MSNBC Anchors Promote Disingenuous Democratic Ad Butchering Reagan's Debt Ceiling Speech

July 20th, 2011 6:17 PM

At least five MSNBC anchors since Tuesday have promoted a cherry-picked House Democratic Caucus video that distorts President Ronald Reagan's position on the debt ceiling, inaccurately asserting that President Barack Obama is more in line with Reagan than the Republicans.

If any of the anchors had played the entirety of Reagan's 1987 radio address, instead of giving free air time to the Democratic Party's deceptively edited spot, they would have heard Reagan articulate a position on the debt ceiling almost identical to House Republicans' and nearly opposite Obama's: "You don't need more taxes to balance the budget. Congress needs the discipline to stop spending more, and that can be done with the passage of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget." Lo and behold, the House passed a plan last night, "cut, cap, and balance," that contained both spending cuts and a balanced budget amendment.

A compilation video of MSNBC anchors misrepresenting Reagan is below the page break:

Leading the charge, Reagan-hating Reverend Al Sharpton pleaded with Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) to do what he contended Reagan would have done. "In the name of Ronald Reagan," bellowed Sharpton, anchoring the 6 p.m. ET hour of Tuesday's MSNBC Live, "I think this president in the White House right now sounds a lot more like Ronald Reagan than you guys do."

Anchoring MSNBC's 11 a.m. ET hour on Wednesday, Thomas Roberts invoked Reagan to query former Bill Clinton economic adviser Robert Reich:

Alright, so there we have it. President Reagan tying this up in a nutshell. For current day Republicans that evoke President Reagan's name so much, why don't Republicans listen to that message from the icon that they have in Ronald Reagan and move off of some of the far-right rhetoric that we've been hearing over the last weeks and months?

While Republicans were voting to put America's fiscal house in order, Lawrence O'Donnell, host of "The Last Word," was trying to teach Republicans one of Reagan's "lessons," though in doing so he actually undermined Obama's position on the debt limit:

Somewhat to my surprise, that lesson that Ronald Reagan was trying to teach about the debt ceiling, what it actually means, what happens if you wouldn't raise it. He said that in the context of having to sign a debt ceiling increase that included pieces that he did not like, that he was absolutely opposed to, but he said I got to sign it because if I don't, look what happens.

By O'Donnell's logic, if Reagan did the right thing by signing into law a debt ceiling increase that contained elements with which he "absolutely opposed," then Obama should urge the Senate to pass the House Republicans' "cut, cap, and balance" bill so he can sign it into law, raise the debt ceiling, and avert economic calamity. After all, administration officials recently derided the House package as the "Ryan Plan on steroids" and the president promised to veto it if it ever reached his desk.

Less than an hour after O'Donnell unwittingly undercut Obama's position with Reagan's words, Rachel Maddow did an able job describing just how absurd MSNBC is for thinking Reagan would have been in lockstep with Obama on the debt ceiling:

Of course Reagan was a noted communist, long-haired hippy. It is important to recognize that this is the state of debate right now in half of Washington. In half of Washington, the Democrats are using Ronald Reagan from the 80s, and everything else they can think of, to try to convince Republicans that defaulting on the national debt would be bad. Think about that for a second.

Bringing to mind Chance the Gardener in the 1979 film "Being There," Maddow continued: "On the House side, the conversation could not be more basic. It's like economy blow up, bad thing! America sad if economy blow up. Economy blow up, no!"

During Wednesday's "Hardball," Chris Matthews played the Democrats' misleading clip before accusing Republicans of engaging in "economic terrorism": "There [Reagan] is saying this brinksmanship, this trickery, around the time of a deadline just to get your way is sort of economic terrorism."

As the MRC chronicled in its special report, "Rewriting Ronald Reagan: How the Media Have Worked to Distort, Dismantle and Destroy His Legacy," it is incredible to see MSNBC hailing Reagan's position but unsurprising to see the network misrepresenting it.

--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.