During his November 19 speech to the conservative Claremont Institute, in which he accepted the institute's Statesmanship Award, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh denounced "the media in this country" as "the liberal spin machine" and distorted a question MSNBC host Chris Matthews asked a guest on his show. According to Limbaugh, Matthews asked: "If we were a decent country, do you think we could make a deal with [Osama] bin Laden?" But that's not what Matthews said.
LIMBAUGH: I heard Chris Matthews on TV the other night, after this incident in Fallujah. See? I mention his name and people are starting to laugh at that now. That's not good for him. He was asking -- I forget who his expert guest was. It might have been a CIA agent, and Matthews said, "Well, if we were a decent country, do you think we could make a deal with bin Laden?" If we were? Now, he wasn't saying things that extreme before the election. There's a retrenching going on.
Matthews neither suggested that the United States is not "a decent country" nor that we should "make a deal with bin Laden." On November 16, Matthews interviewed Michael Scheuer, a former CIA agent who was chief of the agency Counterterrorist Center's bin Laden unit from 1996-1999 and anonymously authored the book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (Brassey's, 2004). During the interview, Matthews described what he perceived to be bin Laden's view of the United States in an attempt to answer a question he posed to Scheuer: "Why does he [bin Laden] want to kill us?"
From the November 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Does he think, for example -- let me try this -- and I don't want to sound like an apologist. But suppose we had truly an even-handed policy in the Middle East. Suppose there was a Palestinian entity of some kind and it had reasonable borders and it was contiguous enough to be a working state, and we didn't back dictators like the Saudi royal family, people like that who are simply selling the oil to keep their fingers filled with rings and girlfriends in London, all right? Suppose we were a good country and an even-handed country, all right? Would that make him any less hostile to us?
SCHEUER: We are a good country, sir, to start with.
MATTHEWS: In other words -- in his [bin Laden's] eyes.
SCHEUER: Yes, in bin Laden's --
MATTHEWS: What are the problems besides [the] Middle East and the oil kingdoms?
SCHEUER: With bin Laden, his opposition is based on support for Israel, support for the tyrannies.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Does he want to eliminate Israel?
SCHEUER: I think he does. I think that's --
MATTHEWS: OK, well, that makes it simple. You can't do that.
SCHEUER: That's clearly his goal.
MATTHEWS: So there's no policy negotiation we could ever have with this guy.
SCHEUER: It has to be a change in policies and a more assertive use of military force.
MATTHEWS: No. What I'm saying, there's no way not to be at war with this guy, from our perspective, is what I'm asking you.
SCHEUER: Yes. Right now, the choice isn't between war and peace. It is between war and endless war.
Limbaugh is not the only conservative to claim that Matthews is part of a "liberal spin machine." In his August 30, 2004, "Washington Whispers" column in U.S. News and World Report, column editor and chief reporter Paul Bedard noted that the White House had "stopped urging Republicans to appear on the show [Hardball]" as "payback" after Matthews objected to the Republican National Committee heavily editing and distorting an interview Matthews conducted with Senator John Kerry. But Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances of Matthews promoting or repeating conservative misinformation. Most recently, MMFA noted that of the panels convened on NBC's Chris Matthews Show in 2004, 20 skewed right, while only 7 skewed left.