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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/21/14

Guests: Eugene Robinson

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks a lot, my friend. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. This is one of those big news nights where all the news has been breaking late in the day, all tonight just within the last couple of hours. In just the last hour, we have learned that long-time "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradlee has died. That legendary editor helped turn that paper into the world renowned power house that it is today. He guided the paper, famously, as it broke the news on Watergate. He helped redefine what it meant to be a journalist in America. We`re going to have much more ahead on Ben Bradlee`s life and his work. Including talking shortly with somebody who worked with him at the "Post" for decades. But we begin tonight with current politics. And with bribery allegations. The guy on the left side of your screen is the Republican nominee for governor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. His name is Charlie Baker. The guy on the right side of your screen is a person who wanted to be the Republican nominee for governor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. His name is Mark Fisher. And he was the Tea Party candidate, essentially, in the Republican primary in Massachusetts. He ran against Charlie Baker in that primary. And honestly, the first time either of these guys got any national media attention at all was when their names appeared in effectively dueling bribery allegations. Established Republicans in Massachusetts this year really wanted Charlie Baker to be their guy. And they did not want him to have to deal with primary challenger against the Tea Party guy, right? Running in a Republican primary means running to the right. And in blue state Massachusetts, the last thing Republicans wanted was to how their candidate have had to run to the right in a primary that everybody could see. So the Republican Party in Massachusetts, they try to keep that Tea Party challenger off the primary ballot. Mark Fisher, the Tea Party guy, he was having none of it. He eventually sued the state Republican Party in Massachusetts in order to get himself on the primary ballot and challenge Charlie Baker for the party`s nomination for governor. And that is where the very strange bribery allegations started to come in. First, the Massachusetts Republican Party alleged that the Tea Party guy, Mark Fisher, had told them he would drop his lawsuit and stop trying to get on the ballot if the Massachusetts Republican Party agreed to give him $1 million. Two days later, that Tea Party challenger came out to announce via a hastily called press conference that no, he didn`t ask for $1 million, he said the state Republican Party actually offered him $1 million to drop his lawsuit, to stop trying to get on the ballot and to just go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK FISHER, (R-MA), TEA PARTY CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR: Last December, the Mass GOP came to me and offered me $1 million to drop out of the race for governor. My first reaction was, this is a bribe. This is illegal. This can`t be done. And my second reaction was, they have no clue why I`m running. There`s no amount of money that`s going to get me out of this race. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So that happened. Ultimately the way it worked out is that the Tea Party guy did stay on the ballot, ended up being no big wolf, he lost to Charlie Baker in the primary by 50 points. Nobody really understood why Massachusetts Republicans have worked themselves into this bribery pretzel over that guy. So that was the first set of bribery allegations around the campaign for governor in Massachusetts. That one ended weirdly but at least it did end. There`s another set of unrelated but thematically similar allegations involving Charlie Baker, and those ones, they have not ended. Those ones are ongoing and in fact there is some news on this yesterday and today. The guy on the left is still Charlie Baker. But the scandal involves a different guy on the right. This involves Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. The gist of the allegations in this scandal is that a few years back, Charlie Baker made a personal $10,000 donation to the New Jersey Republican Party. Thereafter, the state of New Jersey had its pension funds turned around and make a $15 million investment in a firm in Massachusetts where Charlie Baker worked. So is that Kosher? It actually remains to be seen if Massachusetts is going to investigate whether there was something fishy about that exchange of money, the personal donation and then the big state of investment. So who knows on the Massachusetts side. On the New Jersey side, they are investigating. New Jersey, of all places, they have strict rules when it comes to campaign donations and not paying out state funds in exchange for those donations. And so, in New Jersey, the state treasurer`s office announced that they would investigate the Charlie Baker-New Jersey- Chris Christie campaign donation in exchange for state business allegation. They said they`re going to investigate that. They have to under state law. Now, though, the update, the state of New Jersey have announced that they will not make public the results of that investigation until, hmm, check your watch, late November at the earliest. Definitely after the election. Let`s hope no one did anything wrong here that you might want to make the basis of casting your vote. So Charlie Baker has had his share of trouble. As the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts