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8 Best Smack-downs of Right-Wing Politicians and Their Hacks

From MSNBC to Fox, the most exciting instances of media figures taking liars and ne'er-do-wells to task.
 
 
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The corporate-owned media so often produces bland interviews featuring soft-ball questions that it can make headlines when someone bucks that trend. It’s especially refreshing to see a truth smackdown on the media in an election year, when the cloud of political spin is especially thick, so you’ll see several of those instances represented below. But you’ll also find some favorites from years past, tackling not only political issues, but also social woes. Enjoy.

1. Soledad O'Brien takes on Romney’s spokespeople

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien has made headlines a few times in recent weeks for pushing back against Romney spokespeople who came on her show spouting lies. In this clip from her October 8 show, O’Brien takes on Romney hack Tara Wall, who refused to answer O’Brien’s legitimate question about the Republican candidate’s contradictory statements on Palestine. When Wall tried to turn the conversation around into a discussion of President Obama, O’Brien said, “Hold on, just hold....tell me how it’s not completely contradictory in your viewpoint, but don’t talk about President Obama at this moment, answer the question about Governor Romney.” Wall kept trying to deflect, but O’Brien wasn’t having it.

In thisclip, from October 3, O’Brien interviews Romney advisor Barbara Comsotck, who accused O’Brien of “spin” and “talking points,” while spewing spin and talking points herself.

2. Chris Matthews calls out Reince Priebus on GOP racism

Another memorable smackdown from this election season involves MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and RNC chair Reince Priebus, who were both on Morning Joe the opening day of the RNC. Matthews ripped into Priebus for claiming that Romney was running a positive campaign and Obama a negative campaign, citing Romney’s racist dog whistle of a joke that he never gets asked for his birth certificate. “That cheap shot...was awful. It is an embarrassment to your party to play that card...you are playing that ethnic card there,” said Matthews. After a tense exchange, Priebus muttered, “Garbage, garbage.”

3. Melissa Harris-Perry passionately argues, “What is riskier than living poor in America?”

On a September episode of her eponymous MSNBC show, Melissa Harris-Perry had on “business and finance expert” Monica Mehta as one of her guests. Mehta was spouting a lot of right-wing, pro-business, anti-welfare talking points, which Harris-Perry clearly took issue with. The discussion came to a head when Mehta referenced the risks taken by business owners. “What is riskier than living poor in America?” said Harris-Perry, raising her voice. “Seriously, what in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America? I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner. I live in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kid into school because maybe it'll be a good school and maybe it won’t. I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No! There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you. Being poor is what is risky. We have to create a safety net for poor people. And when we won’t, because they happen to look different from us, it is the pervasive ugliness! We cannot do that!"

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4. Lawrence O’Donnell talks to the empty chair that should’ve contained George Zimmerman’s lawyer

A full six months before Clint Eastwood made “Eastwooding” and #InvisibleObama Internet phenomena, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell had his own interview with an empty chair. On his March 26 show, O’Donnell had been scheduled to interview Craig Sonner, the attorney for George Zimmerman, the accused shooter in the Trayvon Martin case. Well, Sonner cancelled his appearance at the last second  -- it’s no wonder why; he had bombed in at least one other major cable interview -- so instead O’Donnell interviewed the empty chair that should have housed Sonner’s behind. Hilarity and anger ensue.

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5. Rachel Maddow slams GOP strategist on gender wage gap

The gender wage gap is not, or at least should not be, a partisan issue. It just exists, affecting nearly every demographic of women. There is copious data to prove as such. So you can understand Rachel Maddow’s frustration when she was confronted with GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, a gender wage gap denier and mansplainer on an April episode of Meet the Press. Not only was Castellanos wrong that there are “reasons” that can explain away the wage gap -- he also continually interrupted Maddow, which she called out as “really condescending.” (A CNN fact check later backed up Maddow’s claims about the wage gap, on which she elaborated in an episode of her MSNBC show.)

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6. Megyn Kelly dishes out some real talk on parental leave

You might not expect a Fox News anchor to make a list of righteous media smackdowns, but in this one instance, Fox’s Megyn Kelly was right on. Shortly after returning from maternity leave last August, Kelly confronted right-wing talk radio host Mike Gallagher about his comment that maternity leave is a “racket.” “What a moronic thing to say,” Kelly told Gallagher. “Just in case you didn't know, Mike, I want you to know that the United States is the only country in the advanced world that doesn't require paid maternity leave. Now I happen to work for a nice employer that gave me paid leave. But the United States is the only advanced country that doesn't require paid leave. If anything, the United States is in the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave. And what is it about carrying a baby for nine months, that you don't think deserves a few months off so bonding and recovery can take place, hmm?.... You can't answer the question because there is no answer, my friend.”

7. Local news anchor strikes back against fat-shaming

It’s no wonder why a recent video featuring Jennifer Livingston of WKBT News 8 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, went viral. In the segment, Livingston responded to a man who had sent her a fat-shaming letter, not because of his viciousness (though his letter was terribly mean), but because he represents an all-too-common attitude in our society: that fat people need to be “fixed” or put in their place. “That man’s words mean nothing to me, but really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better -- who get emails as critical as the one I received or in many cases, even worse, each and every day,” said Livingston. She went on, “I leave you with this: To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now. do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience -- that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”

8. Bonus: Jon Stewart obliterates Tucker Carlson

Technically Jon Stewart isn’t a real anchor or reporter, so consider this one a bonus entry. Stewart has had many a glorious smackdown moment, but probably his most infamous happened in 2004 as a guest on the now defunct CNN show Crossfire. “It's not so much that [this show's] bad, as it's hurting America,” Stewart told hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. “So I wanted to come here today and say....Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.” Many of you likely remember this interview, but it’s always worth watching again (you can watch the full thing here):

Lauren Kelley is the activism and gender editor at AlterNet and a freelance journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in Salon, Time Out New York, the L Magazine, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter.