Part 4—Enduring work of the beast: What kind of society tolerates a person like Chris Matthews?
Readers, don’t get us wrong—Chris is a cheerful person. We have no doubt that he’s a good parent, neighbor and friend.
Full disclosure! We lunched at The Palm, just the two of us, in (we think) November 1996.
We don’t know why we lunched at the Palm—the event was arranged by a third party—although we could make a (wild) guess.
That said, the luncheon event was pleasant. We clearly recall only one exchange. Flawlessly, we shared our prospective Max Cleland joke, concerning what it now took for Democrats to win a Senate race in the South. (If memory serves, Chris may have balked at the joke.)
Chris has been pleasant on other occasions, such as the time when he explained the prostitution policy at a major D.C. hotel to us and to one other person. As a courtesy, we didn’t mention that strange performance until Matthews’ misogynistic attacks on Hillary Clinton took us to our breaking point. But you’re probably getting our point.
We have no doubt that Matthews is a good neighbor and friend. But as a loud, demagogic TV beast, his conduct has been inexcusable, obscene, for a very long time.
In part 2 of this series, we recalled his astonishing broadcasts in December 1999 concerning Hillary Clinton. We linked to Chapter 6 of How He Got There, where you can read an account of his astonishing work about Candidate Gore during those very same weeks.
What kind of society tolerates work like that from a person of this familiar type? A bit more background:
A few months after those bizarre attacks on Hillary Clinton, Matthews spent quite a few nights ranting about a 1996 event at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple just outside Los Angeles. As anyone can understand, ranting broadcasts of this type explain how it is that Candidate Bush ended up in the White house
MATTHEWS (3/2/00): Let’s talk about the bonanza today, the incredible incursion of politics into religion. Why does Al Gore face the, what I look to be the favorite status in this race for president, given the fact that he was at the heart of a huge fund-raising effort to raise 100,000 bucks, and now the chief agent in that scam, Maria Hsia, has been convicted of five counts, felony counts? She faces 25 years in jail, and he’s out there dancing around, doing the Gore dance as if he’s not even involved, when it was his fund-raising event, when those nuns were writing those, ripping off those checks for 5K apiece, and he was the beneficiary. There he is!Matthews was speaking to William Kristol, who failed to challenge his host’s disgraceful misstatements.
[VIDEOTAPE OF GORE AT THE HSI LAI TEMPLE]
There he—there he is! There, you see it! And he’s not had a scratch on him today by your Republican Party. When are you guys going to start hitting hard?
On Hardball, this demagoguery continued for weeks. A woman named Maria Hsia had been convicted of illegal fund-raising in the 1996 presidential campaign. Repeatedly, Matthews asked why Candidate Gore wasn’t being prosecuted—even though Hsia’s prosecutor had said in court that Gore was uninvolved in Hsia’s conduct, conduct which didn’t take place at the temple event.
Needless to say, Hardball viewers were never told that the gentleman said that.
Persistently, Matthews pictured the Buddhist nuns (they tortured his brain) “ripping off those checks for 5K apiece” at the temple luncheon. On March 6, for example, he referred to “this Buddhist temple embarrassment, where the vice president of the United States was out there, you know, dancing for money, and he was taking money from nuns, they were whipping off $5000 checks, it was ludicrous.”
In fact, no money changed hands at the temple event. There was no charge to attend the luncheon. The illegal checks which Hsia received were given to her in subsequent days, long after Candidate Gore had returned to D.C.
There was no dancing at the temple. No nuns wrote any checks. Neither did anyone else.
Candidate Gore received no money! But Matthews misled his viewers for weeks, persistently playing tape of all the funny-looking Buddhists. He misstated the most elementary facts. He peddled his usual steroid-fueled inaccurate imagery.
For weeks, Matthews engaged in reprehensible conduct about the temple event.
There used to be a name for demagogues like this: Enemies of the people. Today, we have a different name for such people: Multimillionaires.
What kind of society tolerates a person of this type? Look around! You’re living there!
Matthews behaved this way for the twenty months of campaign 2000. If we might quote the poet,“all the pretty people” kept their mouths shut as Matthews engaged in this rank demagoguery.
Here at THE HOWLER, we spent years developing the information for them. They still wouldn’t discuss his conduct, even with all the work done for them.
The Tomaskys, the Dionnes, the Drums and the Marshals will never damage their standing, their pretty prospects, by discussing this demagoguery. Make no mistake—you live in a culture where even the brightest of the self-dealers are willing to do what it takes to keep Matthews in his high station.
(Last week, Jonathan Chait finally uttered a tiny peep about Matthews’s more recent conduct. At Salon, Joan Walsh landed on his head like a ton of gold bricks.)
We dare you! Read through those transcripts from December 1999. Review that garbage about the Buddhist temple. When you’re done, just ask yourself this:
How can it be that a man of this type is on my TV screen every night? How can it be that I have never read a published profile which mentions any of this?
