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updated 9/10/2010 1:27:05 PM ET 2010-09-10T17:27:05

Guests: Kerry Sanders, Samantha Guthrie, Muhammad Musri, John Feehery, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Keeping up with the Joneses.  Let‘s play

HARDBALL.

(MUSIC)

MATTHEWS:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Leading off: dead deal.  Pastor Terry Jones says that he was lied to, that he had a promise by backers of that New York mosque that they would move the site.  He said he feels that he was tricked and yes, lied to—after the New York imam said he would not let anyone toy with his religion.

Well, the evening‘s strange turns of truth began two hours ago when Pastor Jones, standing next to a local imam, said he wouldn‘t burn any Korans this Saturday because he had a deal with the people backing that mosque two blocks from the New York World Trade Centers not to build.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER:  The imam has agreed to move the mosque.  We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday.  And on Saturday, I will be flying up there to meet with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And then Imam Feisal Rauf, the backer of the New York mosque, issued this statement, quote, “I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Korans.  However, I have not spoken to Pastor Jones or to Imam Musri.  I am surprised by their announcement.  We are not going to toy with our religion or any other, nor are we going to barter.”

Then the imam who stood beside Pastor Jones confirmed no deal had been reached.

Well, we‘ve got this story covered from all the angles.  Kerry Sanders has been covering the story from Gainesville, Florida, the site of the event today, for NBC News.

Lawrence O‘Donnell is host of “THE LAST WORD,” by the way, a great phrase for tonight‘s development.  You need a last word tonight.  It will be on at 10:00 which will debut later this month here on MSNBC.

And Savannah Guthrie covers the White House for NBC News and she‘s the co-host of the great show, “THE DAILY RUNDOWN” here on MSNBC.

Kerry Sanders, you‘re very close to the action here, how do you read the fact that this pastor standing next to a local imam said they had a deal, within an hour, it‘s clear they were wrong?

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  It appears to me that the pastor did not dot his I‘s and crossed his T‘s based on what he came out and said, because it was very clear early on at that initial press conference that Muhammad Musri, the imam from central Florida who was meeting with Pastor Jones, did not say that we have spoken directly to and Pastor Jones says he was never there when a phone call was made.  As you stated, he said that he feels he‘s been tricked, he‘s been lied to, he‘s been hoodwinked.

But it was very clear from the first moments of that discussion, especially when Imam Muhammad Musri from central Florida began to speak, that they were speaking a different language here.  And then, of course, when we asked the Pastor Jones, OK, so you‘re not going to burn the Korans here on Saturday, you‘re going to go to New York—who are you meeting with, what time, where?  He didn‘t have any of those answers.

It may also be: this is his way to bow out.  Maybe this is how he can say there was confusion and he bows out.  Needless to say, the pressure has been intense.

NBC News has confirmed that there was a phone call today from Secretary of Defense Gates to the pastor.  That was at around 4:00.  And about an hour later is when he came out and made that announcement—with all the world‘s eyes on this field in rural Florida waiting to find out if and when he was going to announce that he was backing down—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the latest word from Pastor Jones after his initial statement—apparently after hearing in the news that there is no deal with that New York imam.  Let‘s listen to Pastor Jones on his latest statement of what‘s going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES:  That the imam would move the mosque from Ground Zero.  I was told he cannot move it tomorrow.  I said that is fine.  But it cannot be in 10 years.  These are the exact words that I said.  The man said that is fine.

I said, now, he has agreed to move the mosque away from the Ground Zero area.  Yes, he has.  That is what I was told.

Do I feel tricked?  Yes, of course.  I don‘t feel tricked.  I was lied to.  Of course, that‘s why—that‘s why at this time, I am not prepared to believe that.  I am not prepared to make that accusation.  I want to just wait and see and I‘m right now, I am believing his word.  I find it very hard to believe that he would lie to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a hard thing to put together.  We‘re used to dealing in objective facts try to get them.  Here, how do you get the facts from a guy here, Pastor Jones, who won‘t even say who this man is who he talked to?  Who is this man who may have lied or tricked him?

SANDERS:  Well, I take it was the imam from central Florida, Muhammad Musri.  He was meeting with.  I think that‘s who he was talking about.

But I asked him, you know, like who were you on the phone with?  No names.  It‘s—look, doesn‘t it fit in many ways the way much of this has played out in terms of I had a very long interview with Pastor Jones and tried to get to some very specifics with him about why he wanted to burn the Koran, what specifically was in the Koran that was most offensive to him.  And he hadn‘t even read the Koran.  He basically admitted maybe he had looked at a page but primary what he said was there‘s no mention of Jesus Christ in the Koran as the savior.

Well, anybody who understands religions understands that would not be in there in the same way it‘s not in the Torah, in the Jewish religion.  And I asked him, are you going to start burning the Torah?  And he said no.

So, a lot of this has been very confusing in terms of his—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SANDERS:  -- approach to all of this, why he said he was doing this and, of course, now maybe his confusion continues.

