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WHEN HARDBALL MET SALLY (PART 2)! Matthews told his latest tale. But Joan Walsh just said, “Let’s play softball:”:


FRIENDS MAKE THEIR FRIENDS BUY THIS BOOK: Eric Alterman paints quite a picture in his new book, What Liberal Media? How does our public discourse now work? Angry billionaires pay crackpot pundits to spread an array of silly, wild tales—while “mainstream” pundits stand by and keep quiet. You do need to read and study this book—but you need to make a friend do the same. More on Alterman’s book next week. Meanwhile, you now know your duty.

WHEN HARDBALL MET SALLY (PART 2): Chris Matthews had been a brilliant pundit—if you let Chris Matthews tell it. He knew that Bush won Bush-Gore Debate 3, he told Salon’s Joan Walsh (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/20/03). Well—the people also knew that Bush won, “because people liked him more,” Matthews said. But the press corps showed its liberal bias when they “all thought Gore won big.” Even Bill Safire had joined the parade, the slick-talking Hardball host blathered. (For the text of Matthews’ interview, click here.)

As usual, Matthews was faking. The evening after the Bush-Gore debate, he had told a quite different tale. “The next three days or four days will tell us who won this debate. We don’t know yet,” he said on CNBC’s Business Center. And this was hardly an isolated comment. On the Today show, Matthews called the debate “a draw;” on his own Hardball, he said that “we’ll have to see which way it all works its way out in the next couple of days in the real head-to-head polling.” And three days post-debate, with the polls inconclusive, he said, “I think the debate had no impact.” Did Matthews brilliantly “know that Bush won?” If so, he kept the news to himself.

But then, almost everything Matthews told Walsh was simply made out of whole cloth. Did Safire say that Gore won the debate? In fact, his column said something quite different. “HE’S AN IMPRESSIVE DEBATER, BUT GORE ALIENATES VOTERS,” the Safire headline said in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “GORE WON ON POINTS BUT LOST ON PERSONALITY,” said the Safire head in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. What did Safire actually say? “If the town hall meeting between Bush and Gore were a prizefight being scored on points, the judges would declare Al Gore the winner,” he wrote. But “like the sadly victorious King Pyrrhus, Gore won the third debate in a way that may cost him the election.” In fact, Safire took a standard press line; yes, Gore knew more than Bush, and argued with greater clarity. But according to Safire, Gore displayed personality traits that would probably turn off the voters. Here’s the kind of “liberal bias” Safire unveiled in his column:

SAFIRE: To the vast army of undecideds, this debate was conducted in body language. Gore bestrode the stage like a Colossus, expressing confidence in a John Wayne swagger, once almost butting his puffed-out chest against Bush in a Lazio-like space invasion.
Groan! It was all about body language, Bill said, and Gore had lost that war.

For the record, many pundits said Debate 3 was Gore’s best effort—indeed, Matthews himself states this view in his 2001 book, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/02). But Safire was hardly alone in complaining about Gore’s “body language.” In her instant review on ABC, for example, Cokie Roberts twice used the phrase “cringe factor” in talking about voters’ reaction to Gore. If this is the shape of “liberal bias,” conservative should hope that lib bias never stops.

So Matthews didn’t say that Bush won, and Safire didn’t praise Gore’s performance. And while some pundits said it was Gore’s best debate, Matthews says the same in his book. Meanwhile, Matthews was dissembling about one more point—the public’s reaction to the session. Matthews told Walsh that the public loved Bush. “[T]he media [chose] Gore as the winner in that debate, while the people picked Bush,” he said. But that is precisely what didn’t happen. As we’ve seen, there was no appreciable swing in the polls post-debate; by Day 3, Matthews himself was specifically saying that “the debate had no impact.” And in real time—as Matthews knows full well—the public said Gore was the winner. On October 18—one night post-debate—Matthews discussed the Gallup poll of people who watched the debate. By a margin of 46-44, Matthews reported, these viewers said that Gore had won. And this was true despite another fact, one which Matthews specifically noted—more Bush voters had watched the debate. In fact, 52 percent of the Gallup sample planned to vote for Bush, Matthews said. Only 43 percent planned to vote for Gore. But even this heavily Bush-friendly sample thought that Gore had won the debate. Did “the people pick Bush,” as Matthews told Walsh? There’s no evidence that they did, but saying so fit the talker’s preferred tale. Matthews spun a pleasing tale of liberal bias—a tale in which he reinvented every key fact he related.

Why does Matthews tell such stories? At THE HOWLER, we employ no psychiatrists. But as Walsh notes in the introduction to her piece, Matthews has made his millions in the past seven years by appealing to conservative viewers, and nothing pleases the talk-show right like cries of “liberal bias.” The talker’s tale of Bush-Gore 3 paints himself as a swaggering hero—and reinvents the way the press behaved and the way the public felt. But then, Matthews has behaved this way for years—and has engaged in conduct that is far worse. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to find Matthews spreading such blarney.

