Marriage mania: Since New York Times ran article on the Clintons' marriage, Matthews has asked at least 90 questions on the subject

››› ››› JOE BROWN

Despite previously saying that he was "surprised" at The New York Times' news judgment and "stunned by the language" the newspaper used in its article on the state of the Clintons' marriage, Chris Matthews stated: "I wish I could send it [the article] to everybody," and, "We ought to have it linked here," apparently referring to MSNBC's website. Matthews has asked at least 90 questions about the Clintons' marriage on the two programs he hosts since the Times published the article.

Despite previously saying that he was "surprised" at The New York Times' news judgment and "stunned by the language" the newspaper used in its May 23 article on the state of the marriage between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and former President Bill Clinton, MSNBC host Chris Matthews stated: "I wish I could send it [the article] to everybody," and, "We ought to have it linked here," apparently referring to MSNBC's website. Matthews had also previously stated that in publishing the article, which made suggestive reference to President Clinton's friendship with Canadian politician Belinda Stronach, the Times was apparently willing to report "any reference to any tabloid, any appearance at a restaurant with somebody."

All told, Matthews has asked at least 90 questions about the Clintons' marriage on the two programs he hosts -- MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews and the syndicated program The Chris Matthews Show -- since the Times published the article.

Matthews has raised the issue of the Clintons' marriage during seven separate programs (not counting re-aired segments) since May 23:

  • The 5 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of Hardball, during a panel discussion with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert and Philadelphia-based radio host Michael Smerconish.
  • The 7 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of Hardball, during an interview with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and during a panel discussion with Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and James Gilmore, former Virginia governor and former Republican National Committee chairman.
  • The 5 p.m. ET hour of the May 25 edition of Hardball, during interviews with NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, and during a panel discussion with Cook Political Report editor and publisher Charlie Cook and Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman.
  • The May 26 edition of Hardball, during a panel discussion with Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter and New York Times reporter Anne E. Kornblut; and during a "Hardball Hotshots" panel discussion with MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford, and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell.
  • The May 28 edition of The Chris Matthews Show, during a panel discussion with Time magazine assistant managing editor Michael Duffy; CBS News contributor Gloria Borger; Jonathan Alter; and Michele Norris, co-host of National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
  • The May 31 edition of Hardball, during an interview with senior Hillary Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson, and during a panel discussion with Smerconish and former Clinton White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers.
  • The June 1 edition of Hardball, during an interview with Hillary Clinton adviser Roger Altman, and during a panel discussion with Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

During the 5 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of Hardball, Matthews asked Herbert:

MATTHEWS: What is the rule -- what are the rules of play in your newspaper? You're the great paper in this country. What are the rules about what's in and what's out? I mean, do you -- here they've got what's in is, apparently any reference to any tabloid, any appearance at a restaurant with somebody. Of course, there's always a backstory, a subtext to anything that runs in the paper. There's always the, "Hint-hint, we're really talking about dot-dot-dot." What do you think the rules of engagement are now for the press and the Clinton marriage?

Later, during the 7 p.m. hour of the program, Matthews stated that the Times had "opened the floodgates to a discussion of the Clintons' marriage," adding that he was "stunned by the language of the paper of record."

Additionally, on the May 31 edition of Hardball, Matthews told Wolfson he was "surprised" by the Times article, speculating that the paper was "trying to ... hint at something they're not willing to stake their reputation on."

But on the June 1 edition of Hardball, Matthews stated: "I wish I could send it [the article] to everybody. We ought to have it linked here."

Media Matters for America has documented Matthews's fixation on the Clintons' marriage here, here, and here.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the front page of The New York Times today, at the very top of the fold. I mean, it's right up there at the banner, "The Clinton marriage," for the "Clintons' delicate dance of married and public lives." This is the most teasing story I've come across in The New York Times in a long time, the paper of record.

Let me give you some quotes. "Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife. When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, Topic A is the state of their marriage. Bill and Hillary Clinton have built largely separate lives."

It's a complicated story, Bob, but why do you think your paper -- I know you don't put the front page together. Why did Bill Keller put this story at the top of the newspaper today?

HERBERT: Well, you have to ask Bill, but I can tell you that in my travels, people are really interested in the state of this marriage and, frankly, I think, you know, with Hillary's presumed presidential ambitions, the state of the marriage is going to actually be a factor in her chances of getting the Democratic nomination, and then perhaps, you know, becoming president.

MATTHEWS: The question I have for you, Michael, is that we were -- I was up there in Philly today on your show -- it was great to be on your show. Let me ask you about this story. Without getting too much into the goo of this story, which I'm sure we'll get into at some point between now and 2008, here's the question.

Why today, why The New York Times break from the gate? We all thought this story would begin to evolve sometime after the election when Hillary gets re-elected in New York, in all probability. We'd be talking about her presidential campaign and, of course, every aspect of her life becomes fair game at that point. Why do you think the Times broke from the gate? This is May 23rd.

SMERCONISH: I think that it's probably the one issue about Hillary that people are most interested in. If I were to open up the telephone lines in Philly and I were to question folks about the Hillary candidacy, this is going to be way up there, probably beyond Iraq.

I thought it was significant that in a typical month, they spend 14 days together. And you know what, Chris? Not me. I want to make clear, but I think there are a lot of guys out there, married, who are probably envious of that number.


MATTHEWS: Bob, let me read you something from your newspaper. This story at the front top of the newspaper, the very top of the newspaper, it's amazing, there it is, at the top.

Quote, "because of Mr. Clinton's behavior in the White House, tabloid gossip sticks to him like iron filings to a magnet." This is The New York Times. "Several prominent New York Democrats in interviews volunteered that they became concerned last year over a tabloid photograph showing Mr. Clinton leaving BLT Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included a Belinda Stronach, a Canadian politician. The two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages." What do you think a front-page, top-of-the-fold story by The New York Times is going to do to him tomorrow and the next couple of weeks?

HERBERT: I don't know what it's going to do in the next couple of weeks. But I do think that that story reflects what political types and also an awful lot of voters actually talk about and think about when they're considering President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton's presidential possibilities. I mean, the state of their marriage and the Clintons' scandals is sort of lurking there, just beneath the surface, almost all the time.

MATTHEWS: What is the rule -- what are the rules of play in your newspaper? You're the great paper in this country. What are the rules about what's in and what's out? I mean, do you -- here they've got what's in is, apparently any reference to any tabloid, any appearance at a restaurant with somebody. Of course, there's always a backstory, a subtext to anything that runs in the paper. There's always the, "Hint-hint, we're really talking about dot-dot-dot." What do you think the rules of engagement are now for the press and the Clinton marriage?

HERBERT: Chris, I have to cop out on that one. We're on the op-ed page, where we have a tremendous amount -- tremendous amount of freedom. We do not work for Bill Keller. I mean, that's a judgment call.

