Matthews: Hillary Clinton election theory is an "assessment of history," not an "opinion"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On the January 11 Morning Joe, Chris Matthews defended his statement on the show two days earlier that "the reason [Hillary Clinton is] a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around," saying that his statement was an "assessment of history," not an "opinion." But on the January 9 Morning Joe, Matthews said that Clinton "didn't win there [her Senate seat in New York] on her merits. She won because everybody felt, 'My God, this woman stood up under humiliation,' right? That's what happened."

On the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Chris Matthews -- host of MSNBC's Hardball -- discussed the statement regarding Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) he made on the January 9 edition of Morning Joe, which Media Matters for America documented: "the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around." Barbara Walters criticized Matthew's statement on the January 10 edition of ABC's The View, saying that "I was brought up and I'm very careful here -- as you know, I've been on with you for a long time, not to give my personal opinions. I had thought people in news didn't do that. Forget it! The way to get ratings, come out and slam." On the January 11 Morning Joe, Matthews responded to Walters, saying that his statement was an "assessment of history," not an "opinion." In response to co-host Mika Brzezinski's assertion that Clinton "worked to put her husband in office, she played a huge role in her husband's candidacy and her presidency, and her experience does play to an extent as to why she won [her 2000 Senate election in New York] as well," Matthews said that "Mika is right. You can argue a lot of factors go into these things." But on the January 9 edition of Morning Joe, Matthews said that Clinton "didn't win there [New York] on her merits."

On the January 11 edition of Morning Joe, Matthews expanded on his January 9 comments:

MATTHEWS: OK, well, let me try to recount the tape. The fact is, I was talking about -- and you can play this later to confirm all this. I was explaining Hillary Clinton's unique appeal to the American people, and how -- remember, Mika, I said sitting next to you, her appeal has always been a combination of her toughness and some kind of sympathy for her and the situation she found herself in as a woman, as a wife of President Clinton.

Back in 1998, in the midst of the terror of the fact that he was involved with that intern, he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, he faced conviction by the U.S. Senate. In the midst of all of that, in the fall campaign of 1998, Hillary Clinton got out and heroically went out and campaigned for Chuck Schumer in New York, among other candidates, but it was really the Schumer campaign where she made her name. If you go back and look at the newspapers, which I did last night to confirm all this, you will find glowing accounts, especially in USA Today -- I picked it up on the front page -- by Kathy Kiely, a great reporter, about it was her poise in standing up in the midst of that humiliation, where she was able to go out and campaign politically and show her strength in New York state, up and down that state for Chuck Schumer. Which within two to three days after that election, she gets a call from Charlie, Charlie Rangel, our friend up there, the New York congressman from Manhattan, urging her to run. The story ran -- it was her poise in the campaign, in the midst of all this humiliation, that made her a candidate for the Senate.

Now, if you don't accept the history, then accept the syllogism. Had Hillary Clinton not been a United States senator right now, because of that election, would she be a serious candidate for president? Well, you can argue that that's an opinion issue, but you can't argue that she's a United States senator because of the fact in which, in humiliating circumstances, she showed her toughness and elicited one whale of an amount of sympathy from people for having the guts to go out and campaign in the midst of all that humiliation. I know it's ironic; life is ironic. But the irony here is that Hillary Clinton would not have been a U.S. senator, and would not have been really -- eligibility to run for president, had that humiliation not been thrown upon her, and had she not, with toughness and by eliciting a lot of sympathy, come back from it. Those are the historic facts, Barbara, and the other woman. Those are the historic facts. I understand how you play to a crowd. I know how talk radio works, which is the way a lot of programs work, where you find something to argue about. But the historic fact is that Hillary Clinton's -- the odyssey of her career -- in fact, that's the way USA Today portrayed it, actually. The irony, the odyssey is that, in standing up for herself in the midst of all that humiliation, because of what her husband had been caught doing, she was able to become a heroic figure in New York state and be asked by the politicians to run for office.

Those are historic facts. I don't need to have an argument about opinion. We can argue about that. This is not an opinion.

