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Daily Howler: When Ken Mehlman began to misstate, big pundits rolled over, as always
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CHRIS MATTHEWS ROLLS OVER, AS ALWAYS! When Ken Mehlman began to misstate, big pundits rolled over, as always: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2005

CHRIS MATTHEWS ROLLS OVER, AS ALWAYS: Just so we know who we’re talking about, let’s visit cable talker Chris Matthews as he played some Hardball Monday night. The previous Friday, Hillary Clinton had criticized President Bush for cutting money from subway security. To Matthews, Clinton’s critique was in poor taste because of that day’s London bombings. Deborah Orin agreed with her host—and for about the ten millionth time, her host revealed his poor character:
ORIN (7/11/05): I agree with you, Chris, and I disagree with E. J. [Dionne]. I think that was not—it was tone-deaf. It was a day of tragedy in London. And that`s not the day to immediately whack the president, you know, and "If it happens here, it will be your fault" sort of thing.

MATTHEWS: I hate to say this—I`m not going to hate to say it, it`s a fact. You look more witchy when you`re doing it like this.

Hillary Clinton was looking “witchy,” Chris said. The talker allowed himself to say it because it was “a fact.”

Three cheers to E. J. Dionne, by the way. Instantly, he responded: “By the way, Chuck Schumer was there with her saying there`s a real problem with mass transit and security. And we don`t call him a witch.” But we do call Hillary Clinton a “witch” because, well—because it’s Hillary Clinton. And we do it, of course, because it’s Chris Matthews—the loud, bizarre, influential host who said of Al Gore, in the wake of 9/11, "He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/02/01). But you know Chris! Back in March, when Hillary Clinton got a bit of good press, he asked Cokie Roberts to explain it. Chris had old-fashioned hate on his mind—and witchcraft was troubling him again:

MATTHEWS (3/3/05): Everybody`s brain is being turned in a matter of two weeks from “I hate that woman” to “wonderful woman.” Is this witchcraft, do you think?
“No, I don`t think it`s witchcraft,” Cokie said. But just so we know who we’re talking about, in the world of talker Chris Matthews, everybody was recently saying how much they “hate” the witch, Hillary Clinton. And a few years earlier, they had been saying that Gore “doesn’t look like one of us...doesn’t seem very American.” And don’t even ask about the way he pandered to Bill Clinton’s sex accusers—especially to that luscious lady, Kathleen Willey, over whom he repeatedly swooned. Enter “Willey AND Mathews” in our whirring search engines if you want to relive those disasters. Meanwhile, to see Chris discussing Clinton death lists with Gennifer Flowers, you know what to do—just click here.

Yes, Matthews has been a train wreck for years, although you rarely see this fact confronted by careerist libs and Dems. In 1999 and 2000, no broadcaster played a bigger role in helping George Bush find his way to the White House—but Matthews been given free rein by career liberals for years, and the results have generally been disastrous. Indeed, even when he tried to confront the Swift Boat Veterans last summer, he was quite typically unprepared, and thereby dissolved in a big pool of goo (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/04 and 8/21/04). More often, he can be found calling liberal women “witches” and saying that a former Vice President doesn’t seem very American. Which brings us up to Wednesday’s groaner, when RNC chairman Ken Mehlman played a well-scripted bit of Hardball. By now, Mehlman had abandoned legitimate criticisms of Joe Wilson; by now, as has long been its wont, the RNC was massively overstating—inventing. And Matthews, inept or clueless as always, was there with his feet in the air.

Mehlman began with an accusation that was becoming an RNC standard. According to Mehlman, Wilson falsely said that Cheney sent him off to Niger:

MEHLMAN (7/13/05): The White House from the beginning, and Karl from the beginning, has said that they intend to comply entirely and cooperate fully with this investigation. At the same time, unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of politics on the other side. And you are exactly right. This is a fundamental debate.

Karl Rove said to a reporter that you ought not include the Joe Wilson report because it`s inaccurate. And Karl was right. Mr. Wilson was wrong. The report was inaccurate. He was wrong in the sense that the vice president had not sent him down [to Niger].

