Part 4—Until he suddenly didn’t: In fairness, you can’t blame Jack Welch for some of Chris Matthews’ conduct.
Welch, the conservative near-billionaire, stepped down as head of General Electric in 2001. At that point, he stopped being the corporate owner of NBC News.
He stopped being Chris Matthews’ boss.
For all previous posts in this award-winning series, click here.
Out on Nantucket, the NBC crowd continued to summer in The Houses of Nantucket County. According to the Washington Monthly’s Sallie Brady, Welch was “still a power magnet” among the island’s “NBC crowd.”
In the summer of 2003, Welch was still “hold[ing]court from a massive gray-shingled home festooned with window boxes, near Sankaty Head Golf Club.” That said, he was no longer Chris Matthews’ corporate boss.
In the summer of 2004, Matthews bought his own $4.35 summer home on the island, a marker of the massive wealth he’d acquired under Boss Welch. That said, you can’t blame Welch for the way Matthews continued his long-running, venal tirade against Hillary Clinton.
Matthews’ ugly trashing of Hillary Clinton continued long after Boss Welch stepped down. In 2008, Howard Kurtz broke every rule in the pundit book, quoting some of Matthews’ many gender-based denunciations of Hillary Clinton over the many years.
“There is a history here,” Kurtz correctly said:
KURTZ (2/14/08): [T]he Hardball host has been particularly hard on the former first lady, to the point where some of her advisers have glared at him at parties. And there is a history here. In 1999, amid speculation that Clinton might seek a Senate seat in New York, Matthews told viewers: “No man would say, ‘Make me a U.S. senator because my wife's been cheating on me.’ ”Kurtz was barely scratching the surface of Matthews’ decade of gender-trashing. In fairness, though, Matthews’ continued trashing of “Nurse Ratched” can’t be laid at the feet of Jack Welch, who had long since ceased to be the cable crackpot’s corporate boss.
The following year, he said: “Hillary Clinton bugs a lot of guys, I mean, really bugs people—like maybe me on occasion...She drives some of us absolutely nuts.”
In 2005, when Clinton criticized the administration on homeland security the day after terrorist bombings in London, Matthews said: “It's a fact: You look more witchy when you're doing it like this.”
In recent weeks, he has asked whether Clinton's criticism of Obama makes her “look like Nurse Ratched.” He has said that “Hillary's loyal lieutenants are ready to scratch the eyes out of the opposition” and likened her to Evita Peron, “the one who gives gifts to the little people, and then they come and bring me flowers and they worship at me because I am the great Evita.”
It was against that backdrop that Matthews sparked a furor last month when he said: “I'll be brutal: The reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner, is her husband messed around.”
Today, Matthews is one of cable TV’s most fawning and obsequious admirers of Hillary Clinton. For a taste of this equal-but-opposite nonsense, see this post from late July.
Matthews has engineered a remarkable flip concerning Hillary Clinton. This flip has kept him in line with his channel’s new corporate policy, of course—not that a famous journalist like Matthews would ever work from such venal motives.
Gone are the days when Matthews savaged both the Clintons and Candidate Gore, a policy he developed and performed under the rule of Boss Welch.
That said, the many flips of cable’s Chris Matthews have occurred in near-total silence. As we’ve long told you, what happens in the Washington press corps stays in the Washington press corps, kept there by the guild’s remarkable code of silence.
How does that code of silence work? Your favorite liberals have failed to report, describe or explain Matthews’ remarkable flip about Hillary Clinton in recent years. His ludicrous conduct is simply accepted as the way a “cable news” multimillionaire maintains his “journalistic” empire—an empire which, in this case, includes a set of keys to The Houses of Nantucket County.
That said, Matthews’ flip about Hillary Clinton is just one of many he has enacted down through the years. Consider his first flip about Candidate Gore—a flip he executed when he was working under Boss Welch.
To all intents and purposes, the press corps’ reporting of Campaign 2000 began in March 1999, when the still-undeclared Candidate Gore made his first few forays into New Hampshire.
Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial had ended in acquittal two weeks earlier. Now, the angry press corps descended on Gore like a ton of bricks.
Over the course of the next twenty months, no one would savage Candidate Gore (and Candidate Hillary Clinton) more dishonestly or more crazily than Welch’s best boy, Chris Matthews. But how odd! In the case of Candidate Gore, these savage attacks represented a remarkable flip on Matthews’ part.