this year. He just -- he also -- honestly, he`s just not been a great candidate for Republicans in several other ways that have nothing to do with these various salacious bribery allegations and stuff. I mean, even his businessman pedigree has turned out to work against him. It turns out what kind of businessman you are when you`re running for office on the basis of your business career. Like, say, if you wore a tuxedo to accept your outsourcing excellent award from something called the outsourcing seller. That businessman-ish past might not be helpful to your bid for governor because you won awards for shipping American jobs to other countries. So Charlie Baker at least on paper has not been a great candidate. Either in terms of the specifics of his resume or strategically when it comes to dealing with other Republicans who were contending against him and around this issue about the donation and the Chris Christie -- yes. Honestly, he also has not performed all that well when he`s had a microphone stuck in his face like when he said this umprompted to a female reporter at an event that was supposed to be all about how Charlie Baker is the right candidate for Massachusetts women. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats are saying -- they just put out an e-mail a couple of minutes ago? BAKER: OK, is this going to be the last one, sweetheart. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sweetheart? BAKER: I`m kidding. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I`m kidding. Can`t you take a joke, babe? Pat, pat, pat. That was at a Women for Charlie event. The race for Massachusetts governor has been unexpectedly fascinating this year. And not just because it started with the crazy "They offered me a million dollars, no, you demanded a million dollars" bribery debacle. It has been fascinating to watch because you would think that for Charlie Baker to win as a Republican in blue, blue, blue state of Massachusetts, he would have to run just a spectacular mistake-free campaign. Right? You think about the math in a place like Massachusetts Charlie Baker would have to win every single conservative vote, he`d have to attract a ton of crossover voters, he would basically have to run a flawless campaign in order to be in contention as a Republican in such a blue place. Or not. That`s one way to success. The other way to success is you could get lucky in your opponent. This is what the polls have looked like over time in that Massachusetts race. Look at that. Overt your eyes, Massachusetts liberals. Charlie Baker`s Democratic opponent is Martha Coakley. And the biggest story about Martha Coakley in the campaign in the last week was that she made a decision to decline to participate in a debate scheduled for Thursday this week. She wouldn`t tell anybody why. She just said she had a scheduling conflict. The result of that decision, though, would have been that Charlie Baker would get the stage to himself at that event for an entire hour. Basically, to put on the uncontested Charlie Baker show for voters for an hour for free on television two weeks before the election. And Martha Coakley, yes, go ahead, let Charlie do that. I`ve got a scheduling conflict. That`s how she left it for several days until finally she relented, changed her mind as we were the first TV show to report last night that Martha Coakley reversed her decision. She will appear at that western Massachusetts debate at WWLP Channel 22, Western Mass on Thursday of this week. That`s in addition to the debate that the two candidates had tonight in eastern Mass. There`s going to be another one on Thursday and Martha Coakley has changed her mind, she is going to show up to that one so it`s going to feature both of the candidates. But lest you think the whole refusing to debate phenomenon and giving your opponent an uncontested solo show of their own, to do without you, lest you think that is unique to Massachusetts Democratic strategy, no, no, it also happened tonight, just a couple of hours ago, during a debate in the race for a Senate seat that is virtually tied in a different state. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TIM BOYUM, NC SENATE DEBATE MODERATOR: You`re watching "Capital Tonight." We`re in conversation with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis. Time Warner Cable invited Speaker Tillis, incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan and a libertarian candidate Sean Haugh to participate in this program. Haugh did not meet polling criteria established by Time Warner Cable News. Senator Hagan declined our invitation to appear. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: See the empty chair there? The moderator explained that Thom Tillis` answers wouldn`t be timed, they`re otherwise planning on timing them, because nobody else needs to talk because the Democratic incumbent senator, Kay Hagan, would not be attending that debate. So for you, voters, we present this hour-long conversation with just the Republican candidate on TV for an hour, uncontested, so we can tell you what he thinks without any time constraints and without anybody rudely interrupting. Two weeks before Election Day. Did I mention this race is basically tied? I did mention that. Of course, none of this candidate debating themselves ridiculousness will ever be as famous to what happened during the Florida gubernatorial debate last week when Florida`s Republican Governor Rick Scott refused to take the stage for a long time at the start of the debate because his opponent Democrat Charlie Crist had a fan inside his podium. After seven minutes, Governor Scott apparently decided that maybe the fan was not worth skipping the whole debate