Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - December 1, 2011

Guests: Frank Rich, Claire McCaskill, Scott Olsen

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Iowa is still 4 1/2 weeks away, but has already published a tell-all book about this year`s presidential campaign. In this rather early book, we learn the kind of details that is famous for making famous -- things like Mitt Romney pulls the cheese off his pizza before he eats it, and Rick Perry prefers the actress Jennifer Aniston to the actress Angelina Jolie. OK.

We`re also told about current front-runner Newt Gingrich, what he called the period this past summer when his staff quit and pundits mocked his trip to the Greek islands and his six-figure line of credit at Tiffany`s, quote, "The two hardest months in my life."

Think about that for a minute. One of Mr. Gingrich`s former wives was diagnosed with M.S. One of Mr. Gingrich`s former wives was diagnosed with cancer. Mr. Gingrich has been through two divorces. Mr. Gingrich is the only speaker of the House ever forced to pay an ethics fine, a $300,000 fine. He was basically forced out of congress in disgrace after his time as speaker.

And the worst two months of Newt Gingrich`s life, he says, are when he got made fun of for going on a cruise and buying jewelry.

In the late 1990s in England, the Conservative Party`s prime minister, John Major, was in the midst of a serious challenge from the Labour Party headed by Tony Blair.

One story that went around after Blair beat Major, after Blair was elected, was that when each of these guys was asked what was the best day of your life, John Major answered that was the birth of his first child, and Tony Blair answered that it was the day he was elected leader of the Labour Party.

Now, that was a possibly apocryphal story but still a sort of defining one in Britain at the time about Tony Blair and his rise to power, about Tony Blair as a politician. He was seen as this incredibly effective, incredibly nimble politician who was great at getting elected but who was also so thoroughly and desperately a politician that it was a little bit unnerving.

But maybe being craven, maybe being that much of a politician was part of how skilled he was. Key to Tony Blair`s rise to power was the fact he was able to get the all-powerful Rupert Murdoch media machine behind him in the late `90s. Rupert Murdoch was just as right wing then as he is now. But his right-wing tabloid "The Sun," which is as dominant in British tabloid print media as FOX News is anywhere cable news.

Tony Blair convinced the conservative Rupert Murdoch to have the conservative "Sun" tabloid get behind the Blair candidacy.

This right-wing paper, "The Sun," endorsed the Labour Party and Tony Blair.

And so, after nearly two decades of the Labour Party in exile, Tony Blair got Rupert Murdoch`s backing. That helped him get elected prime minister. Labour got to be in charge of Britain for the next decade. George W. Bush got a new poodle. And we all got the Iraq war.

Whatever you think of what Tony Blair did with his time in power, his rise to power was skilled, very skilled. And that skill was manifest in part with his triumph in the Murdoch primary.

Josh Marshall at the Web site Talking Points Memos has been writing about this. He wrote about it really well this past summer and again today. The idea of the Murdoch primary in Britain is overt. Everybody talks about it as if it`s a real thing. You have to win Rupert Murdoch`s endorsement if you want to win a national election.

Now, part of the reason why Britain has a conservative prime minister now when the conservative party in Britain had been out in the wilderness since Tony Blair is because the current conservative leader you who see here, David Cameron, he figured how to win the Murdoch primary. He got Rupert Murdoch and his media empire in Britain to endorse the Conservative Party there in the last election and that`s part of why the Torys are now in power.

Now, in the United States, here at home, there are influential Rupert Murdoch newspapers too. Amazingly, they include "The Wall Street Journal" now, which I have to say is still as astonishing as the day it happened. But Rupert Murdoch`s flagship in America, of course, is the FOX News Channel.

FOX News is an unrivaled success here in broadcast media. And part of their incomparable success is due to the fact they tell their viewers don`t trust anybody else, right? This is a technique that was essentially pioneered by Rush Limbaugh and then all of his imitators in right-wing talk radio, which is not only to just attract conservative listeners and conservative viewers by promoting conservative viewpoints but ensure that those listeners and viewers never change the channel, that they pay attention exclusively to you, because on your channel, you deride and essentially wage war on all other media sources that might be an alternative to you.

You deride in particular the mainstream media. Don`t trust them. Only trust us. Don`t touch that dial.

That`s where the whole FOX News fair and balanced thing comes from. It`s strategic. The basis of their business model is telling their views don`t change the channel because the rest of the world is out to get you. You can only trust us. You can only watch us.

And so, most Americans are not self-identified conservatives, but essentially all self-identified conservatives only watch FOX News and won`t watch anything else.

And that makes them incredibly successful. It also makes them incredibly influential at times like these in American politics when the conservatives of America, the Republican Party and its base, are having what amounts to a private group discussion about who they want to put forward as the Republican Party`s presidential nominee.

Today, "The New York Times" quotes Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, who himself ran for president four years ago. He did disastrously, but he did campaign hard. He told "The Times" today, "Everything has changed now. It`s like a town hall every day on FOX News. You hear people talking back to you what you saw yesterday on FOX. I like FOX, and I`m glad we have an outlet, but it is having a major, major effect on what happens."

So, in the American race for the presidency in the Republican Party, who is winning the Murdoch primary here? In the lead-up to the Republican primary, a number of the early contenders or potential contenders essentially auditioned for the Murdoch primary for Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes over at FOX News by making themselves FOX News paid contributors. You had Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin all employed by FOX News and Rupert Murdoch as they very publicly weighed presidential runs.

Now that the primary season is underway and a few of those folks did decide to get into the race, is it possible to tell who FOX News is for? And more specifically, right now, who are they for between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney? Because that`s who it seems to be boiling down to at least right now.

This is not just who does the conservative media support broadly. This is a specific thing. I mean, there are other conservatives out there -- pundits and columnists and former officials and opinion leaders -- who are not affiliated with FOX News. But it`s worth drawing a distinction because of the media power that Rupert ha with the FOX News Channel.

I mean, for example, right now, you have a whole bunch of conservative pundits and columnists and former officials very publicly tearing Newt Gingrich apart. He`s had a long career in Washington and not everybody loves him.

You have people like George Will, the conservative columnist on ABC calling Mr. Gingrich a rental politician.

A columnist named Jennifer Rubin, who blogs at "The Washington Post," attacking Mr. Gingrich daily, attacking recently his grotesque hypocrisy. She`s just tearing him apart on a daily basis.

Rush Limbaugh going after Mr. Gingrich on his past support for an individual mandate in health reform.

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