On Hardball, Three Guests Gave Conflicting Answers, But Matthews Didn't Notice
JABBS often criticizes Chris Matthews, when the MSNBC host fails to identify conservative spin -- parroting it himself or not playing "hardball" when it comes from his right-skewing panels.
Matthews once lived up to his "hardball" persona. But MSNBC turned rightward after 9/11, canceling the higher-rated Phil Donahue in favor of the lower-rated Joe Scarborough, and adding conservative pundits Tucker Carlson and Monica Crowley. The MSNBC execs saw Fox News' ratings, and knew what to do. Go right, the MSNBC execs told Matthews, and he followed suit.
JABBS isn't suggesting Matthews is a conservative, but he's not a liberal either -- as conservative bloggers insist. Frankly, Matthews is best when he pits equal numbers of liberals vs. conservatives and tears holes in the various arguments. That's playing "hardball," and too often of late, Matthews hasn't been up to the task. His viewers suffer the results.
The gaping holes were evident during the May 25 show, a multi-faceted discussion on the 14 centrist Senators who brokered an end to the Democrats' filibuster of a handful of President Bush's judicial nominees.
One discussion point touched upon by three guests -- Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and conservative pundit Tony Blankley -- dealt with the statement in the Constitution that the President seek the advice and consent of the Senate when preparing to nominate judges.
But Warner, Schumer and Blankley offered conflicting opinions of whether recent presidents -- Bush and Clinton -- have followed this constitutional guideline.
Here are the key quotes from Matthews' guests:
WARNER: "And I think our president has been — certainly with this senator, I‘ve had the opportunity to consult with him on judicial nominations. And I think perhaps it will broaden and in such a way that the — if there is a nominee for the Supreme Court, it is my hope and it would be good for the nation it would be a strong bipartisan vote."
Schumer, who wrote a letter to Bush last week urging him to consult with senators of both parties before submitting future judicial nominations, said this:
SCHUMER: "(W)hen President Clinton had to nominate two Supreme Court nominees, he regularly consulted a number of Republicans, including Orrin Hatch. He gave some names to Orrin Hatch and Orrin Hatch said, you‘re going to have trouble with those names. He gave others and Orrin Hatch vetted them and said, choose them. And Orrin Hatch actually ahead of time said that Breyer and Ginsburg would be acceptable choices to the Republican-controlled Senate."
Blankley, during a journalists' roundtable later in the show, said:
BLANKLEY: (T)hat hasn‘t been the practice in the recent past, that Clinton did not seek out our Republican support for Ginsburg before he nominated her, nor did we think he was obliged to."
But Matthews doesn't recognize the contradiction, responding:
MATTHEWS: There would have been a lot of judges on the Supreme Court who never would have gotten there had their names been floated beforehand, Clarence Thomas, perhaps, Robert Bork. Well, he never made it.
A good journalist would have realized the conflcting opinions of presidents seeking advice and consent on judicial nominees. But Matthews is more blowhard than journalist, and rather than play "hardball," he moves on to his next pre-scripted question.
A good journalist would have stepped in and asked Warner whether he knew of any Democrats who had consulted with Bush on judicial nominees, for no doubt he knew that Schumer was next on the show's docket, and that Schumer obviously didn't think Bush was seeking bipartisan advice. I'm guessing that had Matthews asked Warner the question, Warner would have admitted that Bush only consults with those he agrees with -- his fellow conservative Republicans (and Zell Miller).
If Matthews thought Schumer was lying when telling his anecdote about Clinton consulting with Orrin Hatch, he certainly didn't let on. That said, Matthews should have recalled Schumer's anecdote when Blankley contradicted it.
Is it just coincidence that both times Matthews failed to play "hardball" came when he was faced with comments from the right side of the aisle?
Don't think Matthews is prone to accepting conservative spin as fact? Fine. Then he's a lousy journalist. Remember, Matthews knows it's his job to fact-check. As said last month: "Otherwise, people assume, since I sat here and let somebody say something, it must be true."
For what it's worth, Blankley was part of a three-person roundtable that also included conservative New York Post columnist Deborah Orin, and Washington Post international affairs columnist David Ignatius.
Now, conservative bloggers will say that's fair, and likely the MSNBC bigwigs would, too. But go do a Google search of "David Ignatius, liberal," and you won't easily find that label -- from liberal or conservative writers. But for this panel to be fair, you would have to assume Ignatius was a liberal, and Mathews was one, too.
Too often, this is how panels are formed on Hardball. One recent study found the show's panels skewed right by a 3-1 margin. Yes, Matthews has liberals on his show, but if Blankley and Orin are two of the shows' conservative guests, common sense says the third guest should be a liberal pundit, such as Eric Alterman or Katrina vanden Heuvel.
But that wouldn't sit well with the MSNBC bigwigs.