1998 had been the year of impeachment. All through that tumultuous year, Matthews used his pulpit as Hardball host to praise the character of his friend, Al Gore.
The right had always trashed Gore, dating to his nomination for vice president in 1992. The mainstream press had started attacking Gore’s character in high-profile ways in early 1997.
Matthews wasn’t buying! All through that year of impeachment, he praised the character of the man he identified as his friend.
By June of 1998, Gore was running behind George W. Bush in early presidential polling. Matthews introduced a metaphor he would never abandon—but he also described Gore this evening as “a straight arrow” who was “as clean as they come:”
MATTHEWS (6/25/98): OK. Let me ask you a question. Let, let me ask you a question. There's something queer going on here, because the president of the United States gets great poll numbers despite all the stink, and Al Gore looks like the bathtub ring. What's going on? Why is he falling in the polls, as Bill Clinton rises, when everybody knows Al Gore's as clean as they come?When Matthews introduced his unfortunate “bathtub ring” metaphor, he actually used it as a complaint on Gore’s behalf. Al Gore, who everyone knew was “as clean as they come," seemed to be taking the hit for the misdeeds of President Clinton!
Matthews worked from this framework all year long. As he did, he kept praising Gore’s character:
MATTHEWS (6/30/98): Al Gore is more of a Boy Scout, a guy who's a, sort of a clean Gene, more or less, politically, no problems, no questions, no semi-pseudo whatever kinds of scandals about him. For some reason, it seems to me, people believe that maybe he gets hurt more by these questions that surround him, and he has to sort of flack, than the guy who we've sort of already discounted for having this as part of his trail of personality.On August 17, word was leaked that President Clinton was going to admit to an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky. As the nation awaited his statement, Matthews praised Gore again:
MATTHEWS (8/17/98): I think the year 2000 presidential election's gonna feature that fellow, the governor of Texas, a Republican, against Al Gore, the vice president of the United States, who's had the very—a very honorable man who's had an uncomfortable position the last several months of having to repeat what the president's gonna apparently admit tonight was a lie; he “didn't have sexual relations with that woman,” as he called her, that woman, and now he's gonna admit he did. And for seven months, he's had people like his wife, Hillary Clinton, and his vice president, Al Gore, cover for him, because they're loyal and good people, but they've been given the wrong story. Apparently, he's gonna give us something of the right story tonight.On Hardball, Gore was still “a very honorable man,” a “loyal and good” person. Two nights later, Matthews poured it on as she spoke with the late Tom Lantos:
MATTHEWS (8/19/98): Do you think that Al Gore who, I agree with you, has a—whatever you think of his ideology or his politics, even if you're a very conservative person, you'd have to recognize this man has had a stainless record in terms of his private life.Nine days later, Janet Reno announced that she would conduct a preliminary investigation of fund-raising phone calls Gore had made during the 1996 election cycle.
MATTHEWS: And he's a hell of a father and a hell of a family man and a great guy personally, I think, and, and also a man—
LANTOS: I couldn't agree with you more.
MATTHEWS: —who keeps his deals. Even if you think he's too far liberal for you, he certainly is a hell of a person. I wanna ask you: Do you think he's tainted by this and he should get a little wiggle room between himself and the president, a little distance? He has been such a good soldier. Don't you think that might hurt him?
LANTOS: No, I don't think so. I think just the opposite of the—is the case. After this episode, the American people are hungry for a Boy Scout, and Al Gore is the quintessential Boy Scout. His personal qualities are beyond—beyond any criticism. And my feeling is that the reason why there is so much calm in watching the unfolding of this drama is the personal integrity of Al Gore.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Tom Lantos.
Reno would drop her probe a few months later. On the day the probe was announced, Matthews vouched for Gore, who he described as “clean as a whistle” in a chat with the late Paul Simon.
Later that night, he spoke with Susan Estrich:
MATTHEWS (8/28/98): Susan, jump on the—jump on the Al Gore question.On that evening’s Hardball, Gore seemed to be “such a straight arrow in so many ways” and “quite a good guy in a lot of personal ways.” This “maybe” infraction was later deemed to be no infraction at all.
ESTRICH: It's silly.
MATTHEWS: You and I know Al Gore. He's so— He's such a straight arrow in so many ways and, and I don't have to knock anybody else to say he's kind of a family man and he's quite a good guy in a lot of personal ways.
