Chris Matthews versus Chris Matthews: Which part of Chris Matthews' legacy is more important—the way he treated some female journalists, or the way he treated male and female politicians?
Each part of his legacy is important. But which part is more important?
In part, our question stems from Laura Bassett's column in yesterday's Washington Post. In her column, Bassetted reverts to talking about female journalists' careers. She spoke about nothing else.
Let's concede that people's careers are important, at least as a matter of theory. But how about the role Matthews played in deciding who ended up in the White House, a place from which they sometimes launched wars in which all kinds of people died?
Chris Matthews never harassed us, as he apparently came close to doing in the case of Bassett. Our limited experience with him was this:
We appeared on his pre-Hardball program once, in 1995.
We lunched with him one time at The Palm for a reason we've never understood, although we could take a guess. Also, we had a peculiar experience with him on one other occasion, after a comedy-based charity event his wife had hosted.
We've known several people who worked for him. We're not in favor of beating up on people after they've been knocked down. Nor do we recommending hating or disliking persons.
That said, our main experience with Chris concerned his conduct on the air from 1999 on. Within a year after we started this site, his behavior on the air made him the person we (probably) wrote about more than anyone else, at least until his influence waned within the past dozen years.
He was much more influential back then, when there was so little "cable news." For whatever reason, his conduct was often astonishing.
His attacks on Al Gore and Hillary Clinton were frequently just this side of insane. Given the narrow ways the 2000 and 2016 elections were decided, we can't swear that Bush and Trump didn't both reach the White House because of Matthews' very strange behavior, which conceivably had roots of self-interest.
What were Chris' greatest hits? You'd have to list his ridiculous on-air love affairs with Gennifer Flowers and Kathleen Willey.
You'd have to list the astonishing time he and Willey almost got a journalist killed. You've never heard about that incident because what happens inside the mainstream press corps stays there, even if the crazy behavior in question started right on the air.
You'd have to list his insane behavior in the fall and winter of 1999/2000—insane behavior directed at Candidate Gore ("today's man-woman") and as senate Candidate Clinton ("Evita Peron," "Nurse Ratched").
You'd have to list the way he paraded around D.C. during the year 2000 saying that Candidate Gore "would lick the bathroom floor to be president." You'd have to include the way he apologized for saying that, on the air, in September 2000, when polling had Insider Washington convinced that Gore was going to win.
(That polling changed when the press corps invented two new "lies" by Gore.)
You'd have to list his greatest flips. The way he flipped in March 1999, going from someone who hated Bill Clinton but supported Al Gore to become cable's top Gore attacker virtually overnight.
Also, the way he flipped on the first Bush/Gore debate in October 2000:
Amazingly, Chris had spent two nights insisting that Gore had won the debate and that the rest of the press corps was inexplicably refusing to say so. On the third night, he did a truly amazing 180. He could now see that Candidate Bush really won, he now said.
You have to believe that a phone call from Jack Welch had helped him see the light about that. You've never seen that flip discussed because it happened inside the press corps!
You'd have to list the crazy night when he and Gordon Liddy applauded President Bush's manly appearance in his flight suit on MISSION ACCOMPLISHED night.
That said, his misogynist trashing of Hillary Clinton continued through 2008. Are we really sure that his decade of Hillary-trashing didn't help decide the narrow outcome of the Trump-Clinton race?
Which part of his legacy is more important—the way he behaved toward some female journalists, or the way he behaved on the air during these long crazy years? We ask our question because, just as female journalists found no way to push back against his makeup room behavior, the entire press corps chose to say nothing about his manifestly crazy behavior from early 1999 on.
The code of silence is very strong. Viewers do not understand this part of their world, and no one is going to tell them.
So which is more important? All the dead children in the fields of Iraq, or the way he treated some journalists in the makeup room?
Each part of his legacy is important. That said, it's easy to see which part of the story will continue to be disappeared.
What do we mean by insane? It was early December 1999. Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, was going to run for the Senate.
Chris Matthews was very upset. His program started with one of the crazy meltdowns everyone agreed to ignore:
MATTHEWS (12/6/99): I'm Chris Matthews in San Francisco. Let's play Hardball!Hillary Clinton didn't want to fall on the bunny slope! As he continued to rant, Matthews explained the thinking behind the health plan she had helped devise during her husband's first term:
Well, joining us right now from Washington, D. C. is author and journalist Gail Sheehy. She's got a new book, it's called Hillary's Choice. We'll get to the meaning of that.
MATTHEWS: You talk in a nice way about how Hillary never wanted to learn to ski. Now, I learned to ski at a relatively late age, and I love it. But it does involve falling. And you point out in your book that she doesn't like to fall. And therefore—
I mean, just falling, the physical act of falling in front of other people, where they see you fall. Yet she was willing to take on a seventh of the American economy with no economics training, and say that she was going to personally redefine the economic system with regard to health.
How can she be afraid to fall on her butt on the bunny slope, and yet willing to jeopardize the health security of the American people without a blink?
SHEEHY: Well, I think she thought she knew what she was doing, and she thought Ira Magaziner would be—
MATTHEWS: The guy with the propeller on his head!
MATTHEWS: I mean, why did she hang around with that clack? Those guys have never been elected to anything, they've never run for anything. Why does she trust those kinds of guys?
SHEEHY: Well, she—
MATTHEWS: They're all lefties and propeller heads! They're worse than she is!
SHEEHY: Wait a second! Let me just ask you one thing. I know you don't like Hillary Clinton—
MATTHEWS: No, that's not true. That's not the relevant point. I'm asking you why did she— Why was she afraid to fall on soft snow on a bunny slope, but wasn't afraid of bringing down the health security of 260 million Americans? That's what I don't understand.
MATTHEWS: She said, “I'm going to give you universal coverage. I want to give every man who gets into this country, legally or illegally, free health care, and they're going to have to thank me for it, and bring flowers to me like I'm Evita.”...Can you see the basic talking points in there? The talking points about "socialism" and health care for illegal residents?
She wanted to sell it as socialism, because then she could get credit for it. She and the government, like Eleanor Roosevelt, her hero.
At any rate, he would call her "Evita" for years. Later in that interview, The Doctor was very much IN:
MATTHEWS: Here's the weird thing about this dysfunctional relationship [between Bill and Hillary Clinton], and you've been sorting this out as an author for so many months.Bill Clinton couldn't record an honest golf score. Hillary Clinton had a weird approach to skiing.
You have one partner on the team that thinks they're always right. They think they're better than us morally, politically, culturally, and intellectually and every other way. The other person believes they've never done anything wrong.
If you have one who's a born cover-up artist who can't even turn in an honest golf score, and the other one who thinks she's always right about everything, God help us! As you say, Hillary's choice is the choice to be blind-sided or to be blind about the truth. What an amazing credential to be United States senator for New York!
I get the feeling she's got this moral superiority that somehow he [Bill Clinton] was lucky to have her, but she wasn't lucky to have him, like she could have gotten there with any guy—as that little story you tell in the book goes, any guy she could have dragged into the presidency—because she was the superior moral, intellectual and cultural and political force, and he was just some bumpkin she picked up and dragged along like a barnacle behind her rear end.
She thought he was some bumpkin she dragged along like a barnacle behind her rear end! Our upper-end "journalism" would be like this for many years.
Matthews routinely conducted crazy attacks like that on Hillary Clinton and on Candidate Gore. He almost got a journalist killed. Everyone agreed not to notice.
That's the way Bassett's predecessors behaved. Even if it happened right on TV, no one was willing to see it.
Children are dead all over the world because those journos all put career first. That's the way they behaved for years. Please wake us when something else happens.