THE ROAD TO IRAQ: Chris Matthews and The Donahue Rules!


Epilogue—Rules of the road: Was Chris Matthews a lonely voice against the war in the months before Iraq?

Well actually no, he actually wasn’t, despite the bullshit you may have heard on MSNBC.

In the past week, Matthews and David Corn got busy spreading the latest false claims about the road to Iraq. It’s amazing how often we liberals get conned when we watch The One True Liberal Channel.

What was happening at MSNBC as the war with Iraq drew near? Consider the things Jeff Cohen said in his 2006 book, Cable News Confidential.

Today, Cohen is one of them perfesser fellers, at Ithaca College. Back then, he was the founder of the media watchdog site, FAIR. He’s one of the brightest and leftiest people who ever appeared on cable news on a regular basis.

In 2002, Cohen left FAIR to work as a senior producer on MSNBC’s new Donahue program. In his 2006 book, he described the way the channel’s executives struggled to keep the program on a more rightward, more pro-war track.

Cohen’s account received almost no mainstream attention. In the wake of Matthews’ latest bogus claims, we thought it might be worth reviewing a few of the things Cohen said.

“In November 2002, management essentially seized control of Donahue in a quiet coup,” Cohen wrote in his book. He offered this example:
COHEN (page 176): In December [2002], one management dictate became near sacred. It was stated and restated to everyone on staff, and producers who did not fulfill the mandate were chewed out by management: Debates on political topics had to be imbalanced. You read that right: not balanced. If we booked one guest who was antiwar on Iraq, we needed two who were prowar. If we booked two guests on the left, we needed three on the right. At one staff meeting, a producer proposed booking Michael Moore and was told she’d need three rightwingers for balance.

I thought about proposing Noam Chomsky as a guest, but our stage couldn’t accommodate the 23 right-wingers we would have needed for balance.
The remark about Chomsky was a joke. The statement about the requirement for unbalanced panels was not. A bit later on the same page, Cohen explained the reasoning behind this edict:

“When Donahue producers asked for reasoning behind the right-tilting guest list,” Cohen wrote, network executives “half-heartedly argued that since Phil is a liberal, he should be counted as a left advocate in calculating left-right balance.”

In fairness, this reasoning isn’t completely daft, if you insist on presenting ideologically balanced panels. (We would assume that similar thinking explains the frequent tilt of George Stephanopoulos’ panels on This Week.) But as Cohen notes, there is no reason why a liberal host like Donahue shouldn’t produce a liberal-leaning program, in which various presentations might tilt toward guests on the left.

At any rate, that was Cohen's account of the rules of the road as war with Iraq approached. A bit later, he described where this management edict led:
COHEN (page 181): In December 2002, under management’s firm command, Donahue marched onward and rightward. Instead of comprehensive interviews with Barbara Ehrenreich or Michael Moore, we now featured a show-length interview with Jerry Falwell. A debate on gender equality—headlined “Are Women Getting a Free Ride?—pitted one feminist against several antifeminists.
Cohen describes an array of horrible programs with heavily unbalanced panels. We were struck by the reference to Falwell because of the Hardball program of December 6, whose heavily unbalanced guest list we described yesterday.

Falwell appeared on that Hardball program, part of a blizzard of super-right guests. We’ll take a wild and crazy guess:

Presumably, Matthews was operating under the same corporate strictures as Donahue; presumably, Hardball was playing by The Donahue Rules too. And despite all the bullshit he churned last week, Matthews was keeping his own mouth shut about any antiwar views he himself may have had.

Matthews was not a lonely voice in the run-up to the war in Iraq, except when speaking to small groups of college students or when interviewing for Salon. In the case of that interview, he pretended that he had been speaking out on the air—and he pretended that no one else had done that.

Each of those statements was plainly bogus. But so what? Joan Walsh simply typed them up! Today, she’s a cable news star!

Cohen is very smart and very forthright. We have no doubts about his honesty, and the highly unbalanced Donahue panels were there for all to see. (For one example, see below.)

In 2006, Cohen presented his account of what happened inside this channel’s corporate structure. But his revelations received virtually no mainstream coverage.

According to Nexis, Cohen’s book has never been mentioned in the Washington Post or the New York Times. The AP’s David Bauder reported Cohen's claims in October 2006. According to Nexis, virtually no other mainstream press figure ever did.

Last week, helped by this blanket of silence, Matthews told his latest set of preposterous lies. On the brighter side, David Corn was there to help him.

Presumably, Chris Hayes knew the truth, but he didn’t tattle. It’s amazing how often we liberals get conned while watching The One True Channel.

Regarding that debate on gender equality: Regarding that “debate on gender equality,” Cohen was referring to the December 18, 2002 Donahue program.

According to the official guest list presented on Nexis, by “several” he may have meant seven! On the feminist side, Gloria Allred did the full hour. Waves of guests were deployed against her:
Official guest list, Donahue program, 12/18/02
Gloria Allred, feminist attorney
Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power
Greg Gutfeld, editor-in-chief of Stuff magazine [sic]
Marc Angelucci, National Coalition of Free Men
Peter Allemando, National Coalition of Free Men
Thabiti Boone, successful single father
David Friedman, father whose wife was allowed to quit her job at the time of their divorce
Bob Rosenberg, captain of St. John’s University’s defunct football team
As noted, Allred did the full hour. It’s possible to have a decent program with a heavily unbalanced guest list. Some of the “antifeminist” complaints may have been perfectly sensible.

That said, MSNBC aired a lot of very bad programs in the run-up to war in Iraq. Many such shows were aired by Matthews, who practically begged for instant war on the day of Colin Powell’s UN presentation.

Matthews can never be believed, even when other corporate hirelings help him tell his tales. It’s amazing how often we liberals get conned during an evening of tribal joy on The One True Liberal Channel.

Nor will you ever read about this at your favorite career liberal sites. We liberals are treated as playthings, as fools, just as gullible conservatives get played by the hacks on the right.


  1. As I have conclusively demonstrated in earlier comments, saying that Matthews "practically begged for instant war" is completely misleading. Matthews asking supposed experts why we didn't use our control of Iraqi air space to take out the places that harbored particular dangers was proposed as a no-casualty alternative to the Asian ground war the administration was preparing with cheerleading by most of the mainstream media. The Howler knows that particular statement is a lie, but does not care and continues to make it. Not if there's a Sycophanticous lurking around to tell us rubes “what Bob really means.”

    1. I understand your concern, but the point Bob is really trying to make is ...[fill in the blank].

    2. "Was Chris Matthews a lonely voice against the war in the months before Iraq?

      Well actually no, he actually wasn’t, despite the bullshit you may have heard on MSNBC."

      That point is pretty clear:

      Matthews definitely wasn't that lonely voice. And the pretense is definitely being made that he was.

      Sorry "legend," but this particular bag of hot air richly deserves the deflation Somerby gives it.

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