MATTHEWS:  One last question.  When did you first hear him mention the mosque in New York as part of a deal or part of his concerns?  I asked—I had two of those fellows on this week and they never brought it up.

SANDERS:  He never has talked about it in the time that I‘ve been here that that had anything to do with this.  I asked him again out here, I said where did this New York mosque become part of your reason to burn the Korans here?  And he said, well, I sent out an e-mail three weeks ago, I‘m surprised you didn‘t get it.

So, I don‘t know.  It‘s the first we‘ve heard of it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Kerry Sanders, thanks for that great reporting on a murky story down there in Gainesville, Florida.  Sir, thank you for joining us.

I want to work my way down the clock here.

Lawrence, it seems like you were on to this.  You were on to it instinctively.  You smelled trouble here.  You smelled a rat.  It took awhile for the pastor to know that he was in a confused state here at least, maybe.

But what I‘m going to hang on here is this decision to tie it to the mosque.  There seems oftentimes in this battle with the Middle East, that everybody comes up with something.  It‘s always the motive that they think will sell that moment.

You‘ve got bin Laden who, all of a sudden, has an interest in Middle East peace talks.  He never had an interest in the Middle East.  He may be mad at his father for what he did to him in terms of selling out their country or whatever, but nothing to do with the Middle East, because that he knows that he can play that number.

Here he will is playing with that very touchy question in the United States, the mosque.  I wonder whether he listened to Boehner today, listened to Palin today, and they pushed the idea of this twinning up of these two difficult stories.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST, “THE LAST WORD”:  Well, you know, he‘s not a very good thinker on his own about these things.  And so, he had plenty of time—plenty of time to find his way to that community center near Ground Zero over the last, you know, week or so.  And he didn‘t get there until John Boehner and Sarah Palin laid out the road map for him.

Here‘s how to link this, you know, to what‘s going on in New York.  And so, then, in his wild imaginings, you know, he came up with the idea that you know, he just made a deal.

Now, look, when I heard him say that live on this network that he just made a deal with the imam in New York.  I knew—I had read the imam‘s op-ed piece in the “New York Times”—I knew as the words were coming out of his mouth, this was a lie from a charlatan that had not happened.  You could not have read that “New York Times” op-ed piece by the imam and think he was going to make a deal with the most ridiculous person are to step up to a microphone on this subject.  It was obviously impossible from second one.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve got a talent for that, for figuring out people‘s character flaws and B.S. factors.  Good reading on the B.S. factor there.

Let‘s go right now to Savannah Guthrie.

Savannah, let‘s go to the official part of this story.  Secretary Gates, that decision by the administration perhaps—was there any coordination in the last week among the top people who have spoken on this starting with Petraeus, the great General Petraeus?  When he put out the word that this was endangering our troops, burning the Koran on international television, that had a big development in the story.  And then—and then now, of course, Secretary Gates calling.

Have they been coordinating with the president?

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, today, certainly.  I mean, with the White House anyway.  Senior level officials talking with Secretary Gates and deciding to go forward this afternoon with Secretary Gates placing a call to this pastor about 4:00.  There certainly was consultation between the White House and the Pentagon on that and a decision made that the Pentagon, Secretary Gates should take the lead because this is where the administration‘s best argument was lying, saying that, look, the troops are in danger if you go forward with this burning of the Koran.

As to the issue of General Petraeus, you know, I just got off the

phone with a senior government official and asked, do you think in any way

that Petraeus helped escalate or elevate this story by weighing in on it

and saying earlier this week, look, if this guy in Florida goes forward

with this it‘s going to endanger troops lives?  At that moment, it kind of

it lit a match to the story.  And this official says, well, wait a minute, Petraeus was asked this question.  There already were stories out there, and we really feel it was important to make it clear this really is a serious concern about the troops who are in harm‘s way, who are in these very dangerous neighborhoods interfacing with people very closely.  There were very concerned about it.

           

So, Secretary Gates today, after they heard this pastor say, “Nobody from the White House has called me, no one from State, no one from Pentagon,” I think a lot of folks here thought, is this somebody looking for a way out, looking for a lifeline.  And if this was the way to get him to stop, they felt, well, making the call was worth it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let‘s go to Lawrence on that.

Here‘s a great question of intuition, perhaps we‘re going to know as we find out.  My favorite question, maybe it‘s yours, and Samantha who‘s in the room when a decision is made?  Who do you bring in?  Who‘s on your life line?

In this case, had he two forces coming at him.  One, the secretary of defense who‘s a nonpartisan public official, a holdover from the Bush administration—top drawer guy in every way in terms of serving our country, and probably the key to the whole chain of command in terms of our security in this country.  He calls up at 4:00.  By 5:00, this guy has magically cut a deal with the imam in New York through a third party imam who he doesn‘t seem to trust now and is accusing him of lying to him and/or tricking him.

