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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/13/12

Guests: Bob Herbert

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. 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. MADDOW: Thanks. 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 momentarily. 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 all times. 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 country. 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 Red Cross. 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 Libyan. 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 possible. 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 there. 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- planned attack. 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 ago. (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 flags, heavily-armed. 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 to death. 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 different response. NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins us live from Cairo, Egypt. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 just ahead. Plus, Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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. government. 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 in Pakistan. Some of the most aggressive protests today came in Yemen. NBC`s Richard Engel reports on that. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 cannons. 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 overseas. (END VIDEOTAPE) 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 population? 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 Cairo even. 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. MADDOW: Thanks. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 attacks. (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 in Egypt. 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 this situation. 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 policy. 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 this crisis. 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 Post". 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (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 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 now. 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 last night. 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 tape. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 million. 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 Internet. 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 protest. 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 threats. 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 United States. (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 Libya. 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 meaning. 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 asking." 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 broadcast. 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 banned. 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 BE UPDATED. END