Part 5—His willing enablers: Was Christopher Matthews a lonely voice against the move to war in Iraq?
On the air, no—he was not. Reading transcripts from the seven months preceding the war, it’s hard to find Matthews behaving in the lonely way he and his willing enablers have recently described, as they create the latest fake stories about the war in Iraq.
Matthews was not a lonely voice on the air; elsewhere, things may have been different. Speaking with Salon’s Joan Walsh, Matthews pretended that he was a lonely voice—the only such voice on TV!
Though she must have known that his claim was false, Walsh—a long-time willing enabler—put his garbage into print on February 14, 2003.
It was Valentine’s Day.
In private, it seems that Matthews may have behaved like a bold anti-war spokesman. Last Friday, Digby reprinted a third-party post from December 2002. This post described the things Matthews was apparently saying in private at that time, to certain types of groups.
The post appeared at the Bartcop site. According to Digby, it came from “a prolific commenter” named Samela, about whose work Digby raves.
In the post, Samela described a small gathering at which Matthews and his wife had spoken. We’ve seen this pair in action ourselves. On this occasion, the Walter Mitty version of Matthews seems to have appeared:
SAMELA (12/02): So, there we are in a room of 30 or 40 people, mostly students but a few others—including an old friend of [his] from their Peace Corps days in Swaziland, where he claimed a lot of "reefer" was exchanged in the middle of the night—and Mr. Matthews and his wife Kathleen (attractive woman, nightly news anchor in D.C., claims to have gotten her start listening to Al Lowenstein speak out against the war in Vietnam back at Stanford) do their shtick for 30 or 40 minutes.This resembles the type of testimony Matthews gave to Walsh two months later, designed for publication in Salon. That said, Matthews wasn’t saying these things on Hardball in December 2002.
Matthews tells the kids if they have a passion, go for it: "don't leave the violin in the closet" or whatever your violin is, because the only people he knows who are happy are the people who have stuck with their passions. He says watch Hillary Clinton, because this woman has passion and ambition and he has rarely seen anyone as passionate as she is…
So he goes off into this rant about neocons—how the neocons are paralyzing the country. They are "like a disease" he says. The ideological base of the neocons is "scary." He comes back to this later, when someone asks a question about Iraq. And he is bitching about the neocons again—Krauthammer, Kristol, Bennett, and all their crazy front groups, as well as the people in the White House—Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby. Who is this guy, he yells? Who wrote that shit about the axis of evil? You think George Bush thought up that list of countries? Who here, in all honesty, thinks George Bush thought that up himself? He's yelling about the RIGHT WING. He all but calls these guys chicken-hawks: He says they never fought a day in their lives, not even on the playground, and that they would never send their kids to fight. That all they do is write op-eds and think they are tough shit. And he thinks this war is UNAMERICAN, against the whole basis of the US as "reluctant warrior.”
What was Matthews saying and doing on Hardball at that time? Based on a reference in Samela’s post, it seems this meeting must have occurred during the first week in December. Let consider what Matthews did on Hardball on December 6, 2002, the final day of that week.
What did Matthews do on Hardball that night? In his first segment, he discussed President Bush’s firing of Paul O’Neill and Lawrence Lindsey, his chief economic advisers. His guests were Republican senator Orrin Hatch and loudmouth CNBC talker Jim Cramer.
In his second segment, he discussed the same topic with one guest—conservative billionaire Steve Forbes.
In his third segment, he discussed the American economy, again with one guest—Jack Kemp, the Republican candidate for vice president in 1996.
In the fourth segment, he staged a debate between religious leaders about the morality of the impending war. One of the two religious leaders was, of course, Jerry Falwell. (The other was the mild-mannered Robert Edgar.)
Finally, he discussed public opinion with two pollsters: Frank Luntz, the high-ranking Republican pollster, and Pat Caddell, a former Democratic pollster who has become a crackpot conservative critic of his former party.
Hatch, Forbes, Kemp, Falwell, Luntz and Caddell—all in one hour-long program! That’s what Matthews was actually doing on Hardball as he misled that student group in the meeting Samela described.
As Samela’s post continued, she described her own exchange with Matthews at that meeting.