over and he did end up belatedly joining that debate after Charlie Crist had had a few minutes on his own to explain his feelings to the voters. Those two candidates met again tonight in Jacksonville, Florida. There was lots of media coverage about the rules governor electronics before tonight`s debate but apparently the fan only came up obliquely, almost sort of passively aggressively when one of the moderators asked, "Everybody comfortable?" before the debate started. Political debates are supposed to be newsworthy only if something newsworthy happens at the debate. Right? The fact of the debate itself is not supposed to be the thing that makes news. But that`s what`s been happening in this election. And it`s been, at times, hilarious and at times frustrating and amazing to watch. And speaking of amazing, there was one more debate tonight, just within the last hour, in the great state of New Hampshire. For that state U.S. Senate seat, that is of course the always amazing Republican Scott Brown running against Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen for the Senate. That debate was hosted by NBC News` Chuck Todd tonight. Jeanne Shaheen is currently ahead of Scott Brown in that Senate race in New Hampshire. Scott Brown, you may remember, got to be in the United States Senate in the first place in the state of Massachusetts when he beat Martha Coakley for that seat in 2010. Thereafter, he lost that same Senate seat to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. And as I mentioned, according to the current polls, he`s right now losing in the Senate race in New Hampshire to Senator Jeanne Shaheen. I should tell you trivia wise that if Scott Brown does lose to Senator Jeanne Shaheen two weeks from tonight, he would become a historic figure in feminist history. If he loses Jeanne Shaheen tonight, I believe Scott Brown would become the first person in the history of the United States and thereby the history of the world, to have lost a U.S. Senate race to two different women. Perhaps that could be something of a silver lining. Scott Brown as feminist icon. Joining us now from Concord, New Hampshire, where he`s just finished moderating the debate between Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, is NBC News political director and moderator of "Meet the Press" Chuck Todd. A busy night for you, Chuck. Thanks for being here. CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Happy to do it, Rachel. And I love the fact that you`re talking about candidates that skip debates. Doesn`t matter if you don`t like it. Just show up and debate. Don`t start worrying about sponsors and all this stuff. Debate. It seems I don`t get the strategy, either. MADDOW: I will -- I`ve got to say, I`ve seen candidates make strange decisions and very contentious decisions about whether to be in debates. The RNC made it a big, institutional issue for the Republican Party, how many primary debates there would be in the presidential contest or whatever. But one thing I haven`t seen before is candidates not being in a debate even though they know it means their opponent will get the whole stage to themselves for an hour. TODD: Right. MADDOW: Is that something new or is this just TV stations sort of turning up the heat? TODD: I think it is the media turning up the heat a little bit because, there`s some -- look, and think about this especially you have more and more sort of local and regional all-news stations. So they feel more than comfortable being able to offer up the time. It`s, like, OK, if you don`t come, then we`ll do it, we`ll do it empty-chair style. We`re going to offer -- you know, offer this 30 minutes. It`s a way of calling a bluff and seeing if they`ll show. And, as you see, some of these guys are calling the media`s bluff thinking that they won`t do it. But in an all news station, it`s news programming. So the -- MADDOW: Right. TODD: You know, if they think -- you know, I think before they thought, well, an affiliate of a broadcast network isn`t going to do that. They`re not going to risk, you know, preempting "Wheel of Fortune" or preempting the primetime line-up. It`s different with all news channels. I think candidates are miscalculating here. MADDOW: Tonight in New Hampshire -- tonight, Chuck, obviously Senator Scott Brown is not your typical incumbent challenging outsider in this race. He`s a newcomer sort of to New Hampshire. I`m not sure how much the corporate bagging allegation actually plays, how much that plays in New Hampshire. I`ve spent a lot of time in New Hampshire. I know there`s a lot of people there who are from other places. TODD: Right. MADDOW: He`s an atypical challenger. Jeanne Shaheen is a pretty strong contender. But this is not probably going to be the Democrats` year. What was the dynamic like between them tonight? TODD: Well, I thought it was interesting was they both honestly seemed a little nervous at the beginning. I think they both realized that the race is, OK, it`s not in our fist five of the most competitive, but it is moving up fast. I mean, look at the history of New Hampshire in the last decade, where the wind is -- whichever way the wind is blowing, it seems to gusts. The political wind seemed to gust in New Hampshire. So if it`s a good year for one party nationally, it seems to be a great year for that party in New Hampshire. And we`ve seen that affected. You can just sort of see the tentativeness a little bit at the beginning. But I thought what was interesting as they really got into it, over energy. It certainly wasn`t over abortion, it wasn`t over or carpet bagging. It wasn`t over, you know, some of the -- it wasn`t even over health care. Some of that stuff has been -- energy seemed to be the newer issue that