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Daily Howler: Two days in December help us see the truth about Russert's legend
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TWO DAYS IN THE LIFE! Two days in December help us see the truth about Russert’s legend: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 27, 2008

THE POWER OF NARRATIVE: Leave it to the Cape Cod Times to spoil a wonderful log cabin narrative! A reader tipped us to this June 14 report, which includes a photo of Tim Russert’s summer home on Nantucket. The habitation was assessed at $7.2 million, the report says.

The place is more baronial that we would have imagined. (In that original Washingtonian report about “the Nantucket NBC crowd,” Russert’s home was described as a “sprawling gray-shingled house”—but also as a “cottage” which “lies down an unmarked dirt path.”) At any rate, there’s a world of difference between that photo and the Buffalo tales that were endlessly used to tell the public that Tim was an everyday joe, just like them. And yes, we average joes do swallow such tales. In the third comment on the Cape Cod Times post, a reader shared this impression of Russert:

COMMENTER, CAPE COD TIMES: Tim Russert struck me as the kind of man who never forgot his roots and learned to live, love and laugh and share his wisdom with all of us who chose to listen. I think he would have been happy in the woods of Maine in a humble cabin. I respected him tremendously and cried when I heard of his death......and I never met the man , except through the wonder of TV.

Last week, we were struck by how many letters to the editor repeated such narratives. Nantucket pretty much sells itself. But the notion that Jack Welch’s multimillionaire friends are just like us—well, that notion calls for some marketing. Oh by the way! Did we mention the fact that Brian Williams truly loves shopping at Target?

There’s quite a gap between that photo and those iconic Buffalo tales. But a bigger gap is found between the actual work of NBC News and the torrent of propaganda dumped on our heads in the aftermath of Russert’s death. Last week, Chris, Mike and Patrick (and so many others) told us about their cohort’s fairness—their brilliance, their unrivaled love of the truth. Sorry. The actual work of NBC News and its cable arm is a quite different story.

Today, we revisit two days in the life—Friday, December 3, 1999 and Monday, December 6. Yesterday, we told you how we selected those dates—and we summarized what had transpired on December 1 and 2, 1999. In particular, we’re reviewing the work done on Hardball, on NBC’s cable arm. As this work was churned in a Washington studio, Russert sat a mile away. He was NBC’s Washington bureau chief.

As such, the following work was performed on Tim’s watch. And this is just two days in the life; this type of work was done night after night, year after year, with deeply unfortunate outcomes. Nine years later, Major Dem leaders and career liberal writers still can’t manage to peep out a protest. No serious review of Matthews’ work has ever appeared in a “liberal journal.” And of course, Howard Dean didn’t know about this sort of thing because he doesn’t watch that much cable.

It’s one of the most remarkable stories of this or any age—this unrelenting liberal/Dem acquiescence in the face of such undisguised assaults. All last week, after Russert’s death, major journalists went on TV and lied their keisters off about this. We know—the truth is hard to believe. And yet, the truth is right there.

Special report: Two days in the life!

TWO DAYS IN THE LIFE: Chris Matthews had spent the previous two nights kicking the tar out of Candidate Gore—and baldly disinforming the public (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/26/08). Now it was a Friday evening—December 3, 1999. He started Hardball’s first segment with this:

MATTHEWS (12/3/99): Well, Friday’s kind of a crazy day here around Hardball. It's where I'm—I'm so tired at the end of the week, I'm afraid I'm going to say something weird. So with that spirit, let's go to Gary Bauer.

He was afraid he was going to say something weird? Matthews had been saying “weird things” all week—and he’d been aggressively disinforming the public. But Matthews proved an able prophet; he went on to say many “weird things” this night, and a good many things that were baldly inaccurate. And then, he topped himself on Monday night—and on Tuesday, December 7. By this time, Matthews was in the business of saying weird things—weird things that savaged Big Dems and pimped a certain Republican.

His first segment was a short session with Bauer, then a GOP White House candidate. But the weirdness started in his next segment, when he began applying tongue baths to a different candidate—George W. Bush. The previous evening, Bush had finally shown up for his first Republican debate, garnering weak and mediocre reviews. Except on Hardball, where Matthews explained how brilliant his performance had been.

Having savaged Gore for two straight nights, he began pimping up Bush—much as his owner, near-billionaire Jack Welch, might himself have done.