How can it be that Rachel Maddow vouched for this horrible person when his misogyny was finally challenged in early 2008? (She signed her first contract the very next week.) How can it be that she referred to this enemy of the people as her “beloved colleague” only last year?
Are you still failing to see the pattern? Really? You still can’t see how this works?
For us, this was the backdrop to last week’s clowning as Matthews pretended to discuss the Mastro report on his “cable news” program.
In fairness, we assume that Matthews hadn’t read the Mastro report. There was nothing in his performance last Monday and Tuesday to suggest that he’d read the report. Nothing in his background would make you suspect that he had.
Matthews never knows what he’s talking about! Instead, he knows what he is being paid to emit. Presumably, that’s why he went on the air last Monday playing tape of a statement by Christie, then making these thrilling statements:
MATTHEWS (3/31/14): Welcome back to Hardball. That was Governor Chris Christie on Friday, taking on the press by doubling down on a report commissioned by his own administration which proclaims his innocence, his honesty, his integrity.Wow! The Bergen Record had combed through thousands of pages of footnotes and exhibits! Reporters had been “uncovering documents which contradict some of the report’s own conclusions and narratives.”
The report has been soundly criticized, however, in the press for lacking thoroughness and objectivity. And as reporters continue to comb through the thousands of pages of supporting material, they are uncovering documents which contradict some of the report’s own conclusions and narratives.
As the Bergen Record reports, quote, “In the thousands of pages of footnotes and exhibits released Thursday, many documents appear to lend at least some credence to allegations against Christie that the report plainly said can’t be true.”
We’ll get to some of those, by the way, here in a moment.
At this point, Matthews briefly criticized the Mastro report for its “outing of a personal relationship between Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien.” He then returned to the dynamite found in those supporting documents.
Or did he? He spoke with Heather Haddon of the Wall Street Journal, whose editors should be concerned:
MATTHEWS: You know, our producers, I have to give credit around here, went around and really dug up some interesting quotes. And what you come across in the full report is some of this tough guy stuff, if you will. I don’t know if “bully” is the right word in politics, but it shows where Drewniak and Stepien, these guys all close to the governor, even his press secretaries or his campaign manager, talking how they’re going to rough up people like Mayor Zimmer if she doesn’t play ball or going—it just seems they’re sending the word out there all the time that they’re going to nail—or Wildstein, they’re going to pour gasoline in his skull, I mean, through his eye sockets. I mean, this is Sopranos talk. And it’s not exactly inconsistent with “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”Some things never change.
HADDON: Yes. We went through all four thousand pages of the exhibits, and there are some really interesting tidbits in there that you don’t get just by reading the report itself. And one of the things that came out was, what you were referring to, is some campaign e-mails.
So one interesting thing right in the beginning is they talk about a target list of Democrats that they were looking to woo and court for endorsements. And when—we’ve reported on this before, the campaign was very careful to say that the Democrats endorsed them voluntarily. This would seem to indicate there was at least some effort to really get these endorsements.
MATTHEWS: This is key! This is key! This is key, that there was, in fact, a backdrop to why people like Bridget Kelly and Wildstein would try to punish or push or whatever, manipulate, the mayor of Fort Lee.
Here it is. The Mastro report rejects any notion that there was a culture of political retaliation. But documents buried deep within the report raise questions about those conclusions. In one, we learn that Christie’s campaign did keep a list of approved targets. These were Democratic mayors they wanted to endorse the governor, including Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich.
HADDON: Right. Right.
Let’s correct one thrilling statement before we quit for the day. There is nothing in the supporting documents, or anywhere else, in which anyone is “talking how they’re going to rough up people like Mayor Zimmer if she doesn’t play ball.”
Nothing even dimly like that is found in the (very hazy) report in the Bergen Record. Presumably, nothing even dimly like that like that can be found in the four thousand pages of documents, which don’t seem to exist on line.
Did the Bergen Record, or anyone else, actually find Drewniak and Stepien “talking how they’re going to rough up people like Mayor Zimmer if she doesn’t play ball?”
As usual, Matthews was making that up. It’s what he did many years before, when he pictured Candidate Gore dancing at the Buddhist temple and being handed large checks by funny-looking nuns from a funny foreign religion.
Tomorrow, we’ll try to unpack what Matthews said about the Mastro report. It isn’t easy to do. Matthews is a master demagogue with many years of practice.
That said, Matthews conveyed many false impressions last week as he discussed the Mastro report. As he did, he failed to report the basic claims found in the report.
The Mastro report is very sloppy work (though it does contain new information). If it were a college student’s senior thesis, it would be extremely hard to give it a passing grade.
The Mastro report is very sloppy. Matthews is a million times worse.
There used to be a well-known term for people like Matthews. After all these years, what kind of society is willing to tolerate people of this low type?
Tomorrow: We try to unpack Matthews’ statements. Also, David Brock!
Extra credit viewing: To watch Matthews’ segment with Haddon, you can just click this.
Warning! Impressions conveyed!