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In McCarthyist Display, MSNBC Hosts Grill Tulsi Gabbard Over Her US Foreign Policy Views

MSNBC hosts heavily relied upon unfair allegations and grilled Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who appeared on “Morning Joe” to discuss her 2020 presidential campaign.

Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist, and Kasie Hunt put on a self-righteous and shameful display because Gabbard refused to be baited into using buzzwords that elites typically rely upon when talking about United States foreign policy. She shared her concerns about the specter of nuclear war and regime change efforts, but the hosts could only think about deploying the next rotten line the pundit class likes to repeat about her.

The cable news network’s hosts also pressed Gabbard to address why Russian state media and social media trolls would like to boost her campaign. They cited an NBC News report that depended upon shoddy sources intent to suppress candidates like Gabbard who criticize U.S. military actions and question American foreign policy objectives.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius asked Gabbard about Ilham Ahmed, the guest she brought to the “State Of The Union” on February 5. She is a Syrian Kurdish leader and the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council. She supports a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Ignatius wondered what Gabbard told her about what she can expect as U.S. troops withdraw and if they should worry about being slaughtered.

Gabbard highlighted the threat from Turkey, and her concern that the way President Donald Trump is going about the withdrawal of U.S. troops will potentially leave Kurds vulnerable to attacks. But she noted that Ahmed never expected U.S. troops to remain in Syria forever and what she wants is the U.S. to give them support needed to secure the country before completing a drawdown of troops.

This was by far one of the more constructive exchanges during her appearance. The rest of the questions reflect a show that was hostile and dismissive toward their guest:

“What was [Trump] talking about in terms of his relationship with the leader of North Korea?”

“Do you and the people of Hawaii believe we don’t have to worry about nuclear weapons from North Korea?”

“Did [Ahmed] ask you why you met with Assad?”

“Do you think Assad is our enemy?”

“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?”

“Going back to Assad, Assad is not an enemy—is he an adversary of the United States?”

“Do you consider Assad to be an adversary of the United States?”

“What would you say [Assad] is to the United States, if you cannot say that he’s an adversary or an enemy? What is Assad to the U.S.? What is the word?”

“Are Assad’s interests aligned with ours?”

“Is it important to talk about these things, that he uses chemical weapons on his own people?”

“I’m wondering whether in your mind on the left of the Democratic Party, on the right of the Republican Party there is this shared feeling, basically enough. Time to get it over with. Is that something where there’s some alignment between you and the President?” [on Syria]

“Do you think, congresswoman, there should be any United States troops in Syria?”

“None at all?”

“You’ve expressed skepticism in the past that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. Do you believe he’s used chemical weapons on his own people?”

“Do you think chemical weapons were used at all in Syria?”

“So if it was not Assad, who would have used them?”

“There are people who will watch this and have heard your previous comments and wonder what’s going on here, why you’ve met with Assad, why it looks like you were very cozy with Assad and why you’ve sort of taken his side in this argument.”

“Do you think that Assad is a good person?”

“You can’t put a word on it. And most of us here at the table can.”

“Why are you running for president?”

“Your hometown paper said that you should focus on your job and talked about your presidential campaign being in disarray. How would you respond to your hometown paper?”

“Who do you consider to be the front-runners in the Democratic Party right now? Who are the candidates to beat?”

“Any idea why David Duke came out and supported you?”

“Vladimir Putin, is he an adversary of the United States of America?”

“Do you agree with the intel chiefs’ assessment that Vladimir Putin and Russia interfered with democracy in 2016 and are going to try to do it again in 2020?”

“Just to confirm, you agree with the intel chiefs that Russia is trying to actively interfere in American democracy?”

“There have been reports that Russian apparatus that interfered in 2016 is potentially trying to help your campaign. Why do you think that is?”

As the above shows, she was peppered with overwrought questions that were designed to help MSNBC hosts score points against Gabbard, since she has a controversial reputation. They did not want to be amicable and then face condemnation while socializing with their media friends in a D.C. bar—or on Twitter immediately after.

Gabbard’s reputation is largely defined by establishment media outlets, like MSNBC, that have spread disinformation and scurrilous claims about a past trip to Syria.

She frequently calls attention to U.S. “regime change wars” in countries like Syria. She traveled to Aleppo and Damascus in January 2017 to see some of the devastation Syrians have endured since 2011. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad invited her to a meeting, and she accepted.

“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it. I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering,” Gabbard declared.

Supporters of the Syrian war—the same people who do not want President Trump to withdraw U.S. troops—seized upon Gabbard’s meeting with Assad to discredit her diplomacy. Yet, in spite of a smear campaign sustained by the pundit class, Gabbard has never backed down from speaking up on Syria.

During an interview for the Sanders Institute in September 2018, Gabbard stated, “Since 2011, when the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and these other countries started this slow drawn-out regime change war in Syria, it is terrorist groups like al Qaida, al Nusra, and Hayat Tahrir al Sham, these different groups that have morphed and taken on names but essentially are all linked to al Qaida or al Qaida themselves that have proven to be the most effective ground force against the government in trying to overthrow the Syrian government.”