MATTHEWS: I love it, because it's usually the other way around. They say we don't talk for the editorial page. Let me go to Michael Smerconish, where the rules of engagement are somewhat broader on talk radio. I mean, I wonder if there are any sometimes. The New York Times has said, "They're off." It's almost like listening to reveille -- revelry [sic] at the Kentucky Derby, "They're off." Let's talk about the Clintons.

But it is interesting to me that they keep quoting prominent Democrats, the money people, the people that really drive these campaigns, the political leaders are worried that somehow Mrs. Clinton, who could be the front-runner tomorrow morning if she announces running for president, she could be leading all the polls, except we don't know how her husband's life is going to affect that. -- what he might do in the next year or two, the state of the marriage, if you will, will affect that? Isn't that what they're putting on the front page?

SMERCONISH: This is one of those stories, Chris, that I read three times, and I kept saying to myself as I was reading it, "What is it I'm supposed to be taking away from this that they're afraid to say?"

MATTHEWS: Me too. What is it that's in here that we have to pull out of here?

SMERCONISH: Here's my conclusion. Well, the conclusion I came to is what the Times wanted to convey is, "Same as it ever was with regard to the Clinton marriage."

MATTHEWS: What was that? I missed it.

SMERCONISH: I said, "Same as it ever was with regard to the Clinton marriage." That was the message that I finally decided I was supposed to take away from that story.

HERBERT: Well, if you read the story -- and I read it once, I did not read it three times -- but if you read the story, I think it gives a pretty clear picture. Now I don't know how accurate, because I don't know about the state of the Clintons' marriage, but I think it gives a pretty clear picture of what can be known on the record about the way things are with the Clintons.

MATTHEWS: It was very carefully reported. Let me read you a quote from the Clintons. The two -- the senator and the former president. It's quite an interesting quote here. "She is an active senator who, like most members of Congress, has to be in Washington for part of most weeks. He is a former president running a multimillion-dollar global foundation. But their home is in New York, and they do everything they can to be together, there or at their house in D.C. as often as possible. Often going to great lengths to do so. When their work schedules require that they be apart, they talk all the time."

That's a very defensive, formalized statement isn't it, Bob?

HERBERT: I mean, I really don't know. And I read it and I didn't look for a hidden agenda, honestly.


HERBERT: I read that as a reasonable, accurate depiction of what's going on.

MATTHEWS: Could it be to avoid all this kind of speculation that we're already involved in -- and I take responsibility, well, I share it with The New York Times, here, Michael -- that what they're really saying, the official spokespeople for these two impressive people, is that they're saying, "Don't count on Bill Clinton living in the White House if Hillary gets elected"?

He's going to run a big, multimillion-dollar -- they say, the spokesman says -- foundation. He's got a lot of responsibilities up in New York City at his office up there, so don't count on him being like a house husband or a first gentleman. Is that what they're setting up, here?

SMERCONISH: No way. No, what they were saying is that most guys escape to the golf course to get away from their wives, and in his case, she's in the United States Senate, and that's his excuse.

HERBERT: Well, I don't think they're saying that he won't be, you know, the first husband. I mean, I think that Bill Clinton is such a political junkie, that he won't be able to stay away if Hillary is president.

MATTHEWS: Well, I hate being away from my wife more than a day or two.

From the 7 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Senator, The New York Times surprised us all with a front-page, top-of-the-fold story talking about the Clinton marriage, saying Democrats are all buzzing about that marriage. Is that true?

BOXER: No. Not as far as it goes here in the Senate. I don't know what people are buzzing about, but let me tell you what I hear when I'm out: It's who is going to take back the Senate, who is going to take back the House? Do we have a chance?

We are focused very much on '06. And of course, Hillary and a long list of people are being looked at for the presidency. But that's way off. We have so much to do before then.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. Is President Bush helping or hurting his party in the midterm elections, and what does a New York Times article about Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage tell us about a potential Hillary run for presidency? Here to talk about that and everything else, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and former Virginia governor and former Republican national chairman Jim Gilmore. Welcome, gentlemen.

The front page of The New York Times has opened the floodgates to a discussion of the Clintons' marriage. I've got to tell you, I'm stunned by the language of the paper of record. Quote, "Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife. When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, Topic A is the state of their marriage. Bill and Hillary Clinton have built largely separate lives."

Steve McMahon, why is this in a newspaper? Why is it the top of the fold in The New York Times now in May of 2006?

McMAHON: Well, I can't speak to the timing, and I can't speak to the placement, but I think people are interested in the Clintons, and they're interested in Mrs. Clinton. And, you know, I think as people begin to look at her as a possible presidential candidate, they're going to be examining every aspect of her record, every aspect of her life, and I guess it just starts today.

MATTHEWS: Is Bill Clinton an albatross, Governor, around Hillary's neck?

GILMORE: Well, yes, but I think that the real point here is that this is a very different situation. We've never had a former president who might go in and essentially play the role of first lady. I have never seen anything quite like that before. I think the American people are nervous about it.

MATTHEWS: But this article isn't about being a lady, it's about being a man. Come on.

GILMORE: The point is, the point is that we've never seen a former president go back to the White House and live in these kind of situations. So they're starting a conversation to see how the American people would react to that.

MATTHEWS: Is Bill Clinton fair game for the press right now because his wife is going to run -- his wife is going to run for president?

McMAHON: He's fair game in the press because he's a former president. But, I mean, I'd hate to think that The New York Times is applying a different standard to Mrs. Clinton than perhaps they would apply to a different candidate.

It's true, as the governor says, that we haven't seen this before, but one would have to wonder, if the tables were turned, if it would be the same level of fascination. Obviously, you know, it sells newspapers or it wouldn't be there, but you have got to wonder whether or not this would be the treatment that somebody would be getting if they weren't a woman and if they weren't, you know, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

MATTHEWS: Do you think this might be a sophisticated way of The New York Times, as the paper of record in the country, saying to the Clintons, "Beware, we're watching. Whatever goes on from now on between now and you running for president, whatever your husband does, no matter who he's seen with, that's a news story we're going to cover"? Isn't that what they're saying?

GILMORE: You know what I got out of the story? I got out of the story how different this relationship is from what our normal expectations are. Now, you're kind of a conservative guy, family guy and all that kind of thing, and you're used to a particular kind of family unit. Clintons aren't that. They're very different people. They're running around with their own separate lives, and I think that this article is about telling the American people, look, this is really different from what you're used to seeing, and you're going to have two big power players at work here. How do you feel about that?

MATTHEWS: Do you think they're trying to say this is a '60s marriage, this is an open marriage, some sort of a closet way of saying that, that's what they're really saying here?

McMAHON: No, I don't think so at all. I think -- listen, I think --

MATTHEWS: Subtext.

McMAHON: It's a modern marriage. It's a marriage where two people have very separate lives and very separate careers, and they get together as often as they can. It said that of the last --


McMAHON: Well, of the last 73 weekends, they spent 50 or 55 of those weekends together. I don't think that's particularly unusual, and I especially don't think it's unusual for a former president and somebody who is a United States senator. They have a lot of things on their plate.

