The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/13/12
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ezra.
What you talked about Ron Paul, I`ve been trying to get my head around
for a very long time. And the way you just put it was so clarifying and so
right on, and I am so glad you did that, man.
KLEIN: Well, thank you very much. It`s high praise coming from you.
All right. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next
hour. For most of the day the news has been focused on Egypt and on Yemen
and the protests of U.S. embassies in those countries and in about nine
other countries around the globe today. These protests flaring in response
to a crude, obscure, anti-Muslim video of still murky origins.
NBC`s Richard Engel is going to be joining us live from Cairo shortly,
with all the latest news from there. And you can see, these are images
from Cairo. People still gathered near the U.S. embassy, still rather
hairy situation as you can see there. We`ll be checking in with Richard
When Moammar Gadhafi was still alive, when he was still the dictator
of Libya, Gadhafi had a plan to settle the conflict between Israel and the
Palestinians. To settle that issue once and for all, in a very simple way,
all you had to do, he said, was make a new place – a new place that would
be called Isratine. So it was like Israel and Palestine but you combined
them so it would be Isratine. He thought just calling a new place that
would settle everything.
Moammar Gadhafi also had a Condoleezza Rice problem in he loved
Condoleezza Rice too much. When his compound in Tripoli was overrun by
rebel forces one thing he found in his living quarters was kind of a mash
book of pictures and clippings about Condoleezza Rice – every page a new
thing about Condoleezza Rice. Eek!
Gadhafi it turns out was also afraid of the top floors of buildings
that had multiple floors. Gadhafi also never liked to go anywhere without
a buxom Ukrainian nurse. He actually had a whole fleet of Ukrainian
nurses. But there was one particular buxom blond one he liked with him at
Also, Gadhafi`s son once booked pop star Mariah Carey to perform for
the Gadhafi family at a New Year`s Eve bash on the island of St. Barts.
Some of those weird things about Gadhafi we learned once his regime
fell last year, when people started going through his creepy belongings.
But some of those things including the buxom nurse thing, some of those
things we learned about Gadhafi because of WikiLeaks, a trove of WikiLeaks
State Department cables related to Libya were released in late 2010 and
early 2011, right around the time the rebel uprising was starting in that
One of the Libya documents that was published by WikiLeaks had been
written by Christopher Stevens who later became the U.S. ambassador to
Libya. He`s the ambassador who was killed in the attack on the U.S.
consulate in Benghazi two nights ago.
Christopher Stevens was an Arabic speaker. He was a longtime student
of Libya. He had lived in the country on and off for a long time. He
understood the country well.
And in 2008, he wrote what in retrospect now seems to be a really
important and really chilling memo about this particular place in Libya.
See, we`ll show you.
This is where Libya is on the map of North Africa, right? You can see
Libya sort of juts into the Mediterranean at two different points, on the
west side and on the east side. On the western side there, you see is
Tripoli. That is the capital of Libya.
But it is way over on the other peninsula on the right on the eastern
part of the country where the city of Benghazi is located. This place that
Christopher Stevens, our ambassador who was just killed, the place he wrote
about in 2008 in this cable that was uncovered by WikiLeaks, it`s right
there next to Benghazi. It`s the city of Derna.
And in order to understand how it is we just had an ambassador
murdered, it`s worth knowing what the ambassador had to say about this
place. It`s really interesting and it seems to be connected.
Derna is famous in America for anything. It is for a bad reason.
When the Iraq War was its worse, when jihadist foreign fighters were
flooding into Iraq from all over the world to go martyr themselves trying
to kill American troops in Iraq, al Qaeda documents that were seized by the
U.S. army in Iraq showed the little town of Derna in Libya sent more
volunteers to die in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 than any other place in the
entire Arab world.
Libya, per capita, as a country, sent more fighters to Iraq than any
other country, but it was specifically Derna, that town, that sent the
highest number of fighters. The most. Full stop.
And in 2008, the man who would become our ambassador, Christopher
Stevens, he went to Derna to assess the state of militancy and anti-
Americanism there. And his cable back to Washington actually used the
Bruce Willis movie “Die Hard” as an analogy for understanding how intense
the local attitudes were there about jihad.
Once the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi was under way, CNN reported
this June that al Qaeda central, the part that used to be headed by bin
Laden, al Qaeda central dispatched a top operator from the tribal areas in
Pakistan to go to Derna, to go to that part of Libya to capitalize on that
town`s legendary militancy and also what, by then, was the raging fight
against Gadhafi`s forces in Libya, specifically.
