On Hardball, Chris Matthews asked about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), "[D]oes she look like Nurse Ratched here?" referencing a character in Ken Kesey's novel and the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, who has been described as a “scheming, manipulative agent” who “asserts arbitrary control simply because she can.” In fact, Matthews and others on programs on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC have a long history of associating Clinton with Nurse Ratched.
During the December 4 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews asked about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY): “So does her attack on him [Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)] for having had ambition as a teeny-bopper -- not a teeny-bopper, a kindergartner, does she look like Nurse Ratched here?” This is not the first time Matthews has referenced Nurse Mildred Ratched, a character in Ken Kesey's novel and in the movie based on the novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, when discussing Clinton. In fact, a Media Matters for America Nexis search found that hosts, including Matthews, and guests of programs on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC have a long history of associating Clinton with Kesey's fictional character, whom Cliff's Notes describes as a “scheming, manipulative agent” who “asserts arbitrary control simply because she can.”
Indeed, during the August 9 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson said, “I think we have a picture, actually, of Hillary Clinton in a nursing outfit we're going to put up on the screen in a second.” MSNBC then aired a screen shot of actress Louise Fletcher portraying Ratched in the 1975 film adaptation of the novel. Carlson went on to say, “I'm sorry. That's Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I'm sorry. It must have gotten confused in the files.”
From the August 9 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:
Media Matters also found the following comparisons of Clinton to Ratched on programs on the NBC networks:
- During the February 20, 2005, edition of Hardball, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker said of Clinton, “It's Nurse Ratched. How about that? Nurse Ratched.” Matthews responded, “Nurse Ratched is a great one, the one in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” Parker continued, “She smiles while she's basically twisting the knife, and I think people feel that from Hillary Clinton, whether or not justified. That's what they perceive.”
- The October 11, 2000, edition of NBC's Today and the October 13, 2000, edition of MSNBC's Hardball broadcast an interview with NBC's Lisa Myers during which nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh said, “I don't see it. I just -- I see Nurse Ratched. I -- when I see Hillary, I feel like I'm in the insane asylum of a hospital, and she's the nurse. And I think that's where she wants me.” After Myers responded, “She probably does, given some -- given some of the things you've said about her. It would be understandable,” Limbaugh asserted, “No, but that's -- I think she's -- about everybody, Lisa. I think, for the most part, that's how she views people.”
- On the August 3, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews asserted, "[Hillary Clinton is] now saying, 'I kept this emotional basket case going all these years, because I'm a good Nurse Ratched, and this is a cuckoo's nest at the White House. But now I'm ready to be off on my own, so elect me as the nurse.'"
- On the August 2, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews asked The New York Observer's Tish Durkin, "[D]o you want to be so disciplined as to propose yourself as the new Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? Does [Clinton] really want to play herself as this tough nurse that looked out for this guy who has psychological problems like -- like the Jack Nicholson gu -- character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? Nurse Ratched, 'I'm a nurse. I stuck with him because he needed therapy.' " Later, in an interview with Gennifer Flowers on the same episode of Hardball, Matthews asserted, "[N]ow it seems like she's offering herself in a new role, as a kind of a person who's had a therapeutic role in life. Sh -- her job is to take care of a -- a delinquent, someone with psychological problems that she's had to fix or deal with or accept or maintain, or whatever you will, not as particularly a political partner, which was a role she offered up before. You know, for -- you get two for the price of one. Now you get a nurse for the price of the patient, all right? What do you think about her offering herself as Nurse Ratched to -- to the cuckoo's nest here?"
