Chris Matthews conflated Islamic terrorists with those “who may be politically on the left,” and presented a false choice between “honoring civil rights” and “tap[ping]” terrorists' “phones,” suggesting that “honoring civil rights” could lead to “the deaths of thousands of people.” Matthews also discussed the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, in which his brother is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.
On the August 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews conflated Islamic terrorists with those “who may be politically on the left,” and presented a false choice between “honoring civil rights” and “tap[ping]” terrorists' “phones,” suggesting that “honoring civil rights” could lead to “the deaths of thousands of people.” Additionally, Matthews -- whose brother Jim is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania -- discussed the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race with former Pennsylvania Gov. and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who serves as honorary chairman of Republican candidate Lynn Swann's campaign, with no representative from the campaigns of incumbent Gov. Ed Rendell or Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll for balance. Both Matthews and Ridge disclosed their ties to the respective Pennsylvania Republican candidates during the program; Matthews has touted his brother's candidacy at least three times before on Hardball.
Discussing airport security measures with Ridge, Matthews asked: "[H]ow do you identify someone who may be politically on the left or radical?" and added:
MATTHEWS: They may go to a couple meetings at mosques, whatever -- or I shouldn't say mosques, but meetings that are associated with -- with their background. They come from other countries, Arab countries, and they are in Newark somewhere. If a person is politically involved and they are anti-Israeli, for example, or anti-Western even, how do you stop them, even if you know all of that, from getting on an airplane?
Later, during a discussion of anti-terrorist surveillance measures, Matthews also asked Ridge:
MATTHEWS: Suppose you are homeland security secretary, and you find out that there may be a suspicious group of people doing things, but you want to honor their civil rights and you don't want to tap their phones. Can you explain the deaths of thousands of people because you were honoring civil rights after the fact?
Matthews's suggestion that “civil rights” and “tap[ping] ... phones” are mutually exclusive interests echoes the characterizations put forth by other NBC personalities, and also by the Bush administration, which has claimed that warrantless surveillance of Americans' communications is necessary to fight terrorism. But as Media Matters for America has noted (here, here and here), the recent debate over wiretapping and other forms of surveillance is not over whether or not to eavesdrop on terrorist suspects. Rather, the controversy concerns whether the president is legally authorized to allow eavesdropping on the international communications of people in the United States without first obtaining a warrant, as provided under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Matthews later brought up the topic of the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, noting “in the interest of full disclosure” and “family pride” that “my brother” is “running for lieutenant governor with Swann, on the ticket.” When Matthews asked Ridge to comment on the race, Ridge noted his role as “honorary chairman,” and claimed that "[t]his race heats up as of Labor Day." Matthews allowed Ridge's claim that the race “heats up as of Labor Day” to go unchallenged. Swann trailed Rendell 54 to 34 percent among registered voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released August 16, and The Washington Post reported August 17 that Swann also “fac[es] ... a huge fundraising gap.”
A Media Matters review* of the Nexis database found three prior examples in 2006 of Matthews touting his brother's candidacy on Hardball:
- February 1:
MATTHEWS: I should say, since [Hardball correspondent David] Shuster brought up the governor's race up there -- and I've done this before, but I want to make sure everybody knows where I stand on this. My brother Jim, my younger brother, is running for the Republican endorsement -- that says nothing about me -- Republican endorsement for lieutenant governor up there. That'll be decided next month. So he may be running with Lynn Swann, the great Football Hall of Famer.
- February 13:
MATTHEWS: And a special nod to my brother Jim Matthews, my little brother, my younger brother, who this weekend won the Republican endorsement for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. And there he is.
JIM MATTHEWS [video clip]: This has been so wonderful, just being around Lynn and his family.
MATTHEWS: Our family is very proud of him.
- July 12:
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you, now that you're all revved up there, [Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief] Lynn Sweet. My -- my brother -- and I always like to remind people of this, although I am not involved at all -- is running for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania as a Republican. He is a Republican.
And he spent the day -- I just talked to him on the phone a couple of hours ago. He spent the day with Rudy Giuliani and his son, and both he -- they say this guy is so hot, so revved up, so juiced up right now politically that he's running. They think he's running for president. What do you think, Lynn?