The assignment was to set Derna up just outside of Benghazi as
essentially a new mini Afghanistan. A new hub for al Qaeda with multiple
training camps there for al Qaeda fighters. That was last year.
And ultimately, this murder of an American ambassador did not happen
in Tripoli, didn`t happen way over on the western part of the country in
the capital where the U.S. has its embassy in which is guarded by U.S.
Marines and has full security. It didn`t happen there. It happened when
the ambassador was in this lightly fortified consulate building over in the
eastern part of the country, in a city that`s basically right next to what
al Qaeda is trying to build as a new hub for terrorist training.
The city of Benghazi, right near Derna, is a city in the past few
months have seen multiple attacks that are not just about local grievances
or lingering anti-Gadhafi stuff. They`re about targeting the West.
On May 22nd, there was an attack on the Red Cross in Benghazi. A
group claimed credit for it. In so doing, they filmed the entire attack
and then in their video, they interspersed footage of the attack with other
traditional al Qaeda type references in other al Qaeda videos.
In this case, they interspersed pictures of the attack with a speech
about martyrdom that took place under the black flag of Islamist militancy
that you can see here. And this was not a run-of-the-mill, we`re mad about
local issues attack. They were not attacking a target of strategic local
significance for Libya. They picked a Western target. They picked a
Western international target, The Red Cross.
The name of this group claiming credit for that attack on the Red
Cross, they said their name is the Brigade for the Release of the
Imprisoned Shaykh Omar Abdulrahman.
Well, OK, the imprisoned Shaykh Omar Abdulrahman who is currently
imprisoned in North Carolina, in Butner, North Carolina. It`s the blind
sheikh guy who was imprisoned in connection with the first World Trade
Center bombing in 1993.
So, these gangs of militants in Benghazi is not saying that they`re
mad about Gadhafi. They`re not mad about corruption or some local issue.
They are named after a guy who`s in prison in America for plotting attacks
in New York City. And to express their anger about it, they attacked the
The following month, the United States announced that U.S. drone
strike had killed a Libyan who was the second ranking guy in al Qaeda
central. He`s a guy who went by the moniker al-Libi which means the
The same group in Benghazi responded immediately within 24 hours.
They launched another attack that they filmed al Qaeda-style, and they
ultimately claimed credit for it. This time their target was the U.S.
consulate in Benghazi, the same U.S. consulate where Christopher Stevens
was killed two nights ago. They hit the consulate with an IED. They
turned the attack into an al Qaeda-style video piece of propaganda.
Less than a week later, the same group hit a British envoy in Benghazi
with a car bomb. That a envoy ultimately escaped. But again, it had the
hallmarks of either al Qaeda inspiration or al Qaeda training. They filmed
the incident, they dropped leaflets, they tried to take as much credit as
And then on the morning of September 11th, this week, al Qaeda central
put out a video calling for attacks to avenge that same killing of al-Libi
that the group in Benghazi had avenged before when it was first announced
he was killed.
And by that night, by the night of September 11th this week, we had
what appears to an organized military style, sustained, sophisticated,
complex attack on the same consulate again and this time they killed the
American ambassador and three other Americans. As we learn more about that
attack, the idea that this was a protest gone wrong, that it was a
grassroots angry mob that overran this facility, that seems less and less
likely. It was a sustained attack that took place over more than four
hours. We`re now told it involved two different locations – the original
consulate building and another supposedly safe site to which consulate
personnel were removed.
The weapons of the attackers included rocket propelled grenades, which
even in a well-armed populous isn`t what a shop keeper keeps around to be
used in the amount of blasphemy. Rocket-propelled grenades?
Today, al Jazeera English reporter Hoda Abdel Hamid went into the now
burned out U.S. consulate building in Benghazi and al Jazeera essentially
recreated what happened that night. Reporters spoke to witnesses who were
We should note that not all of these details in this report have been
independently confirmed by NBC News. I think this is important. I want
you to watch part of it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HODA ABDEL HAMID, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH: This is the gate from which the
attackers entered the grounds of the consulate. Now, according to the
witnesses here, they were in four cars with black flags and were heavily
armed. Their first stop was that building.
It`s the canteen of the consulate. There are four one-story buildings
in the compound. The gunmen made their way to one after the other.
This is the main building of the consulate. Now, it came under rocket
attack and it was set ablaze as a terrible smell of smoke. Now, according
to witnesses, the ambassador was locked in that room behind that metal
gate. And with the heavy smoke, they couldn`t find the key to get him out.