So, which was the most important phone call, the one through Imam Musri or the direct call from officials channels from the defense secretary?

O‘DONNELL:  And/or the visit he got from the FBI this morning.  Look -

-

           

MATTHEWS:  What do you think that was about?  Would you think that was a spooky warning that we have—we‘re checking into something about you or what?  Do you think there might be a goose there?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it theoretically was about them presenting to him up what they think is evidence that there would be some kind of violent retaliation to his act.  And so, they don‘t do this because it could be inciteful.  That would be the legitimate trip to make.  The FBI should not be going in there and saying, you know, we‘re going to start looking at you if you do this and they shouldn‘t be threatening people because of their possible exercises of the First Amendment.

But, you know, the guy who came up to that microphone when we were first on the air, Chris, was a guy trying to get out of this.  And he was making up a story to get himself out of this.  He had painted himself into this corner and he was making up a story to get himself out of it.  And that‘s all I saw.

Now, what the next stage of his story is, I don‘t know.  I think the big strategic problem here is we‘ve now demonstrated that all you have to do to get all of the networks in front of your house with a camera and get the secretary of defense to call you and get the president to talk about it, even get Hillary Clinton to talk about you and get foreign leaders to talk about you is simply say, “I‘m going to burn a Koran.”

This is now a “South Park” episode already.  You know, I‘m going to burn a Koran the world goes crazy around you.  And you threaten for as long as you possibly.  And then at the end of the “South Park” episode, you burn the Koran or you don‘t.  You probably don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

O‘DONNELL:  You know, this is where we are.

MATTHEWS:  One fly in that ointment, the man is armed, so is his partner Pastor Sapp.  They are worried personally.  They wouldn‘t be armed if they weren‘t.  They know that they may not be out of the woods in terms of personal safety.

This is not as easy as an episode in a televised program.  I think he maybe right 90 percent, but if I were the reverend, I‘d probably stay concerned about the situation that the FBI warned him of today.

Thank you, Lawrence O‘Donnell.  It‘s great having you.  Stay on for a second here.  Good luck with your fabulous new show “THE LAST WORD.”

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Tonight‘s a good example of how these stories do tend to develop throughout the evening.

Well, and, Savannah, you‘re the greatest.  Thanks.  The show is called “THE RUNDOWN” every morning.  It‘s a great way to find out what‘s going on in the world I love, politics.

We‘ll have much more on the pastor‘s plan to call off his burning of the Koran when we come back.

This is HARDBALL, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

We‘ve got some good news tonight.  The pastor down in Florida says he‘s calling off his decision to burn the Koran this coming Saturday to commemorate, if you will, the 9/11 tragedy.  He says he has a deal with the imam in New York to move that proposed mosque site near Ground Zero, away from Ground Zero.  But the imam in New York says there is no deal.

Let‘s go back now to Gainesville, Florida, the scene of all this, to Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic center in central Florida.

Imam, sir, thank you so much for joining us.

I don‘t know how this developed.  Give me a sense of how everything could get so confused in a matter of an hour and a half.

IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI, ISLAMIC CENTER OF CENTRAL FLORIDA:  Thank you, Chris, for having me.

I believe that there‘s slight confusion as to what was agreed inside the church and what the pastor mentioned once the press conference took place.  What I mentioned before going in as well as to the pastor inside that we only have a commitment for a meeting with Imam Abdul Rauf in New York and that meeting is for me and Pastor Jones and Imam Abdul Rauf to discuss that relocation.  But it‘s conditioned on Pastor Jones canceling his planned event here on Saturday.

MATTHEWS:  When you were standing next to Pastor Jones and heard him say there was a deal to move the Islamic center further away from the World Trade Center, what did you feel?  Why didn‘t you interrupt him and say that‘s not the deal we have?

MUSRI:  I did not—he emphasized that his understanding is the deal with me that I—because I stand for moving that project away from Ground Zero to a more ideal location, I told him my commitment to him.  I was very clear to him and I reiterated that when I spoke in my part of the speech.

MATTHEWS:  But it doesn‘t seem like there was confusion.  It sounds like you say you told him there was a meeting scheduled.  And he‘s saying there was a deal made.  You‘re saying different things.  It doesn‘t sound like confusion.  It sounds like have you different versions of what happened.

MUSRI:  Yes, he feels that if this deal, once we go to New York and meet with Imam Abdul Rauf and if this deal happens now or a week from now or a month, a year, in his words, if it takes 10 years to reach that deal, that is OK with him.

MATTHEWS:  I see.  So, it‘s faith-based?

MUSRI:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s had faith—he has faith, in other words, that a deal will be struck.  He doesn‘t have a deal, but he has faith that a deal will be struck?

