Journalists challenge media's campaign coverage, singling out Matthews

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

On the November 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews asserted that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) "armor of invincibility has been seriously pierced" and stated: "First, she fumbled her performance at that Philly debate, then her workers in Hillaryland came out and tried to blame the moderator. When critics brought up her flawed response on illegal aliens getting driver's licenses, Bill Clinton accused them of Swift-boating Hillary and went on to say the boys are ganging up on her -- the boys. And just this week, we find out her campaign is putting ringers out there at events to toss her softballs." Matthews later asked: "What's going on in the campaign where all this sort of rocky behavior?" Time magazine columnist Joe Klein responded, "I don't know that there's all this rocky behavior going on. I think that the narrative in the press has changed. A few weeks ago, there was the notion that she was invincible, which I always thought was nonsense. And now there's the notion that she stumbled, which may be equally nonsensical." Klein also said, "[I]f we're going to talk about the substance of the campaign, then, you know, then that's one thing. But these other issues, I think, are ways that we're trying to ... inject our own problems or our own desires ... into a process that most people aren't buying into."

Klein is not the only journalist to appear with Matthews and criticize the media's coverage of the presidential campaign. Two others -- the Financial Times' Chrystia Freeland and Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski -- challenged Matthews' focus in particular on, as Freeland put it, "Hillary's mannerisms."

On the November 12 edition of Hardball, Matthews asked Freeland, "Chrystia, your assessment of the last week. Give me a damage report, a success report -- whatever you want to call it -- on what happened in the last week." Freeland said, "The one thing that I think we need to be cautious about is our own media interpretation of these things, because I think that all of us were getting a little bit bored by the inevitability of the Clinton machine." She added, "And so I do think we need to be a little bit careful not to just jump on change and on a story for a story's sake." Matthews asserted, "OK, thank you, Chrystia, for that advice to us journalists. Except that you have one thing you missed, that the American people have more ADD [attention deficit disorder] than I do. Which is -- they're looking -- they get bored faster than we do. I get bored very slowly." The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby wrote that during the exchange, Matthews' "pique toward Freeland was evident."

On the November 8 edition of Hardball, Matthews said, "Every time we see Hillary Clinton at an event ... she walks around the room and claps to everybody," and asked Freeland, "What do you make of that as a campaign method?" Freeland replied, "Well, you quoted your old high school friends talking about Tinker Bell and 'if you're happy as you know it, clap your hands,' " and added, "So, it's really hard for me to top that kind of creative analysis. I would have to say, it doesn't bother me." She continued, "I do think that we have to be a little bit careful also about not picking on Hillary's mannerisms a little bit too much." Matthews asked, "Ah, those secondary characteristics are off-base. Am I being told that?" Freeland responded, "Just a little bit. I mean, there's the clapping, there was the laugh. I think there are things to pick on Hillary about, but probably the clapping wouldn't be what I'd choose." Matthews said, "Chrystia, give me a list some day on email of whom -- what I'm allowed to criticize about Hillary." Freeland replied, "Any policy matters; dynasty I think is OK, too," to which Matthews said: "Oh, OK. Yeah, I'll be sure to keep that in mind."

Additionally, on the November 7 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Matthews told co-host Mika Brzezinski that Clinton "multitasks. She claps and points," before asking, "Mika, is this the triumph of modern women? Is this some new level of greatness we've all achieved here? I don't know what it is." Brzezinski responded, "See, but Chris, this is just like a man, or any of you people during this campaign picking on Hillary Clinton for things like clapping!" She added, "I mean, come on! Should we talk about her clothes, too?" Matthews replied: "Mika, you're unconvincing at the ramparts here. 'I Am Woman' time, jeez."

From the November 7 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

MATTHEWS: Every time you see a Republican, they're looking for a leader. Every time you see a Democrat, they're at a meeting. They love these lunchtime meetings, and they're always at -- she's usually standing in front of the camera, and she's clapping, like she's Chinese.

I know the Chinese clap at each other, but what is she clapping at? I mean, it's like one of these wind-up things. Every time you see -- and she's -- now she rolls around the room, and sort of -- it's like dances with the clapping while she stands. And every once in a while, she shoots that pointed finger at somebody. She multitasks. She claps and points. But the clapping is just, it's so -- I mean, is this -- Mika, is this the triumph of modern women? Is this some new level of greatness we've all achieved here? I don't know what it is.

WILLIE GEIST (contributor): I don't know.

BRZEZINSKI: OK, that's an interesting question. It sort of reminds me of Paula Abdul's clap for the contestants during American Idol. She's very supportive.

SCARBOROUGH: OK. OK, we better cut it there, because you just compared Hillary Clinton --

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, God!

SCARBOROUGH: -- possibly the next president of the United States -- to a woman that's have -- has a lot of issues. Chris has compared Giuliani with Gadhafi --

BRZEZINSKI: Chris started it! I mean, what are we --

SCARBOROUGH: We're in great shape.

BRZEZINSKI: See, but Chris, this is just like a man, or any of you people during this campaign --

SCARBOROUGH: Just like a man.

BRZEZINSKI: -- picking on Hillary Clinton --

SCARBOROUGH: Ah, you know what?

GEIST: It's a fair question.

BRZEZINSKI: -- for things like clapping!

SCARBOROUGH: We're not picking on Hillary Clinton.

BRZEZINSKI: I mean, come on! Should we talk about her clothes, too?

SCARBOROUGH: I used to make fun of --

MATTHEWS: Mika, you're unconvincing at the ramparts here.

SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thank you so much.

BRZEZINSKI: Wrrr!

MATTHEWS: "I Am Woman" time, jeez.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the November 8 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to the roundtable. I had a little fun here on one of our blocks earlier. I said, let's take a look at it together. This is Hillary Clinton's way of campaigning.