The ambassador was trapped here. Some people came in, got him out
from this window.
Those protesting the anti-Islam movie have stayed outside of the
compound during the shootout. Theirs was a peaceful demonstration. But
looters joined in, ransacked everything and took away whatever they could
on their way out. Witnesses here say this could have only been a well-
Maybe an act of revenge for the killing of al Qaeda`s number two, a
Libyan national, who died in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan a few months
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Witnesses say this could have only been a well-planned
attack. The attackers arriving in four cars, all at once, flying black
Also, NPR`s Lela Fadel also spoke to a number of witnesses on the
scene. People who were in the area that night. Here`s what she reported a
short time ago.
She said, “A lot of the witnesses we`ve spoken to, neighbors, the son
of a landlord, a Libyan guard who was wounded in the first part of the
attack on Tuesday night, all say there was no protest at all. They say it
began and ended as an organized attack on the consulate.”
An organized attack. Anybody who tells you that what happened to our
ambassador and our consulate in Libya was as a result of a protest over an
offensive movie, you should ask them why they think that. That`s the first
version of events we heard. That does not seem to explain what happened
that night or by the facts or the more facts we get.
One of the known local militants group which is maybe just an up
umbrella group named for all the religious militants in the Benghazi and
Derna area has issued a vaguely worded claim of at least participation if
not responsibility for the attack on the consulate. But “The Guardian”
newspaper is reporting on a new video showing militants from that group
driving off with vehicles that were stolen from the consulate compound.
This is not about that movie, that stupid anti-Islam movie that is
driving the protests at Cairo and around the world today. We`re going to
be talking more about that later. What happened with the murder of four
Americans including our ambassador in Libya does not seem to be the product
of an angry crowd of civilians. It appears to be militant, armed,
internationally directed terrorism by an organized group. If it`s not an
al Qaeda attack, it`s an al Qaeda-style attack, which is frankly what the
threat we used to think to as al Qaeda has turned into.
It`s Boca Haram in Nigeria. They like attacking churches. Human
Rights Watch says that Boca Haram have killed more than 1,000 people in the
past three years.
It`s al Shabaab in Somalia, cutting off people`s hands, stoning people
It`s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, over in Yemen. The latest
drone strike against the senior al Qaeda leader announced by the United
States was reportedly the killing of their number two leader on Monday.
It`s Ansar al Dine in Mali. They`re the ones who have been destroying
the religious shrines in Timbuktu. Timbuktu is not just a metaphor for a
faraway place on the UNESCO world heritage site list. ? They`ve got an
actual, real al Qaeda style Islamic militant problem.
It`s also al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali and in Nigeria and
in neighboring countries. They and Ansar al Dine have essentially taken
control of northern Mali right now.
Now, some of these groups have al Qaeda in their name. Some of them
do not. But what matters to the United States right now is not just names.
What matters to the United States right now not just in terms of our
interest in how things broadly go in other parts of the world but in terms
of our own national security as Americans is how much these groups and
others like this are interested in and moving toward international
terrorism. How much they are interested not just in the local concerns
that make them a plague to their host governments, and the civilians who
are in their way, but how much their ideology turns their interest and
their targeting toward us, toward western targets.
I do not mean to be harsh about this, but what we are looking for as a
nation in terms of the narrowest conception of our national security, is
where is the overlap between militant trained, armed, organized fighting
groups and anti-American ideology? Because that overlap is the U.S.
consulate attack in Benghazi, and this Brigade for the Release of the
Imprisoned Shaykh Omar Abdulrahman. And the first murder of an American
ambassador in a generation.
What you`re seeing protests at U.S. embassies in the Muslim world is
anti-Americanism, but not the same thing that happened in Libya. It`s a
different kind of threat that comes from a different place and requires a
NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins us live from
Cairo, Egypt. That`s next.
MADDOW: The old expression is Republicans don`t fall in love, they
fall in line. For the party`s faithful, Mitt Romney`s response to the
embassy attack in Libya is testing that maxim to the limit. That story is
Plus, Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: This is live footage of Cairo right now where the protests at
the U.S. embassy are into their third day. Protests sparked by objections
to an obscure, crude, anti-Muslim film that apparently originated in the
United States and for which protesters are assigning blame to the U.S.