Friday, December 3—Pimping Bush: Matthews was “very impressed by something that George W. Bush did,” he told Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a jury consultant who was now a regular Hardball guest—essentially appearing as cable TV’s original “body language expert.” After watching tape of Bush from the previous night, Matthews told Dimitrius, “I thought that was—I was very impressed. What did you think?” And what a shock! Dimitrius thought the same thing as Matthew, as was almost always the case in her sessions on Hardball. “Well, I—I—I was impressed, too,” she replied, perhaps attempting to think of something you could pretend to be impressed by. After describing an unexceptional thing the brilliant Republican hopeful had done, she said, “It makes him look as though he's really done his homework, and that—that impresses people.”

Matthews spent several segments lavishing praise on Bush’s performance. The weirdest things he said in these segments involved his attacks on GOP hopeful Steve Forbes, who had plainly offended all civilized decencies by sparring with Bush in the debate, and in follow-up comments on Friday. In Matthews’ first segment on Bush’s performance, he had chatted with Granite State journalist Jennifer Donahue and Republican strategist Scott Reed. Here’s a taste of what happened on Hardball in late 1999 if you challenged Bush:

MATTHEWS (12/3/99): Well, let's talk about this back—Jennifer, what happens when Steve Forbes realizes he spent $60 million and people still don't like him, that money can't buy you love and he realizes now it's time to turn the machine gun on every other candidate, but start at the top. He seemed—and that's really petulant behavior, isn't it? When the kid doesn't get to go out or watch his TV show, he starts screaming and yelling and breaking toys. And saying, “I don't like you, Mommy. I don't like you, Daddy.” That's the sort of level it reached today with, “Where were you back then?”

But then, as Matthews had said just a few minutes earlier, “I'm so tired at the end of the week, I'm afraid I'm going to say something weird.” Later, he pictured Bush ridiculing Forbes as “Stevie—Stevie Wonder.”

Beyond his oddball rants about Forbes, Matthews trashed a pair of journalists who had dared ask Bush some questions. “I mean, I thought it was unbelievably arrogant of Brit Hume” (the debate’s moderator) to ask Bush a question about what he was reading, Matthews thundered. Referring to Bush’s earlier stumble in a “pop quiz” about foreign leaders, Matthews offered a bit of advice: “Never let a humorless reporter ask you a bunch of questions.”

Matthews devoted three segments this night to his pimping of Bush’s performance. Such assessments are always subjective, of course; suffice to say that Matthews found a brilliance in Bush’s performance that few other pundits had managed to spot. The previous two nights, he’d murdered Gore. Now, he found someone to like.

Jack Welch could hardly have done it better. And then, omigod! Up popped Hillary Clinton! The final quarter of this evening’s Hardball was devoted a remarkable discussion of Clinton with Andrea Mitchell. That day, Clinton had named New Yorker Bill DeBlasio campaign manager for her senate race against Rudy Giuliani. This produced a remarkable session concerning Clinton’s character and conduct.

Clinton would be trashed a bit, as we’ll see. She would be trashed much more savagely—and much more stupidly—on the upcoming Monday night program. What was most remarkable was the way Matthews and Mitchell managed to slime Clinton with a new “tarmac incident.” It’s hard to avoid an obvious judgment: The pair were lying to Hardball viewers, right on Russert’s watch.

December 3—Trashing Clinton: As the session began, Matthews commiserated with poor, abused Mitchell. He played tape of Clinton’s earlier announcement statement—and boo-hooed about Mitchell’s fate::

MATTHEWS (12/3/99): Well, there is the first lady saying, sort of, that she's running for the Senate in New York. Andrea Mitchell, you are covering this campaign. You are a network reporter and a veteran, and you're covering a Senate race? It's a—is this a revoltin’ development? You're covering a Senate race?

Thanks to the she-bitch Clinton, poor Mitchell, a veteran network reporter, would be forced to cover a Senate race! It was a revoltin’ development! Mitchell wriggled away from this oddness—but then, Matthews asked her about Clinton’s campaign chief. And the gentleman’s weirdness came back, in spades, as he voiced his reaction:

MITCHELL (12/3/99): Oh, it's a big plus. He is, you know, strong. He had been at HUD most recently working for, you know, Andrew Cuomo, but he knows New York. He was a big factor in the 1996 Clinton numbers in New York. The main problem, though, is that Hillary Clinton is her own campaign manager. There is no one who is strong enough, powerful enough, to tell her when she's wrong, tell her when she's making a mistake, and just think of the powerful behind-the-scenes whispers that you have to hold back. You've got Harold Ickes, you've got her old friend Susan Thomases, you've got some really big players—Mandy Grunwald. How do you break through all of that as the campaign manager if he doesn't have a long-standing relationship with—with Hillary?