they both were fighting over back and forth, having to do with -- who is for nuclear, the energy tax. So it was -- I would say, if there was new ground broken by these two candidates tonight, and ended up being on energy, I can tell you, I didn`t expect it to be one of those -- MADDOW: Yes. TODD: All right. I`m going to let it go, let them go back and forth and they were basically saying no, you got my record wrong, no, you got my record wrong. So it`s going to be a busy night for the local reporters to do a little fact-checking. MADDOW: Fascinating. Chuck, I also just -- because I have you. Now not just with NBC News, but also "Meet the Press" right now, an American journalistic institution, I just have to ask your reaction tonight. This is -- we`ve just had in the past hour that Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor at the "Washington post" has died. I just wanted to know if you had any reaction you wanted to share with us on that? TODD: Other than, I think, you know, and I think Ben Bradlee is sort of America`s newspaper editor. You know, for some people they`ll think it`s Jason Robards, since he played the character, of course, in "All the President`s Men." But he is a reminder that as good as -- job as reporters do, an editor sometimes or, in our case, Rachel, a producer, an executive producer, that we work with, you know, or a news president, they have to make that tougher call sometimes. Reporter can do the groundwork but they got to make that call, whether to go or not, or do they trust their reporter? How well do they know their reporter? How well do they trust their sources? And, you know, Ben Bradlee had to go out on a limb in many ways. There are a lot of newspaper editors that might not have the guts to do that. At the time, think about that time period then, the "Washington Post" going after a sitting president. That`s what it was perceived to be. It is a unique -- now, it seems like something -- well, of course he went after. And everything that we know. It was a tough call for a newspaper. The pressures you would get from a publisher, from advertisers, the political pressure. I mean, that is -- talk about a man who had a steel spine. And I think served as a role model for editors, news presidents, producers all around, because, you know, they`re the ones that end up making that call, giving the resources to the reporters or to the folks that are on air, and it`s -- you know, he`s in a class by himself and he`s been just an incredible for so many editors, I think. They should aspire to have his steel spine. NBC News political director and moderator of "Meet the Press" Chuck Todd. Chuck, thank you so much for being here on this -- on this busy night. Appreciate having you here. Thank you. TODD: You got it, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. What Chuck said there is exactly right. I mean, the thing that inflected, the way that Ben Bradlee`s decisions inflected journalistic history is that he set a new standard for how you wanted history to look at you when it came to your institutional decisions about how brave to be and how much you had to trust your sources and how much you had to trust your reporters so you could make that decision to go even when it took a lot of bravery to do it. He changed the benchmark in terms of what it was you ought to strive to be proud of in your work, in journalism. It`s a big, big deal in our country what his career. I will be talking more about Bradlee -- Ben Bradlee coming up. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: As you will mentioned at the top of the show, there`s some breaking news to get to this hour. Tonight, we can report that one of the titans of American journalism, former "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradlee, has died tonight at the age of 93. For an entire generation that did not grow up during the Watergate era, what they may know of Ben Bradlee was we all saw on the big screen, in the Hollywood portrayal of Ben Bradlee by actor Jason Robards, sharing the screen with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JASON ROBARDS, ACTOR: How much can you tell me about Deep Throat? ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR: How much do you need to know? ROBARDS: Do you trust him. REDFORD: Yes. ROBARDS: I can`t do the report reporting for my reporters, which means I have to trust them. And I hate trusting anybody. Run that baby. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It was a scene from "All the President`s Men." The story about the story. "Washington Post`s" relentless and fearless reporting on Watergate, reporting that of course ultimately ended the presidency of Richard Nixon. The character in the tux played by actor Jason Robards was legendary "Washington Post" executive, Ben Bradlee. Although the film is about "Post" reporters Woodward and Bernstein, it is the exacting standards of their boss, Ben Bradlee, that pushes them to dig further and dig deeper and get more confirmation until they can definitively, unassailably connect those brutal dots between the Watergate burglars and the White House itself. Ben Bradlee held the top editorial spot at the "Washington Post" for 23 years starting in 1968. Within the first few years of his tenure, Ben Bradlee and his paper became synonymous with two huge world-changing stories. Watergate, of course. But before that, also, the Pentagon papers. In 1971, the "New York Times" has scooped the "Washington Post" on the Pentagon papers, the top secret documents leaked by Daniel Ellsberg that revealed the breadth and scope of the U.S. war in Vietnam. But soon after the "Times" published its first story on the documents, Ben Bradlee`s paper had its own copy. And when the Justice Department succeeded in getting a restraining order that squelched any further stories about the leaked Pentagon papers documents, Ben Bradlee and his publisher, Katharine Graham, fought that order all the way to the Supreme Court and they won. During his time at the "Washington Post," Ben Bradlee was known to relish the blood and guts reporting on the powerful in Washington. He was suspicious of all government spin. Here`s how he described a fight that he tried to wage with official Washington, telling NBC`s John Chancellor in 1985 about his decision to have "Washington Post" reporters boycott, so-called background briefings, that government officials often hold with reporters. Briefings for reporters can use the information that`s given to them from officials, but they can`t name the officials giving the information. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BEN BRADLEE, FORMER EDITOR IN CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST: We did that for a while and then the reporters started whining and -- because, especially the Defense Department people and the State Department people. State most of all. Couldn`t get all of those nuances that they really love. And of course, the secretary of state couldn`t load you up with exactly the right line. So we started not getting -- I called and "The New York Times" started, you know, beating us over the shoulders with stories. And the reporters came and begged us to call -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that was a noble effort but it didn`t work. BRADLEE: Well, it didn`t work and I tried to get "The New York Times" to go along and I think if the AP and the "New York Times" and the "Post" got together on it, we could bust it now. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: "We could bust it now." Ben Bradlee retired from the "Washington Post" in 1991 but he did stay active as a vice president at large for the paper. This is today`s edition of the "Washington Post." You can see Ben Bradlee`s name still appears in that role on the newspaper`s masthead. In recent years, Mr. Bradlee`s sharp mind and his memory did start to fail him at public events. He suffered from Alzheimer`s disease. But as recently as November 2013, he was honored at the White House with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Obama releasing a statement tonight honoring Ben Bradlee on the occasion of his death and talking about the decision to award him that Presidential Medal of Freedom. But, again, the breaking news tonight, the "Washington Post" confirms that their legendary editor Ben Bradlee has passed away at the age of 93. They say he died at his home in Washington of natural causes. He`s survived by his wife of 36 years, the writer Sally Quinn, and four children. Joining us now is my friend, Gene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post." I should say that Eugene has been at the "Post" for 34 years and he knew Ben Bradlee for longer than that. Gene, thank you for being with us tonight. I really appreciate it. EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, it`s great to be here, Rachel. Where else could I be on this night? MADDOW: Yes. ROBINSON: I mean, it is, you know, Ben was the great American newspaper editor certainly of his time, I believe of our time. Your report -- you`ve said those words, those few words that define his place in history. You know, Pentagon papers, Watergate, Woodward, Bernstein, Nixon, courage. You say that, you put Ben in the history books. Almost as an aside, he revolutionized the way newspaper reporters can write their stories in this country. In 1969, he took a section that was called "For and About Women." It was a women -- traditional women section. And he turned it into style and made it a place for narrative magazine writing in a daily newspaper. That was revolutionary. Nobody had ever done that before. Changed the way newspapers are written in this country and that`s just a footnote to this amazing career and this amazing life. But he was not just a great newspaper editor, he was a great man. He -- I guess one of his few mistakes was he hired me at the "Washington Post" in 1980 to cover Marion Barry. I could tell personal stories all evening, including the embarrassing job interview lunch I had when he waited until I had had a full -- a mouthful of a really, really dry roast beef sandwich to lean over and say, kid, city hall is a tough job. Are you tough? And, you know, I could barely kind of choke out a squeak. Yes, Mr. Bradlee. (LAUGHTER) ROBINSON: But he was -- he was such a leader. I`ve never -- I`ve certainly never worked for anybody like him. And I`ve never really met anybody like him. And I`ve worked for some really good people. But it`s no exaggeration to say that those of us who were hired with -- by Ben and who worked with Ben, would today, right now, walk through fire for Ben Bradlee. He was that amazing a person. MADDOW: Gene, one of the things that Chuck Todd said earlier this hour, and I was sort of reflecting on, I think, without much eloquence, was the idea that Ben Bradlee`s legacy wasn`t just about his skill as an editor. It was that he sort of set the benchmark for bravery. For -- not just about being brave in a foolhardy way, but for earning it, by knowing your reporters enough, by being involved enough in what they`re doing, to knowing enough about your sources and about the people who are being reported on, to know whether or not to go with something, to make decisions, not just as gut decisions, but as well-informed, brave decisions from a position of strength. That`s how I`ve always viewed his legacy. Is that fair from having worked with him? ROBINSON: You know, I think that`s fair, but I