The protests have now spread from yesterday`s initial protest in
Egypt. This is footage from protests in Iraq today. There were also
protests in Lebanon and in Morocco and in Sudan and in Tunisia and in Iran
and in Bangladesh. We are told to possibly expect large protests tomorrow
Some of the most aggressive protests today came in Yemen. NBC`s
Richard Engel reports on that.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The
protesters in Yemen set out to destroy the American embassy in Sana`a to
punish an insult against Islam. Protesters climbed the perimeter fence,
undeterred by Yemeni security forces who tried to keep them back with water
The crowds pushed forward and managed to get inside the embassy
parking lot, smashing windows, torching vehicles, using a forklift to do
even more damage. This time, the U.S. embassy was prepared. Staff was
moved to a safe location. No one was hurt.
In Cairo, another embassy under siege, but Egyptian security forces
are finally taking decisive action. Riot police battled demonstrators all
day. More than 200 were overcome by tear gas.
As the air burned with the stuff, protesters told me their goal was to
get to the Cairo embassy and take vengeance. Why, I asked? Because the
United States has insulted the prophet, they scream. Repeated U.S.
statements that Washington has no affiliation with the offensive Internet
movie that sparked this crisis aren`t being listened to here, just
religious passion and the blindness of a mob.
And Egypt`s new president isn`t doing much to calm things. President
Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood says he supports protests against
religious insults, but he also denounced attacks on foreign embassies. It
was a condemnation but a couched one.
Egypt needs the West. Morsi is looking for nearly $5 billion in loans
from the International Monetary Fund. The protests in Egypt and Yemen are
small, but not isolated. There have been angry demonstrations in 11
countries so far. Half of them in places where Washington supported
protesters who toppled their regimes, bringing more democracy, but also
unleashing deep hatred and zealotry that`s now focused on U.S. properties
MADDOW: Joining us now live from Cairo is NBC`s chief foreign
correspondent Richard Engel.
Richard, thanks for being here again. I appreciate you staying up
into the middle of the night. I know you spoke with those protesters
outside the embassy today.
Why do they believe the U.S. government is responsible for this anti-
Muslim Internet video?
ENGEL: Because they think the United States is secretly paying for
not only this movie but lots of activities like this. They think it is
part of a hidden agenda, a secret plot where the U.S. condemns this kind of
thing but secretly funds organizations like this and as evidence they say
look what happened in Afghanistan, U.S. troops destroyed Korans. You`ve
had preachers in America who will burn Korans, and movies that come out and
are insulting to Islam.
A series of events yet no action is taken. They believe that is
evidence the U.S. secretly wants this in order to undermine Islam and that
is also part of a plot that involves Zionists and the Freemasons.
MADDOW: Richard, in terms of – I know you and I have talked a lot
over the years about the persistence of conspiracy theories. Not just in
the Middle East but in lots of parts of the world that the U.S. is
seemingly powerless to penetrate. Is there anything that you think that
U.S. diplomacy, U.S. leadership could do to disabuse the Arab street in
Cairo of those notions about what the U.S. government is responsible for?
ENGEL: A lot more education, more education on free thinking, history
books. There is a mentality that has engulfed this region for the last 40
years. The region`s dictators are in part responsible for imposing this
mentality. That is a closed circuit, it`s a way of looking at the world
that sees it through a conspiratorial paradigm and that was convenient for
the dictators because it got people hating the West, hating Israel, hating
America, and not hating their own leaders who presented themselves as the
only thing that could protect the people of this region from this onslaught
that was coming in from the outside and those mentalities don`t die easily.
It`s the same kind of mentality you have in North Korea, by the way.
It`s not just in the Middle East. It`s something that is indicative when
you have a totalitarian regime.
I was in North Korea and I spoke to the miners we worked with and they
were convinced that American schoolchildren every day wake up plotting how
to bring down North Korea and when I told them that is really just not the
case, people in the U.S. don`t wake up every morning trying to think how
they can undermine the people of North Korea, they just didn`t believe me.
And that`s a problem. We have this mindset that`s been imposed on a
region for a long time and they need education, they need more free
thinking and they need to break out of that conspiracy theory.
MADDOW: Richard, in terms of the scenes behind you and what we`ve
been able to see tonight in terms of footage from Cairo, what can you tell
us about the intensity of what`s going on there and the change in the
response from the Egyptian authorities that you described in that report
that we just aired.
ENGEL: When the protest first broke out here, and it happened quickly
and demonstrators rushed up to the embassy, there really wasn`t much of a
response at all from Egyptian authorities. Protesters climbed over the
embassy walls. They pulled down the flag. They put up a new flag. They
climbed back over the wall. They wrote graffiti on the outside of the
walls. That all takes time.