Brzezinski responded to Matthews, saying that she thought Matthews "need[ed] to take it back a step further":

BRZEZINSKI: And Chris, I completely appreciate your take on this. I think it's valid, and I completely disagree with Barbara Walters and how she characterized what you said. But I also like a good debate, and I think you need to take it back a step further, because I agree with you, there was a sympathy factor. There was potentially a huge sympathy factor in New Hampshire, so we've seen it before. Having said that, if Laura Bush was humiliated by her husband and then ran for Senate two years later, she would not win. Hillary Clinton laid the groundwork before she was victimized, before she was humiliated. She worked to put her husband in office, she played a huge role in her husband's campaign and her presidency, and her experience does play to an extent as to why she won as well. So I think what you say is fair, I just --

Matthews replied that "[t]hey're all factors, they're all ingredients, and they're all true," adding: "But if it hadn't been for that weird accident of history that threw her out to the people in a way in which she had to be heroic just to stand there." Later in the interview, Matthews said that "Mika is right. You can argue a lot of factors go into these things. But clearly, the accident of history was that she was put under incredible duress back in 1998 during the impeachment trial." But in his January 9 appearance on Morning Joe, Matthews did not acknowledge "a lot of factors" that might have led to Clinton's election, saying of Clinton, "Let's not forget -- and I'll be brutal -- the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That's how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn't win there on her merits. She won because everybody felt, 'My God, this woman stood up under humiliation,' right? That's what happened." In response to Brzezinski's statement, "there has to be more to her than being a victim," Matthews did say "I agree."

Further, Matthews asserted that "because of what her husband had been caught doing, she was able to become a heroic figure in New York state and be asked by the politicians to run for office," and repeatedly claimed that he was offering the "historic facts," not his "opinion." But in her 2003 autobiography, Living History (Simon & Shuster), Clinton wrote that almost a year before she campaigned for Schumer, and subsequently received the phone call from Rangel, the then-chair of the New York state Democratic Party told her that if then-Sen. Daniel Moynihan didn't seek re-election, "I hope you run." From Page 483 of Living History:

Another surprise soon followed. Three days later, Friday, November 6, Senator Moynihan taped an interview with New York television legend Gabe Pressman announcing that he would not run for a fifth term. The interview was to be aired on Sunday morning, but the news leaked early.

Late on Friday night, the White House operator patched through a call from Representative Charlie Rangel, the veteran Congressman from Harlem and a good friend.

"I just heard that Senator Moynihan announced he is going to resign. I sure hope you'll consider running because I think you could win," he said.

"Oh, Charlie," I said. "I'm honored you would think of me, but I'm not interested, and besides, we have a few other outstanding matters to resolve right now."

"I know," he said. "But I'm really serious. I want you to think about it."

He may have been serious, but I thought the idea of running for Senator Moynihan's seat was absurd, although this wasn't the first time it had come up. A year earlier, at a Christmas reception at the White House, my friend Judith Hope, the chair of the New York Democratic Party, mentioned that she didn't think Moynihan would run again. "If he doesn't," she said, "I wish you would run." I had thought Judith's comment was farfetched then and I still thought so.

I had other things on my mind.

Matthews also asserted, "I made a point with Mika that if anybody would actually watch the tape of Morning Joe that morning, I wasn't criticizing Hillary; I was analyzing it with you; you disagreed. If think if we had had this conversation, it would have been more fulfilling of the question." He added: "I just wish people wouldn't look online and get some item from Media Matters or one of these blogs, and just -- and say, 'Well, here's something I can argue about.' "

From the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

SCARBOROUGH: Let's go right now to the phone, and we're joined by our own Chris Matthews. Chris, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

MATTHEWS: Good morning, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: Chris, we gotta show -- we gotta play you a clip from the esteemed journalists at The View. They're talking about you. Roll the clip.

[begin video clip]

BEHAR: Chris Matthews -- you know Chris, right, from MSNBC? This is the statement he made. He said "the reason Hillary Clinton is a United States senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is that her husband messed around."

WALTERS: I was brought up and I'm very careful here -- as you know, I've been on with you for a long time, not to give my personal opinions. I had thought people in news didn't do that. Forget it! The way to get ratings, come out and slam.

BEHAR: It's almost like a pile-on of these men against her, and I think they're going to get the real backlash for it. It's really an inappropriate statement, in my opinion.

[end video clip]

SCARBOROUGH: You know, Chris, we don't want to take sides, so I will not bring up the fact that Barbara Walters, a journalist, told [House Majority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] she wanted to have sex --

BRZEZINSKI: OK --

SCARBOROUGH: -- with Nancy Pelosi's husband. I also will not bring up the journalist Barbara Walters told [country singer] Faith Hill she wanted to have sex on air with [Hill's husband and country singer] Tim McGraw. Instead, I'm just gonna ask you the straight question: Does Barbara Walters have a point?