From the August 16 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Well, what good is all this taking your shoes off? Don't -- you can't bring a Swiss army knife on a plane. Does that make -- I read somewhere that -- asked somebody, he said we have never caught anybody up to no good with those checks, that that doesn't catch anybody.
RIDGE: I think --
MATTHEWS: Has it ever caught anyone?
RIDGE: No, not to my knowledge.
MATTHEWS: Well, then, why do we do it?
RIDGE: Well, I think it is one element of a layered defense approach that the country has put in with regard to civilian aviation, we put in with regard to maritime security. But the next step has to be a lot bolder than anything they've done before, and that is pre-screening passengers. Again, you're -- we're living in a risk-management world. There are no guarantees. But I -- we ran a pilot program when I was secretary where people gave us their iris scans, people gave us background information, and we could take a look at it and say the chances are 99.9999 you are not a terrorist, so you just go right through, go through the metal detector and move on and you take whatever with you, with you. Now, some people find that to be troubling, but the fact of the matter is, I think we ought to move to that. Ultimately, you've got to try to identify the terrorists, not the weapon.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you identify someone who may be politically on the left or radical? They may go to a couple meetings at mosques, whatever -- or I shouldn't say mosques, but meetings that are associated with -- with their background. They come from other countries, Arab countries, and they're in Newark somewhere. If a person is politically involved and they're anti-Israeli, for example, or anti-Western even, how do you stop them, even if you know all of that, from getting on an airplane?
RIDGE: It's almost impossible.
MATTHEWS: What about phone taps? I know a lot of Americans, obviously, don't want their phones tapped for a lot of reasons, but if we find out it's the only way to nab people in the last couple of days before they act is to hear them talking to each other, will the American people say, “Well, we don't like giving up our rights” ? But this isn't a matter of individual rights anymore, it's a matter of national rights. We gotta protect the country. Will people change?
RIDGE: I don't think they have to. I think you have laws on the books. If you had that kind of information going in, you could tap those phones. What I worry more than that, during the whole debate about NSA, is I heard Americans tell me, I don't care, I am not doing anything wrong, it's OK if you tap my phone, and I don't think we ever want to reduce our threshold that low.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
RIDGE: It's just --
MATTHEWS: Do you think we will?
RIDGE: No, nor do I think we want to. I mean, the notion that we would surrender, voluntarily, knowing that we're not doing anything wrong, our rights, to have the government intervene or intercede or listen to a phone conversation, I think is absolutely unacceptable. But there are provisions in place in the law, tools in the law now, if you have that kind of information going in, you certainly can, under the FISA court, or just any --
MATTHEWS: Let me flip this around, Governor. Suppose you are homeland security secretary, and you find out that there may be a suspicious group of people doing things, but you want to honor their civil rights and you don't want to tap their phones. Can you explain the deaths of thousands of people because you were honoring civil rights after the fact?
RIDGE: Well, no, I don't think it's honoring civil rights, if you have cause, if there is justification. There are plenty of ways for the law enforcement community to do it within the Constitution and the rule of law, period.
MATTHEWS: It's time for “Pennsylvania Polka.” We're going back to Pennsylvania where you governed effectively for eight years. This afternoon President Bush campaigned in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steeler, and of course, and now in the interest of full disclosure, that's my brother there -- and family pride, I should say -- who's running for lieutenant governor with Swann on the ticket. What do you think about that race, Governor?
RIDGE: I'd say it's a race full of disclosure; I'm honorary chairman. Interesting race. They are two Pennsylvanians, the incumbent governor does very, very well in the southeast. Lynn Swann and your brother doing very well in the balance of the state. The governor has spent like $5 million since April. The -- the challenge has of yet -- but they've had very successful fundraising, and they've built their infrastructure. This race heats up as of Labor Day.
MATTHEWS: But isn't there a problem in Pennsylvania that every eight years it shifts party-wise, and it's hard to break that pattern, for the Republicans this time?
RIDGE: Well, that's history. But as Lynn Swann keeps saying, he made history as a Super Bowl four-time winner, and the one for the thumb he wants is the ring with the Pennsylvania's insignia on it.
MATTHEWS: Well, I love my brother, and you love your Republican Party. Thank you, Tom Ridge, for joining us.
*Nexis search: allcaps (matthews) w/25 brother w/25 (gubernatorial or governor or pennsylvania)