The Egyptian authorities just sauntered up and eventually chased them
away. We saw a decisive change happening pretty much yesterday and then
into today where the Egyptian authorities moved out with riot gear, with
tear gas, and decided to physically push people back from the embassy and
that`s why you`re seeing these heavier clashes which only convince those
who have a conspiratorial mind that they are correct.
Why else would the Egyptian authorities be fighting back, using
American tear gas? Because once again, they are firing American tear gas
on these people here if they didn`t have something to hide, if they weren`t
defending some sort of hidden secret conspiracy.
MADDOW: Richard, I know that you`ve spent a lot of time not just in
Egypt but in Cairo, specifically. Do you feel like it`s not just the
protesters, that there`s an overall hostility of the population of Cairo?
Or is this a small group not representative of the larger views of the
ENGEL: I think this is a small group. These are a group of
Salifists. Some of them are what you might even call soccer hooligans who
have joined in. Some of them have unemployed people.
They all share a common belief that what they`re doing is right to
defend this video that besmirched the image of Islam, besmirched the image
of Muhammad. But this is not representative of the larger situation in
If you can – it`s nighttime, so you can`t really do it, but if you
widen out, you can see those protests are happening in the corner of Tahrir
Square and on a little street that goes down to the embassy, itself. But
if you widen out, there is still traffic moving around the rest of Tahrir
Square, and if you go a few blocks from here, it`s now 3:30 in the morning,
so not much is going on, but earlier in the day, life was proceeding pretty
much as normal.
And I think there`s a large segment of Egyptian society, society
across the Middle East, that would be very happy to be done with this
chapter and does not like what is going on here.
MADDOW: That is one of the first heartening things I`ve heard about
this situation all day today. Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign
correspondent, thank you again for your time and your late night, Richard.
Stay safe. Talk with you soon.
ENGEL: My pleasure.
All right. Someone who is not entirely clear, but someone makes a
stupid and blasphemous video that causes this to happen today. People
incredibly angry with the U.S. government which would not make or condone
said blasphemous video. Why that is and why that can maybe start to be
fixed. That`s coming up.
MADDOW: In the past 36 hours, the world has become familiar with the
name and face of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, the
lifelong diplomat who was murdered in Tuesday`s attack on the U.S.
consulate in Benghazi. We`re also learning more about the other Americans
who were killed alongside Ambassador Stevens.
Information management officer Sean Smith was an a temporary
assignment to Libya for which he volunteered. Secretary of State Clinton
is calling Mr. Smith one of the foreign service`s best.
The other two Americans killed, we now know, are both former Navy
SEALs working in Libya as private security contractors. Tyrone Woods from
Imperial Beach, California, was a 20-year military veteran, father of two
small children. Glen Doherty of Encinitas, California, was a native of
Winchester, Massachusetts. Since his retirement as a Navy SEAL sniper in
2005, Mr. Doherty took on private security work in places such as
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen and Libya.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that both men gave their
lives working to protect their colleagues. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Ohio Senator Rob Portman did not get picked to be the
Republican Party`s vice presidential nominee this year. His consolation
prize is that he is now a top Romney campaign surrogate. And in that
capacity, Senator Portman was asked today about the political fight that`s
happening here in the United States around the attacks on U.S. embassies
over the last few days.
Watch what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: What happened in Egypt, which was a
statement from the U.S. government, the first statement that came out, and
it said, at its start, we apologize. I think most Americans, Charlie,
would look at that and say, gosh, that`s not the appropriate response when
your embassy is assaulted, your flag is taken down and Islamic flags are
put up over American territory and lives were in jeopardy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, as you know, the statement from the
U.S. embassy in Cairo was issued before there were any attacks. They were
issued because there was concern about protests. Do you know that?
PORTMAN: No, I was not aware that it was issued before there were any
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Even acknowledging there that he did not know what he was
talking about. That he did not know that what Mitt Romney was accusing the
U.S. embassy in Cairo of was something that embassy did not do. Even
acknowledging that, Senator Rob Portman went on to say Mitt Romney was
right to make the accusation anyway. And that`s been what day two of this
story has been like, amazingly.
The whole reason there are domestic politics in this story at all is
because while the U.S. government was being physically attacked abroad,
while the U.S. consulate in Libya and the U.S. embassy in Egypt, was under
siege, before the attacks were over, while they were still happening,
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney put out a statement also
attacking the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
There were already reports at that point that at least one American
had been killed in Benghazi. He referenced that in his statement. That
did not stop him from attacking the other embassy, from waging a political
attack at all. It did not give him pause maybe he should wait to find out
more about what was happening before he spoke.
