WASHINGTON — Congresswoman and Democratic 2020 candidate for president Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) sat down for an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday morning. It had all the right ingredients for a thoughtful discourse following President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address and Gabbard’s first campaign speech over the weekend, but partisan talking heads chose to railroad the candidate with “gotcha” questions about her 2017 fact-finding trip in Syria.
On the panel with Gabbard were Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski in addition to MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt and Willie Geist, and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
In pursuance of an apparent quest to undermine the candidate, Hunt invoked a false narrative about the objective of the U.S.’s role in the eight-year-old Syrian war, and relied on a discredited organization’s attacks on Gabbard — an attack line not unlike those used against Roy Moore, in which the very same organization planted the evidence.
MSNBC host Kasie Hunt "defended" reporting her colleague did which uncritically regurgitated the claims of a company that was recently exposed for orchestrating a black ops disinformation campaign to sway the 2017 Alabama special election, whose owner was banned from Facebook. https://t.co/VzEGDGkjP0
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) February 6, 2019
What ensued Wednesday morning was nothing short of chaos as the other members on the panel tag-teamed Gabbard, taking turns keeping her perpetually on the defensive instead of allowing her the opportunity to use the program to present her 2020 platform to the American public.
All about Assad
In fact, about half of the interview saw Gabbard in the hot seat over a trip to Syria she took in 2017, in which she met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
It began with Gabbard being questioned about her choice for a guest to the State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Gabbard brought along a politician, Ilham Ahmed of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the U.S.’s primary proxy force in the war in Syria.
“I heard from her their concerns about Turkey’s threats, knowing that if there is a pullout of U.S. troops overnight and it’s too hasty then the Kurds who have been our most effective fighting force against ISIS in Syria will be left to Turkey’s slaughter,” Gabbard said. “She referred to what has already happened in places like Afrin in Syria to know what would lie ahead if there is not an opportunity for the Kurds in the northern part of Syria to broker some sort of security agreement.”
Asked how Ahmed felt about Gabbard’s meeting with Assad, Gabbard said “We had a discussion about that and she recognized why I met with him and agreed with that meeting.”
That could have been the end of it. After all, Ahmed is the co-president of the main political body that represents the Kurds in Syria’s government. A group which has been working with the Assad government to strike the deal Gabbard alluded to. But the MSNBC commentariat decided instead to keep hammering the issue — much as the rest of the mainstream media has since Gabbard announced her candidacy.
“Do you think Assad is our enemy?” Hunt gruffly asked.
Mindless journalists, like the one who conducted this interview, insist on dividing the world between "friends/enemies" and "good/evil" — which is childlike in its over-simplification. A foreign policy guided by these lazy notions guarantees disaster https://t.co/4QKPcZEZuT
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) February 6, 2019
“Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” Gabbard responded flatly.
But is Assad a “good person”?
But just when it seemed the line of questioning had run its course, Hunt, in a cynical attempt to prolong it, wound up seriously misreporting the U.S.’s ostensible mission in Syria, which, in President Obama’s words, was to “degrade and destroy ISIS.”
“What do you say to Democratic voters who watched you go over there and what do you say to military members who have been deployed repeatedly in Syria pushing back against Assad?” Hunt asked.
This is such an embarrassing look at the state of corporate American regime media. @kasie doesn’t know the most basic facts about Syria and along with the smug co-hosts, doesn’t care to learn. https://t.co/dEfJbVEcaD
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) February 6, 2019
Gabbard proceeded to school Hunt:
People who have been deployed to Syria have been there focused on their mission, which has been to defeat ISIS. Our troops have not gone to Syria to wage yet another costly, destructive regime-change war and many troops I hear from express frustration at the fact that our country continues to wage senseless, costly regime-change wars followed by nation-building missions.”
With Hunt now on the defense, MSNBC morning lineup patriarch Scarborough took aim. “Assad is not an enemy. Is he an adversary of the United States?” he asked.
Gabbard reiterated that Assad poses no threat to the U.S. That’s when Scarborough’s wife and Morning Joe co-host Brzezinski threw her hat in the ring.
“What would you say he is to the United States?” she asked. “If you cannot say that he is an adversary or an enemy, what is Assad to the U.S.? What is the word?”
“You can describe it however you want to describe it. My point is whether it is Syria or any of these other countries, we need to look at how their interests are counter to or aligned with ours,” Gabbard answered.
“Do you think, Congresswoman, that there should be any United States troops stationed in Syria?” MSNBC’s Willie Geist asked.
“I don’t believe there should be,” Gabbard told him.
“None at all?”
This goes back to ‘how are we making these decisions?’ Many leaders in Congress and even leaders in the administration are saying ‘we should keep troops in Syria to counter Iran.’ There has been no war declared by Congress against Iran. There’s no authorization, legally, for the United States to maintain troops in Syria.”
Gabbard was then grilled about Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. She responded by saying that, as an Iraq War veteran, she wanted hard proof of weapons of mass destruction before U.S. troops would be deployed.
Tulsi: I served in a war based on lies. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Syria doesn’t pose a threat to the US.
Cold warrior journalists: Omg she wouldnt call Assad an enemy, russia loves her, she can’t be in our club pic.twitter.com/dztH3HVHmo
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) February 6, 2019
But before Gabbard could go on, Geist claimed that Gabbard appeared to be “cozy” with Assad and has “taken his side” in the chemical-weapons debate. Hunt then proceeded to dumb down the segment even more.
