SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 2012
The role that was played by Chris Matthews: By now, the gentleman has been repurposed.
Today, Chris Matthews is a reliable member of the pro-Obama, pro-Democratic Party team we watch on MSNBC. His blustering and his overstatements now serve "liberal" interests.
This may even represent some version of his actual political outlook.
But during the Clinton-Gore years, Matthews played a vastly different role in our political discourse. During the twenty months of Campaign 2000, no one worked harder than Matthews did to drive the war against Candidate Gore—to send George Bush to the White House.
Just a guess: We would guess that Matthews was behaving this way at the behest of Jack Welch, the conservative Republican near-billionaire who was then the head of GE, thus the head of NBC News. Matthews was being paid roughly $1 million per year at the time Campaign 2000 started.
Within a few years, his take had risen to $5 million per—and Welch's man was safely ensconced in the White House. Matthews had purchased a $4.4 million home on Nantucket, where he palled around with the GE boss, along with other leading members of the NBC News team.
Just a guess: This morning’s post gives you a look at the way Matthews achieved the rise in his annual haul.
Over at our companion site, Chapter 6 describes a pivotal episode in the press coverage of Campaign 2000. (To read Chapter 6, just click here.) It may have been the pivotal episode in that entire campaign. In this episode, the press corps nailed down its most punishing theme about Candidate Gore—the deeply punishing, deeply consequential claim that Gore was a LIAR.
This narrative was nailed into place during December 1999. It was initiated, then driven along, by a long string of misquotations, then by a mocking group paraphrase: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!
The paraphrase came from the RNC. The misquotations came from several major news orgs—although the misquotations were widely repeated, even after it was clear that they were bogus, false, wrong.
Once the initial misquotation occurred, no one played a more central role in this process than Chris Matthews.
Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal! This RNC claim was silly, absurd—but Matthews moved aggressively to advance it on December 1, the very first day of this squalid affair. He thundered and roared for the next two nights as this ridiculous theme took hold in the press. In the passage below from Chapter 6, we describe some—not all—of his misconduct during this episode.
This is the way George Bush reached the White House. Voices will tell you this can’t have occurred.
Those voices will be wrong.
We’ve posted a version of this material before. It’s only one part of the squalid story we tell in Chapter 6. It's only part of Matthews' role in this particular episode, but it gives you a sense of the ludicrous way this punishing episode unfolded. (The way Matthews advanced the RNC's mocking paraphrase is described elsewhere in Chapter 6.) Meanwhile, we invite you to marvel at the fact that the man who behaved in these gruesome ways is, in his current incarnation, accepted by the liberal world as one of its high-profile champions.
We liberals are very easy to play. There’s nothing we seem to like more!
What follows is only one part of Matthews’ misconduct during this episode. They never told you about this at Salon, or at the New Republic, or even at the Nation. As you watch representatives of those entites clowning on Hardball, we’ll let you guess why those journals had so little to say in real time and still won't discuss this now.
What follows is only one short excerpt from Chapter 6. To understand the full context, you have to read the actual chapter, which describes the way an innocuous statement by Candidate Gore was transformed into his third troubling LIE, nailing a theme into place.
At best, the following excerpt can give you a sense of the way Matthews worked to take out Candidate Gore. But yes, the clowning described in this excerpt actually shows you how your nation got to Iraq.
No one played you harder than Matthews. Why is he still on the air?
Background: On November 30, 1999, Candidate Gore made an innocuous remark to a high school class at Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire. His remark concerned the role he had played, twenty years before, in producing the federal Superfund legislation.
The next day, Ceci Connolly and "Kit" Seelye misquoted Gore. Chris Matthews went to work.
We think you know the rest of the story. For full context, you must read Chapter 6. What follows is just one part of this remarkable tale.
Excerpt from Chapter 6, How He Got There:
How bad was the performance on Hardball? On December 1 and 2, Gore was battered on the influential program, even after Matthews corrected the perfect misquotation.
On December 1, Matthews described Gore’s remarks at Concord High as “delusionary,” even as he made absurd misstatements about what Gore had actually said. On December 2, the Concord High comments were said to reflect “Gore’s latest delusion of grandeur.”
“We’ll have to start wondering about the psychological tendencies that make a man jump so far out on the edge,” Matthews announced on December 1. The next night, he began to share his own assessment of Gore’s psychological problems.
“He's not happy with being Al Gore,” Matthews mused. “He wants to be these other guys.”
Meanwhile, Matthews kept linking Gore’s statements at Concord High to his earlier alleged misstatements. Repeatedly, he claimed that Gore had said he invented the Internet and inspired Love Story; he frequently seemed to be quoting Gore as he made these assertions. “He reminds me of Snoopy thinking he’s the Red Baron,” the irate pundit groused. He likened Gore to the fictional characters Zelig and Forrest Gump.
“He’s almost like Ben Franklin,” Matthews complained. “He invented everything.”
Even as he made these assessments, Matthews displayed remarkable ignorance of what Gore had actually said to the Concord High students. Plainly, Gore hadn’t told the students that he encountered the Love Canal problem during his early career as a journalist, the absurd account Matthews advanced several times on December 1. But no matter! According to Matthews, this was “the amazing assertion by the vice president of the United States, Al Gore, that...Love Canal, the horror story, was based upon his investigative reporting.”
Baldly misstating the simplest facts, Matthews trashed Gore for making delusional statements. And instant ridicule instantly followed. Gore was “sort of a Jimmy Olson turned wild,” the Hardball host mockingly said.