But when exactly had Wilson said that Cheney “sent him down” to Niger? It’s true—at least one news org got that impression from reading Wilson’s New York Times piece, but Wilson hadn’t actually said it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/13/05). But by now, RNC spinners were directly alleging that Wilson had falsely made this claim. A well-prepared host would have asked for examples—but when was Matthews ever prepared? As Mehlman made another weird claim, the host had his feet in the air:
MEHLMAN (7/15/05): Well, I think what was going on was that Karl Rove was in fact saying the facts. And the facts were that the vice president had nothing to do with Joe Wilson being sent to Niger. And what Karl was doing was simply trying to discourage a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise. And that`s what he did. That is what he said he did. That is what the report from this past weekend indicate he did.

And the fact that folks are using that information to say someone ought to lose their job or be charged with a crime is remarkable, outrageous and it`s a partisan smear.

MATTHEWS: Fair enough.

“Fair enough?” No, Cheney didn’t send Wilson to Niger, but no one has ever refuted what Wilson said he was told—that Cheney’s questions about Niger led a particular CIA office to arrange his trip to Niger. Mehlman accused Wilson of misstating a basic fact about Cheney—then seemed to misstate himself. But Matthews failed to challenge or clarify. To Matthews, Mehlman didn’t seem “witchy.” As usual, he had his feet in the air.

But then, in his trip around the cable dial, Mehlman has met with little resistance. Here’s how the exchange had gone on Wolf Blitzer Reports one day earlier:

MEHLMAN (7/12/05): Looking at those e-mails, what I saw is Karl Rove discouraging Matthew Cooper from writing a story that was, in fact, false. Karl was right; Joe Wilson was wrong. The story wag false. It was based on a false premise, and, of course, the conclusion was false. So—

BLITZER: When you say the story was false, is there any evidence Niger was sending uranium, enriched uranium to Iraq?

MEHLMAN: What Joe Wilson alleged was that the vice president, then he said the CIA director, sent him to Niger. He then alleged that he wrote a report which positively proved that, in fact, that wasn't occurring and that the vice president sat on the report.

“Then he said the CIA director?” Did Wilson ever say that Tenet sent him to Niger? We don’t think we’ve ever heard that one. But don’t worry—Wolf didn’t ask.

On Tuesday, we looked at an earlier AP report in which Mehlman made a reasonable statement about Cheney’s role in this matter (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/12/05). But by the time he chatted with Matthews and Blitzer, the RNC chief had ramped up his claims; he was now accusing Wilson of a flat misstatement, a misstatement the Honest Ambassador doesn’t seem to have made. Yes, there are legitimate complaints to be made about Wilson’s past performance; the Post rattles some off in today’s editorial, although they have their thumb on the scale in several areas. But by the time Mehlman played Hardball, we were seeing a decade-old practice. He made a scripted, apparently inaccurate claim—and Chris Matthews said, “Fair enough.”

Why is Matthews still on the air, still able to perform so ineptly? Beats us! We’ve detailed his inept, often repulsive conduct over the course of the past seven years—but elsewhere, things have been quite silent. When will libs and Dems get off their keisters and begin to voice an aggressive complaint about the conduct of people like Matthews? We don’t know—but we’ve largely abandoned the thought that we’ll ever see it.

They get to say: Liberal bias! And we get to say: Oh, that’s right—we have no Big Picture! After all, Matthews is powerful—and we libs want to get on the air! As we dither, Hillary Clinton seems “witchy,” Chris says. He says it because “it’s a fact.”

THE POST PIMPS IT TOO: As we said earlier this week, Wilson’s shaky performance in 2003 will affect the way this story plays out. Today’s Post editorial provides an example. In our view, they overstate several complaints about Wilson—but they also understate one or two. They note, for example, that Wilson’s report about his trip didn’t “reach Vice President Cheney or any other senior official.” They fail to say that Wilson long insisted otherwise, although it was perfectly clear at the time that he couldn’t possibly know.