MUSRI:  Precisely.  And he said, I have nothing written on paper, but I have the word of this imam, referring to me, that we will go together to secure that deal from New York.  But he and I are very clear that it is not in our hands.  It is solely the decision of Imam Abdul Rauf and his team in New York.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe—knowing your own religious colleagues and confers and your own religious commitment—do you believe that the imam in New York, Imam Rauf, will make a decision to move the mosque or rather the Islamic center under this kind of pressure, which looks like blackmail, religious blackmail, threatening to commit a sacrilege in order to get something to do something you want them to do?  It sounds like religious extortion to me.

MUSRI:  I hope that the imam does not treat it that way.  I myself feel there is plenty of room within our faith to compromise on a physical location for a mosque, but without compromising on the principle of establishing a center where people of different faiths could come together and work on peace-building and work on bringing peace into our world.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know in my religion, Roman Catholicism, we study ethical questions in school all the time.  Do you see any ethical problem in getting someone to do something by threatening to burn the holy book of the Koran?  To use that as a way to get somebody to do something—is that morally OK for you?

MUSRI:  It is not OK.  It‘s morally wrong for a religious person of any creed to use such extortion to try to force the hand of other people to give up their rights.  However, I feel that Pastor Jones here needed to come out a winner of this—

MATTHEWS:  I see.

MUSRI:  -- dilemma that he was in.

MATTHEWS:  So, you gave him an escape route?

MUSRI:  I gave him the hope and the possibility of achieving something measurable that he can claim as a win, but that is a promise to work on it, not a sign and sealed and delivered promise.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You strike me as a very honest man, sir.  Thank you so much for clearing this up.

The Reverend Terry Jones believes that somehow he can achieve through faith and hard work a compromise to move that mosque, that Islamic center down the road, maybe over 10 years but there‘s no deal to automatically do it.

Thank you so much, Imam Muhammad Musri, for clearing it up for us.

MUSRI:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll have much more on the decision by Pastor Terry Jones to cancel his Koran-burning.  I do think it was extortion and how the Obama administration played a part in this perhaps through the call from Secretary Gates at 4:00 this afternoon Eastern.  It seemed to have triggered this had action, this look for a way out—and the way out was this promise of a meeting in New York.  No more.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES:  We are, of course, now against any other group burning Korans, obviously.  We have accomplished our goal.  We have accomplished what we feel God wants us to do.  We would right now ask no one to burn Korans.  We are very, very strong on that.  As strong as we were that we should burn Korans.  This is now not the time to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I was for burning Korans before I was against it.  That‘s Pastor Terry Jones after his initial statement.

Democratic strategist Steve McMahon joins us, along with Republican strategist John Feehery.

Thanks, John, for joining us.  John, your thoughts about this.

I have been very concerned that the pastor is not the most original sort of person.  He heard some things during the day that gave him license.  He said wait a minute, there‘s a connection to the mosque.  I‘ve heard Boehner talked about it.  I‘ve heard Sarah Palin talked about it—both twinning together these two issues, pairing them up, if you will, as morally equivalent.

And, all of a sudden, he says, well, wait a minute, they move the mosque, I won‘t burn the Koran.

I don‘t think this guy won the Iowa Creative Writing Award.  I think he got this idea from somebody else.  Your thoughts.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Chris, I think that the idea of giving the Pastor Jones this kind of platform is actually quite stunning to me.  I think that this is—this guy who has a congregation of about 30 seems to be having over-influence on our international foreign policy and our domestic policy.  And it really just puzzles me to no end.

MATTHEWS:  If you were General Petraeus, would you have not issued this statement that said this guy is a danger to our troops?  If you were al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, would you have said this is going to cause an East/West problem, a big one, a big damage?  Would you have not said what those men said?

FEEHERY:  I think that the best thing to do is what they do sometimes when the Taliban takes a hostage and that is, don‘t say a word.  Don‘t make this a bigger deal than it needs to be.  Have a conspiracy of silence with the media and don‘t give this story any oxygen.

And I hope that we learn this lesson from this guy.  I mean, to give this—this kind of guy this kind of platform in our democracy is really stunning.

MATTHEWS:  Well, when they put—let me go over to Steve—when they put our you travelers around the world on alert, when the word goes out, it‘s not safe to travel over this issue, when you have our troops, the leader of our troops, the most respected military man in the country, over there saying it‘s a danger to troops, these are realities.  I don‘t think you can ignore them in the news.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I‘ve watched this guy.  I had Pastor Jones on and his colleague, Pastor Sapp.  We‘ve tried to negotiate with them or not negotiate—trying to find out who would tell them to shut up.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yes.  I mean, he‘s basically a 65-year-old version of an underwear bomber.  But you‘re absolutely right about the larger point, which is: there was no—there was not going to be a conspiracy between the media—

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t regularly meet with Roger Ailes and decide which stories to croak.

MCMAHON:  Exactly.  And he was out there—it was a newsworthy story and was made more newsworthy by what Malaki and what Petraeus said over the weekend.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCMAHON:  And so, it required a I response from the president.  When he‘s sitting there with George Stephanopoulos, asked the question that you knew was going to be asked.  He wasn‘t there to talk about the Koran, he was there to talk about his speech in Cleveland yesterday.  But George Stephanopoulos, being a good journalist, asked the question.  The president answered it and pretty soon the race was on.