MATTHEWS: No.

SCARBOROUGH: OK, let's talk about politics.

MATTHEWS: No, let me --

BRZEZINSKI: Wait.

MATTHEWS: Let me just clarify this with Mika, who I think is trying to get to the truth here. First of all, you have to accept, is history a reasonable basis on which to make a statement? We're not talking about opinion here. In fact, do you have the tape of what I said on your show that gave these people something to talk about?

BRZEZINSKI: I actually watched it online, Chris, and they cut out the part where I disagreed with you.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know that part. I know how they communicate. I thought we could do it the right way and show what I actually said with you, Mika, that morning we talked about it.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, well, look, Chris, I thought --

MATTHEWS: Do we have that tape?

SCARBOROUGH: No, we don't have the tape right now.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, let me try to recount the tape. The fact is, I was talking about -- and you can play this later to confirm all this. I was explaining Hillary Clinton's unique appeal to the American people, and how -- remember, Mika, I said sitting next to you, her appeal has always been a combination of her toughness and some kind of sympathy for her and the situation she found herself in as a woman, as a wife of President Clinton.

Back in 1998, in the midst of the terror of the fact that he was involved with that intern, he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, he faced conviction by the U.S. Senate. In the midst of all of that, in the fall campaign of 1998, Hillary Clinton got out and heroically went out and campaigned for Chuck Schumer in New York, among other candidates, but it was really the Schumer campaign where she made her name. If you go back and look at the newspapers, which I did last night to confirm all this, you will find glowing accounts, especially in USA Today -- I picked it up on the front page -- by Kathy Kiely, a great reporter, about it was her poise in standing up in the midst of that humiliation, where she was able to go out and campaign politically and show her strength in New York state, up and down that state for Chuck Schumer. Which within two to three days after that election, she gets a call from Charlie, Charlie Rangel, our friend up there, the New York congressman from Manhattan, urging her to run. The story ran -- it was her poise in the campaign, in the midst of all this humiliation, that made her a candidate for the Senate.

Now, if you don't accept the history, then accept the syllogism. Had Hillary Clinton not been a United States senator right now, because of that election, would she be a serious candidate for president? Well, you can argue that that's an opinion issue, but you can't argue that she's a United States senator because of the fact in which, in humiliating circumstances, she showed her toughness and elicited one whale of an amount of sympathy from people for having the guts to go out and campaign in the midst of all that humiliation. I know it's ironic; life is ironic. But the irony here is that Hillary Clinton would not have been a U.S. senator, and would not have been really -- eligibility to run for president, had that humiliation not been thrown upon her, and had she not, with toughness and by eliciting a lot of sympathy, come back from it. Those are the historic facts, Barbara, and the other woman. Those are the historic facts. I understand how you play to a crowd. I know how talk radio works, which is the way a lot of programs work, where you find something to argue about. But the historic fact is that Hillary Clinton's -- the odyssey of her career -- in fact, that's the way USA Today portrayed it, actually. The irony, the odyssey is that, in standing up for herself in the midst of all that humiliation, because of what her husband had been caught doing, she was able to become a heroic figure in New York state and be asked by the politicians to run for office.

Those are historic facts. I don't need to have an argument about opinion. We can argue about that. This is not an opinion.

BRZEZINSKI: OK. No, no --

MATTHEWS: This is an historic assessment.

BRZEZINSKI: And it's also --

MATTHEWS: And if Barbara Walters wants to debate history and politics and what's happened in this country in the last 50 years, if she wants to go on Jeopardy! and see what she knows and what I know, I'll take her on.

BRZEZINSKI: Listen --

MATTHEWS: If any of the women on that show want to take me on on historic, political information, let's have a -- let's raise some money for charity; it'd be kind of an interesting way to do it. Let's talk political history, let's talk facts -- not opinion, facts -- and I'll take them on.

BRZEZINSKI: Look, Chris, I don't -- I --

MATTHEWS: I'm serious about this. I don't like being criticized for an historic assessment, and I don't like people calling it opinion, because it's not opinion. It's not opinion, it's historic fact. Go back and look at the records, get your Nexis-Lexis out, get your Google out, study the headlines of when she was elected to the Senate, the circumstance in which she was able to gain attention in New York state. And if anybody wants to argue that she could be a serious candidate for president had she not been, is not now a senator, that's an argument of opinion. I don't think anybody would make that argument.

