Tuesday, September 28, 2004

If Chris Matthews is a Liberal, then Ann Coulter is a Journalist

Talk about television talking heads shilling for the conservative agenda, and the first name to come to mind might be Sean Hannity, Joe Scarborough or Robert Novak.

But that's not a surprise. All three of those men, and others like Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and other "Fox All-Stars" are openly conservative. There's no hidden agenda. They want President Bush re-elected, and they are openly promoting the conservative agenda.

But there's a second group of television talking heads -- people that conservatives call "liberal" because of their personal background or network affiliation -- who are helping President Bush win re-election through their laziness, inability to research or promote basic facts, and perhaps fear in the face of conservative spin. These people have cushy jobs, paying them seven figures, and they aren't about to rock the boat.

And heading that list is Chris Matthews, of MSNBC's "Hardball."

Wait a second, the conservatives say. Matthews used to work for Tip O'Neill. Matthews is a Democrat. Matthews is openly against the war in Iraq. No way is he advancing the conservative agenda.

My response to that is that Chris Matthews, instead of living up to the ideals of "Hardball," plays softball with conservative guests -- with the exception of a handful of issues, such as the war. He may personally hold liberal beliefs, but on his show, he overcompensates, to the benefit of conservatives. If Matthews truly wants Kerry to win, he's doing a horrible job of advocating a "liberal bias."

What's worse, Matthews is less prepared for interviews than (pick your most insipid local news broadcaster), and as a result, lets conservative guests throw out half-truths, distortions and even lies -- unchecked.

How little research does Matthews do? He even fails to research his own transcripts.

Matthews had John O'Neill, the leader of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on his show last Friday. It's not the first time O'Neill has been on the show.

And while in earlier interviews, Matthews has tried to play "Hardball" with O'Neill and other Swifties, his failure to read O'Neill's book Unfit for Command, or to have a researcher cross-check facts the way, say, dailyhowler.com has, allows various Swifties to lie in Matthews' face. Matthews, either unaware or too timid to do anything, lets these lies go by the wayside.

On Friday, long after other journalists have reported that nearly all of the Swifties' claims are false, or at best unprovable, after other journalists have reported that O'Neill coached various Swifties to phrase things in the most negative way, after other journalists have reported that the Swifties have contradicted Navy reports and in some cases their own previous statements, Matthews felt it was necessary to bring O'Neill back on one more time.

MATTHEWS: You have an amazing pulpit now, sir. Can you summarize, based upon your firsthand experience, and those of your fellows, with John Kerry, what the voters should know from that experience?

But as other reporters have shown, there is no "first-hand experience" to recount. None of the Swifties were on John Kerry's boat.

O'NEILL: Based on my investigation, and, much less importance, John Kerry exaggerated his role in Vietnam. Much more important, and firsthand experience, when John Kerry came back, it wasn't clear who he was for any more...

MATTHEWS: Do you think he believed that the North Vietnamese and the V.C. were the good guys and we were the bad guys? Did he go that far?

O'NEILL: He really did. That's the sad thing, Chris. When you read his speech where he says Ho Chi Minh is like George Washington and he wants to impose a constitution that will be like our Constitution, that's a speech he gave that's in the book. That's what he actually said. I don't know how he could believe that. We saw them, Chris. They were killing people.

As pointed out by dailyhowler.com, this last statement by O'Neill contains two lies:

dailyhowler.com: That speech by Kerry is not in his book, nor has O’Neill ever read it. All O’Neill has is a 30-word report by an unnamed FBI informer—a type of report which is highly unreliable. In the May 23 Los Angeles Times, for example, historian Gerald Nicosia described other such reports on the VVAW:

NICOSIA (5/23/04): Curiously, those two undercover reports don't jibe...with newspaper accounts also saved by the FBI. They indicate the conference was well organized, and that Kerry was well-received. Lemmer, who was exposed two years later as the principal agent provocateur at the trial of the Gainesville Eight (eight VVAW members indicted for conspiracy), was often known to invent reports of VVAW's violent intentions, and his reports were later found quite unreliable.