MATTHEWS: Can Mandy, who's been on this program before and who I respect, is she capable of walking in to seeing Mr.—Mrs. Clinton and saying, “Mrs. Clinton, you don't—you don't have a clue sometimes, and you say some of the stupidest things. What are you doing—doing this thing with Crowley the other night, or going after this pro-life guy? You're getting everybody confused about you here.” Can anybody talk to her—

MITCHELL: Crowley's a Queens Democrat that she went and rallied for.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, and a pro-life guy. Is there any way—anybody, anybody that's ever walked up to Hillary Clinton and says, “You're all wet?”


Let’s just say the tone had changed from the segments on wise/impressive George Bush. As Matthews continued, his distaste for a pair of Big Dems was quite clear. And he soon voiced the delicate theories Dems would object to—eight years later:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Or isn't she—you know, that's what she has in common with her husband. Because remember Eli Segal, the guy who was gonna be chief of staff, and he went in and told Clinton, “You need a guy like me because you've blown it a lot of times.”


MATTHEWS: And he says, “You're out of here.” These Clintons don't like being corrected.

MITCHELL: And Hillary Clinton is the only person who could go into Bill Clinton and tell him that.

MATTHEWS: Well, because she had—she had the blackmail. She could get him out of there in three seconds.

MITCHELL: Well, you say that, but—

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you—let me ask you about DeBlasio.

“These Clintons don't like being corrected,” Matthews advised. Although Hillary Clinton could correct Bill “because she had the backmail.”

Soon, Matthews’ remarkable Clinton-loathing began to express itself more fully, in his trademark “weird” manner. The Clintons had recently purchased their home in Chappaqua, but they hadn’t moved into it yet. After an inane discussion about Hillary Clinton’s choice in home decor and lack of a New York driver’s license, Matthews began to offer his thoughts about a statement she had made concerning New York City homelessness policy. A taped statement by Clinton began his next segment. Mitchell snarked along with her host after that:

CLINTON (videotape): No violent or dangerous person should be on our streets threatening themselves or our community. But we don't help matters by throwing them out of shelters onto the street or putting them into a revolving door jail time where they go in and out and are on the streets again. The goal should be treating such people and, where necessary, putting them into situations where they can be treated effectively.

MATTHEWS: Boy, you've got a tough job being an objective reporter in a race like this. I don't even have to try. Here's a woman complaining about homelessness and how they're being treated when she hasn't even checked into her shelter yet!

MITCHELL: She's a—

MATTHEWS: This woman doesn't even have a home in New York!

MITCHELL: She empathized; she's a homeless person.


Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Clinton was talking about the homeless—and she didn’t even have a home yet! And then, things went from bad to worse. Jack Welch’s favorite fruitcake decided to say a few weird things about his own interactions with the homeless:

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the homeless, because the homeless—most of us men, maybe more than women, because guys reach into their pockets for change—women have to go in their pocketbook. I really think it's easier for a male to give a half a buck or a quarter to somebody on the way by because of guilt or—

MITCHELL: We still manage to give.

MATTHEWS: I know, but you could stop—and also guys, I don't know what it—

MITCHELL: And we're guiltier than you guys are.

MATTHEWS: I don't think that's true. I'm—I always feel like saying I give—in San Francisco, it's a big problem there; you give a guy a half dollar or whatever you have available or a quarter or a dollar even sometimes, if they really look in trouble, and then you feel like the next guy you get to, he doesn't have a—you had—like you had—you put a, you need to put a badge on, “I just gave at the last corner here.” HA! But you get hit with the same kind of ferocity, the same kind of—sometimes pathetic, sometimes intimidating manner. And I think people who pay taxes and, and give to church or synagogue or something, say, “Wait a minute, I do a decent job here,” and if a person comes up with a particular case, I'm gonna be open to him. But if they're just here to intimidate me—you know, that's what it's about.

MITCHELL: Well, that—that's exactly why Rudy Giuliani has sort of the right tempo of New Yorkers. He really gets that.

All roads on this network, coherent or not, seemed to lead back to such judgments. Hillary Clinton was dumbly mocked for her comments on homelessness policy. But Matthews’ blather served to remind us that Rudy “really gets that.”

Again, it should be clear by now that there was one tone on Hardball for major Republicans—and a quite different tone for Gore and Clinton. Could Jack Welch have done the show better himself? But now, Matthews and Mitchell switched their topics. It’s hard to say that they didn’t just lie in your faces. Russert sat one mile away.

December 3—Back to the tarmac: At this point, Matthews switched his field, following Mitchell’s lead. We were on our way to LaGuardia—and to some bald-faced deception:

MITCHELL: Well, that—that's exactly why Rudy Giuliani has sort of the right tempo of New Yorkers. He really gets that. The other big issue is, you know, her motorcade, her Secret Service protection, all of that, which she says—

MATTHEWS: Tell me about the plane, about how when she arrives at Kennedy or LaGuardia, everything else has to get out of the way.

Tell me about the plane, Matthews cried. This led the pair to a story so foolish that it had been completely ignored everywhere else on cable. Everywhere but Friday night’s session of Hardball, where Mitchell and Matthews flogged it hard—and quite frankly seem to have lied.

The background: Matthews referred to a pseudo-flap Giuliani had ginned up two days earlier. On that very Friday morning, Elisabeth Bumiller had described the nonsense in a New York Times news report. The silly flap was also reviewed in New York’s tabloids—but no one disagreed with the basic facts as Bumiller laid them out. In fact, except for Matthews and Mitchell, nobody ever would.

Here’s the background on the bull-roar the pair now decided to churn:

BUMILLER (12/3/99): Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton got into a nasty and complicated spat yesterday, this time over whether the first lady's plane, called Executive One Foxtrot, had delayed regular commercial traffic at LaGuardia Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it hadn't. Mr. Giuliani at first said it had, then said it was all a joke and told reporters to "lighten up," but then said, back-pedaling and confusing the matter further, that "as far as I know it's true." Mrs. Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, called the mayor a liar, and added that "he should get his campaign out of the gutter and apologize.”

Long (spectacularly stupid) story short: That Tuesday afternoon, there had been delays at LaGuardia. On Wednesday, Giuliani seemed to claim that the delays had been caused by preferential treatment of Hillary Clinton’s plane. It soon became abundantly clear that Giuliani had no idea what he was talking about. And the FAA said, in some detail, that his claim had simply been wrong:

BUMILLER: "Rudy Giuliani lied," said Mr. Wolfson, who was on Mrs. Clinton's plane as it returned late from Buffalo to La Guardia on Tuesday afternoon—a time when the F.A.A. said many other planes were delayed by the volume of traffic and bad weather.

Paul Turk, an F.A.A. spokesman, said Mrs. Clinton's plane circled for about 20 minutes before landing at 5:37 p.m. "There were no special services provided for that aircraft," he said. "That airplane was simply treated as one more in the mix."

Yesterday, Mr. Giuliani said that he had been referring to the Tuesday delays when he made his comment on Wednesday in Washington. "It was a joke!" he said to reporters yesterday during a news conference at City Hall. "Gosh, you've got to lighten up!" But Mr. Giuliani then said his information came from four separate people "who told me pilots announced" at the Washington airport "that flights were delayed because of the first lady's campaign." Mr. Giuliani added that "as far as I know, it's true."

By late afternoon yesterday, the matter had made its way up to the Department of Transportation, of which the F.A.A. is a part. Bill Schulz, the spokesman for the department, called a reporter unsolicited to say: "The first lady's plane has not caused delays. Period.”

In short, Giuliani didn’t know what he was talking about. And the FAA had denied all the claims. Clinton’s plane had itself been delayed, the agency said: "There were no special services provided for that aircraft." Gotham’s tabloids—the Post and the Daily News—reported the same sets of facts.

Indeed, this unfounded claim was such consummate nonsense that it was ignored all over cable. On Friday night, the late Barbara Olsen appeared on Hannity & Colmes, introduced as the author of Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton. But even this veteran Clinton-hater didn’t mention this stupid tale, which had mainly embarrassed Giuliani. In fact, according to Nexis archives, no cable show ever mentioned this nonsense—except for the crackpot cable show Hardball, where Matthews and Mitchell said the following. It’s hard to find a way to say that the pair weren’t basically lying:

MATTHEWS: Tell me about the plane, about how when she arrives at Kennedy or La Guardia everything else has to get out of the way.

MITCHELL: Well, the campaign denies it, you should know that. But—

MATTHEWS: Right. But the FAA supports that theory because they've enforced it.

MITCHELL: Well, the—the whole point is that—

MATTHEWS: They've told their airports to give her first shot.

MITCHELL: We know that happens for presidential planes.


MITCHELL: It's not been absolutely confirmed that that happens for the first lady's plane, except that airport officials say it's true. The FAA hasn't actually, on the record, said so. And pilots—I mean, it doesn't matter whether it's true or not, pilots are telling people who are delayed on the shuttle—and you and I are up and back to New York all the time; we're always delayed on the shuttle—they get on the two-way radio, and they're telling people, The reason we're delayed is not because US Air screws up or Delta has messed up yet again—it's because Hillary Clinton is coming to New York. So she's become, you know, the poster child for every airport delay. And right now, holiday season, you know, it is horrendous trying to get in and out of New York. So—

MATTHEWS: I remember running along with Tip O'Neill, my old boss, and they had stopped traffic for him to get—and he was mortified. He knew they all hated him for doing that. Why do politicians—you know, in this city, it's just—these motorcades go up and down Connecticut Avenue, and everybody gets stopped. It's like you're in—you're in the Dominican Republic or in old Haiti, you know, when the Papa Doc, came by, you know.

Matthews’ mind began wandering again. But it’s startling to see the way Mitchell and Matthews told the tale of the airport delays. “Well, the campaign denies it, you should know that,” Mitchell said—failing to mention the more salient fact that the FAA had repeatedly denied it! Failing to note that there was no evidence whatever for the tale Giuliani had started. “It's not been absolutely confirmed that that happens for the first lady's plane, except that airport officials say it's true?” Most likely, Mitchell would have said that she meant that this could have been true, in particular circumstances, as a matter of theory. But let’s say it again—even Hannity and Olson avoided this turkey; according to Nexis records, no one on the whole Fox News Channel so much as mentioned this mess. But Matthews seemed to say that the FAA had affirmed the story—and Mitchell carefully avoided correcting him. One mile away, Tim Russert sat. Brilliantly raised by the nuns and the Jesuits, he loved the truth more deeply than we mortals could grasp. Playing around at the end of a show, his team had seemed to affirm a pseudo-scandal—again. Giuliani had been full of old shoes. On Hardball—and on Hardball alone—the old shoes came back on Clinton. Soon, Matthews and Mitchell discussed how the Clintons were putting in Secret Service protection at Chappaqua and “building a little guard house for them...probably putting in a perimeter.” “Just like Nixon in the old days,” Matthews said. “Oh, you bet,” said Mitchell.

“I'm afraid I'm going to say something weird,” Matthews had said at the start of the program. In fairness, we give him high marks for self-knowledge. At any rate, this was just one day in the life—following two consecutive programs where Matthews had simply murdered Gore. Candidate Bush had been quite impressive—and Hillary Clinton had been stopping planes. Russert sat a mile away—or maybe he’d flown to Nantucket.

Before we move on, though, just a few questions. Does any of this resemble the pictures you were handed all last week, when Chris, Mike and Patrick—and so many others—told us how Russert adored the plain truth? Told us how they loved the truth, just like Tim, because of their own special upbringing? Does this resemble the propaganda which rolled down from the hills last week? It was recited endlessly for us rubes. Does this sound like what you heard?

Monday, December 6—The dark side of his Irishness: If it’s Monday, it must be Gail Sheehy! America’s mind-reading pseudo-psychiatrist had now published Hillary’s Choice, an unflattering biography stuffed full of so much blather that it was getting extremely weak reviews, even in Clinton-hating newspapers. “Shrink-Wrapped,” said the headline on the Washington Post’s eye-rolling later review of the book. Even Gail Collin couldn’t quite stomach the blather in her formal review in the Times. “The book is a handy compendium of all the previous reporting on the Clintons' marriage, and people who have been trapped in a mine for the last few years might find it useful,’ she wrote as she ended her piece. “But for most of the country, reading ‘Hillary's Choice’ will provide a fuller insight into the meaning of Clinton fatigue.”

But there was no “Clinton fatigue” on Hardball. Trashing both Clintons—and their lying spawn Gore—was the program’s reason for being. Result? When Sheehy showed up for the first half-hour of the December 6 Hardball, even she seemed a bit startled by her randy host’s opening query:

MATTHEWS (12/6/99): I'm Chris Matthews in San Francisco. Let's play Hardball!

Well, joining us right now from Washington, DC is author and journalist Gail Sheehy. She's got a new book; it's called Hillary's Choice. We'll get to the meaning of that.

Gail, thank you for joining us. I have to ask you one tough-as-nails question, not as a Hillary defender or as a Hillary critic, but just simply as a Hillary author and expert. What has she ever done for this country?


No particular point of view there, in that opening, “tough-as-nails question!” Sheehy recovered from her surprise, saying that Hilary Clinton had offered Bill Clinton good advice in the 1999 Kosovo matter. Disappointed, her host asked for more—and introduced a construct:

SHEEHY: You know, there isn't any policy that he hasn't discussed with her. But in this case, she told him very forthrightly, you cannot let this ethnic cleansing go on at the end of the century that saw the Holocaust. You know, bite the bullet, Bill.

MATTHEWS: Well, go on.

SHEEHY: Well, I think that's pretty important.

MATTHEWS: No, give me some other things that she's done that she would put on her resume if she were to run for the Senate from New York, which she apparently intends to do.