don`t think that`s the way he would have described it. I think he would have said it was doing his job, and doing it well. And he knew he did his job well. He had -- people always talked about his instincts. He had a great instinct for story, could sometimes almost appeared -- see around corners. But it wasn`t just instinct. It was intelligent. It was a rigor. It was a rigor to the way he approached -- he approached reporters and stories and news, and where`s the next story? That people don`t really talk about, but we all should appreciate. He was a really, really smart man, who did his job and wanted to be the best and follow the story where it led, and if it led to the taking down of the sitting president, which was not an easy thing for Ben Bradlee. This was a man who fought in World War II, who was deeply, deeply patriotic, who -- so that had to tear him up. But that`s where the story led and that`s where he was going on. MADDOW: Gene Robinson, long-time "Washington Post" columnist and reporter -- thank you for your time tonight. I know this isn`t the easiest thing to talk about. But I`m really glad you`re here, Gene. Thanks a lot. ROBINSON: Well, it`s a great life to celebrate. He said he never had a bad day and I believe him. MADDOW: Wonderful to have you here. Gene, thanks. Appreciate it. Again, breaking news tonight, confirmed by "The Washington Post", that legendary editor Ben Bradlee has died tonight at the age of 93. All right. Much more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is the USS George H.W. Bush. It`s an aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers never go anywhere alone. The George H.W. Bush, when it deploys, it goes with a carrier strike group that includes a carrier air wing, a destroyer squadron, a guided missile cruiser and two guided missile destroyers. The George H.W. Bush carrier group right now is on its way home after a four-month deployment to the Persian Gulf, which included that aircraft carrier basically being the main aircraft carrier launching pad for the new U.S. air war in Iraq and Syria. George H.W. Bush is its on its way home to is home base naval station in Norfolk, Virginia. That carrier group will be replaced at sea by the USS Carl Vinson, which is based on the West Coast. It`s based in San Diego, California. It has already headed out with its carrier air wing, which includes 67 aircraft, destroyers squadron, a guided missile cruiser. So, now, the USS Carl Vinson and its compliment of supporting vessels which essentially become the offshore airport supporting this U.S. air war in Iraq and Syria. There isn`t very much coverage in the U.S. media about what is happening in that war. But we do get these daily U.S. press releases from the military about what`s going on. This Sunday, for example, they announced quietly and without much fanfare that the military is doing something new in the war. They are delivering weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters in Syria. So, in addition to bombing stuff, we`re dropping weapons and medical supplies. That was Sunday. And then on Monday, there was a slightly little alarming follow up. One of things they bombed on Monday -- so they did the drop of weapons on Sunday. One of the things they bombed on Monday was one of the weapons shipments that they had dropped the day before. Apparently, it did not go where it was intended to go. So, Sunday they dropped it. Monday, they said they had to go back and blow it up because it landed in the wrong place. Today, though, the ISIS terrorist group released this video. . (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS: In all wars, there are uncontrollable factors, like wind. And this time, it seemed to blow in ISIS` favor. An American- delivered bundle intended to help fight ISIS in Kobani apparently landed in the hands of the militants. Old grenades, some RPGs, newer grenades. ISIS called them spoils of war in this propaganda video. But they`re unlikely to change the course of month-long battle for Kobani. The U.S. military says it`s trying to verify the video. It acknowledges that one of the dozens of bundles it dropped this weekend did go off course, but was later destroyed by an air strike. In this war by remote control, some mishaps are probably unavoidable. But the alternatives are doing nothing or sending in ground troops, both of which the administration has ruled out. The fact is, ISIS is already well-armed, with weapons and equipment stolen from the Iraqi army. Most of it, American-made. Richard Engel, NBC News, Istanbul. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: NBC`s Richard Engel reporting from Turkey on that new ISIS video which reportedly shows them with appears to be one of those air drops of weapons that was intended for the people fighting them, but they appear to have captured. Again, it`s propaganda video. You can never verify what exactly they are saying. But that`s what they are claiming has happened here. Some of nose weapons they dropped to fight them, they, instead collected themselves. It`s kind of amazing that we are two weeks away from a national election in this country and the fact that we are waging a brand new and really controversial war is not factoring into the political debate at home right now at all. But to American citizens who are concerned about the chances of success in that war, also the risk to U.S. military personnel who are participating in that war, there are three pretty important strategic things that just happened that may be worth knowing about beyond that question of whether or not a stray air drop of weapons accidently went to the enemy. There are three things that have happened strategically just in the last 48 hours or so that may