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All that talk about complicated matters such as Social Security and deficits and tax brackets can get a little wonky in the midst of campaigns and the post-election season. So it's not that unusual for a candidate, a politician -- or a talk show host -- to hammer home a point with a touch of violent rhetoric.
And when a political figure mixes talk about elections or policy with words about war, battles or weapons, it certainly draws attention -- and sometimes controversy. We'll walk you through such a controversy that involves three political figures -- a Democratic president, a conservative South Florida talk show host, and a fiery talking newly elected Republican congressman -- and a slew of words that relate to violence (bullets, guns, knives). And we'll mix in a popular movie.
Joyce Kaufman, a South Florida conservative radio talk show host on WFTL-850 AM, garnered national attention after newly elected U.S. Rep. Allen West hired her as his chief of staff a week after the Nov. 2, 2010, election. West is the Republican who ousted U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, the two-term Democrat who represents Congressional District 22, which spans parts of coastal and suburban Broward and Palm Beach counties.
On Nov. 9, the day after West announced he had hired Kaufman, MSNBC liberal commentator Rachel Maddow's 9 p.m. show had a piece that included a clip of Kaufman at a July 3, 2010, rally in Broward County in which she said:
"I don’t care how this gets painted by the mainstream media, I don’t care if this shows up on YouTube, because I am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendment rights was they gave me a Second Amendment. And if ballots don’t work, bullets will." The Second Amendment, remember, is the right to keep and bear arms.
Early in the morning Nov. 10, someone sent an e-mail to Kaufman that stated: "I'm planning something big around the government building here in Broward County, maybe a post office, maybe even a school. ..." The threat led to a lockdown of Broward schools Nov. 10 and an FBI investigation that remains open.
By Nov. 11, Kaufman announced that she was stepping down from her chief of staff post because she didn't want to tarnish West. She took to the airwaves to discuss her decision, her vows to take out other Democrats in Congress, and to bash the media. On her radio show Nov. 12, Kaufman suggested she isn't the only political player to use rhetoric that some could interpret as inciting violence.
"Nobody has played clips over and over again on the FOX (News network), which is supposed to be fair and balanced, of President (Barack) Obama said, 'If they bring a knife to the fight, we'll bring a gun,' " Kaufman said. "I've never heard that clip played. We all know it was said. Did the cow play that? No. Of course not. Because we knew what he meant. These are metaphors, these are ways of stating in large terms simple facts. President Obama was saying if they try to fight us and pick at us with amendments we will come at them with legislation. And that's what he did. I knew that’s what he meant."
For this Truth-O-Meter we wanted to check Kaufman's claim that Obama said "If they bring a knife to the fight, we'll bring a gun." We'll also explain the cow reference.
A simple Google search of the words "Barack Obama", "knife" and "gun" turned up several hits. A June 14, 2008, article from Politico stated that Republicans were pouncing on this comment from Obama reported by the press pool:
" 'If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,' Obama said in Philadelphia last night. 'Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.' "
We found the same quote June 14, 2008, in the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog.
Obama was quoting from the 1987 movie The Untouchables about gangster Al Capone (played by Robert De Niro) and the efforts of government agent Eliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) to bring down Capone during Prohibition in Chicago. The trailer on YouTube contains the quote that Obama borrowed -- muttered by actor Sean Connery playing cop Jimmy Malone -- in a sinister voice: "You want to get Capone? Here is how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That is the Chicago way."
We also found a June 23, 2008, article in the Chicago Tribune, which stated that Obama meant the line delivered at the Philadelphia fundraiser as a joke.
We obtained Kaufman's quotes about Obama by listening to her noon-3 p.m. Nov. 12 show. Typically PolitiFact Florida provides links to a transcript of the show itself so that readers can see or hear the quotes directly from the source. But Steve Lapa, the station's vice president and general manager, said that WFTL does not provide a transcript or archive her show.
In a telephone interview Nov. 15, we read Kaufman's quotes back to her to verify that we're quoting her accurately.
"I don't know,'' she said. "I'm taking your word for it. It sounds plausible."
But Kaufman had a couple of tweaks: She said she thought Obama made the remarks during his 2008 campaign -- which he did.
"I'm not so sure he was talking about legislation and amendments in straight-forward terms,'' she said. "He was talking about the arena of ideas."
Kaufman said her point was that Obama was using a metaphor, and the media treated his statement about a gun differently than her remark about bullets.
"Nobody thought he was going to bring a gun,'' she said. "My goal certainly wasn't to incite violence. .... I was encouraging people to go out and use their vote."
Here is a longer video of Kaufman's now-famous ballots and bullets speech on the Post on Politics, a blog of the Palm Beach Post.
OK, now about that cow reference. Speaking of the Obama quote, Kaufman said: "Did the cow play that? No. Of course not."
Kaufman told us that her reference to "the cow" was about Maddow -- the MSNBC commentator who played the clip of Kaufman.
"I endearingly call her Rachel Mad-cow," Kaufman said.
For this Truth-O-Meter, our goal was to evaluate whether Obama said "if they bring a knife to the fight we'll bring a gun," as Kaufman claimed. We found several news articles quoting Obama as saying exactly that and he's never denied it (though the Chicago Tribune said it was meant as a joke). We rate this claim True.
WFTL-850 AM, The Joyce Kaufman Show, Nov. 12, 2010
Interview, radio show host Joyce Kaufman, Nov. 15, 2010
Interview, WFTL-850 AM vice president/general manager Steve Lapa, Nov. 15, 2010
YouTube, "The Untouchables" movie trailer, accessed Nov. 15, 2010
Politico, "Obama brings a gun to a knife fight," June 14, 2008
Washington Wire Washington Post blog, "Obama: 'If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,'" June 14, 2008
The Swamp Chicago Tribune blog, "Barack Obama promises to pack heat," June 14, 2008
The Chicago Tribune, "McCain, Obama bring out big guns about economy," June 15, 2008
Chicago Tribune, "Sweet -- and sour -- home Chicago; city's political image a risk for Obama," June 23, 2008
New York Times, "Obama goes one-on-one battling 'just a speechmaker' label," June 15, 2008
Post on Politics Palm Beach Post blog, "Uproar, death threats over West's new chief of staff and her ballots-vs.-bullets remark," Nov. 11, 2010
Palm Beach Post, "'That's how men talk,' GOP challenger West says as Democrat Rep. Klein slams his references to 'Gestapo' and 'butt-whoopin'" Sept. 12, 2010
Miami Herald, "Radio host Joyce Kaufman won't work for Congressman-elect Allen West following threat to Broward schools," Nov. 11, 2010
Broward Politics South Florida Sun-Sentinel blog, "I am going to crush ... the left wing radical socialist agenda," Nov. 12, 2010
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