But weirdly, it does surprise Walsh. Like many “mainstream” pundits before her, Walsh rolls over and says next to nothing as a talker seems to lie in her face. And it’s hardly news that the Hardball host has reinvented his take on the Bush-Gore debates; in August, we described the total fakery about the debates which is found in Matthews’ book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/02). Did a press corps spilling with liberal bias try to help Gore in those crucial debates? In real time, Matthews said the opposite. Most specifically, it was Matthews who said that Gore “cleaned Bush’s clock” when he reviewed Bush-Gore Debate 1; in real time, Matthews went on the air and said that pundits had gone in the bag for George Bush. Here’s what Matthews said on Hardball one night after Bush-Gore Debate 1:

MATTHEWS (10/4/00): I couldn’t believe the number of people who chickened out last night. It was clear to me—and I’m no fan of either of these guys entirely, and I can certainly say that about the one who I thought won last night, that’s Al Gore—I thought he cleaned the other guy’s clock, and I said so last night. All four national polls agreed with that…I don’t understand why people are afraid to say so.
That’s what Matthews said in real time. By the time he published his dissembling book, he said that Gore lost all three debates (with Debate 3 being Gore’s best performance). Now he invents one more pleasing tale—and when he throws it in Walsh’s face, she takes it with barely a peep of protest. Indeed, Walsh seems to have no idea of the real history of Hardball’s rank host. Noting that Matthews opposes Bush on Iraq, she asks him this sanitized question:
WALSH: [A]s we sit here and talk about what’s facing the country under the Bush administration—the rush to war, the threat of terror—do you ever regret the amount of time you spent on your show talking about impeachment, or how critical you were of Clinton?
Was Walsh off the planet during Campaign 2000? (Almost the entire “liberal” pundit corps was.) Walsh wants to know if Matthews regrets his endless bashing of Clinton. But weirdly, she fails to mention the two solid years in which the hit-man went after Gore—years in which he did help elect the man whose war he now laments. Walsh shows no sign of knowing that Matthews bashed Gore even harder than Clinton—and she seemed unprepared for the clowning that followed when Chris discussed George-n-Al.

What explains Walsh’s performance? Here at THE HOWLER, we employ no psychiatrists. But “mainstream” pundits have given wide berth to Matthews for years. Matthews is a powerful player in the Washington press corps, and during his years of egregious misconduct, pundits knew they should look away and pretend that they just didn’t notice. These pundits would eat live worms in hell before they’d tell you the truth about Matthews. They care about their careers and their insider standing—and the American interest can just go be damned. Chris Matthews is now a powerful player, expressing the outlook of the insider press corps. For that reason, pundits have constantly looked away, refusing to discuss his real conduct.

When Hardball met Sally, Joan Walsh played some softball. But then, pundits have played this game for years. Given your pundit corps’ low moral character, you shouldn’t expect that to stop.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In his ironically-titled book, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, Matthews completely reinvents his take on the 2000 debates. His retooling is simply astounding (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/02). But then, just how bad was this talker’s performance during Campaign 2000 itself? To see his full-bore dissembling on one key topic (the Buddhist temple), see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/02. In fact, when Pew’s Project for Excellence studied the Bush/Gore coverage, they specifically noted the remarkable way Hardball was trashing Gore’s character. (The results of the study were also astounding; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/02.) But pundits knew they shouldn’t notice what Matthews was doing; his rank misconduct went unmentioned, unexamined. Walsh now writes as if Hardball trashed Clinton during impeachment, then quickly found its way off the air. But then, this sort of thing has long been par for the course with Matthews. The talker seemed to lie in Walsh’s face—and Salon put his weird embroidery into print, with barely a word of comment.

The Daily update

COHEN MAKES READY FOR WAR: In today’s lead editorial, the Washington Post notes the way the commander-in-chief keeps dissembling about his tax plan:

THE POST: Mr. Bush must know how phony his [data] are. Any time a salesman has to resort to such deceptive tactics, the customer ought to be wary about what is being sold.
Gee! Any chance that the “customers” should worry about the “salesman’s” problem with the truth, or should wonder if the “salesman” even knows who he is? Of course, Bush has been making such phony presentations about his budget plans for years. When he made such presentations in the crucial Bush-Gore Debate 1, the “liberal” Post barely took notice.

Better late than never. But this morning’s Post helps us see the sorry state of our “liberal” pundit corps. How is Richard Cohen preparing for war? By watching Joe Millionaire and Michael Jackson. Here’s the crap the Post puts in print as we move toward a transforming war:

COHEN: In the hours I doggedly put in watching “Joe Millionaire,” Evan never mentioned a book, a movie, a newspaper or even a cartoon. He mostly walked simian-style through the French countryside, ruminating about a relationship he did not have with any of several women. They were all, though, perfectly paired, because apparently none of the women wondered what a hunk with $50 million would want with any of them. He could have done better with an escort service.
So could Cohen’s readers. Meanwhile, in his previous column, Cohen had frittered his time on more trivia—the behavior of those meaningless poets who got bounced from their White House appearance. Today, he frets about Evan’s emptiness. “Look who’s talking,” we mordantly said.

Cohen shows the soul of our “liberal” press corps. But don’t worry. The next time talk-show conservatives complain about bias, Cohen will be deftly transformed. We’ll hear of the fiercely liberal Richard Cohen, and stampeding Cattle will once again see that this is a man to be feared.