be worth knowing about. First one is that ISIS is apparently still having not much trouble recruiting from across the globe. We`re learning today that three young American women, three American female teenagers were stopped in an airport in Germany while reportedly on their way to join ISIS in Syria. They were stopped in Germany. They were returned to their families in Denver, Colorado, by the FBI. We are now told they are being closely watched. So, to the extent that ISIS` success as a group depends on them being able to attract worldwide recruits, they are apparently still attracting worldwide records, even from this country. That`s one development. Number two, in terms of what ISIS is capable of, there have been reports within the past week that ISIS fighters might be flying fighter jets, Russian fighter jets that they have taken from Syrian military installations. Well, the U.S. Pentagon now is -- for lack of a better term -- shooting down those reports. They`re saying that they have no information that ISIS fighters have actually been able to get fighter jets or that they are flying them. So, despite those early reports, the Pentagon says they`re not hearing anything about it. Here`s the thing, though, part of the Pentagon shooting down those reports included the Pentagon also may be making some other news. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Admiral, (INAUDIBLE) to ISIS. First of all, we hear that ISIS may have gotten control of fighter jets. What can you tell us? REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We don`t have any indication that them the capability to fly them. And we don`t have any indications that they have any air defense or anti-air capability at all right now. But we`re watching it very, very closely. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Pentagon spokesman saying, not only, as far as they know, ISIS is not flying any fighter jets. The Pentagon also doesn`t think they have any anti-aircraft capability. We don`t have any indications they have any air defense or anti-air capability at all right now. Kind of threw that in as an aside, but that`s really important. And that`s new. I mean, as recently as a few weeks ago, over and over again, we saw in the CentCom releases about the airstrikes that the U.S. was waging in Iraq and Syria, right, that they were targeting ISIS` anti-aircraft weapons. And, yes, they`ve got a lot of different weapons and that`s what they`re trying to blow up. But the idea of ISIS having anti-aircraft weapons, anti-aircraft capacity, that is particularly worrying to those of us who are concerned about the safety of U.S. air personnel who are flying air missions over ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. It`s a very basic worry when you`re waging an air war, right? Could our pilots be shot down? We reached out to the Pentagon tonight with this question, just confirming that they`re making this claim now, that they don`t have anti-aircraft capacity after they`ve been saying for weeks that they were bombing their anti-aircraft weapons. A U.S. defense official told us tonight that the Pentagon does not now believe that ISIS has anti-aircraft capability right now. So, maybe all those airstrikes against their anti-aircraft capability were worth something. If the Pentagon believes that U.S. personnel cannot be shot down by ISIS, that is an important statement to the American public about how much risk American troops are in. And it would be, honestly, the first time the U.S. air war has actually hurt ISIS in some material way as they continued to basically maraud through parts of Iraq and Syria, seemingly taking territory at will. In the absence of a real political debate about this war in the country, it sometimes hard to know how the war is going. But we have just had a flurry of concrete information about that for the first time in a while. Hold that thought. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Admiral, (INAUDIBLE) to ISIS. First of all, we hear that ISIS may have gotten control of fighter jets. What can you tell us? REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We don`t have any indication that them the capability to fly them. And we don`t have any indications that they have any air defense or anti-air capability at all right now. But we`re watching it very, very closely. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: We don`t have any indications that they have anti-aircraft capability. Joining us now live from London is NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin. Ayman, it`s really nice to see you. I know it`s very early over there right now. Thanks for staying up with us. AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: My pleasure, Rachel. MADDOW: So, we`ve been reading for weeks about U.S. airstrikes targeting ISIS` anti-aircraft weapons. That seems like an important if you`re worried about the possibility of U.S. pilots being shot down over there. So, how do you read the Pentagon statement now that ISIS doesn`t have anti- aircraft capability at all? MOHYELDIN: Well, I would look at it with the United States -- obviously, the United States has an ability to assess what`s happening on the ground. I think for all of us who have been watching this conflict, that doesn`t necessarily surprise us as much. I don`t think that ISIS, over the course, of the last several months, that it has acquired some of these weapons from these bases that it has taken control over, demonstrated that it had kind of fire power. We haven`t seen it appear in videos. We haven`t seen appear in any of their attacks on the Syrian regime. I think there was concern that perhaps they may have actually overtaken air bases that had air capacities, meaning