Gabbard said on “Morning Joe” that she does not support having U.S. troops in Syria while also making it clear that how troops are withdrawn is important because there could be consequences for the Syrian people if Turkey is able to enter a vacuum and attack Syrian Kurds.

The MSNBC hosts were in utter disbelief that Gabbard would take this position because this supposedly puts her on Assad’s side of the argument. But what none of the hosts mentioned was the fact that Gabbard is not the only Democratic presidential candidate to vote against continuing U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren each voted against a resolution that passed in the Senate with bipartisan support and rebuked Trump for seeking to remove troops from Syria. Senators Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley, and Bernie Sanders, who are potential presidential candidates, voted “no” as well.

Were they taking Assad’s side of the argument? Did anyone bother to ask these senators if they consider Assad an enemy or adversary of the United States to ensure they are still good loyal American politicians?

Additionally, if supporting US troop withdrawal in Syria is a pro-Assad position, then at least 43 percent of Americans are likely Assadists. Does MSNBC plan to conduct an inquisition into whether they still pledge allegiance to the flag?

In fact, when Trump launched missiles at a Syrian air force base in 2017, a Quinnipiac University poll found 49 percent of Americans believed it was “not in the national interest of the United States to be involved in the conflict in Syria.”

Congress never legally authorized war in Syria, and when President Barack Obama considered seeking authorization for military strikes in Syria in 2013, Democrats and Republicans joined together to oppose escalating war. This political reality pushed the U.S. and Russia to engage in diplomacy and develop a framework for ensuring Syria destroyed its chemical weapons.

Nevertheless, MSNBC headlined the video, “Rep. Gabbard: Assad is not an enemy of the US,” proving this was not a reasonable conversation. It was an effort to entrap Gabbard into saying something, which could be used against her in a McCarthyist manner. Any controversy would drive people to her 16-minute segment and benefit MSNBC.


To the NBC News report suggesting Russia is helping Gabbard’s campaign, Gabbard contended “journalists have debunked and disproven the so-called experts that have been cited in that article.”

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald harshly critiqued the report’s sources and ridiculed the assertions made by NBC News. However, Hunt refused to concede that there was anything wrong with what her colleagues did.

NBC News reporter Ken Dilanian tweeted, “Tulsi Gabbard just said on ‘Morning Joe’ this story had been debunked. She’s wrong. Unless she means by Russian state media.” Dilanian deliberately ignored Greenwald’s critique, or maybe he believes The Intercept is funded by the Russian government.

Regardless, it is pretty easy to debunk the allegation that Russian state propagandists are “helping” Gabbard’s campaign. Openly supporting her candidacy would never contribute positively to her poll numbers, especially in this mad political climate.

Greenwald pointed out the named sources were Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge, and Josh Russell, a researcher and “troll hunter.” New Knowledge was caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election.” This resulted in Facebook shutting down the account of the CEO of New Knowledge.

Russell is “someone CNN last year touted as an ‘Indiana dad’ and ‘amateur troll hunter’ with a full-time job unrelated to Russia (he works as programmer at a college) and whose ‘hobby’ is tracing online Russian accounts.”

Beyond that, scattered throughout the report are mentions of “experts.” It is never specified who these “experts” are. These “experts” are invoked in the same manner a pundit might state, “Some people say,” all so they could repeat innuendo or disparaging remarks without having those comments attributed to them personally.

Gabbard declared, “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 into saying you can’t come out and take the positions that I’ve taken, of calling for an end to the [new] cold war, calling for an end to the nuclear crisis that we’re facing. Otherwise, you’re going to be smeared as someone who is a subject of Russian propaganda.”

The hosts largely rejected the notion that the NBC news report was part of an effort to bully a politician into abandoning certain positions counter to the Washington bipartisan foreign policy consensus.

Although Gabbard was one of the first few presidential candidates to appear on “Morning Joe” since indicating she would run for president in 2020, one can compare her appearance to how the hosts treated Representative Joaquin Castro after he declared his candidacy. It was never confrontational. They did not ask Castro about whether he can win over progressives who think he was too soft on Wall Street accountability. He was able to talk about immigration, health care, and his general priority for U.S. foreign policy.

It was before Senator Kamala Harris announced she would run, but MSNBC producers knew she was strongly considering a 2020 campaign. She appeared on “Morning Joe” for 25 minutes on January 11. Although many critiques of her record on criminal justice issues have been put forward during her career, hosts shied away from confronting her. Her interview was not defined by what her critics say about her. She was able to discuss health care, public education, political divisions, and two books recently written by her.

Because Gabbard has dissented from the political establishment on Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and regime change efforts in general, she is targeted by pundits with dishonest smears aimed at destroying her campaign, especially before she can introduce herself to voters who have never heard of her and spread her message which conflicts with the agenda of the military industrial-complex.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."