MATTHEWS: This is going to be a big buzz for the next couple of weeks. What I predict here -- let me ask you both -- do you think this is going to open the door for a lot of other newspapers to reconstruct the same story and go in the same direction, focusing on the private life of the president -- of the candidate, potential candidate, and the former president? Steve?

McMAHON: I think it has the potential to do that, and I actually think it's unfortunate.

MATTHEWS: Is it fair, Governor?

GILMORE: It's fair, but what I got out of the article was kind of human interest. I don't think it's such a great life, quite frankly.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the May 25 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the big news story coming out of The New York Times. Ticklish, and therefore I'd like to start with that one. Bill and Hillary Clinton, probably the greatest soap opera in the history of America since Martha and George Washington. The New York Times, when they make a judgment to put something right at the top of the fold, right at the banner, about the marriage of the Clintons, what do you make of that judgment -- news judgment? You make judgments like this.

RUSSERT: All the time, but this was a very important judgment by the Times that this is a legitimate story. I do think that the role of Bill Clinton in a Hillary Clinton administration or presidency is a very serious story. Remember when Governor Clinton was first running, he would say, "You buy one and get two. Two for the price of one." And I think a lot of people are going to be asking "Exactly what is Bill Clinton's role in a campaign and in a presidency?" And people also would say if he has a lot of free time on his hands in the White House, does that become an issue?

MATTHEWS: I saw a honey bun for sale at a local convenience store this morning. It said two for a dollar. I bought one for 50 cents. A lot of people would rather cut the two in half, wouldn't they? And just take Hillary this time? It's simpler, isn't it?

RUSSERT: Well, but I think Hillary, part of her campaign strategy will be referring back to the, quote, "good old days," about how the economy was, and there was no deficit and there was a surplus and so forth.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this statement here, Bill Clinton. "Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife." Let me get to the more particular political question. You can answer this one, because this is pure politics. "When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, Topic A is the state of their marriage." My sense is, people worry about the future of the relationship because they think it might have a political effect. They don't know what it's going to do if a news story pops up, somebody pops a story that could upset her train off its wheels. You hear a lot of that, don't you?

RUSSERT: Sure. But I also remember when Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate, again, to Rick Lazio. It was on the heels of the impeachment, the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal, and you can make a very strong case that the fallout from that scandal did not hurt Hillary Clinton politically.

MATTHEWS: It helped her.

RUSSERT: It helped her.

MATTHEWS: It helped her.

MATTHEWS: David Broder, who is on your program a lot: "The very fact that the Times -- The New York Times has sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the state of the Clintons' marriage and placed the story on the top of Page One was a clear signal, if that was needed, that the drama of the Clintons' personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president." Do you have a sense that the big news organizations, the big print organizations, the Times, the Post, the L.A. Times, the [Wall Street] Journal, are going to commit resources to this story now that it's popped, here? A pure journalistic estimate.

RUSSERT: If, in fact, she runs for president, and I think she will, then everything will be, obviously, scrutinized, and this will become part of the coverage of her campaign.

MATTHEWS: Do you think they know that, the Clintons? They know it's coming?

RUSSERT: Oh, sure. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Scrutiny is coming.

RUSSERT: Absolutely. You know, and don't forget, when Governor Clinton first thought about running for president, he sat down with his aides, and they encountered this whole notion --

MATTHEWS: Right. He hired one of his aides and said, "Check me out from the other side." Right.

RUSSERT: And a private eye about, quote, "bimbo eruptions." They were very conscious of it. It was part of their strategy, and at one time, not to run for president, and in 1992, he decided to go forward.

MATTHEWS: The old rule was sex, plus. It had to be something to do with a lobbyist, some conflict of interest with a staff person. Is there a clear line anymore in what is covered? The New York Times made it a very political story. They were very careful to make it not about gossip or sex or who's dating who, but it's about -- they made it about appearances and about the implications about an incipient presidential campaign. Is that still the rule, you have to tie it into politics, you have to tie it to some significant way, or is there a lot of wiggle room there?

RUSSERT: Well, what's the rule? What's the rule for the mainstream media, what's the rule for cable, what's the rule for talk radio, what's the rule for the Internet? There are a lot -- there's a sliding scale, I would offer, and it's going to be quite interesting to see how that plays out. Also, I think a lot of people have done a lot of reflection on the coverage of the impeachment and some of those extenuating circumstances. This is going to be a lot of grist for conversation in newsrooms all across this country.

MATTHEWS: A lot of calls to make, too.

RUSSERT: Oh, yes, and within the Democratic Party, this is going to be a big debate.


MATTHEWS: Well, I now want to bring up to you a topic that I thought would be something that might come up six months from now or a year from now. It's come up, as you know, yesterday. The New York Times, at the top of the page, of the front page, ran a big story on Bill and Hillary Clinton, and it led with the question of this: "When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, Topic A is the state of their marriage." Is that a true statement?

DEAN: No. I think that's ridiculous. That's just gossip, and I would expect that to be in the New York Post, not The New York Times.

MATTHEWS: What's the gossip in saying that party leaders are worried about the marriage?

DEAN: I think it's untrue.

MATTHEWS: They're not worried? You don't talk about this?

DEAN: No, I think most people are interested in what kind of a senator Hillary Clinton is and I think they admire --

MATTHEWS: Are you standing here -- sitting here and telling me that when you sit down with the big machers in the party, the guys that have to make decisions about big campaign investments in this campaign of Hillary Clinton, don't whisper back and forth, "Is everything OK? Are we going to get embarrassed next year by something with regard to that marriage?" You're saying this story is essentially not true?

DEAN: First of all, I don't sit down with those people because I don't get involved in presidential primaries, either. Should Senator Clinton decide to run for president at some point, which is not a done deal, as much as everybody thinks -- I think she's focused on running for re-election, and I think that's a good thing. Secondly, yes, what I'm saying is that is not Topic A on anybody's list that I talk to. That is gossip. I think most people are not going to vote on gossip.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you what I -- my observation is. I talk to a lot of people in politics, in and out of it, journalists and everyone else, and they talk about it, because they want to know what will be coming next year. People try to figure out what's coming next in American politics.

DEAN: I -- don't you think --

MATTHEWS: And one of the --

DEAN: -- most people are worried, Chris, about gas prices, how we're going to get out of Iraq --

MATTHEWS: No, they're worried about who's going to get elected. Governor, you know the questions: Who's going to get elected president, and what things along the way are going to affect who gets elected? It's not gossip, it's trying to figure out the lay of the land politically. Let me read you something from a man I know you respect, David Broder of The Washington Post. Quote -- in today's column: "The very fact that The New York Times has sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the state of the Clintons' marriage and placed the story on the top of Page One was a clear signal, if any was needed, that the drama of the Clintons' personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president." Is that a fair statement?

DEAN: I think that's also gossip. Listen, I'm going to be tough on this stuff. I think gossip and silliness like that, in the long run, do not overcome the fact that somebody's got to do something about gas prices, that we've sent a ton of jobs to China, that we have a budget that's so far out of balance that our kids are in debt -- those are the issues that matter, not salacious gossip. And I don't care who writes it. I have a lot of respect for David Broder and The New York Times. It's still gossip.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much for your clear statement.

