memo by National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair asserting that "high value information" came from waterboarding. This appeared to be a way of educating Baer and, in what sounded like a warning to his MSNBC colleagues "anybody else that books Bob Baer." Scarborough went further and offered an apology that, one would assume, would have to be on the behalf of not just Baer, but also his own network. Looking right into the camera, the host empathized, "And I only say this, because this is the information that gets out on TV and in the newspapers and in magazines and I can understand why Americans are confused and I apologize that people are giving you bad information."

At the top of the program, Scarborough seemed more reticent to name names. When he described "Hardball" as a "cable show," co-host Mika Brzezinski asked which one. Scarborough simply replied, "I'm not going to say." He then added, "Because you get such bad information. You really do. People come on, they vomit out bad information."

Scarborough also took time out to knock down another claim that Baer, who was the basis for the liberal George Clooney character in the film "Syriana," made. In a "Hardball" clip, Baer asserted that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. The "Morning Joe" host clarified, "They [the interrogators] set it up and the way they counted waterboarding, every time you poured water on, if a drop went on him, they marked that down. He's been waterboarded one time." In other words, one session could result in 20 to 30 occasions of so-called waterboarding.

As for Mohammed being brain dead, referencing appearances the terrorist has made in court, the "Morning Joe" host explained, "...When he says Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is brain dead, close to brain dead, if he had a TV set, just watched TV or read newspapers, he would know that was wrong."

One wonders how Matthews will respond to this critique. Not to read to much into the timing, but Scarborough and company did make these remarks at just about the earliest possible moment of the three hour morning show, 6:06am. Perhaps too early for some people?

A transcript of the conversation, which aired on April 23, follows:

6:01

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Basically, here's what's going on. And I saw- and we're going to play a clip. I don't usually watch some of the cable shows at night because-

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Uh-oh. What did you watch?

SCARBOROUGH: I'm not going to say.

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, no.

SCARBOROUGH: Because you get such bad information. You really do. People come on, they vomit out bad information.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: And they get cheered. They might as well have, like an applause track. So, a guy went on last night, we're going to play the clip later, and he actually said that- a couple things that were just so outrageously wrong. And he's a former CIA agent, but he makes money, obviously, trashing the CIA. And we're going to get to that.

6:06am

WILLIE GEIST: We're going to get to our top talkers and something Joe was referring to just a couple minutes ago. Former CIA operative, Middle East operative Bob Baer, well-known guy. He's written some books. He's been a guest on our show, was on "Hardball" last night, telling us whether or not torture or enhanced interrogation techniques, actually work, whether they're a good way to get information out of people. Here's Bob Baer.

BOB BAER [On "Hardball"]: You cannot rely on torture and we did exactly that to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah and they went on about the second wave, all these other attacks, Padilla, other ones that were only fantasies in their minds and that's what it produced. It tied up the FBI for all these years now, following these false leads. It got us no where. Waterboarding is illegal internationally and in this country. We've prosecuted. It does go back to the Spanish Inquisition. It is torture. When you waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times I can pretty well safely say the man is almost brain dead. This is torture.

GEIST: So, Joe, that's the opinion of one former CIA operative. Not even what you heard from other CIA agents, though.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, not only that, but I don't know if Mr. Baer doesn't have a TV set. If he did, this could have been cleared up before he went on TV and embarrassed himself. First of all, Dennis Blair himself, two days ago, had a memo released that said, that we basically uncovered the al Qaeda network through these interrogation techniques. He said this. Bob Baer, and anybody else that books Bob Baer, please listen. "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the Al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country. I like to think that I would not have approved the methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations." Etc. Etc. Etc. And that document will be released that Dick Cheney is talking about that shows about 50 percent of the actionable intelligence we received since September 11th came through interrogation techniques. 50 percent.

...

6:13

SCARBOROUGH: So, Bob Baer, first of all, said this was not actionable intelligence. And I only say this, because this is the information that gets out on TV and in the newspapers and in magazines and I can understand why Americans are confused and I apologize that people are giving you bad information. But when he says we got no information and Dennis Blair says we got a lot of information and we understand al Qaeda because of those techniques. Number one, he's wrong. Number two when he says Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is brain dead, close to brain dead, if he had a TV set, just watched TV or read newspapers, he would know that was wrong. And the third thing was, and I'm surprised Bob Baer doesn't know this, and I'm just going to say this because you will also know this, you get reports that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 186 times. And so we said, did they strap him down the entire month?

BRZEZINSKI: Hold him under water for an entire month?

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, exactly. They set it up and the way they counted waterboarding, every time you poured water on, if a drop went on him, they marked that down. He's been waterboarded one time. So, in one session, you could have 20, 30, 40 so-called waterboardings where they tip it over. Talk to him. Tip it over. Talk to him. I'm not saying that's moral or immoral. You're going to have to judge that as an American and what you want this country to be. I'm just saying, the misinformation continues and it's very bad for the country. And again, as we said, Mika, the people who suffer are our CIA agents who are painted as beasts by people who should know better.

BRZEZINSKI: I think that's a really important point.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org