Chris Matthews: 2005's Misinformer of the Year

Since our launch in May 2004, Media Matters for America has monitored, analyzed, and corrected conservative misinformation in the media, wherever and whenever we find it. As you may remember, last year our staff conducted an extensive review of all the misinformation we identified and corrected in the early days in order to name the first annual “Misinformer of the Year.” We singled out one particularly egregious purveyor of falsehoods and awarded Bill O'Reilly the dubious title. O'Reilly graciously accepted the award on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor.

This year, of all the news anchors, columnists, pundits, and reporters whose work we've critiqued and corrected, one man stands alone as a clear successor to the O'Reilly throne. We are pleased to announce broadcast journalist, former newspaper bureau chief, former presidential speechwriter, and best-selling author Chris Matthews has earned the title of 2005's “Misinformer of the Year.” At times, it has even been difficult to tell the difference between 2005's Misinformer of the Year and his predecessor.

For your reading pleasure, we've compiled some highlights of Matthews's most egregious false and misleading claims, as well as his glowing and gushing praise for President Bush.

Without further ado:

  • Chris George, Part 1: Bush sometimes “glimmers” with “sunny nobility.” On MSNBC's Hardball, during a discussion with Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley of the effects on President Bush and his administration of the investigation into the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, Matthews said "[S]ometimes it glimmers with this man, our president, that kind of sunny nobility." [Hardball, 10/24/05]
  • Chris George, Part 2: “Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs ...” Insulting the majority of Americans who hold an unfavorable opinion of President Bush, Matthews exclaimed on Hardball: “Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left,” adding, “I mean, like him personally.” [Hardball, 11/28/05]
  • Chris George, Part 3: Matthews praised Bush speech as “brilliant” even before it was delivered. Before Bush had even delivered his November 30 speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, Matthews used variations of the word “brilliant” twice to describe it, while deriding Democratic critics of the Iraq war as “carpers and complainers.” [MSNBC live coverage, 11/30/05]
  • Chris George, Part 4: Bush “belongs on Mount Rushmore.” Recounting his experience at a White House party, Matthews said that he “felt sensitive” during his interactions with the president, adding: “You get your picture taken with him. It's like Santa Claus, and he's always very generous and friendly.” He continued: “I felt like I was too towel-snappy with him,” explaining that Bush had noted his “red scarf” and remarked that he looked “preppy.” During the same show, Matthews stated: “If [Bush's] gamble that he can create a democracy in the middle of the Arab world” is successful, “he belongs on Mount Rushmore.” [Hardball, 12/16/05]
  • Matthews on the filibuster debate: Democrats are “just sort of pouting and bitching.” Matthews weighed in on the filibuster debate in May, declaring: “I think the Democrats started this fight. I think they did. ... You know, I think Democrats should win more elections. That will solve their problem.” Days later, in discussing the Senate compromise agreement to avert the “nuclear option” to ban judicial filibusters, Matthews repeatedly espoused Republican talking points, claiming, among other things, that because of the recent bipartisan agreement aimed at averting the “nuclear option,” Democrats can stop “pouting and bitching ... [and] actually participate in legislation now”; that Republicans might “get double-crossed or screwed by the Democrats”; and that the Republican position that every judicial nominee deserves an up-or-down vote “sounds great to me.” [Hardball, 5/18/05]
  • Matthews repeatedly smeared Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. On April 24, Matthews attacked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) by referring to her as a “sort of a Madame Defarge of the left." On May 30, Matthews questioned Clinton's ability to lead, expressing surprise that retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC military analyst, wasn't “chuckling a little bit” at the idea of Clinton giving orders to the troops as commander in chief. On July 11, Matthews said Sen. Clinton “looked more witchy” because she criticized the Bush administration's homeland security spending priorities on July 8, a day after the London bombings. On July 27, Matthews asked Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) if he thought Sen. Clinton is a “big-government socialist.” [Hardball, 5/30/05; The Chris Matthews Show, 4/24/05; Hardball, 7/11/05; Hardball, 7/27/05]
