MSNBC Distorts Reagan Position on Debt Ceiling, Says Media Watchdog Group

By Fred Lucas | July 22, 2011 | 5:30 AM EDT

MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews. (AP Photo.)

( – Cable network MSNBC has been distorting the late President Ronald Reagan’s position on raising the debt ceiling, in the midst of a current-day political debate over raising that ceiling between President Barack Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill, says an analysis by the Media Research Center (MRC).

“At least five MSNBC anchors since Tuesday have promoted a cherry-picked House Democratic Caucus video that distorts President Ronald Reagan’s position on the debt ceiling, inaccurately asserting that President Barack Obama is more in line with Reagan than the Republicans,” MRC News Analyst Alex Fitzsimmons reported in a BiasAlert on Wednesday.

The five MSNBC anchors are Chris Matthews, Al Sharpton, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Thomas Roberts. They each played or cited an excerpt from a Reagan speech given on Sept. 26, 1987. In the excerpt,  Reagan expressed the need to raise the debt ceiling.

However, the cable network did not acknowledge that later in that same speech Reagan insisted on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

MRC President L. Brent Bozell III expressed outrage at the network on Thursday.

“MSNBC is looking more and more like Pinocchio every day; its nose grows longer with every lie and the DNC [Democratic National Committee] obviously is pulling its strings,” Bozell said in a statement. “Ronald Reagan has absolutely nothing in common with Obama, especially not on taxes and the debt ceiling. It’s outrageous for this disgraced network to exploit the late president’s good name and his conservative economic brilliance.”

The MRC is the parent organization of

In the portion of the speech played by MSNBC, Reagan said: “Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility – two things that set us apart from much of the world.”

But in a portion of the speech that was not played by MSNBC, Reagan also talked about the need for a balanced budget amendment: “You don’t need more taxes to balance the budget. Congress needs the discipline to stop spending more, and that can be done with the passage of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.”

The cable network is displaying partisanship, Bozell charged.

“MSNBC is nothing more than DNC-TV,” he said. “But are we really surprised? This is the same network whose dozens of viewers will soon start to salivate over the loony liberal Rev. Al Sharpton in the anchor chair.”

In the 6 p.m. hour Tuesday of “MSNBC Live,” Rev. Sharpton said, when interviewing Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.): “I think this president in the White House right now sounds a lot more like Ronald Reagan than you guys do.”

Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” said on Tuesday: “Somewhat to my surprise, that lesson that Ronald Reagan was trying to teach about the debt ceiling, what it actually means, what happens if you wouldn't raise it. He said that in the context of having to sign a debt ceiling increase that included pieces that he did not like, that he was absolutely opposed to, but he said I got to sign it because if I don't, look what happens.”

Then, on Tuesday, Rachel Maddow sarcastically weighed in.

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

She continued, “On the House side, the conversation could not be more basic. It's like, ‘Economy blow up, bad thing! America sad if economy blow up. Economy blow up, no!’”

Thomas Roberts, anchoring MSNBC’s "11 a.m.," said after playing the clip: “All right, so there we have it. President Reagan tying this up in a nutshell. For current day Republicans that evoke President Reagan’s name so much, why don't Republicans listen to that message from the icon that they have in Ronald Reagan and move off of some of the far-right rhetoric that we’ve been hearing over the last weeks and months?”

On “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” Wednesday, Matthews played the clip and said, “There [Reagan] is saying this brinksmanship, this trickery, around the time of a deadline just to get your way is sort of economic terrorism.”