Don’t worry: It would soon become quite clear that Matthews was quite unimpressed with that “resume” he would keep citing. Indeed, his trashing of Clinton was so extreme that he turned Sheehy, the mind-reading Clinton-semi-trasher, into a bit of a Clinton-defender. Here was the next major question he asked as he quickly “turned” his guest. By the way, does any of this sound a bit familiar?

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the politics of running for Senate and her background and her claim to fame. The argument she seems to be making to New York voters is that she's a victim of Bill Clinton's misconduct, but she was a proud co-author of all of his great successes. She's getting it both ways. He screwed around; she covered up. But really, she was just being a dutiful wife. She was, however, the great counselor to all success. But you know, in your book, you make some very tough shots against her. You accused her, basically, of being the one to refused to come clean on Whitewater, the one very much involved with Travelgate, dumping those people that—she wanted those patronage slots so she could put her friends in office; for putting all the pressure on Vince Foster for dealing with the Travelgate. It seems like not even counting health care, which was the catastrophe of the administration, she is the problem, not the solution.

“He screwed around; she covered up.” Eight years later, a few Dems would finally start to complain about this sort of tone. And yes, Matthews would eventually make it sound like Vince Foster’s death was Vile Hillary’s fault. (Matthews, later in this program: “The Vince Foster horror, where poor Vince Foster was trying to protect her and him, and he felt tremendous responsibility. You point out that wonderful story that he watched A Few Good Men the night before he committed suicide, and it's about a guy who committed suicide as a matter of honor. She put all this pressure on people.”) She put all this pressure on people, he complained. (And of course, Classic Matthews: “That wonderful story!” ) But Matthews’ stupidity would surface this evening sooner than his animal loathing of Clinton. After some blather from Sheehy about the way “she really didn’t know who she was” in college, Matthews displayed the circus-clown approach he takes to such matters. Try to believe that he said this:

MATTHEWS: You know, here's the disconnect, but maybe we always have disconnects like this in our lives. But you talk in a nice way about how Hillary never wanted to learn to ski. Now, I learned to ski at a relatively late age, and I love it. But it does involve falling. And you point out in your book that she doesn't like to fall. And therefore—I mean, just falling by—the physical act of falling in front of other people, where they see you fall—yet she was willing to take on a seventh of the American economy with no economics training, and say that she was going to personally redefine the economic system with regard to health. How can she be afraid to fall on her butt on the bunny slope, and yet willing to jeopardize the health security of the American people without a blink?

You almost had to feel sorry for Sheehy, asked to respond to such ludicrous frameworks. Had Sheehy ever done a show where the host was so much more wacky than she? God bless her—she courageously tried to respond. But when she did, the name-calling started:

SHEEHY (continuing directly): Well, I think she thought she knew what she was doing, and she thought Ira Magaziner would be—

MATTHEWS: The guy with the propeller on his head!

SHEEHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: I mean, why did she hang around with that clack? Those guys have never been elected to anything, they've never run for anything. Why does she trust those kinds of guys?

SHEEHY: Well, she—

MATTHEWS: They're all lefties and propeller heads! They're worse than she is!

By now, Sheehy seemed so surprised by Matthews’ tone that she adopted a tone of defense. This drove her host straight back to thoughts of the bunny slope:

SHEEHY (continuing directly): Wait a second! Let me just ask you one thing. I know you don't like Hillary Clinton—

MATTHEWS: No, that's not true. That's not the relevant point. I'm asking you why did she—why was she afraid to fall on soft snow on a bunny slope, but wasn't afraid of bringing down the health security of 260 million Americans? That's what I don't understand.
SHEEHY: She's afraid to make a mistake. She's a perfectionist.

MATTHEWS: Well, what the hell? She made one on health care.

SHEEHY: She's a perfectionist—

MATTHEWS: She brought down the Democratic Party for the first time in a half a century!

Why on earth would anyone think he didn’t like Hillary Clinton? He just wanted to understand her thoughts about falling on soft snow out on the bunny slope! As she tried to continue, Sheehy bungled her understanding of what Bill Bradley had proposed about health care (she described Gore’s position; Bradley’s went farther). But trust us, Chris didn’t know either.