Uh-oh! Samela was aware of the disconnect between the various versions of Matthews. At one point, Matthews screamed and yelled and dissembled about a highly unflattering study. He then blamed his conduct at Hardball on the drive for ratings:
SAMELA: I say I want to ask about how ratings affect his approach to political discourse. I say I have noted, as have many others, that there is a certain disjuncture between the kinds of positions and tone he brings to discussion on his television show, Hardball, and the positions and tone he brings to his syndicated column or his appearances on other shows. I cite, as an example, how a study on media bias in election coverage done by the Project for Excellence in Journalism attributed a full 17% of all negative characterizations of Al Gore in the last election to Hardball. And yet, according to the same article in the Columbia Journalism Review, when he appeared on Charlie Rose in the post-election period, he had nothing but praise for Gore.For the record, Matthews’ syndicated column had ended September 1.
Who did that study? he yelled! Did you watch my coverage? Yes, I responded, I watched you in part. And how did you think it was? I said I thought he was throwing some red meat to a particular base. He quieted. Look, I said, what I'm saying is: you wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year on John Kerry that was very thoughtful, especially about his energy policy. But on Hardball, are you going to talk about that or about his haircut like everyone else has been doing today?
Well, he mumbled, "his $150 haircut," mumble mumble. And he laughed. His wife was shocked. She said, is THAT what they've been talking about today? Then she turned to him and asked if he would actually change the content of his positions to respond to a particular television audience.
Look, he said, turning to me. (And I am quoting here! I wrote it down!). "You're a very smart woman. You got me." And he went on to say, look, yeah...the audience for cable is very right-wing, they feel they've been left out and have nowhere else to go. Charlie Rose is not going to make it on cable.
We can’t vouch for what happened in that meeting, of course. But in fact, Matthews savaged Candidate Gore for two solid years, presumably at the direction of his owner, GE’s conservative near-billionaire CEO, Jack Welch. The findings of that Project for Excellence study captured a bit of the ugliness and lunacy in which Matthews engaged for those two years, thus sending George Bush to the White House.
According to Samela, Matthews began to shout, challenging the obvious suggestion lodged in that study. But then, Matthews is one of the biggest liars of the modern political age.
This brings us to today’s question: If Matthews is one of our biggest liars; if he has been one of our biggest liars for almost twenty years; then why in the world have you never been told that? Why have you never seen a profile of Matthews' astonishing work?
The answer lies in a long list of names, including the names of your favorite pseudo-liberal stars.
We’ll guess that Matthews was conning Samela as he said his conduct was driven by ratings. But then, Matthews almost never tells the truth.
You’ve never seen that fact discussed because of Matthews’ power.
You can rattle off all their names—the names of the people who actively lie, the names of the people who won’t speak up. It’s stunning to think that no one has ever done an actual profile of Matthews’ astonishing conduct.
That said, no one has ever done that profile. And no one ever will.
Here at THE HOWLER, we spent quite a few years compiling the mountains of garbage he spewed about Candidate Gore. Until we did that, we didn’t know that a person could compile and distribute so much information and have it completely ignored.
The [name withheld]s, the [name withheld]s, the Ezra Kleins? They would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before they would talk about Matthews.
Josh Marshall would hang himself in the yard before he would tell you the truth. Josh used to be a guest on Hardball! Reliably, Matthews would say he was smart!
(Joy-Ann Reid now appears in that slot. Chris always tells her she's smart.)
Let's get back to the most willing enablers:
Walsh has covered for Matthews for years. She is now a cable star—and she is visibly losing her mind.
Lying affects some people that way. But as the lying drives the Walshes crazy, the Samelas get conned and under-informed every time.
Was Matthews fawning to the right on Hardball due to ratings concerns? For various reasons, we will guess that wasn’t the principal reason. (Read the relevant chapters in Jeff Cohen's book, Cable News Confidential.)
In the last week, Matthews actively spread the latest false tales about the way we went to Iraq. Here's what happened:
David Corn cheered the great man on. Christopher Hayes enabled his bullshit. And no one will ever discuss the facts about what Christopher actually did—to Clinton and Clinton, to Candidate Gore, concerning the war in Iraq.
You live in a heavily stage-managed world. Corn and Hayes are stuffing money into their pants. In such settings, the truth will not be told.
Matthews has been a fraud for twenty years. Within the orbit of career “journalists,” it’s strictly forbidden to say so.
One final note: Darling Rachel won’t tell you either. Think of it as Downton Abbey:
At those levels, among such people, things like that simply aren’t done.