like fighter jets or helicopters. I think the initial part of Admiral Kirby`s statement was certainly one that that was more important, that they are not flying these fighter jets as has been reported by some of these Syrian opposition groups. MADDOW: ISIS has released footage that they are in possession of some American weapons that U.S. planes had dropped in the region, meant for Kurdish fighters who were fighting against ISIS. Obviously, it`s a propaganda coup for them to be able to say, you were trying to arm our enemies, but you ended arming us. So, it`s a propaganda coup for them. But is it strategically important, do we know? MOHYELDIN: It is strategically important for another important reason that came out of the U.S. State Department yesterday, which is that despite the fact that U.S. was targeting ISIS, and despite the fact that the U.S. was trying to send weapons and did send weapons to Kurdish fighters fighting ISIS, the U.S. State Department acknowledges that ISIS may still control Kobani by the end of all of this, that in fact, Kobani may fall into the hands of ISIS. So, I think that we are seeing on the ground a very fluid situation that is not yet in favor of one side or the other. And I think that is going to be the test in the next couple of days, and certainly going to be very problematic if the United States with all this firepower, resupplying the Kurdish fighters, is still unable to deter ISIS from fighting. Keep in mind, ISIS is fighting two fronts. They`re fighting on the outskirts of Baghdad and they`re fighting Kobani. They`re a very resilient group so far. MADDOW: Yes, and seeing the way that they responded or not responded to the show of force by the U.S. and allies is sobering. It`s the sort of thing we`d have a great debate about if we debated these things in this country. Ayman, NBC News foreign correspondent -- Ayman, again, thank you for staying up so late for us. I really appreciate. MOHYELDIN: My pleasure, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. All right. We`ve got much more ahead, including a best new thing in the world brought to you by math. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Behold, the simplest ballot ever. One question: should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or no? And yet many ballots were turned in looking like this. Both, please? Some people where are either too excited or too confused or maybe just operating at a higher plane that they picked both. Now, something similar is happening in the United States. It`s great. It is, in fact, the best new thing in the world, and that is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Best new thing in the world today brought to you by the letter math. So, Scotland did not secede from Britain, right? In the course of learning that information, we had the cool experience of hearing a lot of people with awesome Scottish accents explained how people voted on the independence referendum in all the different parts of Scotland. Remember, it wasn`t a very hard ballot. The question was, should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or no? Yes or no, that`s it. Some people have a hard time narrowing it down. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were 3,429 rejected papers. The reasons for rejection are as follows -- want of an official mark, 16 papers. Voting in favor of both answers, 691 papers. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Voting in favor of both answers, 7. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voting in favor of both answers, two. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seventeen for voting for both answers. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Want to be independent? Yes. Also no. Both? That same phenomenon is now happening in the great state of Washington. Two weeks from tonight, Washington state voters will be asked to say yes or no on two ballot measures, two closely related ballot measures on the issue of guns. One of the ballot measures would require background checks on everybody buying a gun in the state. The other one would ban that. The other one would ban the state from implementing any background checks except the ones mandated by federal law. So, you see the problem here. Two separate ballot measures. They look a lot like each other, but they have the exact opposite effect. Here`s the amazing thing. When asked how they will vote on these two diametrically opposed things, one of which who says, "let`s do a thing", and the other one says, "we should never, ever do that thing", more than one in five Washington state voters say yes to both. Ta-da! Twenty-two percent of Washington voters right now are down with both banning background checks and mandating background checks. Both. Now that`s compassion for both side of the argument in a way that makes no sense at all. But here is the best new thing in the world. That 22 percent of voters who said they would vote yes on both, that number is dropping. It`s 22 percent now. In July, it was 30 percent. Before that in April, it was 40 percent. So, the trend is good in terms of the triumph of math. Regardless of how you feel about either of these measures we are, I`m pretty sure, watching the Washington state electorate get smarter week by week by week. They`re now nearly 50 percent smarter than they were just six weeks ago when first asked this basic logic question. Basic logic and progress, taking hold in America -- best new thing in the world. That does it for us to night. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END Content and programming copyright 2014 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2014 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.