A question: Should the nation’s discourse lie in the hands of people who “reason” in such bizarre ways? Who reason by way of the bunny slope? Each person can answer that question himself. But soon, Chris began unveiling his own thoughts about health care—and he called Clinton “Evita.” By now, Sheehy may well have been glancing around, furtively checking for the door:

MATTHEWS: First of all, Hillary Clinton got the message wrong. The American people want to have health care for people who work for a living. Working families should get a good wage and they should get health care as part of a living income. She said, I'm going to give you universal coverage. I want to give every man who gets into this country, legally or illegally, free health care, and they're going to have to thank me for it, and bring flowers to me like I'm Evita. That's different than giving people workers' rights, or giving them what they go out and work for a living for, including health care. She didn't want to sell it as a workers' benefit. She wanted to sell it as socialism, because then she could get credit for it. She and the government, like Eleanor Roosevelt, her hero.

SHEEHY: Well, I don't think she wanted to sell it as socialism...

In this tortured fruitcake’s weak mind, Clinton was thinking “they're going to have to thank me for it, and bring flowers to me like I'm Evita.” As Irish Catholics ourselves, can we talk? The nuns and the priests were in Chris’ weak head at this point—and this time, they weren’t urging love for the truth. By the way, Chris had eye-rolled Eleanor Roosevelt on Friday too, when he explained why Clinton might win her senate race: “Here's this sort of latter day Eleanor. Not that Eleanor Roosevelt does much for me, but for a lot of New Yorkers, I think it still has that big picture magic.”

“Not that Eleanor Roosevelt does much for me!” Don’t worry, Chris! No one will ever think you admire some ratty old woman!

At any rate, Matthews was now worked up pretty good. Soon, he was making Sheehy hear his ur-theory of Clinton and Clinton. In this passage, you see the tortured soul that has driven this man’s inexcusable work for a decade:

MATTHEWS: Here's the weird thing about this dysfunctional relationship, and you've been sorting this out as an author for so many months. You have one partner on the team that thinks they're always right. They think they're better than us morally, politically, culturally, and intellectually and every other way. The other person believes they've never done anything wrong. If you have one who's a born cover-up artist who can't even turn in an honest golf score, and the other one who thinks she's always right about everything, God help us! As you say, Hillary's choice is the choice to be blind-sided or to be blind about the truth. What an amazing credential to be United States senator for New York!

By now, you’re seeing a full-blown fruitcake of the old school, acting out in the old manner—as we might say, a born Coughlin! According to Matthews, Bill Clinton was “a born cover-up artist who can't even turn in an honest golf score.” Hillary Clinton? She “thinks she's always right about everything,” that she’s “better than us morally, politically, culturally, and intellectually and every other way.” Last week, this fruitcake’s wife said, on Hardball, that we want to “purge the dark side of our Irishness.” For e-mailers who asked us what she meant, you’re seeing what she meant, right here. And uh-oh! As our ranting fruitcake went to his break—we were only half-way through this interview!—he learned that Bill Clinton confessed his sexual indiscretions to Hillary Clinton in August 1998. Needless to say, he knew what that meant:

MATTHEWS: So when he told the truth to the—when he finally truth in the '98 deposition, he had to go tell her he was lying before?

SHEEHY: Right. Exactly. And that came as the big shock to her in 1998.

MATTHEWS: Wow! What a story! This woman's got a hell of a credential and a hell of a resume coming into the New York Senate race. We'll be back with more about Hillary Clinton from author Gail Sheehy. Her book's called Hillary's Choice. You're watching Hardball.

Of course! It meant she had “a hell of a resume coming into the New York Senate race!” But then, as Matthews had said to Mitchell, “Boy, you've got a tough job being an objective reporter in a race like this..”

The second chunk of Matthews’ half-hour with Sheehy was almost as fruity as the first. For the sake of brevity, let’s move to the place where Matthews confronted Hillary Clinton’s far-left left-wing leftishness:

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the—that was a picture of Victoria Falls; a beautiful spot, I've been there—with she and Chelsea. But Hillary Clinton seems to be going—darted far to the left, and it seems like she hasn't stopped moving to the left. What is all that about? She was a Goldwater girl, she grew up as a Republican. What made here—you wrote in your book rather nicely where she said she once had a liberal gut but a conservative mind, having had a liberal mind and a conservative gut. Now she's got all liberal, everything I think. But what happened?

SHEEHY: Well, I think she went with the political times, for one thing. But she also is very—

MATTHEWS: She runs with the times. That's pretty devastating. I mean, she was on the directive, she went with the campus movement to the left in the '60s just because—

SHEEHY: No, she didn't go with the campus movement to the left in the '60s. She was kind of the marshal who kept everybody in order during that demonstration. She was never a radical. And it's one of the things that the right wing gets wrong. There has been a right-wing conspiracy against the Clintons. She, you know, adds to it by her secrecy thing. But, you know, they're always trying to pin her to Sol Alinsky and saying he was her mentor. She never worked for Sol Alinsky. She dismissed his community organizing technique as wrong. She looked at Bobby Kennedy's poverty program in her senior thesis and dismissed it as not workable. So, she's a lot more conservative in many ways than you would recognize.

