On Hardball, Chris Matthews noted that comedian Jon Stewart “talk[ed] about [Sen.] Barack Obama's middle name being Hussein and his last name rhyming with Osama” during the Academy Awards, and asserted of Stewart's remarks, “I mean, even that little seemingly neutral information gets into some older people's heads, and they go, 'We got a problem here.' ” But, while Matthews has on several occasions criticized others for referencing Obama's middle name, Matthews himself has also used it in a political context several times.
On the February 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews noted that comedian Jon Stewart “talk[ed] about [Sen.] Barack Obama's middle name being Hussein and his last name rhyming with Osama” during the February 24 Academy Awards, and asserted of Stewart's remarks, “I mean, even that little seemingly neutral information gets into some older people's heads, and they go, 'We got a problem here.' ” But, while Matthews has on several occasions criticized others for referencing Obama's middle name, the first mention of Obama's middle name in a political context that Media Matters for America found in the Nexis database came from Matthews himself on November 7, 2006, and Matthews has mentioned Obama's middle name several times since then, including as recently as January 3, 2008.
During his Academy Awards monologue, Stewart said, “You have to give Barack Obama credit, he's overcome a great deal. Not just he's an African-American. Barack Hussein Obama is his name. His middle name is the last name of Iraq's former tyrant. His last name rhymes with Osama. That's not easy to overcome.” He continued: “I think we all remember the ill fated 1944 presidential campaign of Gaydolf Titler. It's just a shame, Titler had so many good ideas. We just couldn't get past the name. And the moustache.” Discussing Stewart's comments on the February 25 edition of Hardball, Matthews said, “Even Jon Stewart, a nonpolitician, on -- last night in the Oscars, with a billion people watching, talking about Barack Obama's middle name being Hussein and his last name rhyming with Osama. I mean, even that little seemingly neutral information gets into some older people's heads, and they go, 'We got a problem here.' ” Matthews went on to assert, “I can tell stories in the millions about politicians playing to older voters. They play on the past. They play on fear. They play on confusion. They play on suggestion. You know how it's done with older voters.”
Matthews has criticized others for citing Obama's middle name. On the December 13, 2006, edition of Hardball, Matthews challenged Republican strategist Ed Rogers on “invoking” Obama's middle name several days earlier in an attempt to “hurt him”:
MATTHEWS: Ed, you made some news here the other night. Let's take a look at a tape of what you said --
ROGERS: Oh, come on.
MATTHEWS: -- no, no -- of what you said in my absence. When the cat's away, the mouse will play.
ROGERS: Where were you? Where were you?
MATTHEWS: Let's take a look at what you said.
ROGERS [video clip]: Held me down as somebody that underestimates Barack Hussein Obama. Please.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, in American life, the only time we start using three names for a person is when they're an assassin, you know, John Henry Abbott --
ROGERS: There's some truth to that.
MATTHEWS: -- Lee Harvey Oswald. Why did you invoke the middle name of Barack Obama out of nowhere?
MATTHEWS: What are you up to, sir?
ROGERS: Mostly teasing him as a lightweight and somebody that's just not ready.
JENNY BACKUS (Democratic strategist): Ah. No, no, no.
ROGERS: But I hope he runs. I want him to run. [unintelligible] There's more --
MATTHEWS: Well, Hussein is his middle name. Do you believe that invoking that name, that it will hurt him?
ROGERS: OK, I'm not going to tease him again about his middle name, at least not tonight.
Similarly, on the December 17, 2007, edition of Hardball, Matthews criticized comments regarding Obama's name and background made by former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), who endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton. Matthews said: “What the hell is Bob Kerrey doing?”