DEAN: OK, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which does not engage in gossip.


MATTHEWS: Let me get out of Washington politics for a second to something that's much more fascinating. Hillary Clinton is married to Bill Clinton, the former president. Hillary Clinton, everyone believes, is running for president. The question is, according to The New York Times yesterday, a big front-page story, top of the fold. "When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, Topic A is the state of their marriage." Is that right? Is that a true account?

COOK: Privately, yes. I mean, that is -- any serious conversation about the Democratic presidential nomination, it comes up in about the first 10 minutes.

MATTHEWS: Howard, the question is -- I'll say it indelicately. The question is whether he is going to cause trouble in the news for her. Not what he's going to do, but is he going to cause her trouble in the news by his personal behavior? That is the question.

FINEMAN: That's the question, and that's what that story was designed to take a look at. What's his behavior been as a way of judging what his behavior may be like. Charlie is right. But it's a little larger than that. The question that you hear among Democrats is, yes, we can nominate her. She may even be inevitable as a nominee. But can she really win? And as you go down the list of questions under can she win, Topic A is Bill Clinton. Her own character, her own record are others, but Topic A under that.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me follow this, we only have a minute here. If he becomes part of the news with his private life, does she have to end the relationship, the marriage, to win the presidency? Does she have to be that brutal, that much of a butcher? Can she simply forgive him again?

COOK: I don't know about that. She'd have to say something pretty good. But we did a poll, Cook Political Report and R.T. Strategies, and asked Democrats only: "If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president in 2008, do you think she would have as good a chance as any other Democrat to win the general election or do you worry that she cannot win a general election?" Forty-seven percent says she has a good as a chance as anybody, 46 percent worried that she cannot win a general election. And that's part of what's sort of baked in that cake: The party's evenly split on "Can she win?"

MATTHEWS: And the worries come from a combination of factors, being a female, being Bill's wife, and having to deal with Bill is the third question, right?

COOK: Yes. She has an 80 percent approval -- favorable rating among the Democrats. It's not that they don't like her. But can she win?

FINEMAN: And the hard part is, there's a lot of people who are on that negative side of Charlie's poll are people who otherwise would be with Hillary big time on the issues. It's kind of paradoxical. A lot of people who agree with her on the issues are the ones who are most dubious about whether she can win the general.

From the May 26 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Well, let's talk about hope. The Clintons, can they avoid a focus between now and the election on their private life? Your paper broke a big story this week.

KORNBLUT: We did have a story this week about the state of their marriage. I think that since impeachment, it's been part of the Clinton narrative and one that will be inescapable for them, just as part of the storyline going forward. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, you're covering Hillary. What have they done in reaction to the Times piece? Have they sniffed and said, "This is below you, and this is some kind of gossip column writing"? What's been the reaction to that piece?

KORNBLUT: There's been a pretty full range of reaction. I would say that the strongest reaction has come from the blogosphere. Actually, I mean, I shouldn't be surprised, but there was a pretty fierce reaction online, especially from the left. I think one of the surprising responses has been that it's rallied the left, which had been carping a little --

MATTHEWS: Rallied to what?

KORNBLUT: Well, her defense. If you read through a lot of the criticisms of the story --

MATTHEWS: What's their defense of why you guys shouldn't have reported what you did? Is there any factual mistake in the piece that they point to?

KORNBLUT: I have not seen it. That isn't to say it isn't there. I haven't seen it. But I am assuming it is not there.

MATTHEWS: I know there's a liberal, or to the left, a sense of a protection racket about Hillary. You can't say anything against her or Bill Clinton. This sort of -- I call it the glass menagerie liberalism, it's very fragile. You can't take any offense or else you're being crushed by your enemy.

But isn't it now fair game to talk about somebody running for president and their marriage? Isn't that fair game?

ALTER: It is fair game, and I don't think actually the blogosphere was so upset by jumping on the Clintons. They were coming to Hillary's defense, because the only thing that they distrust more than the Clintons is The New York Times. And you had to be [Da Vinci Code author] Dan Brown to decode the story, no offense to your newspaper, but I mean, it was kind of written in code.

MATTHEWS: But it was a hint-hint, wasn't it, Jon?

ALTER: And I think that a lot of readers -- even though this was an important story, made a big splash. I don't have an problem with it as journalism. But readers get annoyed when a newspaper doesn't just come out and say what they know. There was a kind hinting --

MATTHEWS: But then they would get attacked for saying --


ALTER: -- get them both ways.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's be blunt about this. Your paper, not your piece, it was Paul [sic] Healy, top of the fold, right at the top of the newspaper, front page this Tuesday, named a third party, the former Canadian minister. I have never -- this is a pretty bold statement by the paper of record that there's a third party in question here, who's caused concern among Democratic leaders, money people, consultants, that this marriage may be itself the issue going into 2008.

KORNBLUT: Well, look, I mean, it was acknowledging that there had been speculation in tabloids in New York about this third party, but I think what we found is that people were attacking the paper for being too prurient, for being nosy about their personal lives, but not being prurient enough by not coming out and saying more. It really is a case of you can't win.

MATTHEWS: Does the public respect the press for keeping stories like this to themselves? After -- you know -- you know what I'm asking.

ALTER: No, absolutely not.


MATTHEWS: Nobody gets any brownie points for saying we never told you that this whole marriage is a joke or this guy is a drunk or this guy is taking drugs. I would like to know when anybody has been given any awards for keeping secrets, because you know what they say then, which hurts me more than anything? You're in with those guys. That's the worst charge against a journalist that you're covering them up.

ALTER: There are these unwritten rules. And I think the unwritten rule in this case is that it won't be off to the races on this story until she decides that she's running for president. As long as she's in the Senate and hasn't actually made the decision, I don't think you're going to see a big feeding frenzy on this.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this question.

ALTER: First of all, we don't know what there is to this story, but if there were something to it, if there were, then I think at the point that she announces for president, it will become a very large story.

MATTHEWS: Anne Kornblut, do you think there's still an outside chance that Hillary Clinton looking at this kind of press scrutiny, which is clear from your paper -- like it or not it's there, no more delusion on their part, they're not going to be covered in this regard.

She says if I'm going to have this facing me for the next 10 years, two presidential terms, two years of campaigning, whether my husband and I have a regular marriage, a regular faithful marriage like people think of it, if that's going to be the topic, I'm not going there.

KORNBLUT: I honestly don't know the answer to that, but I do know that in conversations I've had with a lot of people who talk to her directly about this all the time that she almost is concerned about jinxing the presidential race, that she talks about the Senate race really seriously. She isn't running for president as much as people around her are running her for president. I am telling you, she doesn't talk about it.

MATTHEWS: She doesn't talk about it because she doesn't honestly state much about herself.

KORNBLUT: She doesn't have to.

MATTHEWS: She's very, very shrouded, isn't she? Hooded as a person. She would never tell you what she wants.