That‘s why the FBI was there today, I‘m sure.  It‘s why Secretary Gates made the call because once the president starts to apply that kind of pressure, you don‘t want the president not to be successful.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a good point you raise, though, you know, John.  And I want to get you further on this.  In a world that‘s almost like—to use an old reference—an old pinball machine where you put one ball in the machine and all the lights go on and all the bells ring, it‘s very hard to say I‘m not going to pay attention to that pinball.  It‘s going around making the lights go on.  You can say, oh, my light won‘t go on, but other things will.

And when this thing bops around the Islamic world, that there‘s a Christian minister of any sort is threatening to burn their holy book, these—well, we know how sensitive the Islamic world is to the West.  They feel that they have been abused by the West.  They have been exploited for their oil.  We sided with Israel.  They have a lot of grievances against us.  And adding insult to injury is not something they would have ignored if we‘d stayed quiet about it.  I don‘t think.  Your thoughts?

FEEHERY:  Well, I understand the point.  I also understand why Gates -

and I think Gates made the right decision to call because, obviously, it worked.  I think that‘s why Jones decided not to burn the Koran.  But—

           

MATTHEWS:  So you think that 4:00 call did—was something that we should have done?

FEEHERY:  I think eventually—I think he had no choice.  I think when Geoff Morrell went out and said, hey, guys, this is coming, this is why we‘re doing it—I think he had to do that, too.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s Geoff Morrell?  Who‘s Geoff Morrell?

FEEHERY:  He‘s the spokesman for the DOD.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FEEHERY:  And I would say that—he‘s a good guy, by the way—and I

would say that, but from a lesson that we can all learn here is that we

cannot have our foreign policy so impacted by someone who has a

congregation of 30 who is going to do something crazy, because if we do

that, we are in big trouble as a nation if we‘re so fragile.  And we can‘t

from a media standpoint, if we go to every crazy story out there, there is some responsibility here from the media, that they have to, I think, learn from this lesson and not make this guy, this Terry Jones, the media star that he‘s become.

           

MCMAHON:  But, John, this became like Abu Ghraib.  I mean, it became symbolic of something that was festering in the Muslim and Islamic world for a long time and will continue to fester.  And so, it became symbolic of something much bigger than somebody who was perhaps a little less than imaginative and had a very small congregation.

He went out there.  The media gave him attention.  Things built.  Petraeus and others helped contribute to that.  And it‘s not a—it‘s not something that‘s not predictable here that when all those things converge, you‘re going to have this kind of coverage.

And thank goodness that it got walked back because I happen to believe it could have been something that impacted a truce and it could have been something that impacted our relationships.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back to John on this.  We saw in Denmark where a cartoonist could cause a stir.  We saw a movie producer—movie director killed over there over a film.  We see how the Islamic world is so sensitive that they will track down someone anywhere in the world who causes a sacrilege toward their religion and very sensitive about it.

FEEHERY:  You know, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  You have to live with that sensitivity.  You can say, we‘re not going to pay attention to that sensitivity, but darn it, if they are sensitive, you‘ve got to know about it.

FEEHERY:  Well, I appreciate that.  And I also—the person who actually said—made the most sense on this was Mayor Bloomberg who said, you know, I don‘t—I don‘t agree with this.  I think it‘s stupid and idiotic.  But—and once I defend Jones‘ right to do it.

And I think that that‘s the larger lesson here is that, you know, that there are going to be sometimes when people are going to say things that are negative towards Islam, and, you know, the Islamic world can‘t go crazy every time that happens.  I mean, you know, that‘s the other part of this, that we have to be very careful how we react to these things so we don‘t overemphasize that.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I agree.  You know, I guess we‘re going to have to decide in this country that we can‘t keep somebody has a right to do something because it sounds like you‘re saying they have a rightfulness to do it, that there‘s somehow a moral claim they‘re making simply because it‘s legal.

The Nazis—the American Nazis to march through Skokie, a Jewish neighborhood in Illinois.  They have a right, I guess.  But the fact of—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- rightfulness.  You know that neighborhood.

FEEHERY:  And, Chris, I would say that‘s kind of like you don‘t have the right to yell “fire” in a—in a movie theater.

MATTHEWS:  I think this was close to that by the way.  I think it‘s close to that.

FEEHERY:  It might be.

MATTHEWS:  Because if we know that travelers are being warned, our troops are being warned on their behalf, that there‘s a real threat level, there‘s rocks being thrown at our people over there already in Kabul, on the notion this is going to happen, we know that there‘s an incitement factor here.  I think I could argue, I‘m not an attorney but I think I could go into court and say, this is as close—this is as close to really yelling fire as you can think of because all logic tells us people will die because of this burning.