ESTRICH: I agree.
MATTHEWS: And, and here he finds himself as the kid in class who gets caught maybe for a—for an infraction which isn't as grand as some of the other ones we've been talking about in the last several months.
ESTRICH: Do you know how silly this is?
As the impeachment crisis continued, so did Matthews’ vouching for Gore. In late September, speculation swirled that President Clinton might resign from office. Democrats “want Gore in there, clean Al Gore,” Matthews said on his September 30 program.
A few weeks later, Matthews extended this theme, describing Gore as “Mr. Clean” and “the Boy Scout:”
MATTHEWS (10/12/98): It's so peculiar. If you can get in— The Democratic Caucus, they'd like to see [Clinton] walk and put Mr. Clean, Al Gore, in there, the Boy Scout. And yet the Republicans are the ones saying they want [Clinton] out and they're the ones [who actually] want him in.As the mid-term elections drew near, it looked like Democrats might gain a few seats in the House—but Gore still lagged in national presidential polls. Matthews extended his lament for “poor Al Gore,” who he thought was “clean as a whistle:”
MATTHEWS (10/30/98): Well, I have a feeling that the voters find their ways to reap revenge, and it's not necessarily on somebody else's timetable. And I look at poor Al Gore, who may be clean as a whistle—I think he is. I think he's gonna pay the price for Bill Clinton's behavior.“I think he's gonna pay the price for Bill Clinton's behavior?” In the next two years, Matthews would show he knew all about that!
November 3, 1998 was mid-term Election Day. Once again, Matthews lamented the unfairness of the way Gore was getting “blamed for Bill Clinton's mess-ups.” The following night, he even vouched for Gore’s outstanding choice of a wife.
MATTHEWS (11/4/98): This time around, are we gonna look for a family guy who basically has a marriage that seems to make sense?...Gack! To this horrible old-world throwback, Tipper Gore was clean as a whistle. Hillary Clinton was not!
And like, maybe George W. Bush and his wife make sense. Certainly Tipper Gore makes sense. Most guys wouldn't wonder why a guy married her. They'd say, “Yeah, that make sense to me. Tipper Gore makes sense to me.” It not—it's not complicated like Hillary. You got to explain Hillary to some guys. “Now explain her again to me, what the appeal is here?” Whereas Tipper makes perfect sense. Go ahead.
MATALIN: Mrs. Clinton is—
MATTHEWS: That's just a guy's point of view.
The vouching for Gore was endless. On December 1, Matthews described Gore as “a decent guy who was just recently cleared of the dialing for dollars matter” by Janet Reno.
On December 19, 1998, President Clinton was impeached. On Monday, Matthews even went so far as to defend Gore’s speech in support of the president:
MATTHEWS (12/21/98): Well, Al Gore's a good man, whatever you think of his politics. And there, he's trying to support his president. And I saw Bill Clinton hurt there, and I saw him reaching for his wife. And this wasn't a PR stunt at that point. What do you make of that, Jo-Ellan?On November 1999, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, the body language expert, would help Matthews push the deranged idea that Gore was wearing three-button suits as a randy come-on to female voters, in the way sailors wear many buttons on the fly of their pants.
By then, Matthews had become completely insane. Dimitrius, and the rest of the press corps, were politely playing along.
Let's return to 1998:
Matthews defended Gore all year, even referring to him as “my friend.” Within a few months, he would start a lengthy war against Candidate Gore which almost surely, all by itself, sent Candidate Bush to the White House.
Matthews’ flip in early 1999 was extremely large. We’ve never found a Hardball passage in which the excitable multimillionaire host made any attempt to explain it.
Starting in March 1999, Matthews’ attacks on Candidate Gore were relentless, profane, repulsive, profoundly fact-averse. Often, his ugly attacks were just this side of insane.
This represented a tremendous flip from his conduct all through 1998. Why did Matthews do this?
Tomorrow, we’ll recall Matthews’ greatest flip of all, the amazing flip he executed in October 2000. In the process, we’ll ask a few obvious questions:
First, did The Houses of Nantucket County play a role in this repulsive overall process, in these remarkable flips?
You’ve never seen a mainstream journalist discuss these remarkable topics at all. Is their bizarre group silence tied to The Houses of Journalist County? What else explains the code of silence which has obtained in this most corrupted guild, all through these many deeply destructive years?
Tomorrow: The greatest flip of all