Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Matthews Doesn't Play "Hardball," and He Doesn't Play Fair, Either

Just who is Chris Matthews trying to fool?

Yesterday's "Hardball," featured a two-person panel, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for Time, and Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review.

So you have one reporter who serves as a nonpartisan correspondent, and another reporter working for a conservative magazine. I'm sorry, did the Nation correspondent get stuck in traffic?

Of course not. Chris Matthews doesn't believe in "fair and balanced" panels on Hardball.

Whether it's Peggy Noonan, Pat Buchanan, David Brooks, David Dreier, Tony Blankley or even Joe Scarborough, Matthews is more than happy to structure panels that feature a journalist from a mainstream newspaper or magazine and a conservative cheerleader.

What's the result? The conservative puts forth the agenda he or she believes in, and the journalist is positioned to fact check and modify. The journalist isn't there to espouse liberal views, but because they are placed up against a conservative, Matthews helps foster the conservative myth of a liberal press.

Conservatives are quick to ask whether Tumulty is a liberal. But that changes the subject. I don't know how Tumulty voted in the last election, but that's irrelevant. Tumulty is paid to be nonpartisan, to be objective. York is paid to promote conservative viewpoints. Inherently, the panel tilts right.

Faced with that argument, conservatives are quick to point out that Matthews once worked for Tip O'Neill. Again, that's irrelevant. Matthews' pedigree doesn't matter, not when on the air or in print interviews he offers admiration for William F. Buckley and negative comments directed at recent Democrats in the news, such as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore. It doesn't matter if Matthews is actually a Democrat -- when he offers right-tilting panels and fails to object when he hears obvious half-truths, better known as conservative spin.

Count the number of times Matthews agrees with York or offers jhis own right-leaning views:

On the number of undecided voters

MATTHEWS: OK. Can I ask you a brutal question, Byron? Why would anybody change their vote or commit, having been uncommitted, because the president came through town? I mean, are we that fickle? And would you stick to that new position when the other guy came through town?
YORK: Well, look, if you were actually undecided, you might be impressed by the power of the presidency. ... So the idea that presidential — sort of the impressive nature of the presidency might help is certainly—it‘s worth trying.
MATTHEWS: Like panache works.
YORK: It‘s worth trying.

On John Kerry's political positions

YORK: Well, now, it would help if he had better positions. The problem with the whole convention thing is that they devoted the whole thing to national security: I went to Vietnam. I‘ll protect you now. And his position on Iraq is just mushy. And it‘s not that different from Bush‘s.
MATTHEWS: We have a president who is very aggressive in foreign policy. We have a president who believes in lower taxes, which obviously affects most the people who pay the most in taxes. We know an awful lot about George Bush. There will be no surprises in the second term.
Can you beat a guy that you really know — at least he is real — with sort of a mirage, a non — sort of I‘m the alternative, I‘m the brand X candidacy? Does that ever work?
TUMULTY: It works if the public has decided they want somebody who isn‘t that person. And, in fact, the numbers right now for George Bush both on right track/wrong track and on the polling question of do you think it is time to turn presidency over to someone else, are pretty devastating for this White House.
MATTHEWS: But does that ever work, where you simply turn it over to brand X without deciding — remember Jimmy Carter? I worked for the guy. I know this. Reagan had some weaknesses, to say the least. But you knew where he stood. He came as a challenger with a clear record. I‘m going to cut taxes. I‘m going to fight the communists. I‘m going to spend more on defense. You knew clearly what he was going to do, Reagan. Dewey back in ‘48, running against Truman, he didn‘t say anything. I‘m beginning to think that Kerry is running a Dewey campaign, running nothing as an alternative to something.

On George Bush, the "underdog"

MATTHEWS: OK, what happens if the debates do well for Kerry and he wins, pick up three points coming out of the debates, and so does Edwards against Cheney? Everything goes well. They pick up three points, because that‘s as much as you pick up after these debates. Kennedy over Nixon was about three points, two points. And then you see the president of the United States out there. There‘s fresh stories in Time magazine, the scrappy president fights for his life, scrappy this. He goes—he‘s running around in West Virginia, running around New Hampshire. And people start to say, God, he‘s the underdog. He‘s the little guy that could. Doesn‘t he just win because he‘s the incumbent, unless we hate him?
TUMULTY: It depends on what things look like with the economy at that moment.
MATTHEWS: Yes.
TUMULTY: It depends on what things look like with the war in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Are you afraid he couldn‘t just be—not afraid, obviously. You‘re with “The National Review.” But isn‘t it possible he could end up being the Harry Truman of this campaign, the comeback candidate?
YORK: It‘s entirely possible. The debates are really important. One really top Republican told me one time, watching Bush at debate is like watching a waiter walk across a lawn and he has got a tray full of drinks.
MATTHEWS: But he delivered last time.
YORK: And the drinks go like this all the time, but he gets to the other side.

***

Yes, Matthews certainly lived up to his liberal pedigree with his support of so many things York said. When Tumulty made a point, Matthews more often than not offered a counter. When York offered a point, more often than not, Matthews agreed -- and sometimes he furthered York's points with his own.

Matthews wonders about uncommitted voters, but he created the lopsided panel, and he aided the partisan pundit along. The GOP could show clips of last night's show as video news releases. You can almost hear them saying, "See, even Matthews gets it!"

Matthews wonders about uncommitted voters, but he calls Kerry a "mirage," and makes no effort to play Hardball with York when the conservative says that Kerry lacks solid positions, and is "mushy" on Iraq. Tumulty, a nonpartisan, has no interest in defending Kerry.

A liberal panelist would have stepped in and said, "Hey, Bush has moved toward Kerry's position on Iraq! Hey, Bush has flip-flopped on several issues on the war! Hey, Bush didn't plan well for establishing peace in Iraq! Hey, Bush has deceived voters about Kerry's positions on Iraq!"

Matthews, the "liberal," sat there and calls Kerry a "mirage." And the way he's stacked the deck against Kerry, I'm sure that makes perfect sense to him.

David

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