MCMAHON:  You know what?  It‘s—I actually am an attorney.  I try not to play one in on television.  It is—it is as close to fire in a theater because of the danger.  It poses immediate threat to the troops.  It‘s very, very far away from the mosque in New York City, which is what the Republicans are trying to do here.  And I think it‘s a very sinister.

FEEHERY:  No, I don‘t think that‘s right, Steve.

MCMAHON:  Well, no, but hold on a second.  Hold on a second.  Just one second, John.  Because Boehner did the sort of equivalency and Sarah Palin has done the equivalency.  It was their suggestion that perhaps he not do this if the imam in New York City agrees not to build the mosque.  And so, they were the ones who link it first as far as I know—and as far as any news organization knows.  And I think—

MATTHEWS:  Let him respond.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  John, you think it‘s unfair to show that they played, I think, an accessory role here?

FEEHERY:  I think it‘s unfair.  I also—if you talk to Boehner directly, I guarantee you that he was not making that more equivalence.  I think that what he was saying this morning on “Good Morning America” was that, you know, you have a right to burn these Korans, you have the right to have this mosque here -- 75 percent of the American people are against building the mosque near the 9/11; 99.9 percent of the American people or more are against burning the Koran.

MATTHEWS:  I think the idea of moral equivalence here is ridiculous.

Thank you.

People want to build a mosque, it‘s been argued about it, right or wrong.  Somebody who wants to burn the Koran—there‘s only one reason to do it and it‘s a bad one.

Thank you, Steve McMahon.

FEEHERY:  I agree with that.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you—I think we all agree on that.  Thank you. 

Sarah Palin doesn‘t agree with us on that.

Thank you, Steve McMahon.  She thinks it‘s equal.

Thank you Feehery, a good guy, a good Republican.

MCMAHON:  A fine Irishman.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll see that‘s probably why you‘re a good guy.

Back with more on Pastor Jones in Florida who apparently canceled his Koran-burning event on the promise, I think it was the faith that the mosque center near Ground Zero will be moved at some point in the next 10 years.  It was faith-based, it turns out.  We heard that from the imam.  So, maybe this is getting clear of what happened.  I think he was overstating his claim when he spoke to the press at 5:00.

The New York mosque says it has no plans to move and it won‘t negotiate.  We‘ll get the latest from New York when we return.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Pastor Terry Jones of Florida has canceled his plan to burn Korans this Saturday.  He did so on the faith that that proposed mosque two blocks from New York‘s Ground Zero would be moved.

New York, Mike Taibbi is with us now with us from outside the proposed mosque.

Mike, thanks so much.  We‘ve been working this story.  I think we got somewhere.  Imam Musri said, he was the guy standing next to Terry Jones, Reverend Terry Jones—

MIKE TAIBBI, NEW YORKER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  -- he said that basically the reverend was talking about faith, that sometime during the course of talks with the people building the World Trade Center mosque, that maybe they‘ll change their mind over perhaps 10 years.  Your news on that subject.

TAIBBI:  Well, it‘s kind of sugar-coating it a little bit.  I mean, Pastor Jones said unequivocally, we have a deal.  This is going to happen.  I‘m going to go to New York.

And apparently, that didn‘t happen.  He later said he wasn‘t tricked, he was lied to.

But, you know, Chris, if for whatever reason Pastor Jones has now made a permanent decision that he‘s not going to have a bonfire of Korans on Saturdays that situation in Gainesville, Florida, and the images it would have created is defused.  However, that doesn‘t defuse the situation here because even though there‘s not a equivalency between the two events, burning Korans deliberately and building an Islamic center mosque and 2 ½ blocks from Ground Zero, both those events percolated in the same media universe.  They were trumped up and they became huge international stories.  This one remains a story like that.

We spoke on the way down here as the story we‘re developing before, Chris, with the organizers of the two competing rallies and protests that are scheduled for Saturday, 9/11, the ninth anniversary of the solemn and horrible event in American history.  Both of them seemed eager to cancel their protests, their demonstrations if there was a deal.  But if there wasn‘t a deal, the protests go on.

Now, one of them is organized by people who are organized against bigotry—anti-Muslim bigotry and racism.  They expect to have thousands of people here after 3:00 on Saturday.

The other one is organized by Pamela Geller, you know who she is.  She owns the “Atlas Shrugs” Web site—

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

TAIBBI:  -- which is a provocative, too mild the word for what is.  But she‘s the one who frame this story for the way it‘s now seen by thousands and thousands of people and a plurality in this country as an Islamist victory mega-mosque on Ground Zero.  It‘s not on Ground Zero.  It‘s not established with the stated purpose of being a triumphal or victory mosque.  It‘s in fact, a cultural center that would have rooms to accommodate all religions, et cetera, et cetera, according to Imam Rauf, who‘s organized it himself.

The protests will continue.  This story continues and is not defused yet—no matter what happens in Gainesville, Florida.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s a big problem.  Suppose the word goes around the world that the reason this guy is not burning the holy book of Islam is because there was a secret deal cut to kill the mosque.