Not only did he not wait for more information, he did not wait for the
attacks to stop before he added his own attack on the staff of the embassy
And so a crisis that would otherwise be seen as America under attack,
this is no time for politics, instead became very much a time for politics
when even Mr. Romney`s own party recoiled in horror at how badly he bungled
A senior Republican foreign policy strategist telling “BuzzFeed”
yesterday that the Romney campaign was, quote, “just trying to score a
cheap news cycle hit” and now it`s just completely blown up, calling the
Romney campaign strategy a, quote, “utter disaster” and saying the Romney
campaign is, quote, incompetent at talking effectively about foreign
Former top John McCain aide Mark Salter calling the Romney attack
unfair and hyperbolic and unseemly in its timing.
Peggy Noonan urging toward Mr. Romney toward cool words or no words in
But then the Republican Party decided overnight despite how Mitt
Romney screwed this up, he is their candidate so they better get onboard
with him? There was Rob Portman on the CBS morning show – I didn`t know
what I was saying was inaccurate, I stand by it anyway.
Then there was John McCain on the “Today” show and John McCain again
on MSNBC this morning.
And Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra on this local talk radio
station this morning.
And Jon Kyl with an amazingly off color rape analogy.
And George W. Bush U.N. ambassador John Bolton in the “Washington
And Donald Rumsfeld on Twitter all now saying, yes, OK, we`re onboard
with the way Mitt Romney is handling this, which might make sense in terms
of short-term strategy, in terms of trying to get their guy elected, right?
But whether or not their guy is elected, all of these folks have now
committed themselves and their reputations forever to siding with the guy
whose campaign previewed a Mitt Romney presidency in which an American
ambassador is murdered and an American embassy is attacked and the role of
the U.S. president in that circumstance would be to rush to the microphones
before the attack was even over and launch his same attack on that same
U.S. embassy. You`re on his side now.
Former “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PORTMAN: What happened in Egypt, which was a statement from the U.S.
government, the first statement that came out, and it said, at its start,
we apologize. I think most Americans, Charlie, would look at that and say,
gosh, that`s not the appropriate response when your embassy is assaulted,
your flag is taken down and Islamic flags are put up over American
territory and lives were in jeopardy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, as you know, the statement from the
U.S. embassy in Cairo was issued before there were any attacks. They were
issued because there was concern about protests. Do you know that?
PORTMAN: No, I was not aware that it was issued before there were any
attacks, but I still think, Norah, you know, it implies that somehow these
attacks could be justified.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But it came out before the – what you just – the triumph of
talking points. Ohio Senator Rob Portman totally incoherently leading the
Republican charge to fall if line with Mitt Romney`s attack on the U.S.
embassy in Cairo, an attack he launched late Tuesday night as the embassy
and the consulate in Benghazi were still in danger, as reports of at least
one American death were already coming in.
Republicans at first, frankly, I think to their credit, seemed
appalled by Mr. Romney`s decision to go into political attack mode while
the country was under actual attack overseas. But today we have seen more
and more Republicans stick up for Mr. Romney on this issue, thus finding
themselves forced as Rob Portman was on CBS this morning to adopt Mitt
Romney`s attack on the U.S. embassy as their own. And that`s forever.
Joining us now is Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow at Demos
Public Policy and Advocacy Center. Also, contributor at policyshop.net.
Bob, it is great to see you. Thanks for being here.
BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: You, too, Rachel.
MADDOW: Am I being unfair to Mr. Portman?
HERBERT: Oh, not at all. That`s outrageous. You know, the
Republican Party has become a party without scruples. It`s really amazing
They`ll just lie at a level in this campaign that I really haven`t
seen, you know, politicians have distorted the truth since time immemorial.
I understand that, but kind of the lies that are coming out of this
campaign are really amazing, and then the level of irresponsibility.
I mean, this is a really – this is a tragic situation. It is still
unbelievably dangerous. And these comments coming out from Mitt Romney and
others in the party are undermining the president at a time when the United
States really needs to be putting its best minds together to defuse the
situation if it`s all possible.
MADDOW: I felt like there was an outbreak of scrupulousness, outbreak
of scruples for less than 24 hours, but for a period yesterday when people,
when mainstream journalists who don`t have a dog in the fight, mainstream
political commentators who are essentially observers of the process and a
lot of Republicans, named and unnamed, were at least willing to say this
was a misstep.