Yet Matthews has used Obama's middle name himself during that same time period. Matthews was apparently the first national media figure to refer to Obama's middle name in a political context, doing so on the November 7, 2006, edition of Hardball: “You know, it's interesting that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein. That will be interesting down the road, won't it?” Matthews again mentioned Obama's middle name on the August 15, 2007, edition of Hardball:
DAVID MENDELL (author, Obama: From Promise to Power [Amistad, August 2007]): Senator Obama, I think, has tried to position himself neither as a dove nor a hawk. I think that maybe he has sent some mixed messages to his -- some of his true believers, who think that he -- since he was the anti-war candidate early on that he was much more of a dove than he is.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. Do you have a sense, though -- well, certainly I have it -- that just by his name, Barack -- you know, Barack Hussein Obama, his background having grown up in Indonesia, which is largely a Muslim country, that he would have a feel perhaps other presidential candidates don't have of how to connect with that part of the world -- a billion people, the Islamic world that we seem to be having such a problem connecting with and avoiding war with?
MENDELL: Well, he certainly would like you to think that. That's part of his biography. That's part of what they've put forth in the campaign that he's a multicultural individual. He actually grew up in Hawaii and spent about four or five years in Indonesia as a young child, and that -- but he would like you to think that he understands the world better than some of these candidates who have just lived in the United States their whole lives. He thinks he has a worldview that is different than they do, and that's part of -- that's part of his appeal to some people, this interesting biography that he has.
MATTHEWS: OK, let's talk about America now again. Our xenophobic tendencies have been roused again, Jonathan [Capehart, Washington Post editorial writer] -- you're first here -- on China. Here we go. We've discovered the evil of China. They are sending us poisonous toothpaste.
Matthews most recently mentioned Obama's middle name on January 3, 2008, just two weeks after he criticized Kerrey for doing the same. Matthews stated: “I tell you, it's going to be a headline all over the world: 'Barack Hussein Obama wins first presidential test in America with a Kenyan father.' ” Matthews went on to say, “I just think it's absolutely -- with an Islamic background in his family -- is so dramatic.”
From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the February 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: You know, Chuck, let's talk about tough politics here. This isn't tough as it's getting. It's getting tougher right now. It'll probably be tougher by the end of the week. This picture of Barack Obama when he was on his trip to Africa last year -- everybody knows politicians, from Prince Charles on down or on up, wear the local costumes when they visit, especially Third World countries. You really try to identify with the people.
But no friend of Obama put that picture out. And I'm just wondering about these things. Even Jon Stewart, a nonpolitician, on -- last night in the Oscars, with a billion people watching, talking about Barack Obama's middle name being Hussein and his last name rhyming with Osama. I mean, even that little seemingly neutral information gets into some older people's heads, and they go, “We got a problem here.”
TODD: Yeah, but you know what's interesting is, the Obama people have, like, taken this head-on. Look, I was somebody early on -- I remember when I first saw this guy's name pop up as an Illinois U.S. Senate candidate. And, you know, we would joke in the offices when I was at The Hotline, “Wait a minute, some guy named Obama, which sounds like Osama, thinks he's going to win a United States Senate seat?”
TODD: So I think the idea -- I think that the one thing that Obama knows how to beat back is this stuff. I mean, he's lived with this name his whole life, you know? You know, 46 years he's had to deal with this. So I think he knows how to handle this stuff. And they beat it back fast. And it's always -- in some ways, I think they end up inoculating themselves pretty well on this front. I mean, anybody that --
MATTHEWS: Because people don't want to look stupid and paranoid. People don't want to -- Linda, people don't want to look stupid and paranoid. But older people -- and I can tell stories in the millions about politicians playing to older voters. They play on the past. They play on fear. They play on confusion. They play on suggestion. You know how it's done with older voters.
LINDA DOUGLASS (National Journal): Well, and they play on, frankly, ignorance. I mean, ignorance being a lack of information. And there's a lot of underground stuff out there alleging that Barack Obama is a Muslim --
MATTHEWS: Oh, yeah.
DOUGLASS: -- and that there's some secret plot that he wants to be president so he can, you know, overthrow the government. And of course, you know, he's a devout Christian --
MATTHEWS: Oh, yeah, I know.
DOUGLASS: -- but he does have Muslim relatives. But, I mean, the whole point is, even though you're right that people probably don't want to believe this kind of thing and won't, there's a segment of the population that will, and that's why this underground campaign continues to grow.