According to Nicosia, Bill Lemmer was a “paid (FBI) informer from Arkansas, a crazy, violence-prone, washed-out Green Beret vet.”

But Matthews is paid to bluster, not to research basic facts. A college intern with access to Lexis/Nexis could provide Matthews with all he needed to do a probing, "Hardball" interview. That same intern could even read Unfit for Command and provide handy index cards for Matthews -- showing all the half-truths and contradictions.

Instead, Matthews ended the interview with this:

MATTHEWS: Well, it's great having you on. Congratulations, John O'Neill! We may disagree, but all in good civility.

***

Why did Matthews lob such softballs to O'Neill?

As I've suggested before, Matthews overcompensates. He appeared tough a few weeks back, and he nailed conservative pundit Michelle Malkin when she pushed the Swifties' agenda (actually, she went beyond what Unfit for Command says).

Matthews doesn't want to be seen as having a "liberal bias," especially in the wake of the Dan Rather fiasco. So he throws a bone to his conservative viewers and makes nice with O'Neill.

Could you imagine if Matthews were on the air in earlier eras:

MATTHEWS: Well, it's great having you on. Congratulations, Senator Joseph McCarthy! We may disagree, but all in good civility.

It's not so far-fetched. McCarthy, like O'Neill, made a lot of unfounded accusations. McCarthy, like O'Neill, had an obvious agenda. McCarthy, like O'Neill, was supported by the government (at least briefly).

Are the Swifties newsworthy? They were, because their advertisements and Unfit for Command shaped the fall presidential campaign. But if you host "Hardball," you should cover this story:

a) By tearing apart Unfit for Command, as other journalists ultimately did.
b) By exposing contradictions in statements by O'Neill and other Swifites.
c) By advancing the ball on ties between the Swifties and Karl Rove, and demanding that the Bush administration answer questions regarding Ben Ginsberg and the Swiftie who served on Bush's veterans committee.

That's not advocating for the Kerry campaign -- it's just doing what "Hardball" claims its goal is, to ask tough questions other journalists don't ask, and to provide viewers with a "little more truth" and a "little less spin" about the issues of the day.

The problem with television talking heads like Matthews is that they feel that if they get both sides of an argument on the air, they've done their job.

In theory, one could use this logic to justify putting former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and Kweisi Mfume, the leader of the NAACP, on the air, side by side. Or maybe Centcom General John Abezaid and insurgency leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

But at some point, the television talking heads have to recognize that not everyone deserves equal time. Proven liars like John O'Neill should fall into that category.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Matthews can get away with it because he has no real pressure to do otherwise.
It certainly would have been a different story had the Swifties received the same front-page outrage for their proven lies, distortions, contradictions and inconsistencies as that dumped upon CBS News and Dan Rather for the spurious reporting on the Bush memos. The Swifties did not get, but deserved, the same wide defamation.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Matthews can get away with it because he has no real pressure to do otherwise.
It certainly would have been a different story had the Swifties received the same front-page outrage for their proven lies, distortions, contradictions and inconsistencies as that dumped upon CBS News and Dan Rather for the spurious reporting on the Bush memos. The Swifties did not get, but deserved, the same wide defamation.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with the premise of the original message here-Matthews could have been tougher. However, the analogies are just a tad extreme. Not to mention, if you removed all those who do not tell the truth from news shows, say goodbye to news shows. Perspective is needed. Matthews may overcompensate for his own, more liberal views. That said, he should try to stay in the center which seems to me results in the only shows worth watching anyway. Overall, he does a good job at this. My issue with him is he doesnt shut up. Talks through everyone. And, enough already. Kerry was a war hero who came back and spoke out against the US and the war. Fine. Bush was a National Guardsmen who may have gotten preferential treatment and clearly was no war hero. 30 years ago, i was an infant who didnt know how to write-at least that has improved just a little.