Yes, even when people are willing to say, Mitt Romney is our guy, but
this is a misstep. This is not the way you handle this. You put
essentially your country first, not to coin a phrase.
That lasted for a little while. That seems to be over as of primetime
HERBERT: What happens is it`s the party that doesn`t have scruples.
People who are standing up and saying what they really believe are maybe
saying the right thing, suddenly are just whipped into line.
So now it`s like the party has to tow the party line not by saying
Romney made a mistake or Romney spoke too quickly or anything along those
lines but saying – oh, well, you know, actually somehow he was right.
When, in fact, of course, he was not right.
But, you know, they`re paying a real price for this. I mean, what
happens in a presidential election, as opposed to primaries, for example –
excuse me – is in addition to looking at the issues, voters look at the
candidates, themselves, and they get an impression of the candidates they
take into the voting booth in November, and when they`ve had a chance now
to compare President Obama and to compare Mitt Romney. And in that
comparison, Romney has been failing.
Obama, whatever anybody feels about his policies, people understand
that he knows the issues. That he`s a steady hand at the tiller. And that
he is not an irresponsible person. He`s a mature leader.
Romney has been all over the map. People don`t know what he really
believes in. And frequently he has behaved irresponsibly. So he`s failing
that comparison test.
MADDOW: Do you feel like the foreign policy experience weakness, the
on-paper weakness of this ticket, has been magnified in a way that`s going
to be hard for them to reverse?
HERBERT: Oh, absolutely. What shocks me is – you know, Romney has
no foreign policy background, but he`s an intelligent guy. He`s had plenty
of time to get up to speed on these major issues that he knew he`d have to
confront in the campaign, but more important, he`d have to confront if he
were president of the United States. And he has not demonstrated he has
mastered any of these issues.
MADDOW: Even when it comes to the sort of mores of appropriate and
serious behavior when confronted with a violent attack on an American
interest. If you don`t know what to do, fake it until you make it. Follow
what the adults are doing. It`s not that hard. Pretend. Copy some old
HERBERT: Completely agree.
MADDOW: Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow at Demos, thanks for
being here, Bob. I appreciate it.
HERBERT: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Every detail we could find plus the relevant
context about today`s anti-American protests, the latest blasphemous anti-
Muslim material pushed out in the world just to cause a provocation. Some
of this you will not have heard.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The details surrounding a providence of this anti-Islam movie
trailer that sparked outrage in a lot of Muslim countries this week, the
details are woolly as best. Who made it? Who`s in it? Who paid for it?
And is there even a full-length movie that this 14-minute trailer clip
supposedly is supporting?
Initially, it looked like the filmmaker was a guy named Sam Bacile.
But then everybody quickly realized that was a pseudonym. For one thing,
the supposed Sam Bacile gave different basic biographical information about
himself to different interviewers. He changed innocuous, unimportant
details like his age, which is a red flag.
He also said he got his funding from Jewish donors, 50 Jewish donors
and that his film budget was $5 million, another red flag there. Just as a
point of reference, the movie “Rocky,” was made for $1 million.
So, unless you took that $5 million budget and burned all but $50,000
of it and then made this movie, there`s no way its initial budget was $5
ABC News` Brian Ross reports that the filmmaker got the money for the
movie, not $5 million, but $60,000, not from a bunch of donors but from his
wife`s family in Egypt. His wife`s family are Coptic Christians.
As for the stars of the movie, the people in it. Well, with one of
them spoke with the excellent Web site Gawker, she said she had no idea the
movie was going to turn into an anti-Islam screed. Her voice and other
actors` voices were dubbed over in parts, she says she is horrified by what
the movie trailer turned into.
The original casting call for the movie called it “Desert Warriors,”
not “The Innocence of the Muslims,” as it was then titled for the
The “Associated Press” tracked down a guy who admits he helped
produced the film, although he denies being the director of it. In the
1990s, incidentally, this guy pled guilty to drug charges and served a year
in prison. Ten years later, in `09, he was convicted of bank fraud and
served time in prison for that.
Interestingly, there`s a chance he violated the conditions of his
parole if he did make and distribute this movie trailer. But amid all the
confusion about the identity and nationality and basic biographical facts
who the filmmaker or makers might be, the questions that still remain about
this crude movie that nobody has seen, it is still true that somebody put a
14-minute anti-Islam trailer with the production value of a flip cam video
of a VHS tape, of a cable access show on YouTube back in July. Nobody much
noticed of it at the time, but it was then rather lackadaisically promoted
by an assortment of low-profile anti-Muslim bigots in the United States.