(CROSSTALK)

TAIBBI:  They‘re all—they‘re all bad stories but we‘ve learned, as this new media has developed into the entity that it is, Chris, that it doesn‘t take much.  Don‘t forget, it was two-thirds of a second of Senator George Allen using the word “macaca” on cell phone video that ended the presidential aspirations of a legitimate candidate.  I mean, it doesn‘t take much this day and age, a couple of cartoons, daily cartoons.

MATTHEWS:  Mike, do you see what—Mike, do you see just what went behind you?  Another one of these people.

We‘re watching the Terry Jones story down in Florida.  That‘s crazy enough or dangerous enough.  And we got the truther guy walking past him in the past to try to exploit a kooky story with a kookier story.  And now we have you with some Jesus is going to bring down whatever justice on somebody there using an excuse of you talking to a camera.

TAIBBI:  Yes, well, they‘ve been—they‘ve been passing by here all day long.  They‘ve been doing it all week long.  There‘s even a guy who had a painting, actually, a pretty effective painting of somebody pouring salt in the wound.  That‘s the theme, I think, of the protesters—those people who are objecting to the cultural center and the mosque.

MATTHEWS:  So, what do we expect on Saturday, right now to finish up this segment what do we expect is going to come of this diffusion?

TAIBBI:  You know, I think it could be ugly.  I mean, I‘ve listened to what Pam Geller has said.  This is the woman who owns this blog, I don‘t know if you read it, I have.

This is woman who had the mock-up of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in a Nazi uniform.  This is a woman has—she attacks Obama every day, says that his mother was involved in pornography, et cetera, et cetera.  All of these crazy things and yet, she‘s invited on to newscasts as an expert on something—on the cultural center and mosque to talk about it.

It could be very ugly.  The signs have been ugly here.  A lot of ugly things have been said leading up to this.  Who knows what‘s going to happen on Saturday?  But I don‘t think it‘s going to be just a story about the memorial for 9/11.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I think the next Tom Wolfe novel.

Anyway, we have new word from down in Florida, the associate pastor, Wayne Sapp, p who was on this program a couple of days ago, says the Koran-burning event is not canceled, but only temporarily suspended until they can confirm the meeting with the New York imam.  So, we‘ll continue to watch this story as it develops.

Mike, what do you make of that?  Now, we have the possibility they‘re not going to meet.  I think they‘ll meet at least.  And if they don‘t meet, they‘re going to go burn the Korans again.

TAIBBI:  I think you‘re right.  I think it‘s an astounding story and the equivalency of the bonfire of the vanities is true.  It can be one minor, isolated event that just metastasizes into something huge and unstoppable.  If they put this back on, the Koran-burning back on, who knows what will happen?  Those images getting out there, we know will have consequences.

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re thinking hard on this.  Thanks so much, Mike Taibbi up in New York.

When we return, we‘re going to talk politics and whether it‘s smart strategy for President Obama to go after House Republican Leader John Boehner by name.  All of a sudden, after two years of ignoring the opposition, a Chicago strategy by pretending there is no Republican Party, he‘s now let him off free and now, he‘s decided it‘s time to stop letting him off free, going after Boehner, going after Mitch McConnell.

Is it smart to target your enemy so personally?

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, President Obama had one name on his mind in Ohio yesterday, did you catch it?  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Mr. Boehner and the Republicans in Congress said no to these projects.  Mr. Boehner has so far said no to infrastructure.  So, let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everybody else: we should not hold middle class tax cuts hostage any longer.  When these same Republicans, including Mr. Boehner were in charge, the number of earmarks and pet projects went up, not down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Was this a smart strategy for the president and his party?

Let‘s bring in “Salon‘s” Steve Kornacki and “Politico‘s” Josh Gerstein.

Thank you.

Steve, first and then, Josh.

Steve, is this smart to give a name to his pain?

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON:  Sure.  I mean, at this point, you know, I‘m not sure that there‘s really that much that the Democrats and Obama can do to really kind of salvage this election.  But I think if you look at one of their sort of fundamental missions for the next few months is really to fire up the Democratic base.  If you can—if you can increase the Democratic turnout from where it‘s sort of projected to be right now, there‘s a chance they could maybe survive in some of these marginal districts where otherwise they lose.

And if you make this a fight between, you know, Barack Obama on one hand and John Boehner on the other hand, between Barack Obama and what he‘s tried to do, and between the Republicans and what they have actually done for the last two years, which is to say no, I think that‘s a message that resonates from the Democratic base.

And I think—yes, I‘m sure it upsets Republicans to hear it, but, you know, the reality is, Republicans are the most motivated, you know, segment of the electorate right now.  So, you can‘t really make them any more motivated to go out and vote against you.  Maybe you can—you know, you can get some more excitement going on the Democratic side.  So, at this point, they have nothing left to lose I think.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I just wonder how you can excite anybody with the name John Boehner, Josh.  I mean, he is the dullest.  Dan Aykroyd could play him, I think, on an off night.

