MSNBC Blames Republicans for 'Swiftboating' Bergdahl

It did not take long for MSNBC to begin blaming the right-wing “anti-Obama machine” for the backlash against the Bergdahl prisoner swap. Intent on ignoring their own poll in which 65%  of respondents didn’t support Obama’s decision to make the exchange, the June 3 edition of The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell went above and beyond in criticizing Republicans for “swiftboating” Bergdahl.         

After airing multiple clips from Fox News, host Ari Melber, filling in for O’Donnell, went so far as to claim that “many of the loudest voices here on the Right today remain utterly uninterested in any of the questions, and are instead obsessed with hurling any accusation that might, just might, stick to this particular president.” He accused Republican strategists of manipulating Bergdahl’s platoon members for testimony discrediting Bergdahl, an outrageous claim considering these veterans came forward of their own accord and even created a Facebook group labeling the Bergdahl as a deserter. [See video below. Click here for audio]



Later in the episode, guest Karen Finney, host of her own liberal MSNBC show, blasted Republicans for victimizing Bergdahl, saying they are being “opportunistic” and “disgusting.” Melber agreed, stating, “there is nothing more anti-American here, than being anti-American.” Obviously MSNBC believes that legitimate questions about a unilateral, dangerous move by President Obama is more “anti-American” than a soldier who deserted his comrades in a time of war.

See transcript below

The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell
10:01 p.m.
10 seconds
ARI MELBER: But first, we’re gonna look at the right-wing play book for the newly released American POW, a wounded man who isn’t even out of the hospital yet. Swiftboat first. Ask questions later.

10:02 p.m.
5 minutes 23 seconds

MELBER: There is a lot we still don't know about the prisoner transfer that returned former American POW Bowe Bergdahl to US custody. Whether he was he lost or was he a deserter, for example? Or whether this trade could lead to larger negotiations with the Taliban. What we do know is that Bergdahl, a former POW under treatment at a military hospital, is being swiftboated by the reflexive anti-Obama machine. And we know that whatever process he may ultimately face, whatever judgment he might ultimately be issued even in a military court, we know that right now, he does deserve better than this. Last night, Bill O'Reilly said Bergdahl's father looked Muslim. Today, Fox built on that theme.

FOX: I mean he says he was growing his beard because his son was, was in captivity. Well your son is out now. So if you really don't, no longer want to, look like a member of the Taliban, you don't have to look like a member of the Taliban. Are you out of razors?

MELBER: Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on a very unusual Republican project, a former aide to Mitt Romney, is now organizing a PR push for Bergdahl's former platoon members. Take a look at this pretty unusual line from today's paper we are seeing. “‘Yes, I'm angry, Joshua Cornelison,’ a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview”–and this is the important part-- “in an interview arranged by Republican strategists.” What exactly are Republican strategists doing in the middle of that reporting? The Times then also went on to quote another former platoon mate of Bergdahl who offered a seemingly minor social detail. Saying “‘he wouldn't drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds,’ said in an interview also arranged by republican strategists.” Those soldiers of course have every right to their views, but many of their new political allies have little interest here in the facts or the history around Bergdahl, this swiftboating is hunting much bigger game.

FOX: We have a federal statute which makes it a felony to provide material assistance to a terrorist organization. Including human assets. So I have argued that by letting these people free, and their natural and probable results of them being let free is that they will rejoin this terrorist organization. The president has done what his justice department prosecuted people for, successfully prosecuted people for. Providing material assistance to a terrorist organization.

MELBER: You don't have to listen very closely there to hear why conservatives are so downright excited about all of this. This is not a debate for them about policy. About whether this was the right trade. Which would be, of course, the fair debate. It is now a debate about working against America and a pretty conspiratorial link between some of the worst accusations against this former POW which are currently totally unproven. And rhetorical questions about this particular president's commitment to our national security.

BILL O’REILLY: The release of the five Taliban war criminals, sets a troubling precedent. And is almost indefensible in the face of Sergeant Bergdahl's status. Mr. Obama is going to do what he wants to do. And the consequences be damned. I believe that assessment is accurate. Just think about it. Why would you swap one alleged deserter because surely president Obama knows the guy left his unit voluntarily, for five, five notorious war criminals? Why would anyone do that? It simply doesn't make sense. Because these Taliban guys will go back to killing people.

MELBER: Why would anybody do that, Bill O'Reilly wants to know? Why ever release any fighter who targeted Americans? That could sound like a damning question to people who have no familiarity with our history whatsoever. But countries, of course, make tough calls about exchanging POWs all the time. And they do so often at the end of many conflicts that involve living with our former enemies. Not vanquishing every last one of them. Even Fox News viewers reminded of that basic historical fact when a former national security counsel from the Bush administration was asked about this transfer deal.

JOHN BELLINGER: I do think this is a defensible deal. This is not an easy decision. And, and, and, the national security world often for government, you are caught between hard choices like this. So, certainly this deal can be criticized. But, you know, sometime in the next couple of years, perhaps as early as 2015, we would be required to return these Taliban anyway. The war in Afghanistan is winding down. And we would be required at the end of the conflict to return them. It seems reasonable in this case to get our -- our Sergeant Bergdahl back, not new leave him on the battlefield. To return people we would have to return sooner or later anyway.

MELBER: Bellinger served as Bush's Senior Associate Council and he also advised the National Security Council. There are of course serious questions to ask about Bowe Bergdahl, his record and whether this transfer was worth the risk, a risk that exists, a risk that we have to measure. But it is telling that so many of the loudest voices here on the Right today remain utterly uninterested in any of the questions. And are instead obsessed with hurling any accusation that might, just might, stick to this particular president.

10:13 p.m.
1 minute and 19 seconds

MELBER: And Karen, as we look at the fallout from all this, at what point do these kind of attacks on this POW, before he’s had a potential day in court, if he ever has a day in court, at what point do you think they may actually backfire on some of these Right-wing critics?

KAREN FINNEY: I hope sooner rather than later. But I think here is one of the things they have done on the right. They have jumbled all of these issues together. And they're sort of using surrogates, if you will, to attack this young man. And sort of attack, which is an American idea. that you are innocent until proven guilty, by the way, it’s part of what we’re supposed to be fighting for. But, you know, that they have jumbled all of this together so that essentially the focus is on, questioning President Obama's decision making. Rather than, I mean, we have a number of different issues here, right. Rather than separating them out and taking them piece by piece. They are, I think, as Steve said, being very opportunistic. And I have to say it’s really disgusting. It was not even, within hours, we saw attacks on this young man, on this decision. And there wasn't even a moment. You would have liked to have seen a moment of, let's all rejoice as a country that, you know, this young man was freed and then let's deal with the other issues. But we, we barely even got that moment.

MELBER: Right. The issues are, as we have said larger than this individual. I really think there is nothing more anti-American here, than being anti-American. And to the extent that these attacks are political the ones coming from the Republicans quoted in The New York Times and people with vendettas against the individual, it’s totally out of bounds. I distinguish that from some of his former platoon mates who may have their owns views and no political ax to grind. We are going to keep on the story, obviously. Karen Finney and Steven Clemons, thank you for your time tonight.

Laura Flint
Laura Flint is a 2014 summer intern for the MRC's News Analysis Division.