Late Tuesday night, MSNBC made sure to express their anger and disappointment with not only CNN, the Des Moines Register, and the moderators, but all six 2020 Democratic presidential candidates for skipping over newly-released impeached documents from Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and refusing to make it the focus of the debate.
Awhile into the airing of grievances, Lyin’ Brian Williams interjected to rule that it wasn’t meant to be a slight. But like he did when lying about his reporting on Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, his claim didn’t hold water.
Williams led off with Parnas (so not the debate) and boasted that “the impeachment case has worsened for Donald Trump” thanks “stunning” evidence as there “appear[ed] to” have been a “full-on surveillance of our own U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” Of course, he stated those things with their favorite “if true” qualifier.
After The Washington Post’s Robert Costa boasted about “the reams of new evidence,” Williams took the first shots at the candidates and debate organizations for not blowing up the debate format and then trotted out more adjectives with NBCNews.com’s Josh Lederman (click “expand”):
WILLIAMS: Robert, what do you think went into the decision, either by the journalists, the moderators, the network or even the campaign chiefs who, by the way, had time to brief their candidates before the telecast went on the air tonight, if nothing else, to use this as a reference point, maybe even a dodge to say this material is coming out this evening while we speak, and time is of the essence.
WILLIAMS: Josh, you’re here by request of a lot of us, and it’s a tall order to ask you to rank this in the form of headlines as it has taken us all evening long, while watching the debate, to wade through what’s been released, but it is truly stunning material.
JOSH LEDERMAN: Stunning, Brian. Just when we thought that all of the basic facts in the impeachment saga had come out, a bombshell night. New facts, new text messages, even a new character that we did not know about before in this story line.
Williams continued to make these points, telling NBC colleague/former Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) that “you shared my surprise” that this “wheelbarrow of evidence” wasn’t “raised by either side.”
McCaskill agreed that it was “pretty big stuff to be ignored” and left her “surprised that someone didn’t pivot and grasp the moment.”
She added that “somebody missed an opportunity tonight to appear very presidential,” which Williams again used to reiterate two more times that Parnas didn’t come up (read: dominate the debate).
Post columnist Eugene Robinson chimed in, dismayed how “it would have been clarifying and edifying if someone had tried to narrate this for us”
Tossing to Hardball host Chris Matthews, Matthews chose not to begin with his thoughts on the debate, but more belly-aching about how Parnas wasn’t the topic de jure:
Hey, Chris Matthews, tell me the Wi-Fi service didn’t give out across Des Moines tonight. Tell me you were contemporaneously aware of this breaking story. Anytime you’re voraciously consuming news on your phone during a live debate in a party involved in impeachment, that news not mentioned from either side in that debate might be a problem, correct?
Thankfully, newly-minted MSNBC political analyst and former Obama hand David Plouffe interjected a heavy dose of reason after Williams whined about the Parnas news.
Plouffe threw it back by stating that, over the next few minutes, voters already have decided what to think about impeachment and that candidates should remain “focused on Iowa,” not Parnas.
This touched off Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell to push back alongside McCaskill and Williams (click “expand”):
O’DONNELL: Let’s go backstage. You are the presidential campaign professional of this group. You’re there an hour before this debate. That’s when this news reaches everyone there. You’re a staff member. You pick up all of this information, but you have a prepped candidate who’s been prepped on everything except this new information. You have a choice. You’re going to approach your candidate and flood that candidate with some very hot new information, or you’re going to let your candidate go on and do what your candidate planned to do. Is what you’re saying is that’s the pressure of this decision? Do you try to force something new into this debate that no one planned for….But it does seem like a possible Biden moment missed. If there was one candidate up there who might want to show, I’m going to protect U.S. Ambassadors. I’ve been there. I have this experience because this is a story about possibly the life of an American ambassador being threatened by associates of the President of the United States….And for one candidate to be able to stand up and say, I’m going to — you know, that could never happen obviously, but we obviously have to protect the lives of ambassadors. It could have been a big moment.
WILLIAMS: I didn’t mean to interrupt. Let’s be clear and not assign blame. This was also a production of two news organizations that supplied three moderators that made a conscious choice not to raise the topic during the course of this live broadcast.
O’DONNELL: Well, I, for one, don’t blame the moderators on that because it’s almost of questionable fairness whether you bring up something that’s just happened in the last 60 minutes or less. It was there for a candidate to grab. If a candidate was adequately briefed, if the candidate could manage it with everything else that candidate had to handle, it was there, and no one grabbed it.
WILLIAMS: But to Claire’s point, you’re not running for dog catcher or park superintendent. You’re running for president. You should know how to pivot and react to breaking news.
MCCASKILL: If you would have moderated that debate, would you have asked the question?
WILLIAMS: I would have insisted on it, but that’s me, and that doesn’t judge anybody else and what they did or did not do tonight.
MCCASKILL: No, I understand that, but I think it would be — because this is what presidents do. They have to react on the dime. They have to, like, synthesize information quickly. To me, it would have been, I think, a moment.
O’DONNELL: But Brian, to be fair, your question would have included all the relevant information in case they actually haven’t heard.
WILLIAMS: I would have figured out a way to synthesize it just tonight.
Fast-forwarding to 11:46 p.m. Eastern, The Root’s Jason Johnson joined the conga line, warning that “[w]e don’t really recognize how dangerous this situation in Ukraine is and, again, I think a lot of people missed their opportunity to talk about it.”
“[I]nstead of focusing on that particular issue, we had a rehash of the policy differences that everybody who is concerned about could check out on their websites and that’s what I think is somewhat disappointing,” he griped.