Chrystia, you've got to talk about this, because it is a sort of a gender-related issue. Every time we see Hillary Clinton at an event -- it's usually at lunchtime -- there's lots of supporters around. It's a well-choreographed event, and the highlight is her sort of finale, where she walks around the room and claps to everybody. What do you make of that as a campaign method?

FREELAND: Well, you quoted your old high school friends talking about Tinker Bell and "if you're happy as you know it, clap your hands."

MATTHEWS: Right.

FREELAND: So, it's really hard for me to top that kind of creative analysis. I would have to say, it doesn't bother me.

MATTHEWS: How about if you want Tinker Bell to live, you clap. How about that one?

FREELAND: I do think that we have to be a little bit careful also about not picking on Hillary's mannerisms a little bit too much. So --

MATTHEWS: Ah, those secondary characteristics are off-base. Am I being told that?

FREELAND: Just a little bit. I mean, there's the clapping, there was the laugh. I think there are things to pick on Hillary about, but probably the clapping wouldn't be what I'd choose.

PATRICK HEALY (New York Times reporter): Well, there's one thing, Chris --

MATTHEWS: Well, give me a list -- Chrystia, give me a list some day on email of whom -- what I'm allowed to criticize about Hillary. And how --

FREELAND: Any policy matters; dynasty I think is OK, too.

MATTHEWS: Oh, OK. Yeah, I'll be sure to keep that in mind.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the November 12 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Chrystia, your assessment of the last week. Give me a damage report, a success report -- whatever you want to call it -- on what happened in the last week.

FREELAND: Well, I would carry on with what -- was that Chris [Cillizza, washingtonpost.com staff writer] has just been saying. You know, I think that what was really important is we have been waiting for Obama to be the forceful guy that people expected. And he was -- did a very good job at saying, "Look, Hillary is playing a technical game. She is triangulating. I am a guy who is going to tell you what I really think. I'm going to be genuine. I'm really going to speak for change." And I think that's a big deal.

The one thing that I think we need to be cautious about is our own media interpretation of these things, because I think that all of us were getting a little bit bored by the inevitability of the Clinton machine. And so I do think we need to be a little bit careful not to just jump on change and on a story for a story's sake.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Chrystia, for that advice to us journalists. Except that you have one thing you missed, that the American people have more ADD than I do. Which is -- they're looking -- they get bored faster than we do. I get bored very slowly.

From the November 13 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf? First, the Clinton people blamed the moderator in that Philadelphia debate for Hillary's bad night, then they confessed to feeding questions in televised town meetings. Now they're trying to intimidate the next debate moderator. Is everyone fair game except the candidate? Let's play Hardball.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Good evening, I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to Hardball tonight from Los Angeles, where I'm speaking at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

Just weeks ago, most political observers agreed that Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic nominee for president. In fact, most thought she had the best chance of being elected president in 2008. It's still the best bet out there, and yet her armor of invincibility has been seriously pierced.

First, she fumbled her performance at that Philly debate, then her workers in Hillaryland came out and tried to blame the moderator. When critics brought up her flawed response on illegal aliens getting driver's licenses, Bill Clinton accused them of Swift-boating Hillary and went on to say the boys are ganging up on her -- the boys. And just this week, we find out her campaign is putting ringers out there at events to toss her softballs.

Talk about a reversal of fortunes. Is this a well-run, well-managed campaign? What is going on inside that Hillary Clinton campaign? And who's calling the shots? How's Hillary going to come back and win over the hearts and minds of the Democratic Party? In a moment, we'll talk to two of the best in the business about bad moves in the Clinton campaign and the heating-up battle to beat Rudy on the other campaign.

Fred Thompson won the endorsement today of the National Right to Life Committee. We'll talk to the executive director of that committee and ask him why he endorsed a candidate who's against a constitutional amendment to ban abortions.

But we begin tonight with Time magazine's Joe Klein, who wrote this week's cover story about Hillary Clinton, and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. I've got to go to you, Joe. You wrote the big piece on Hillary. What's going on in the campaign where all this sort of rocky behavior?

KLEIN: I don't know that there's all this rocky behavior going on. I think that the narrative in the press has changed. A few weeks ago, there was the notion that she was invincible, which I always thought was nonsense. And now there's the notion that she stumbled, which may be equally nonsensical. You have vast numbers of people in Iowa -- and, Chris, you know how this works -- they don't like making up their minds until the very last minute. I've always believed that at some point, there's going to be a gut-level, visceral decision about whether people want Hillary Clinton in their living rooms for the next four years. That decision hasn't been made yet. And I don't think it's going to be made on the basis of whether she's planting questions in audiences, because I've got to tell you, everybody does that. And --

MATTHEWS: Who else does it?

KLEIN: Oh, I remember in 2004, I bumped into a woman at a -- who asked the first question at a Kerry town meeting who did it. Obviously, Bush does it with every last question during his town meetings. But it's just not unusual. And it's -- you know, and the fact is, she does take tough questions from her audiences. I've traveled around Iowa with her, and I've seen her having to field them. I mean, if we're going to talk about the substance of the campaign, then, you know, then that's one thing. But these other issues, I think, are ways that we're --

MATTHEWS: Well, let's go through them.

KLEIN: -- trying to inject into the -- you know --

MATTHEWS: That's fine.

KLEIN: -- inject our own problems or our own desires --

MATTHEWS: Sure.

KLEIN: -- into a process that most people aren't buying into.

MATTHEWS: You're on this show to express your will and your views and your perspectives. You've been out there.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews, Joe Klein, Mika Brzezinski
Show/Publication
Hardball, Morning Joe
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.