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Networks Excoriate the 'Nasty,' 'Dirty,' 'Notorious' Politics of South Carolina

In the days leading up to the GOP primary in South Carolina, all three networks have aggressively attacked the state and its supposedly "dirty," "nasty," "notorious" politics. Echoing many other journalists, CBS's Jan Crawford warned on January 12: "Down here in South Carolina, the weather is warm, that tea is cold, and the politics can get down right dirty."

On January 15, Chris Matthews repeatedly smeared the Palmetto state: "Why are South Carolina politics always so down and dirty?...What makes this state, for everyone who wants to be president, the messiest stop of all?" Quoting Time magazine, the Chris Matthews Show host mocked, "...They don't call South Carolina the low country for nothing." [MP3 audio here.]



In a segment on the state, Matthews played a clip of Lee Atwater from the documentary "Boogie Man." The anchor incorrectly insinuated that the George H.W. Bush strategist ran ads featuring Will Horton.

Matthews asserted, "It's where Lee Atwater honed his smear campaign skills, the talk of people being hooked up to jumper cables, turning murderer Willie Horton into Michael Dukakis' running mate."

Except, Atwater didn't run any ads showing Willie Horton's face, only a spot on Dukakis' "revolving door" attitude to crime.

Outside groups ran a commercial showing Willie Horton's picture.

On the January 11 CBS This Morning, Bob Schieffer derided South Carolina as "a place where they sort of like really down and dirty politics." Reporter Erica Hill agreed, "It is known to be a little nasty."

Today's Peter Alexander parroted, "But here in socially-conservative South Carolina, where the primary is notorious for nasty politics, Romney's opponents are sharpening their attacks."

Sounding a similar theme, Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on January 12 proclaimed, "Primaries there usually get pretty nasty and with front-runner Mitt Romney hoping to end this fight early..."

The three networks have all hyped the idea of a "dirty" South Carolina, a place where the results can't necessarily be trusted. But how often to journalists look at their own work and wonder if they're too liberal? Will NBC reporters fret about the "nasty" nature of their colleagues on MSNBC?

A transcript of attacks on "nasty" South Carolina can be found below:

CBS This Morning
01/11/12
8am

BOB SCHIEFFER: And if you thought you saw a lot about Mitt Romney looting businesses back in Bain Capital and all that kind of stuff and about flip-flopping and all of that, you`re going to see that multiplied by a factor of twelve down there in South Carolina, which is a place where they sort of like really down and dirty politics. So get ready, strap yourself in. This is going to be something.

...

ERICA HILL: It is known to be a little nasty. You ain`t seen nothing yet.

GMA
01/12/12
7:06

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now to politics. Your voice, your vote and the battle for South Carolina. Primaries there usually get pretty nasty and with front-runner Mitt Romney hoping to end this fight early, all his rivals are trying to figure out how to launch their last, best shot. ABC's John Berman covering it all. And, John, Romney's early strategy, soar above it.

Today
01/12/11
7:05AM

ALEXANDER: But here in socially-conservative South Carolina, where the primary is notorious for nasty politics, Romney's opponents are sharpening their attacks.

01/12/2012
07:08 am EST
CBS This Morning

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, good morning, Erica. New Hampshire may as well be a world away. Down here in South Carolina, the weather is warm, that tea is cold, and the politics can get down right dirty.

...

ROMNEY: No one's going to be happy if things are said that are untrue. But I know that's sometimes part of the underbelly of politics.

CRAWFORD: Nowhere is that more true than in South Carolina.

...

CRAWFORD: A dirty campaign in recent memory- the race for the Republican nomination in 2000 between Texas Governor George Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain.

...

CRAWFORD: That race was notorious, with anonymous false accusations that McCain fathered a child out of wedlock. McCain lost the primary and blamed his defeat on the smears.

Sunday Morning
01/15/12

BOB SCHIEFFER: Good morning, Charles. Well, the storm clouds are forming over South Carolina as the campaign gets nasty. We`ll hear from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

Chris Matthews Show
01/15/12

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Lowdown politics. Why are South Carolina politics always so down and dirty? It's where Lee Atwater honed his smear campaign skills, the talk of people being hooked up to jumper cables, turning murderer Willie Horton into Michael Dukakis' running mate. What makes this state, for everyone who wants to be president, the messiest stop of all?

— Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.