It was then redubbed in Arabic by someone. It was then picked up by a
Web site in the U.K., and then it was promoted on Egyptian Arabic language
television leading some to believe that the film has been implicitly
endorsed by the U.S. government.
That broadcast in Egypt was this past Sunday. It was two days later
when an estimated 2,000 people first showed up at the doorstep of the
American embassy in Cairo.
Unlike the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in Libya,
the breach of the U.S. embassy in Cairo this seems to have been the end
result of a pretty massive but pretty organic protest of people who were
just mad about that film.
On the first day of the protest, thousands of people climbed over the
embassy walls. They removed the American flag flying at half-staff. They
burned the flag. They replaced it with a black flag with white lettering,
very similar to the flag of al Qaeda.
Luckily, nobody was killed and no injuries reported in that big
And, of course, this isn`t the first time a provocative public
expression about Islam has sparked unbridled and full throated outrage and
violence. In 2005, the Danish newspaper that published a dozen cartoons
depicting the Prophet Muhammad, a couple of other papers around the world
republished and then in response, violent protests erupted for months and
months, churches and embassies burned and bombed in Pakistan. And in
Nigeria, an estimated 200 people died over a period of about six months.
A couple of years later, a right wing Dutch politician produced a
video that superimposed images of 9/11 over passages from the Koran. It
was seen as so offensive and potentially explosive that no TV station would
broadcast it. Of course, you could still see it on the internet. People
saw it. And the provocateur Dutch politician adopted 24-hour security
protection for years in the face of what officials said were credible death
Two years ago, a fringe, incoherent Florida pastor promoted what he
called burn the Koran day that spurred days of protest in Afghanistan,
ultimately killing nine people.
This past winter, Hillary Clinton was visiting Egypt to mark the
reopening of a consulate in Alexandria. She was greeted there by
protesters throwing shoes and tomatoes at her motorcade. The protesters
were reportedly incensed because of a right wing rumor started in the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: U.S. officials say that the secretary was surprised to
learn that there`s a perception in Egypt that the U.S. manipulated the
recent elections in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That perception in Egypt that somehow Hillary Clinton was the
number one fan of the Muslim Brotherhood, that she was pulling the strings
that led to their election, that perception was fabricated on conservative
American blogs and talk radio shows. And even in one cobweb-y,
conspiratorial, dink corner of the Republican caucus in the United States
House of Representatives. Hello, congresswoman.
Protests continued today in Cairo, and in Yemen and in Iran. Some
clerics in Pakistan called for protests in Pakistan tomorrow. YouTube
today announced that it will restrict access to its site in Egypt and in
YouTube`s been blocked indefinitely in Afghanistan.
But, of course, YouTube does not have the power to make people unsee
what they have already watched. And nobody has the power to force a
civilized detente between provocateurs and the angry mobs who give them
The lead blog at “The New York Times” has been doing great coverage of
this store, including monitoring local media, and local social media in
places where the protests have been happening. The lead blog at “The New
York Times” yesterday rightfully flagged this tweet as a representative
sample of on the street ideas about this stuff.
This tweet from somebody in Tunisia who was observing a protest there
over this stupid film. The tweet says, “And what if mocking Islam was
illegal just like Holocaust denial? U.S. embassy, free speech, just
That is an important point for understanding this international rage
directed at our government for something our government had nothing to do
with. Of course, looking at this tweet, denying the Holocaust is not
illegal in the United States. It may be in some places. It is not here.
No speech is illegal in the United States. But that is a hard thing
for other people in the world to understand, in a world where governments
often do control speech. They do control the media and the arts and
So when Egyptian television is reporting there`s a bigoted crude
American movie insulting Muslims and insulting Islam, people who don`t
understand how American free speech works will think the very existence of
the movie in American means that the American government OK`ed it. It
looks like it has officially endorsed because it has not been officially
We do not speech, even stupid and offensive and provocative speech, we
don`t ban it. Beyond all the chest-thumping by politicians right now about
standing up for the right of free speech in the face of this protest, the
fact is that no American official is not standing up for free speech.
Nobody`s apologizing. Nobody is denying American free speech rights.
But that`s not enough. What we ought to be wanting them to get right
is not just defending free speech, but explaining it in a way that makes
sense to the world.
Now, it is time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a
great night. Thanks for being with us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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