Totally disagree with the comment....this is different than CBS for the simple reason that Rather is expected to report the news. And CBS is expected to not show its liberal stripe. The swifties dont matter-the CBS fiasco does. Totally different. Unfortunate for Dan Rather that for those who werent aware he had an agenda (not sure who those people are), he has been outed. And he has handled it incorrectly and improperly. Too bad because he has had a pretty amazing career overall and it is tainted a bit by this. Personally, I stopped watching him after his interview, if you call it that, with Saddam. That was enough for me.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree.
The Swifties do matter in one very important respect. They have been successful at destroying Kerry's credibility -- even to the point where the entire charade could influence the election.
(I know, the cow dung about Kerry bringing it on himself by making Vietnam "the centerpiece of his campaign," blah, blah, blah).
If the mainstream media had given proper due to exposing the Swift Boat Elect George Bush Frauds, we would not have commentators and columnist still lending them credibility. They would, in fact, have been cast away in the same boat as Dan Rather.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont disagree with you. Although I believe Kerry has hung onto Vietnam forever and then some, I do not believe he brought the Swift boat garbage onto himself. The Swift Boat type stuff belongs in the same crap heap as many other 527 type activity or even Michael Moores educational insights. My point is the CBS story is much bigger-not because of where the attack was focused or even what the attack was. I say this simply because the integrity of the entire news organization was brought into play. The story is not about Bush, the Guard etc. It is about CBS, Rather, the media overall etc. Much larger issue. That was my point. But I agree the Swift Boat issue has hurt Kerry, and mostly unfairly so.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other day I heard it said that "Kerry has run a disasterous campaign" and I'm starting to sympathize with this view.
Good, honorable, distinguished man who would make an excellent president. Wrong message.
I agree he did hang onto the Vietnam issue too long. A predominant criticism has been he chose to focus on a few months of Tour of Duty instead of 20 years in the Senate. The troubling problem here is that Kerry actually has a very commendable legislative record the public deserves to hear about. I heard a report the other day detailing several prominent pieces of military, economic, and environmental legislation Kerry authored and fought for, including the entire Acid Rain laws.
Why hasn't this been brought out? Kerry supporters have been doing a better job than the Kerry campaign.
People have been allowed to feed into the Republican spin of a man who served 20 years in the legislature "without distinction." People been permitted to believe an inaccurate spin on Kerry's military votes to suggest a weakness in defense.
Kerry has not been able to forcefully counter these attacks on his Senate Record, allowing the GOP spinners a full-course Thanksgiving feast.
Kerry now finally coming out forceful comes across to many as unauthentic and desparate. Again, more fuel for the GOP spin machine.
I still have hope Kerry pulls off something in the debates and can still win. If he loses, the American public will be forced to accept four more years of a shallow, self-serving, dishonest, arrogant, bumbling fool whose long list of mistakes have already steered the country down a disasterous course.
Bush has been able to ride roughshod over Kerry's campaign weaknesses, and, unfortunately, has been able to dupe a gullible, 9-11-scarred public.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree! I have been indicating here all along how mismanaged Kerry appears to be. Only now that he brought in clinonistas to assist is he showing any strength and focus. Yet, as you point out, since he basically let the GOP define him (because he didnt go far enough to define himself), he now appears to be shifty when he FINALLY comes around. And to some, desparate. In my opinion, he has one thing going for him--the hatred out there for Bush-- and one remaining hope to obtain votes aside from the antibush centrist and liberal crowd-the debates. Otherwise, 4 more yeas. And you have to give credit to the GOP campaign. Despite the blatantly obvious shortcomings of its candidate, they manage to stay on message and beat the Kerry campaign to the punch on everything. That skill combined with the JK campaign ineptitude, spells trouble for Kerry.

12:58 PM  

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