Josh, I don‘t see the excitement factor in bringing in John Boehner as your bad guy.  He‘s a dull golfer.  He looks like he just threw down a—you know, just made a bad putt on the golf course.  He doesn‘t look too happy.  But he doesn‘t like the enemy of the people to me.  Your thoughts.

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO:  Well, I agree, Chris.  I think what the White House is trying to do is really that they‘ve come a long way from 2008 when the strategy was all about hope and they‘re trying to make it about fear, about fearing the Republicans and what the Republicans are going to do.  I‘m sure that Boehner is sort of the perfect boogie man.  I mean, for one thing—

MATTHEWS:  Well, why not go after the whack jobs, or the whackier people, I should say, like Michele Bachmann or Sharron Angle, all those tea partiers out there that are far more colorful as bad guys?

GERSTEIN:  Well, I think, then, the president would just be accused of highlighting people that are clearly on the fringe of the party.  And part of this message is supposed to be that somehow John Boehner could be the speaker if this election doesn‘t go well.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GERSTEIN:  I don‘t it was an accident when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs weeks ago, you remember, he got pilloried for saying the House might fall into Republican hands.  I think we were seeing the beginning of this strategy of trying to scare people about what could happen in November since the White House has given up on giving people any hope that they can fix the problem.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s what we know, Steve and Josh.  We know the strategy has leaked out what they‘re up to.  It was in “Politico” today.  They—apparently, the Republicans, if they get back the speaker‘s gavel, they want to start defunding or starving the health care plan that Barack Obama passed historically this year, in other words, make it not happen by taking money away from the program.

Two, taking away all the stimulus money they get their hands on and basically yielding it back somewhere else.

And third, beginning massive probes on every front of everything that might embarrass this administration.

That seems like a fairly negative program.

Your thoughts—Steve.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  Everything starts to look different if the Republicans do take back Congress, if they are in power next year.  You know, their words, their actions take on a whole different level of meaning and significance for voters.

I mean, right now, the Republicans are just a catch-all party, you know, for everybody out there who has any doubts, any reservations and any anxiety about the direction the country is going.  And there‘s a lot of anxiety out there right now.

But when the Republicans, if they actually control the legislative branch of government and they‘re the ones sending things to the president‘s desk, that changes the dynamic completely.  And I mean, the obvious parallel, we talked about before, is to 1995, and last time you sort of had that—you know, had that setup and Republicans thought, you know, that the ‘94 midterms when they gained, you know, more than 50 seats in the House was this great mandate to take on Bill Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KORNACKI:  They tried to take him on the budget, and suddenly, they looked really extreme to people.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, this whole agenda, Josh, seems pretty Debbie Downer, doesn‘t it?

GERSTEIN:  Yes.  I mean, you have this sort of dualism out there in the country, Chris.  I think it‘s a situation where we would face even greater gridlock than we‘ve seen over the last year and a half.  And, you know, the American people, even individuals, I think, are both frustrated with gridlock and also scared about some of the things the government has done, and I think maybe the White House feels like somehow, with a Hail Mary pass here, they can break through that message by scaring people that there would be even more gridlock and just a recipe for nothing to be done on the economic front.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m going to come back in a minute and cheer on the president.  I think his strategy is about time.  The Chicago strategy of ignoring the enemy only works in Chicago where there is no Republican Party.  There is one in Washington.

Thank you, Steve Kornacki.

Thank you, Josh Gerstein.

When we return, I will have those thoughts about President Obama‘s battle plan.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me finish with a salute to that new Obama political strategy.

For two years, the president avoided attacks on the Republicans.  He had promised to stay above the pettier forms of partisan politics and he stuck to it.  But there was strategy behind his approach.  He never mentioned the names, at least not in an adversarial way of the Republican leaders, Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman John Boehner.

This is the old Chicago method.  You act like the Democrats are the only game in town, the only party of government, you mock the activists and other critics as trouble-makers mouthing off, you don‘t give Republican leaders the time of day.  Well, you figure out, by not mentioning their names, you diminish their stature to the point of making them invisible.

Well, that strategy obviously didn‘t work.  It gave coverage to the Boehners and McConnells of this world as they went about obstructing everything Obama did or tried to do.  People, like Senator McConnell and Congressman Boehner, didn‘t take a single bit of scar tissue for their behavior, their endless efforts to kill the new president‘s program.

Well, all this changed yesterday.  And that‘s a good thing.  By giving a name for the public‘s pain, President Obama has demanded basic accountability.

Does anyone listening think Mitch McConnell deserves to be elevated to Senate majority leader, or that John Boehner deserves to be speaker of the House?  What for?

By jamming the Democrats, McConnell and Boehner created a partisan seesaw.  They go up simply by getting Democrats to go down.  Anybody feel like rewarding that?

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

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