KORNBLUT: Or is she under immense scrutiny. Which is it?

MATTHEWS: No, I am not saying, I don't think Hillary Clinton is going to make public announcements, nor would any politician, about what their ambitions are because the one thing politicians never talk about is what they want. They talk about the public interest. They talk about public service. They talk about the country. They talk about the world. They never talk about what they want.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, coming up, how can Hill deal with Bill?

First, the top of the fold -- front page New York Times story this Tuesday. Then a David Broder Washington Post column. Both take on the question that political king makers, political junkies and everyone else can't avoid.

If and when Hillary Clinton runs for president, what will Bill be doing in that campaign? How does the Clinton marriage fit into the long-term political plan here?

The Times article says, quote, "When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, Topic A is the state of their marriage and how the most dissected relationship in American life might affect Mrs. Clinton's possible bid for the presidency in 2008. Democrats say it's inevitable that in a campaign that could return the former president to the White House, some voters would be concerned or distracted by Mr. Clinton's political role and the episode that led the House to vote for his impeachment in 1998."

Tucker, was the Times right to report this big story of something we should be looking at? I think that was the theme of it.

CARLSON: Yes, I mean, I have no doubt.

I mean, look, this story was written with the help of the staffs of former President Clinton and Senator Clinton. They, you know, they gave facts that the story couldn't have been written without.

So you've got to wonder to what degree this is a calculation on the part of Mrs. Clinton's forming presidential campaign, let's get this out early.

I'm just struck by all the liberals I know -- and I know a lot of them -- how lukewarm they are about Hillary Rodham Clinton, and though they like her husband a great deal, how many of them seem uncomfortable at -- you know, once you start thinking it through, she's elected president and he's in the White House -- what does that mean? What would that look like? It's pretty weird at very least, I think.

O'DONNELL: Well, Chris, it's the most fascinating story in journalism and politics today.

I mean, this is the most interesting political couple out there. She was a fascinating first lady and now she's the first first lady turned senator and now she wants to run for president. And Clinton is the big X factor in this race.

Is it a legitimate story? Yes. We did a follow-up story on the Today show the next day that I did and I spoke with many Clinton advisers who didn't want to talk on camera about this story, who didn't want to talk really that much about it at all because they don't want Senator Clinton to be distracted in some ways by former President Clinton. And as former President Clinton has said, "I try not to cause any problems," so he is trying to only be a help, not a hindrance.

But he is the X factor. Because the big question becomes, is it going to be a two for one presidency in 2008? Is he going to help, is he going to hurt? Will he bring along his baggage or will he be an asset?

Clearly he'll be her chief political adviser and fundraiser in chief, but it's fascinating to talk about this. What political --


MATTHEWS: Let's not skip away from the main point here.

The question is, is he creating new baggage as we speak?



CRAWFORD: I think, you know, it gives them star quality. I mean, as show marriages go, they probably rival Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, but I mean, who cares. They've got a political partnership, that's more foundation than a lot of marriages have. And people are going to talk about this marriage.

But, yes, I think, you know, the more he's out there, he overshadows her. You know, when they were together at the Martin Luther King funeral --

MATTHEWS: I see we're changing the subject again.

Is the question of their marriage an issue or not in this campaign?

CARLSON: Of course it's an issue.


CARLSON: But I think it helps her.

I mean, look, if he hadn't been exposed as a philanderer, would she be a United States senator? No, of course not.

MATTHEWS: Great question. Will she continue to benefit as the victim of Bill Clinton's behavior, Tucker?

CARLSON: Exactly. That's -- as Margaret Carlson famously said, nobody has ever benefited more from sexual favors she herself did not dispense than Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS: Can't beat that. What a weekend that's coming.

CARLSON: It's true.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Tucker. Thank you, Norah. I like the way Norah stays very prim when that --

[laughter] [crosstalk]

O'DONNELL: I cracked.

MATTHEWS: There he goes, me, too.

From the May 28 edition of NBC News' The Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: First up, top billing. This week Hillary Clinton's relationship with Bill became front page news all over again. The New York Times broke the story, quote, "When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up among many prominent Democrats these days, topic A is the state of their marriage and how might affect her possible bid." This was, back in 1992, the premier issue of course of Bill Clinton's introduction to the country.

BILL CLINTON [video clip]: I have acknowledged wrongdoing. I have acknowledged causing pain in my marriage.

MATTHEWS: Since the Lewinsky scandal, Clinton has argued that all that is behind him.

BILL CLINTON [video clip]: The more time goes on, the more people will weigh it in the balance scales with everything else in my personal life and in my public life.

MATTHEWS: Mike, when I picked up The New York Times, Tuesday morning it was, right at the top, right at the banner, huge story, Paul [sic] Healy, all about the question of whether the Democrats are worried sick that Bill Clinton might mess this thing up for Hillary. Is it true, the main part of their story, that big-shot Democrats are buzzing about this topic?

DUFFY: No question. I think if they hadn't done the story, someone else would have. Its party elders, its money people, its just sort of Democratic worriers for the past couple of months have been asking reporters to sort of look into this because I think they don't want to get down the road in a year or two with a front runner who's no longer viable. It comes at a time when Mrs. Clinton is thinking about her campaign, trying to decide whether to run. And, you know, I think the other factor here that makes a difference is this is also part of the past. And so as they try to look forward, they don't want to get burned again.

MATTHEWS: Gloria, when the big shots --we're talking about the machers, the money guys, the consultants...


MATTHEWS: When they sit together at dinner after a few drinks, how long does it take for the Clinton marriage to come up as a topic?

BORGER: A half a drink. No, I think -- I think they're very worried, not only about the Clinton marriage but also the notion of just the Clintons. Is this, as Mike says, a step backward? How will the Clintons portray themselves? You know, Bill Clinton is no Laura Bush.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, but stay on topic here. Are they talking about Bill and the problem area?

BORGER: Yeah, they are talking about Bill and the problem area. They're also talking about Bill running Hillary Clinton's campaign. They're worried that Bill Clinton is going to be the man behind the throne and that could be a problem in terms of running a presidential campaign.

MATTHEWS: Michele, this is he or isn't he question, it reminds me of the Thanksgiving Day floats, those big faces that come down Fifth Avenue or Broad Street in Philly and there's somebody holding onto a rope trying to keep them from being blown away. Hillary's the little person on -- holding the rope and Bill Clinton's that big balloon. Does this talk, which has begun this week again about him and how he acts in private life, going to distract even more from her campaign?

MICHELE NORRIS: Well, if she's that little person, she's that little person with some great big muscles because she's held her own through the rough and tumble of this discussion for many, many years.


NORRIS: What I think is interesting is if you talk to people who are close to the Clintons and their reading of this, it's not like they welcome this discussion but they realize it's a discussion that has to be had. And in some way they're almost -- not necessarily accepting but they recognize that this -- it's almost better that this gets out there now, that people deal with it.

MATTHEWS: Because --

NORRIS: And they also believe that there's a -- this is a chattering class in Washington. If you take it outside of Washington, people know who they are.

