Matthews set record straight on RNC video's “anti-war candidate” distortion

After Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) appearance on the January 6 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, conservative pundits and Bush-Cheney '04 officials repeatedly distorted comments Kerry made regarding his stance on the war. On the August 16 edition of Hardball, host Chris Matthews confronted Bush-Cheney '04 chief strategist Matthew Dowd and set the record straight: Matthews said that during Kerry's appearance on the program in January, Kerry never asserted that he was “the anti-war candidate” but, rather, that he was opposed to the way President George W. Bush took the country to war.

Here is the exchange that took place between Matthew and Kerry on the January 6 edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Do you think you belong in that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war? The way it's been fought? Along with [then-Democratic presidential candidates] General [Wesley] Clark, along with [former Vermont governor] Howard Dean, and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like [Senators Joseph] Lieberman, [John] Edwards, and [Richard] Gephardt? Are you one of the anti-war candidates?

KERRY: I am. Yes. In the sense that I don't believe the president took to us war as he should have, yes. Absolutely. Do I think this president violated his promises to America? Yes, I do, Chris. Was there a way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable? You bet there was and we should have done it right.

Despite the fact that, as Matthews pointed out on August 16, Kerry considered himself an “anti-war candidate” only “in the sense” that he opposed the way the Bush administration “took us to war,” RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, Vice President Dick Cheney, and -- most recently -- President George W. Bush have all accused Kerry of accepting the “anti-war candidate” moniker without providing the context for the senator's comments.

On August 14, Bush asserted: "[A]bout 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the anti-war candidate, my opponent has found a new nuance." The distortion has gained momentum through an RNC attack video that omitted the key part of the January 6 exchange between Matthews and Kerry (the clip cuts out after Kerry says: “I am. Yes.”)

A number of conservative media pundits have repeated the RNC's and the Bush administration's distortions of Kerry's remarks. Here are some examples:

  • Susan Molinari, president of public affairs for Ketchum public relations firm, chief executive officer and chairwoman for the Washington Group lobbying firm, and former Republican congresswoman: “They [the White House] want to talk about John Kerry's position in this war, somebody who supported this war politically, and then politically said he's the anti-war candidate.” [CNBC's Capital Report, 4/23]

  • National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne: "[T]hey have a Democratic base, a large portion of which wants us to pull out [of Iraq]. That's why John Kerry was describing himself as, I'm the anti-war candidate, when John -- when Howard Dean was getting so much mileage out of being anti-war and said it was one of John Kerry's flip-flops." [CNN's The Capital Gang, 5/22]

  • New York Sun editorial: “The delegates in Boston seem to want a more direct alternative to Mr. Bush, more like the anti-war candidate Mr. Kerry had fashioned himself into during the primaries.” [7/27]

  • Washington Times senior White House correspondent Bill Sammon: “During a visit to Pensacola, he [Bush] ridiculed the Democratic presidential nominee for finally agreeing with Operation Iraqi Freedom after earlier describing himself as an anti-war candidate.” [The Washington Times, 8/15]

On the August 16 edition of Hardball, Matthews -- with Dowd as his guest -- took issue with conservative pundits' distortion of his January exchange with Kerry:

MATTHEWS [After playing a clip of Bush saying Kerry “declare himself the anti-war candidate”]: [D]o you think that was a fair representation, what the president said about what John Kerry said to me?

DOWD: You asked John Kerry a yes or no question. You said, are you the anti-war candidate? And at --

MATTHEWS: No. I said are you one of those -- are you one of the anti-war candidates?

DOWD: Yes. And he said, yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: No. He said, I am, yeah, in the sense that I don't believe the president took to us war as he should have.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Matt, are you going to have the president stop saying that John Kerry, on our show, on Hardball -- because that's what he was referring to, clearly -- 220 days ago, when he said this, are you going to get him to stop saying that John Kerry declared himself the anti-war candidate, which is clearly not what he said because I used the word “anti-war candidate” and I referred to a number of them? You say what he said on my show and he didn't say that. That's all I'm asking.


MATTHEWS [After playing the clip from the RNC video of Kerry on the January 6 edition of Hardball, which cuts off Kerry]: [Y]ou're not letting them judge it for themselves because you cut off the tape. So it only showed the first part of the sentence so they wouldn't get to judge it for themselves, right?

DOWD: No. We have the whole sense of the tape. You just showed it on TV. I think anybody watching this on -- tonight on TV would think that Senator Kerry declared himself the anti-war candidate. I don't see how anybody watching wouldn't tell that.

MATTHEWS: Would you like to have your sentences cut down like to a third of their length and let people decide on the first three or four words what you meant by the 20 words? Let me repeat it again, what he said. I'm not going to argue this any further tonight. I think you guys should consider taking this off your loop. I think the president ought to be shown this tape so he knows what he's talking about, instead of having it fed to him by somebody who doesn't show them full sentence.


MATTHEWS: By the way, for people out there who want to judge this for themselves, we're going to post, using modern technology, that clip of my interview with John Kerry on our website so everybody can look at the whole exchange, not just the cropped version put up by the Bush people. Check it out for yourself.