Moreover, references to Nurse Ratched in the context of Hillary Clinton predate the August 3, 1999, edition of MSNBC's Hardball and extend beyond NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC. A June 1, 2000, New York Times editorial observer column by Eleanor Randolph noted “the concentrated effort by so many speakers to depict the first lady as an invading Nurse Ratched” :
For the moment, though, Republicans seem united in celebrating a candidate who is not only the anti-Hillary but also the non-Rudy. The G.O.P. leadership is betting that as a candidate who lacks the polarizing features of both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Lazio can command broad if bland swatches of the middle ground. Hence the concentrated effort by so many speakers to depict the first lady as an invading Nurse Ratched. That may work, but a campaign to make Ms. Clinton into a fearsome outsider could also turn Rick Lazio into Ricky Nelson. In such a match, some of those swing voters might wind up going for the more forceful character after all.
Media Matters searched the Nexis news database for instances in which “Nurse Ratched” or “Nurse Ratchet” appeared within 250 words of “Clinton.” Media Matters then analyzed each of the 125 news articles, columns, and transcripts to determine whether the writer or speaker brought up Nurse Ratched in talking about Clinton:
- The first reference to Nurse Ratched in the Nexis database in the context of Clinton appears to have been a July 19, 1994, column by Peter Ruehl that appeared in the Queensland, Australia, Courier-Mail, and the Adelaide, Australia, Advertiser that asserted, “These flight attendants are polite -- to a point -- but if anything strange goes on, they can turn into a combination Nurse Ratched and Hillary Clinton.”
- In an August 31, 1998, “Inside the Beltway” column in The Washington Times, John McCaslin described a hypothetical movie depicting the President Bill Clinton's administration: “Hillary will be played by that actress in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' -- Remember Nurse Ratched?”
- In an October 11, 1998, Newark, New Jersey, Star-Ledger column, Paul Mulshine wrote, “There's a certain gaze Hillary affects when she's up there firing up all those tender-minded people who seek her leadership. And just the other day it finally occurred to me why that look scares me so much. I ran to the photo archives of The Star-Ledger to check out my theory. Sure enough: Hillary Clinton is a dead ringer for Nurse Ratched in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” Mulshine further noted that “America has a lot of people who have roughly the same mentality as the bulk of Nurse Ratched's patients. They just want to be taken care of.” He later wrote, “These people look to Hillary for leadership. She obliged them by putting her philosophy into a book, It Takes a Village. Her vision of America -- a nice, clean and safe place in which all the little people do their little tasks under the watchful eye of a loving and caring authority -- would also cover Nurse Ratched's mental ward. You'd have to be crazy to enter either one.”
- In a September 25, 2000, New York Post column (subscription required), John Podhoretz wrote, “This is the worst, least inspiring, least interesting, most frustrating political season since the advent of the Great Depression, and for once, it's not entirely fair to blame the candidates for it. They deserve plenty of blame for all sorts of things, no question -- Gore's difficulties with the truth, Bush's difficulties with English, Hillary's difficulties in sounding exactly like Nurse Ratchet, Lazio's difficulties with not saying every 32 seconds that he's a New Yorker.”
- During the August 25, 2005, broadcast of his radio program, as Media Matters documented, Limbaugh said of Clinton, "[M]y favorite name for her is Nurse Ratched."
- On the May 25, 2006, edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, radio host Roe Conn said of Clinton, “She has the clinical instincts of Nurse Ratched, I think. Not a chance she'll ever become president.”
- In an August 28, 2007, American Spectator online column, David Hogberg wrote of Clinton, “The American people will not elect Nurse Ratched to the Oval Office.”
From the December 4 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Well, he wasn't born a politician, I'm amazed. Because that is exactly what Jack Kennedy used to do. He'd report -- he would repeat Nixon's attacks on him and just do it with a little wry smile. And there he is, “I understand she's quoting my kindergarten teacher from Indonesia.”
JAMAL SIMMONS (Democratic strategist): Well it was perfect pitch. And you could see for one second he had a little tick-tock, like, “Do I really want to talk about this? No, I don't. This is good enough.”
MATTHEWS: But then he did. He quoted her back to her, which was the best shot. So does her attack on him for having had ambition as a teeny-bopper -- not a teeny-bopper, a kindergartner, does she look like Nurse Ratched here?