“Do you think that Assad is a good person?” she asked the Congresswoman.
Gabbard snickered at the juvenile questioning, telling them “No, I don’t.”
So (briefly) why are you running?
After 11 minutes of mostly focusing on the leader of Syria (as opposed to the leader of the U.S., against whom Gabbard could face off within the course of her campaign), Scarborough interjected asking:
So let’s move from Assad. As much as we would like for this to be the Assad variety hour and talk about this for an hour or two let’s expand beyond that and talk about your presidential campaign and ask you the question that we ask everybody that’s running for president — all 427 Democrats who are running for president of the United States: Why are you running for president?”
“Because Washington and this president [are] filled with self-serving interests and corporate greed and the American people are suffering,” Gabbard said.
Enough about you — let’s talk Russia
Following the brief reprieve, the interviewers fell back to invoking America’s boogeymen to discredit the anti-regime-change candidate, asking her about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. Gabbard agreed that Russia is actively trying to interfere in American democracy.
But the line of questioning quickly revealed itself to be a “first they came for…” scenario, as Hunt attempted to link Gabbard herself to Kremlin meddling.
“There have been reports that that Russian apparatus that interfered in 2016 is potentially trying to help your campaign. Why do you think that is?” she asked.
“Cite those reports and their credibility,” Gabbard demanded.
“We did an analysis actually at NBC News,” Hunt told her.
“I want to point out that that NBC article has been debunked and disproven,” Gabbard said. “I would ask you to look at the credibility of the sources and the so-called experts.”
“I’m certainly not going to sit here and say that my colleagues did not do their due diligence, because I do know what our standards are here,” Hunt responded.
The article to which Hunt was referring claimed that Russian meddlers were promoting Gabbard, citing a cybersecurity firm called New Knowledge. That article was not the first time that New Knowledge’s work has been cited as evidence of Kremlin support for a political candidate. In 2017, New Knowledge “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore [Senate] campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” an internal company document stated. Although that was just the tip of the iceberg of the company’s dirty tricks, as MintPress News reported.
The story of New Knowledge’s black ops disinformation campaign was broken by the New York Times but got little attention outside of Russian-funded media, MintPress News, and The Grayzone Project. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald reported on the operation, initially exposed on December 19, earlier this week.
Tulsi should have responded to @morningmika by asking if she agreed with her father Zbigniew Brzezinski’s policy of arming the mujahideen, the precursor to Al Qaeda. Does Mika think Al Qaeda is an enemy of the US?
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) February 6, 2019
“Other journalists have debunked and disproven the so-called experts that have been cited in that article,” Gabbard said, adding:
And I think it’s actually very dangerous for articles like that and outlets like NBC to put out this information that seeks to bully people … saying, ‘you can’t come out and take the positions I’ve taken, of calling for an end to the cold war, calling for an end to this nuclear crisis that we are facing; otherwise you’re going to be smeared as someone who is a subject of Russian propaganda.’”
“So you’re essentially saying that you do not think Russians are helping you at all and in fact, any reporting to that effect is bullying Americans into not supporting you?” Hunt asked.
“What I’m saying is the article that was put out has proven to be discredited — the experts have proven to be discredited. The American people deserve the truth,” Gabbard said. Gabbard said that articles like that serve to discredit people who send anti-war messages, as she had.
Post-interview pile on
Unwilling or unable to let the issue rest, Hunt continued her attacks against Gabbard on Twitter after the segment. “Hope you saw I defended your reporting after I asked her about it and she claimed it was trash,” Hunt told the author of the report, Ben Popken.
.@bpopken's "reporting" is worse than trash. It's a smear piece that cited as "experts" the same @NewKnowledgeAI hacks than ran an "elaborate false flag operation" in the 2017 Alabama senate election. https://t.co/atbhDJAW5g
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) February 6, 2019
“Here is the ‘debunking’ of the NBC News report from RT, the Russian state media. You tell me which you think is more credible,” Hunt said, ignoring the fact that the New York Times was the organization that initially exposed New Knowledge’s deceit.
“Gabbard didn’t dispute a single fact and instead said it had been discredited. When asked by whom she wouldn’t name them. I’ll tell you who: RT, Russia Insider, Sputnik, and Glenn Greenwald,” Popken tweeted.
Other colleagues of Hunt decided to join in on the dogpile. Intelligence and National Security reporter Ken Dilanian said that Gabbard was “wrong” that the story has been debunked. “Unless she means by Russian state media.”
Since the interview — if you can call it that — outlets like Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Newsweek, The Hill and Politico have pounced on Gabbard’s refusal to denounce Assad as an enemy of the United States.
In short, instead of allowing Gabbard to relay her vision, MSNBC and company hounded her, opting to shoot the messenger for advocating against the designation of a foreign leader as an “enemy” of the U.S. While the message may have fallen on deaf ears at the network, it remains to be seen whether it will resonate with America’s war-weary voters.
Watch | Gabbard grilled on MSNBC’s Morning Joe
Top Photo | Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii., introduces Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during a campaign rally in Kissimmee, Fla., March 10, 2016. Phelan M. Ebenhack | AP
Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.