  • Matthews falsely claimed Democrats accused Alito of being “lenient on the mob.” During MSNBC's coverage of the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, Matthews repeatedly misrepresented a document about Alito that was circulated by Democrats. Waving the document around on camera -- but not quoting directly from it -- Matthews falsely claimed that the document accused Alito of being “lenient on the mob” and made the baseless assertion that, by mentioning a case involving organized crime, Democrats were “go[ing] after [Alito's Italian] ethnicity.” In fact, the document, available here, made no mention of Alito's ethnicity and simply noted that he lost a high-profile mob case -- not that he was “lenient” on anybody. [Hardball, 10/31/05]
  • Matthews made false claim about Jan. 30 Iraqi election. In praising the Iraqi election in January, Matthews falsely claimed that no insurgent attacks had occurred at polling places on election day. In fact, attacks on Iraqi polling places were widely reported during the January 30 elections. [Hardball, 1/31/05]
  • Matthews distorted poll data to claim Catholics are increasingly Republican. Matthews cherry-picked poll data to support his misleading claim that Catholics have voted increasingly Republican since 1960. In fact, exit poll data indicate that Catholics are actually a swing constituency: In every presidential election since 1980, a majority or plurality of Catholics have voted for the candidate who won the popular vote, including Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and Al Gore in 2000. [The Chris Matthews Show, 4/10/05]
  • Matthews's panels consistently skew to the right. Matthews has hosted numerous MSNBC panels that contained far more conservative commentators than progressives. In 2005, the trend was especially prevalent during MSNBC's presidential inauguration coverage; and both before and after Bush's State of the Union address. While moderating discussion panels on Hardball, Matthews has repeatedly emphasized the liberal allegiances of progressive guests while failing to note that other guests on the same panels were Republican.
  • Matthews distorted Murtha's Iraq proposal. Matthews repeatedly suggested that Rep. John P. Murtha's (D-PA) call for a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq was inconsistent with his record of being “known as the soldiers' friend” and “pro-Pentagon, pro-soldier.” The suggestion echoed news reports that described Murtha as being “usually pro-military” -- implying that his position on redeployment is not -- and a “pro-military” Democrat, suggesting that the typical Democrat is not. [Hardball, 11/18/05]
  • Matthews resurrected false claim that Saddam let Sunni fundamentalists “come in for ... training.” Matthews falsely claimed that, prior to his overthrow by U.S.-led forces, Saddam Hussein allowed Islamic terrorists to train for chemical warfare in northern Iraq. In fact, as the Los Angeles Times noted on June 15, 2003, the training camp, operated by Kurdish Islamic fundamentalist group Ansar al-Islam, “was in an autonomous Kurdish region not ruled by Hussein.” [Hardball, 11/9/05]
  • Matthews falsely insisted that the ongoing insurgency in Iraq was unexpected. Ignoring evidence that the Bush administration received repeated prewar warnings of the potential for a sustained insurgency in Iraq, Matthews insisted that the continuing bloodshed had not been anticipated. Matthews suggested that the “enduring” nature of the Iraqi insurgency was a surprise and told viewers that he didn't “know many people who expected it to still be going on this long.” However, as reported by USA Today, “Military and civilian intelligence agencies repeatedly warned prior to the invasion that Iraqi insurgent forces were preparing to fight and that their ranks would grow as other Iraqis came to resent the U.S. occupation and organize guerrilla attacks.” [The Chris Matthews Show, 9/25/05]
  • Matthews falsely attacked Wilson over Niger trip's genesis. Matthews falsely accused former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV of claiming during his July 6 Meet the Press appearance and in his July 6 New York Times op-ed that Vice President Dick Cheney had sent him on his February 2002 trip to investigate whether Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger. In fact, Wilson never made such a claim in either his Times op-ed or his appearance on Meet the Press. Wilson wrote in his Times op-ed that CIA officials, not the vice president, asked him to go to Niger; discussing his op-ed on Meet the Press, Wilson said that the “the question [of Iraq seeking uranium from Niger] was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president.” [The Chris Matthews Show, 7/24/05]
  • Matthews mischaracterized Democratic efforts to complete intel probe as “disingenuous,” “using crocodile tears.” Matthews baselessly assigned motives to both the Democrats' support for authorizing the president to take the country to war in October 2002 and their recent push to complete “phase two” of the Senate Intelligence Committee's probe into the prewar intelligence on Iraq. Matthews characterized Democrats' efforts to fully examine the Bush administration's handling of the intelligence as “disingenuous,” “using crocodile tears,” and “trying to climb down off the war.” Matthews ignored Democrats' argument that the judgments provided to Congress on the Iraqi threat prior to the vote were later found to have been false or exaggerated. [Hardball, 11/1/05]