Chris Matthews apparently thinks that no one is going to go back and look at the things he actually said when he had a chance to speak out about the United States invading Iraq after watching this bit of revisionist history in his "Let Me Finish" segment on Hardball.
Media Matters' Eric Boehlert wrote a piece for Salon back in 2006 which is an excerpt from his book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. I thought I'd share some of what he wrote about Chris Matthews in that article.
At one point while making his way through the press questioners, Bush awkwardly referred to a list of reporters whom he was instructed to call on. "This is scripted," he joked. The press laughed. But Bush meant it was scripted, literally. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer later admitted he compiled Bush's cheat sheet, which made sure he did not call on reporters from some prominent outlets like Time, Newsweek, USA Today, or the Washington Post. Yet even after Bush announced the event was "scripted," reporters, either embarrassed for Bush or embarrassed for themselves, continued to play the part of eager participants at a spontaneous news conference, shooting their hands up in the air in hopes of getting Bush's attention. For TV viewers it certainly looked like an actual press event.
That was not the night's only oddly scripted moment. Before the cameras went live, White House handlers, in a highly unusual move, marched veteran reporters to their seats in the East Room, two-by-two, like school children being led onto the stage for the annual holiday pageant. The White House was taking no chances with the choreography. Looking back on the night, New York Times White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller defended the press corps' timid behavior: "I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you' re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war," she told students at Towson University in Maryland. "There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."
It's unlikely viewers expected "an argument" that night in the East Room. But what about simply asking pointed questions and firmly requesting a direct response? On March 6, even that was beyond the media's grasp. The entire press conference performance was a farce -- the staging, the seating, the questions, the order, and the answers. Nothing about it was real or truly informative. It was, nonetheless, unintentionally revealing. Not revealing about the war, Bush's rationale, or about the bloody, sustained conflict that was about to be unleashed inside Iraq. Reporters helped shed virtually no light on those key issues. Instead, the calculated kabuki press conference, stage-managed by the White House employing the nation's most elite reporters as high-profile extras, did reveal what viewers needed to know about the mind-set of the MSM on the eve of war.
And for viewers that night who didn't get a strong enough sense of just how obediently in-step the press corps was with the White House, there was the televised post-press conference analysis. On MSNBC, for instance, "Hardball's" Chris Matthews hosted a full hour of discussion. In order to get a wide array of opinion, he invited a pro-war Republican senator (Saxby Chambliss, from Georgia), a pro-war former Secretary of State (Lawrence Eagleburger), a pro-war retired Army general (Montgomery Meigs), pro-war retired Air Force general (Buster Glosson), a pro-war Republican pollster (Frank Luntz), as well as, for the sake of balance, somebody who, twenty-five years earlier, once worked in Jimmy Carter's White House (Pat Caddell).
And then there's this with his interview with Jim Lehrer.
While some journalists admitted their mistakes, most refused to admit it was political pressure from the right and a fear of being labeled unpatriotic that fueled the timidity. Instead, journalists offered up head-scratching explanations for their timorous prewar performance. PBS's Jim Lehrer suggested journalists just weren't smart enough to have foreseen all the troubles that would plague Iraq following the invasion. Appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball," Lehrer was asked by host Matthews about the press's wartime performance. Matthews noted, "During [the] course of the war, there was a lot of snap-to-it coverage. We' re at war. We have to root for the country to some extent. You' re not supposed to be too aggressively critical of a country at combat, especially when it's your own." Matthews asked Lehrer if he thought the press had failed to provide "critical analysis" in the months before the war.
Lehrer: I do. The word "occupation," keep in mind, Chris, was never mentioned in the run-up to the war. It was "liberation." So as a consequence, those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.
Lehrer: Because it just didn't occur to us. We weren't smart enough to do it. I agree. I think it was a dereliction of our -- in retrospective.
It never occurred to journalists that the United States might have to effectively occupy Iraq in the wake of the invasion? That's just not believable. It's far more likely journalists were too anxious to express their doubts during the drum-beating of early 2003. Lehrer later returned to the topic, suggesting even if journalists had been smart enough to figure out the occupation angle, it still would have been hard to report it out:
Lehrer: It would have been difficult to have had debates about that going in, when the president and the government of the -- it's not talking about "occupation." They're talking about -- it would have been -- it would have taken some -- you'd have had to have gone against the grain.
"Could 'courage' be the word Lehrer sought?" asked the Daily Howler. "Did he want to say: 'It would have taken some courage' " for the nation's press to have gone against the grain.
That one is a larger indictment on Lehrer than it on Chris Matthews, but then we also have this.
Happy Codpiece Day! which I also wrote about here -- Tweety Does Full 180 on Bush's "Mission Accomplished" Moment. Matthews has a bad habit of pretending he wasn't playing cheerleader for Bush with the invasion of Iraq and this segment was no exception. Too bad he wasn't as brave when this was going on as his colleague Phil Donahue was, who as the article at Salon reminded us of was actually fired from MSNBC even though his ratings were higher than Matthews' were at the time.
I highly recommend reading that entire article from Salon because there are a lot worse culprits than Matthews out there with selling us this "war" and they really should be held accountable for their actions. Sadly our mainstream media isn't going to call themselves out for their participation in that horrific farce which has led to so much needless death, destruction and waste and theft of our tax dollars.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with where this American war with Iraq started.
The people had their hearts step on this war, didn't really care what arguments would get us into it. They just wanted us in. They tried connecting it to 9/11. Again and again they tried that, failing each time.
They tried connecting it to the anthrax that was mailed to Tom Brokaw and Tom Daschle.
They tried connecting it to the African country of Niger where they said Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium.
The president told us that in his State of the Union -- he and his vice president deliberately overruling evidence to the contrary.
Finally, the ideologues pushing war told us Iraq had a nuclear weapon. It could fire at us here in America. What they had newly and strangely called our homeland.
They had found the magic bullet. The one sales pitch that would get us into attacking a country that had not attacked us. We were now launched in a war aimed at regime change -- another strange new phrase -- to battle an enemy newly sized up as the "Axis of Evil."
All this Orwellian language, all this purposeful propaganda tying Iraq to 9/11, ended up working with about half the country. People began to believe that those were Iraqis who hijacked the planes that hit us in New York and Washington.
For half the country, the sales job was complete. We were getting even. Iraq was payback. Remember how you felt?
Here`s what I wrote in December 2nd, 2001, as George W. Bush began his push for war with Iraq, 15 months before we invaded. Quote, "Like victors before him, President Bush is being tempted with greater glories in the days ahead. He is considering following his triumph in Afghanistan with a more magnificent destruction of Saddam Hussein. It`s a bad idea," I wrote in "The San Francisco Chronicle."
"If it was in my power to stop him, I would. To attack Iraq now would be to forfeit all that the American president has won since September 11th. I've given up trying to understand the thinking of those who agitate for such a wrong and tragic course."
If there`s anyone who honestly believes the way to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic world, to end this drift towards Islamic terrorism is to attack a secular Arab country that has not attacked us. Does anybody believe that?
I still believe that the central question here that should have been asked and answered before we went to war with Iraq and it never was: will this make terrorism less of a threat than it ever was before?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
Let me finish by saying that it would have been nice to hear you say this when it might have mattered.