But uh-oh! When Matthews and Blitzer decline to function, bogus claims can spread fast. Channeling Mehlman, the Post itself makes that scripted accusation:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (7/15/05): At the same time, Mr. Rove and other administration officials had a legitimate interest in rebutting Mr. Wilson's inflated claims—including the notion that he had been dispatched to Niger at Mr. Cheney's behest. It's in that context, judging from Mr. Cooper's e-mail, that Mr. Rove appears to have brought up Ms. Plame's role.
But when did Wilson make the “inflated claim” that he was dispatched to Niger at Mr. Cheney's behest?” Channeling Mehlman, the great Post is stretching. But when cable hosts put their feet in the air, worrying about witchy liberal women, bogus RNC claims spread like kudzu. In 1999 and 2000, this process eventually put Bush in the White House—while some of your favorite career libs sat and stared. (Every issue you face today stems from that twenty-month silence.) Will Dems ever formulate an articulate challenge to this familiar, long-running process? Will they ever talk back to Matthews? Will they ever insist that he do some hard work?

COURIC ROLLS: How easy is it to spread a tale without any challenge from millionaire anchors? Here’s Newt Gingrich repeating this scripted claim on Today, while Katie Couric sits and stares. The quotation marks around Wilson’s alleged words are from the official transcript:

GINGRICH (7/13/05): Remember that this whole thing became a story because Ambassador Wilson's wife recommended him for the job. When he was pushed, he said, “Oh, the vice president's office had asked him to do it.” And the question that was raised with Karl was: Did the vice president or his office ask that Wilson go do this job? And what Rove said was it was his understanding that his wife had recommended him.
Couric never challenged Gingrich’s claim that Wilson said, “Oh, the vice president's office had asked him to do it.” We’re unaware of any place where Wilson actually made this claim. Why are the Courics paid big dough if they’re too inept and too lazy to challenge?

YOUR CHANCE FOR A GOOD SOLID LAUGH: How hard is it to get a rise out of Blitzer? At one point, he asked Mehlman if he’s been called before the grand jury. Mehlman wouldn’t say:

BLITZER (7/12/05): Well, why can't you tell us if you've been asked to testify?

MEHLMAN: I don't think it's appropriate for anyone to talk about—

BLITZER: You were working at the White House at that time.

MEHLMAN: I think it is not appropriate for me or any else to talk about where we may or may not have been testifying.

Presumptive answer: Yes. But go ahead and chuckle at this, which came a few moments later:
BLITZER: But you—have you given a waiver to reporters who may have talked to you about whether or not you authorized them to reveal—

MEHLMAN: I don't recall giving a waiver. I don't recall

BLITZER: The White House officials had to sign that statement.

MEHLMAN: I don't remember the specifics with respect to that. And as I said, I'm not commenting on who I may or may not have talked to as part of this investigation.

He couldn’t “remember the specifics with respect to that.” He couldn’t recall if he’d given a waiver! Actually, it was a very good question. But let’s marvel at Wolf as he fails to note the absurdity of Mehlman’s reply.

INANITY RULES IN THE CAPITAL: How inane was the idea that, if Rove didn’t actually name Wilson’s wife, that would mean that he hadn’t IDed her? Duh. The idea was always completely inane—and three days ago, King Karl gave it up. His lawyer, Robert Luskin, spoke to the National Review’s Byron York:

YORK (7/12/05): A few other notes: Luskin declined to say how Rove knew that Plame "apparently" (to use Cooper's word) worked at the CIA. But Luskin told NRO that Rove is not hiding behind the defense that he did not identify Wilson's wife because he did not specifically use her name. Asked if that argument was too legalistic, Luskin said, "I agree with you. I think it's a detail.”
Duh. If you’re more than seven years old, you always knew how inane that claim was. But inanity is the mother’s milk of our national discourse. Three days later, here’s the New York Times’ David Johnston, saying that “critics of Bush”—no one else—think this claim is pure crap:
JOHNSTON (7/15/05): White House officials may argue that Mr. Rove’s conversation with Mr. Novak did not amount to leaking the name of the agent. But to critics of Mr. Bush—including the Democrats who have called for Mr. Rove’s resignation—think that is splitting hairs, and Mr. Rove in effect confirmed her identity, even if he did not name her.
Three days after Rove killed this turkey, Johnston says that “critics of Bush” think it’s silly. Apparently, those “critics of Bush” include lawyer Luskin, who gave up this dog three days back.

Note: This passage has been dropped from NYT on-line editions. We don’t blame the Times for dumping this embarrassing turkey. Good Lord! At the Times, you had to be a “critic of Bush” to think this claim didn’t make sense.