MATTHEWS: OK. We put it to the meter. We asked the Matthews Meter, 12 of our regular panelists, if issues about the Clinton marriage--and we know what we're talking about--are eventually going to resurface, is it better for it to come now? Maybe surprisingly eight say yes, if these stories are bound to be written, it may be better now. Four say no.

Let me ask you, Jon, this question. You've been in editing, you've been in journalism a long time. This is going to lead to more stories. Is it better to have a spate of stories now that warn -- that the Clintons this is coming than allow them to suffer the delusion it ain't going to come, this kind of press screening?

ALTER: Well, somebody I know very close to the family is very glad this story came out now, because he needs ammo after the election -- after the midterm election, when Hillary's re-elected, at that point, that's when they have "the conversation" --


ALTER: -- about the presidential. And he needs ammo to go to her, in his case, urge her not to run for president. So he doesn't want to have to go in there on his own say so and say, "Look, we've got all these issues. You've got so much baggage, you're breaking the railroad platform." He wants some help from the press, and this begins to provide it.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's get into that. And everybody has a shot at this one. If this story portends more press coverage and scrutiny, which I think it does. It takes -- I think, big organization -- news organizations -- are already assembling stories and deciding when to run them about Bill Clinton's private life, if you will, and how it's going to affect this campaign. The question for the Clintons as they sit together -- well, there'll be two of them, not five of them when they sit together. Maybe there'll be somebody, Terry McAuliffe, somebody they trust with them. They're going to sit down and say, "Look, this is going to be a story. Your behavior from now on at least is going to be part of this campaign. You've got to decide now one of two things: either you quit the race or, Mr. President -- Mr. Former President, you've got to become, you know, abstinence has got to be the rule around here, basically, to be blunt about it, or else absolute discretion. However you phrase it."

Duffy, you're looking at me.

DUFFY: Well, I also think they're going to have talk about just what role he would play, I mean no one knows.

MATTHEWS: No, no, stick on this question. Do they have to make a family decision that they're going forward? It's like joining the priesthood, they're going to have to stick together and realize they're all in it together, Bill and Hillary --

DUFFY: Sure they do. Sure they do. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: -- and they'd better not mess the story up.

DUFFY: Yeah, they also have to do it quickly and they have to do it in--you know, it took them eight months to do it last time.

BORGER: I'm a -- I'm a --

DUFFY: They have to do it fast.

MATTHEWS: When did they do that?

DUFFY: Well, during impeachment. It took them eight months to get from the incident down to actually having a conversation.

BORGER: But from --

MATTHEWS: To be truthful about it.

DUFFY: Right.


BORGER: From what I know of covering the Clintons in the past, it -- Chris, it's not going to be the three of them sitting in a room. It's going to be a staffer going to Bill Clinton and saying it separately. And it's going to be a good friend going to Hillary Clinton and saying it separately.

ALTER: Well --

BORGER: Because these are things that they've always used in the past, staff to kind of intervene between them.

ALTER: Yeah, but it's been there, done that, and it blew up and caused a huge national scandal. So this time, at least--again according to the people that I've been talking to who are pretty close to the...


ALTER: How you describe inner circle might very a little bit.

NORRIS: But -- but Jon --

ALTER: But they want to address the issue squarely.

NORRIS: Jonathan --

ALTER: They don't want her running for president, embarrassing herself, because they greatly admire her. And they want her to focus on the issue immediately following this November's election and have it all out there on the table. None of this back and forth that you were talking about. They want to have a big meeting and get it all out there.

MATTHEWS: Michele.

NORRIS: Isn't there a recognition, though, when you talk to people who are close to the Clintons, that if they have that discussion there's a possibility that they're going to see some push back. By sitting down and saying, "You can't do this."


NORRIS: You actually create even more resolve on her part?

ALTER: Oh, absolutely. They're very worried, very worried about that.

NORRIS: "Don't tell me what to do."

ALTER: That's why they welcome the press stuff.


DUFFY: There's another--there's piece of this and that is the Times could have been more transparent because a lot of people who are talking and buzzing about this aren't for her and aren't for him, they're for other people in the race and they want her actually out of it.


DUFFY: And this is part of the back story here, which they didn't get into, which is that a lot of the folks involved here would like them just to exit the stage --


DUFFY: -- and not try to make a comeback.

MATTHEWS: What I want to ask is this, does Bill Clinton know that he's not lucky in this regard? It's not a question of morality. He -- there's some people who get caught and some people don't. This guy -- we can all go through a list of five women's names right now if we shake our heads a little bit. It does come out with regard to him. He doesn't get special press scrutiny. It just -- one woman calls a press conference. The other one brings a legal suit. The other one makes terrific charges against him. Another one brags to her friend who she knows hates Clinton all about their relationship. He picks -- whatever he does in life causes him trouble.

Jon, does he know that?

ALTER: Well, look -- no, of course he doesn't know it. He doesn't have that kind of self-knowledge. But, look, they've got enough trouble with presenting the country with a choice of, "Do you want to go in the last 20 years, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton?"

MATTHEWS: Well, there's another question.

ALTER: But, no, it's a related question, because if you pile on top of that --


ALTER: -- a back-to-the-future, back to 1998 and 1999, there's going to be serious fatigue that will come back into view.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a look at something that one of regulars, Joe Klein, said on this show last week. Joe raised the possibilities that Hillary won't even run, after all.

[begin video clip]

JOE KLEIN: I think that there's a strong possibility that she is so happy and so successful in the Senate that she will not want ...


KLEIN: take the risk.

[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: Well, that sounded like a "Hail Mary" shot by our friend last week. Does this kind of a story raise the possibility, even in remote, that she'll just say, 'I don't need this. I'd rather be Senate majority leader in five or 10 years'?

DUFFY: Yeah, it was always there. But I still think she's 80 percent go.

MATTHEWS: Eighty percent go. Anybody else think this story may be enough to shake her out of her goals?

BORGER: No, I don't -- I don't think it's surprising to her in the least. She's a smart woman. She knows that this is going to become an issue. She doesn't want people to feel sorry for her. She wants to talk about the issues when she runs for the presidency. She doesn't want to talk about her husband's private life.

MATTHEWS: OK. You've said it nicely. Let me go to Michele, another woman here. Let's let women decide this. Men should stay out of this. Let women -- if it's just women voters and they predominate in the Democratic as well as the general electorate. Do women have an attitude about Hillary that "OK, she gave him a break. Stand by her man, that's good. I'll give my husband maybe one or two breaks. Maybe. But I don't want to go through this for eight more years with a guy who's clearly not playing by the rules and 'working hard,' " so to speak, to use his phrase?

NORRIS: Well, you know, I --

MATTHEWS: Do women -- does this bother women that Hillary -- there's a lot more fire here, not just smoke. Will women say no, or will they just say, "I'm a Democrat, I'm a liberal. I want change, forget about it. I want -- I want Hillary in there"?