That said, Hardball’s most remarkable performance came from Alan Simpson, a recently-retired Republican senator whose fact-deprived attacks on Gore would extend all through the campaign. Simpson was the perfect Hardball guest–colorful, homespun and baldly dishonest. He appeared as a guest on December 2, the second night of the Love Canal wallow. By now, Hardball’s Gore-trashing host was pushing his themes very hard.
“From Love Story to Love Canal,” Matthews thundered, promoting his upcoming segment with Simpson. “We'll talk about Al Gore's latest delusions of grandeur.”
Soon, Matthews was teasing the segment again: “Coming up next: From Love Story to Love Canal. We'll talk to Al Simpson about Al Gore's latest bragging and backtracking.”
The stage was set for Simpson’s performance, one of the most unfortunate outings of the entire campaign.
Was Simpson suffering memory lapses? If not, his performance was grossly dishonest. “It makes no sense,” he quickly said, speaking of Gore’s misquoted story. “It’s like–it’s fantasyland! I was on the Environment and Public Works Committee,” Simpson said, referring to his time in the Senate. “I came along and we did the Clean Air Act and the Superfund. And I don’t remember Al ever, you know, doing any heavy lifting.
“He wasn’t lifting timbers,” Simpson convincingly said.
“I came along and we did the Clean Air Act?” Simpson flirted with the type of grandiosity with which Gore stood widely charged. But there was something more striking in Simpson’s performance than his world-class bombast and his high self-regard. Hardball viewers had no way of knowing, because no one ever corrected the record. But Simpson was struggling to recall his own history with the Superfund program, let alone that of Gore.
The former senator made it seem that he had done the “heavy lifting”—that Gore was somehow the pitiful fabulist. It did make for a wonderful rant. But what were the actual facts?
In fact, way back in June 1980, Simpson had been the sole opponent to the Superfund bill in the Senate committee he named. In the 10-1 committee vote which sent the Superfund bill to the floor, the Wyoming senator had cast the lone “no” vote.
Why had Simpson opposed the bill? “It preempts state common law,” he told the Washington Post that day. “It gives me the creeps.” A few months later, Simpson appeared on a “Who’s Who of opponents to the Superfund bill,” a press release from Congress Watch, a Nader organization.
That’s right: Although he supported the much-reduced bill which finally emerged from the Senate, Simpson had opposed the measure in mid-year, when, despite that committee vote, it seemed unlikely to pass. And, as Congress Watch reported, he was a leading recipient of contributions from industry groups which opposed the legislation.
Nineteen years later, Simpson appeared on Hardball and seemed to say that Gore had been reinventing this history. Gore seemed to be in “fantasyland,” the solon convincingly said.
Simpson didn’t recall “any heavy lifting” by Gore in that Senate committee? There was an obvious reason for that: As Simpson must have understood, Gore’s famous hearings were held in the House, from 1978 through 1980, during the lengthy process which led to the Superfund’s passage. In May 1980, the bill was giving Simpson “the creeps,” but Gore was writing a New York Times op-ed piece urging the measure's passage. The second-term congressman was already known as one of the Superfund’s leading proponents. Gore chaired his fifteenth hearing on the Love Canal problem that very month.
Had Simpson forgotten these basic facts as he blustered and bellowed on Hardball? There’s no way to know, but one thing is clear: Viewers had been grossly misled by the time the solon was finished. But no one questioned or challenged Simpson as he made his absurd presentations; instead, Matthews and a second guest, Robert Reich, kept affirming his ludicrous statements. Matthews kept saying that Gore was the one who was weirdly making things up. “Well, you know the beauty of digital movie making,” he said at one point, responding to one of Simpson’s misstatements. “You can now take a guy like [Gore] and make him Forrest Gump and put him in that scene with you!”
Reich had served in the Clinton cabinet. Did he correct the factual record? That would have meant challenging Simpson, his long-time partner in a public broadcasting venture. And Reich had just endorsed Bill Bradley, a fact Matthews mentioned in passing.
This led to a classic Hardball moment. “I don’t know why [Gore] feels that he has to exaggerate and make some of this stuff up,” Reich said, seconding Simpson’s absurd misstatements. The history of the Superfund bill had at last been turned on its head.
Did Matthews and Reich actually know that Simpson was speaking from “fantasyland?” There’s no way to answer that question. But Simpson’s phantasmagoric performance went uncorrected on future programs; Hardball viewers were never told how grossly they’d been misled. But so it would go as a punishing narrative re-emerged, then turned to stone. Gore was becoming a LIAR again—and this time, the portrait would hold.
End of excerpt
That is only one part of this tale. But in this and similar ways, the GORE LIAR theme was nailed into place. From this point on, the notion that Gore was a delusional liar shaped covearge of this long campaign.
Candidate Gore would be trashed in these ways right through the November 2000 election. Disinformation would rain on the public's heads. George Bush would end up in the White House.
Chris Matthews played a key role every step of the way. Today, he's a "liberal" champion. Rachel keeps telling us he's her friend.
She gets paid $2 million per year! But then, who's keeping score?
We suggest you read that chapter—that you muse on the ways of the world.
Where he went from there: On December 3, 1999, Matthews shifted his focus.
He had spent two nights making Gore a big LIAR. Now, on Friday night, he fawned over Candidate Bush at great length, then spent time trashing Hillary Clinton, who was running for the Senate.
Matthews thrashed and trashed and thundered and roared. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/08 to recall the way we all got here.
This is Matthews in real time. This is the way George Bush reached the White House.
Beyond that, it may represent the way Matthews got to Nantucket.