BRZEZINSKI: And Chris, I completely appreciate your take on this. I think it's valid, and I completely disagree with Barbara Walters and how she characterized what you said. But I also like a good debate, and I think you need to take it back a step further, because I agree with you, there was a sympathy factor. There was potentially a huge sympathy factor in New Hampshire, so we've seen it before. Having said that, if Laura Bush was humiliated by her husband and then ran for Senate two years later, she would not win. Hillary Clinton laid the groundwork before she was victimized, before she was humiliated. She worked to put her husband in office, she played a huge role in her husband's campaign and her presidency, and her experience does play to an extent as to why she won as well. So I think what you say is fair, I just --

SCARBOROUGH: OK, OK, OK, OK, your point, though, is -- very quickly --

MATTHEWS: They're all factors, they're all ingredients, and they're all true.

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

BRZEZINSKI: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: But if it hadn't been for that weird accident of history that threw her out to the people --

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: -- in a way in which she had to be heroic just to stand there. I accept the irony of all this.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

MATTHEWS: I accept the fact. But the weird thing about it is, if all those circumstances had not occurred, how would a woman who never lived in New York got to be a United States senator? That's the weirdness of it. Barbara, listen up. Get on the blog sites, listen to where you get your information -- that other woman, get your information in bits and pieces, but maybe it's better to study some history.

SCARBOROUGH: Chris, the thing is, and I talked to you about this earlier, anybody that was actually in this business -- you were in this business back in '98, I was in Congress back in '98. It was painfully obvious. This was not a matter of debate that actually Hillary Clinton had been vilified by the right from 1992 to 1998, and it was in fact her grace under fire that had Americans look at her a different way, and the same exact thing happened in New Hampshire this past week.

MATTHEWS: Well, I agree. And I think -- by the way, I made a point with Mika that if anybody would actually watch the tape of Morning Joe that morning, I wasn't criticizing Hillary; I was analyzing it with you; you disagreed. If think if we had had this conversation then, it would have been more fulfilling of the question. There are lots of ironies and consequences that go into politics. Sometimes circumstances drive reality.

BRZEZINSKI: Sure, sure.

MATTHEWS: And that this is the case here. I just wish people wouldn't look online and get some item from Media Matters or one of these blogs, and just -- and say, "Well, here's something I can argue about."

BRZEZINSKI: Chris, also, I think there might have been an implication, if you isolated just part of what you said, there might have been an implication she was undeserving, and I don't think that's what you meant.

SCARBOROUGH: That's not what he was saying.

MATTHEWS: No. In fact, I made a point of saying the other night I'll never underestimate her again because of the heroic way in which she spent those -- this weekend we were up there, and I was watching her, I went and watched her speak, two of her major addresses where she went on -- on and on in front of huge crowds under tremendous duress. I think at the time, as Tim pointed out this morning, looking at poll data that showed she was going to lose.

SCARBOROUGH: We had her -- we had an interview with her the night before, when her own campaign had internal polls showing she was losing by double digits.

BRZEZINSKI: They were moving out.

SCARBOROUGH: They only had only written a concession speech, as Tim Russert said, they were going to fire half the staff, and Hillary Clinton showed amazing grace under fire and it's what she's always done, and that's why she's in the race now.

[...]

MATTHEWS: I think that's interesting because there wasn't that ethnic or gender factor. I mean, you have an all-white male party running, and you're not going to have this interesting social change going on here. It's a social change. I'm sure going back to '60, if they asked people --if Catholics, if they voted for [John F.] Kennedy because he's Catholic. Oh, everybody said, "I'm not voting for him because he's Catholic, I'm just voting for him." I mean, you don't always get a straight answer, you know.

SCARBOROUGH: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: People don't even know themselves why they vote for things, you know. But anyway, let me tell you this. I've always respected Barbara Walters. On this issue she's wrong because the statement I made was really an assessment of history. And Mika's right. You can argue a lot of factors go into these things. But clearly, the accident of history was that she was put under incredible duress back in 1998 during the impeachment trial. She went out there and heroically took the heat, was a bold, courageous woman and took on the fire, but that fire was created by her husband.

SCARBOROUGH: And it revolved --

MATTHEWS: It's an irony of history. If you don't like the history, fine, but don't get mad at me for reminding people of how things actually happened.

SCARBOROUGH: Actually, it helped Barbara Walters. She went back and looked at op-eds and articles of the day --

MATTHEWS: I hope I help everybody's ratings, but as I always say, watch Hardball.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews
Show/Publication
Morning Joe
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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