NORRIS: Well, I think that women are going to--when they--in the end of the day when they go in and vote, it's not going to be based on--solely on Hillary Clinton's relationship with her husband. But I'm going to tell you what I know after talking to a lot of women voters. She gets points for sticking with her husband, for sticking this out. I mean, there are a lot of women who actually respect her for riding this roller coaster ride and doing what she does and staying with him. It's almost a sort of "cosa nostra" loyalty that she's demonstrated to her husband. And it wins her a good deal of respect among voters.

MATTHEWS: Even if she buys another four-ticket ride? Even if she jumps on that roller coaster again?

NORRIS: And, you know, there's a possible backlash among women voters also because when you have a female presidential candidate, and all of a sudden we're spending so much time talking about her husband. You know there's been all kinds of, you know, interesting relationships --

MATTHEWS: What's the backlash? What is the backlash?

NORRIS: -- in Washington for years. --

MATTHEWS: Well, what is the backlash?

NORRIS: -- and we haven't necessarily talked about that. Women voters may actually rally to her defense --


NORRIS: -- because of it.

ALTER: I believe in something quite different.

BORGER: I -- me too.

MATTHEWS: What are you hearing?

ALTER: Mine is totally unscientific. But the test that I put to women voters and men voters who love Hillary and they're self-selected for that. OK, you love Hillary. But let's say it's your primary, it's January, February, March of 2008 and you're told that Hillary Clinton is 12 to 15 points behind John McCain and that Mark Warner or somebody else is 4 to 6 points behind John McCain. Who do you vote for? And every single one I've talked to have said that they would go for Warner or the candidate with the best chance.

MATTHEWS: You mean they want to win at all costs.

ALTER: They want to win. I found nobody who wants to go over the cliff with Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. They don't want Dukakis in a dress. They don't want that same old disaster.

ALTER: They love her but they don't want to lose.

BORGER: Can I just say one more thing?

MATTHEWS: One second.

BORGER: The secret about Hillary Clinton is that she's not as good a politician as Bill Clinton.

ALTER: Right.

BORGER: He could explain his way out of any problem


BORGER: She will have more difficulty, Chris, talking about this issue that he did.

DUFFY: Right. But she's also -- she's also bringing a toughness that the other--some of these other folks don't have.

NORRIS: She is tough. She --

MATTHEWS: I'm shocked to hear that.

From the May 31 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

MATTHEWS: So does Senator Clinton believe that The New York Times front page story about their marriage, hers and Bill's, is out of bounds or in bounds in terms of political coverage of her career?

WOLFSON: Well, let me tell you what we think. We're a nation at war. We have the largest deficits in our nation's history, and the earth is warming at a rapid rate. And some people would prefer to focus on the Clintons' marriage.

I think voters in New York are a lot more interested in the issues that I just talked about, the issues that matter to them and their lives than they are about the Clintons' marriage. Now, you know, if the media chooses to focus on this, there's not much we can do about it, but I do not think this is an issue that voters care about.

MATTHEWS: Is Bill Clinton a good news topic for you folks? Do you want a lot attention on him in the next couple of years? Him, Bill Clinton, the former president?

WOLFSON: The former president was a great president. He has been a great former president. I mean, he has done --

MATTHEWS: So you would like to see focus -- a focus from the media on the positive things he's done since leaving office?

WOLFSON: Absolutely. Look, we - even in 2000 --

MATTHEWS: So you want selective news coverage on the former president?

WOLFSON: Even in 2000 when we were asked this question, we believed and we said that the former -- the then-president was an asset and I believe he's an asset today. I mean, he was up in Buffalo. People love him. He's been a great former president. He's doing great things around the world. He's a huge asset.

MATTHEWS: What did you make the statement by Paul [sic] Healy on the front page story of The New York Times, which was about politics. It said that prominent Democrats are buzz -- abuzz about the Clinton marriage. The marriage is a topic of political conversation, not journalistic, but political conversation within the political world of the Democrats. Is that an accurate statement or not?

WOLFSON: I think that journalists are really too big at this point to be trying to climb under their bed. I mean, this is not an issue that people care about. You know, maybe this was in 1998, or in the nineties, people could distract themselves with these issues. But we're a nation at war. We have the largest deficits in our history. There's a lot of serious things going on in this country that need solving and I don't think people are interested in people's private lives. They're interested in what any politician can do to affect real change.

MATTHEWS: You read The New York Times, don't you?

WOLFSON: I do, yes.

MATTHEWS: Do you respect it?

WOLFSON: Sometimes. On that day, less than other days.

MATTHEWS: Weren't you stunned that they named another woman in that front page story, that Canadian -- former minister of the Canadian government as someone that Bill Clinton has been spending time with? This is The New York Times' front page story.

WOLFSON: It is not a journalistic decision that I was -- that I would make but nobody is paying me to make journalistic decisions.

MATTHEWS: OK. So your decision would be - your preference would be that the country, the media focus on the accomplishments of post-president Bill Clinton, all the good things he's doing - and he's doing great things -- but not talk about his private life? You'd prefer that, as a spokeswoman -- as a spokesperson for Senator Clinton?

WOLFSON: I think the American public would prefer a discussion of issues.

MATTHEWS: And not about -- and do you think the American public is not interested in Bill Clinton's private life?

WOLFSON: I -- look, the -- I don't --

MATTHEWS: Just tell me. Just say so. You don't think they're interested. That's a judgment you can make.

WOLFSON: I think that Bill Clinton is always going to be the focus of attention, but when you come down to the decision of how you're going to vote, no. It's not of interest.

MATTHEWS: Do you fear this kind coverage continuing to distract you from the merits of Senator Clinton herself?

WOLFSON: That's a good question. In a lot of ways it's a decision that the media is going to have to face. Again, I think, you know, your colleagues could indulge themselves with this kind of thing in the late 1990s. I think there are a lot of other serious things going on right now that require our attention.

MATTHEWS: Sure. Well I have to tell you, Howard -- Howard, I was surprised by that piece. I was taken with it and having - being a student, not a critic of the media, I'm not a critic of the media, as a student I think that stories like this really do carry a kind of subtext. They're trying to tell us something without sticking their neck out and telling us. Is that your sense in reading that article? They're trying to hint -- hint at something that they're not willing to stake their reputation on?

WOLFSON: You know, that I don't know.

MATTHEWS: Is that your reading of that piece?

WOLFSON: That I don't know. I mean, I don't understand why a great American institution and a great newspaper like The New York Times puts a story like that on the front page. It got an awful lot of criticism. But you know, I'm in politics, not in journalism, and I'm sure there are journalists who would disagree.


MATTHEWS: How did she deal with this New York Times story last week, do you think? What do you think they're -- what are they saying about -- they got it from The New York Times, which is the -- pretty conservative newspaper in terms not of it is politics, but in terms of its manner.

The front page story at the top of the fold, this Paul [sic] Healy story about prominent Democrats all buzzing about the Clinton marriage and the fact that he's out -- seen out at dinner and she's not with him and all that stuff. Didn't that more earlier -- or earlier than you thought it would come?