Don’t worry—Matthews was ready for that one. We’ll be honest—we don’t understand his “German” reference. But it did seem to have him quite scared:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Well, why did she want to inflict the German plan on us on health care, the entirely national health care system based on the German model with these guys around her? Why did she want to take it in the realm of incredibly elaborate bureaucracy and deny choices to just about every American? Why did she want such a system if she wasn't a lefty?

SHEEHY: Well, I think she and Bill Clinton had both been traveling in Germany and they thought that a lot about the German system was terrific, that the Germans had a great social service system. They were a rich country like we were. Why couldn't we have the same thing?

MATTHEWS: Well, I guess that's why we are different than them in a lot of ways.

Classic “dark side of our Irishness!” Why would we want “a great social service system?” Why would we loathsome, yelled-at-by-nuns-since-birth sinners want—or deserve—such life-affirmation? (E-mailers: This is what Kathleen Matthews meant.) But you see, you can’t be a bigger crackpot than Matthews. His loathing came spilling out again as he closed out with The Big Question:

MATTHEWS: Do you think she could have been elected president on her own?

SHEEHY: I think she thinks that she can be at some time in the future, but I don't think that means that she would be inattentive as a senator. I think she would be—I know she would be a workhorse.

MATTHEWS: No, but does she think that she came out behind in this deal? I get the feeling she's got this moral superiority that somehow he was lucky to have her, but she wasn't lucky to have him, like she could have gotten there with any guy—as that little story you tell in the book goes, any guy she could have dragged into the presidency—because she was the superior moral, intellectual and cultural and political force, and he was just some bumpkin she picked up and dragged along like a barnacle behind her rear end. I mean, I have to wonder. This woman seems to think that she should be president. It's an accident of history that he is and not her.

SHEEHY: No. Well, she did come along at a time when it wasn't easy for women to make their way politically and she couldn't see how she could do it on her own. She thinks the world of Bill Clinton's political gifts, believe me, but she does feel that it's her turn.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that's obvious.

What did “dark side of our Irishness” mean? Just reread those closing words by this resentful, misogynist nut-case. “I mean, I have to wonder. This woman seems to think that she should be president,” he said.

So there you see two days in the life. And let’s understand—this was only two days in the life, two day out of thousands. Matthews kicked the tar out of Gore for two solid years, dissembling and name-calling as he went. As he lied, and insulted, and vented his spleen—as he invented tall tales about tarmacs—the masterful Russert sat one mile away. This lunacy occurred on his watch.

By happenstance, we reviewed these old Hardball programs last week, as we listened to all the propaganda. Perhaps you can see why we were so struck by the gap between the truth and the industry tale. These programs start to show you the truth about what actually happened on Tim Russert’s watch. You can listen to all that bull-roar they spew. Or you can look at what actually happened.

This went on, night after night, year after year. George Bush reached the White House because of this crap; this lunacy explains why we’re in Iraq. And go ahead—just name the career liberal who challenged this conduct! We agree—there are a few. A very few people complained.

But readers, this is the actual network Welch built. This is the network Russert watched over. What universe were they describing last week? A universe dreamed on an island.

For the record: The very next night—December 7—Matthews’ consummate nonsense continued. That was the night when Howard Wolfson tried to do a segment on Hardball. (He didn’t appear on the program again for five years.) We’ve posted a large chunk of this lunatic program before; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/06. If you review it, remember one thing: No one complained about this conduct. But then, no one complained as this consummate nutcase spent two years savaging Gore.

The dead of Iraq stare up from the ground. As they do, they look at the people who lounged around, in 1999 and 2000, at your fiery “liberal journals.”

Go ahead! You explain how this went on so long, with barely a peep of “liberal” protest. And remember: To this day, no “liberal journal” has ever published a serious review of Chris Matthews’ work. And again, this all happened on Russert’s watch—Russert, who adored truth and fairness.

He could have been happy in a cabin. But somehow, he ended up in that very large house. In that house, on that island, with Jack—and almost no one on your side complained. Go ahead—you explain it. You explain how this lunacy happened.

ENCORE/MAESTRO: One statement deserves a final look:

MATTHEWS (12/3/99): Well, Friday’s kind of a crazy day here around Hardball. It's where I'm—I'm so tired at the end of the week, I'm afraid I'm going to say something weird.

That Friday happened nine years ago, Nine years later, little has changed—except someone may have conquered his fears.