MYERS: Much earlier and in a different venue. I mean, I didn't expect to see that story this early in The New York Times. But I always expected that questions about their marriage -- because of who they are and what they've been through -- would become, in some ways, relevant to the campaign.

I don't know if they're relevant. They would become there. They're there. They would have to be addressed by the Clintons. They're just questions they're going to have to answer. They're going to be something that voters are going to talk about. And whether it is fair or unfair is almost beside the point. It is just a fact.

MATTHEWS: Are you surprised they threw the name in of another woman?

MYERS: Yes, I was.

MATTHEWS: I was too.

Let me go to Michael Smerconish. I knew you are a radio talk jock, and you're a tumbler like I am. I mean, you're concerned with people being interested in what you're talking about. Is this going to be an irresistible topic for the next couple of years now, the Clinton personal life, the Bill Clinton personal life?

SMERCONISH: I think if you walked up to people on the streets of Philadelphia and just said, "What, if anything, do you wonder about Hillary?" the answer would be, "I wonder what's going on in that marriage." And The New York Times did as good a job as they could have done in answering that question. I don't think that it was a cheap shot, by the way. I also don't believe this is --

MATTHEWS: But why -- let me try this on you, because I'm rarely this tough on you but I'll get nasty right now.


MATTHEWS: Why in -- why does it matter? Suppose the worst is true. Just imagine the worst. Bill Clinton has got a problem with self-control in this area. Just imagine that. How does that affect the ability of Hillary Clinton, who is clearly able to lead her own career, her ability to become a great president? How does it affect that?

SMERCONISH: Do you want me to drink some Kool-Aid and then answer that question?

MATTHEWS: No, do it straight.

SMERCONISH: Just give you the answer. The answer is it doesn't matter. I mean, there is a prurient interest in this couple and the health of their marriage. But we've litigated this issue and Americans, frankly, they don't give a damn.

MATTHEWS: And you think that she can carry on then and basically put up with the bad press if it shows up? If names are mentioned, if the gossip columnists, if the Safeway, you know, checkout counter is filled with this stuff, she can muddle through?

SMERCONISH: Chris, the guy is a net gain. He's a net benefit to have at her side. I would like to be able to say differently, but if he keeps himself out of trouble, he's a big plus -- having him there.

MATTHEWS: How about if he is in trouble? Still a plus?

SMERCONISH: If he's in trouble, well then she's the victim. See, that's the -- that's the irony here is then you end up feeling sorry for her. She's not the bad actor. He is, at least on those issues as far, as we know.

From the June 1 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Yesterday Hillary Clinton launched her campaign for Senate re-election, but for someone the country knows so well, many questions still loom large. What is the Clinton partnership all about? What role would Bill play in a Hillary White House, and what does Hillary really believe about Iraq?

Tonight, we tackle all of those questions with a close Clinton adviser, Roger Altman. Roger, we had Howard Wolfson on last night. You're now at bat. Question: What about the New York Times piece that ran last week about the Clinton marriage? Do the Clinton people consider that fair game, to talk about the relationship between the former president and the Senate re-election candidate?

ALTMAN: Well, Chris, I don't precisely know what the Clinton people think but by most standards, everything is fair game. Exactly what The New York Times was thinking, putting that on the front page is a bit of a mystery to me, but I wouldn't argue that it's unfair game.

MATTHEWS: Does Hillary Clinton, your friend, does she seem offended by that kind of early press coverage of a presidential campaign?

ALTMAN: Not to my knowledge.


MATTHEWS: Well, let's turn the mood down a little bit, Hilary. I want to ask you, what did you think The New York Times story last week? I wish I could send it to everybody. We ought to have it linked here. The New York Times, Paul [sic] Healy did a front page story right at the top of the paper, a long story, about the Clinton marriage and how all the Democrats -- and you know them all better than I do.

All these insiders, the money people, the consultants, abuzz about the situation of the Clintons and how they're getting along with each other and how that's going to affect the big bet the Democrats are about to put on this woman.

It's the Democrats' turn, you could say historically, to get the presidency, they haven't had it in eight years. If they put all their money on Hillary, is that a smart move? And is Bill Clinton going to distract from this somehow with his behavior? Is that something you hear people talking about?

ROSEN: You know, I have to say, I am the last person in the world to cry this, but I just find this whole discussion so ridiculously sexist, that there is no --


ROSEN: Sexist. There's no rationale for focusing on a candidate's husband's love life at this point, who is not even a candidate. I mean, if we went down the list, for every potential presidential candidate between now and the next election, and talked about their marriage, their relationship, the potential extracurricular activities, it's offensive, and I actually think.

MATTHEWS: Why don't we just limit that discussion to people who have been impeached over the issue?

ROSEN: I actually think that people were offended when they read. They were serious, but offended.

MATTHEWS: Why don't we just limit the discussion to people who have been impeached over the issue?

ROSEN: Well, you know why? Because nobody was scrutinized the way he was. Are you claiming, Chris, really that that's the first political marriage where there's an --


MATTHEWS: No, I think Margaret Trudeau embarrassed the hell out of her husband when he is he prime minister of Canada. She was all messing around with movie stars of whatever in the old days. I mean, this isn't the first time this story has made tabloids.

ROSEN: You know, look, I think what people want in their presidents, in their senators, and in their elected officials is some authenticity. I think they want her he to be the best senator she can be and if she's ever a presidential candidate, she's going to have to figure out how to talk about her life in a way that relates to the American people.

MATTHEWS: So you don't think he's going to be a distraction, even though he already is on the front page of The New York Times?

ROSEN: Well, I'll tell you something. If the Republicans think that playing dirty with the Clintons marriage is going to be a way to knock -- whoa, whoa, whoa -- excuse me.

MATTHEWS: They're not playing dirty. The New York Times -- the liberal New York Times -- put this on the front page.

ROSEN: If people believe --

MATTHEWS: Bill Keller put this on the front page.

ROSEN: People are trailing, people are tracking, people are trying to dig up everything they can.

MATTHEWS: OK, it's a vast right-wing conspiracy.

ROSEN: If people believe that's going to be a successful strategy --

MATTHEWS: If that's going to be the Democrats' position on Bill Clinton, he's going to love it.

ROSEN: No, I'm not speaking for the Democrats. I'm speaking for someone who just thinks that if this is going to be the subject of the presidential election, nobody is going to win in this.

MATTHEWS: OK, this wasn't fed by the Republicans. This is the Times' decision.


MATTHEWS: Ed, I was giving Hilary a hard time there, Hilary Rosen, but The New York Times did make this the story. They've opened the gates. Is Bill Clinton going to be a distraction for the next couple of years?

ROLLINS: He's the most significant player. It's like asking whether Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, are going to pay attention to Brad Pitt? I mean, he's a big player, and there's a lot of people who admire his presidency and a lot of people who hated his presidency. So she can't run free of him, but I think at the end of the day, it's really about her and not him.

Chris Matthews
The Chris Matthews Show, Hardball
Attacks on Bill Clinton, Propaganda/Noise Machine, Hillary Clinton
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