Matthews let McCain official say McCain "doesn't attack other candidates," but he's done so on Hardball


On Hardball, Chris Matthews let McCain presidential campaign CEO Rick Davis claim that "John McCain doesn't attack other candidates" and "you never see him talking about people in a partisan fashion." In fact, McCain has made attacks on "people in a partisan fashion," including a Hardball-hosted attack against Sen. Barack Obama regarding congressional efforts to enact lobbying reform.

On the February 27 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews did not challenge Rick Davis, Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential campaign CEO, when he falsely claimed that "John McCain doesn't attack other candidates" and "you never see him talking about people in a partisan fashion." In reality, McCain has repeatedly attacked "people in a partisan fashion" -- and has done so on Hardball. Moreover, McCain has hired several political operatives for his 2008 presidential campaign who were behind or supported such attacks, including ones he condemned at the time.

Davis, Matthews, and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen were discussing the recent controversy surrounding Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) and Barack Obama (IL) when Davis asserted that Obama's campaign had adopted the "classic Clinton technique" of "don't let a minute go by where you let somebody's charge go unresponded to." Matthews asked if that was also going to be McCain's "attitude -- his MO." When Davis responded with a "no," Matthews asked if Davis was saying that McCain would make "[n]o attacks on the other candidates." Davis replied: "John McCain doesn't attack other candidates. ... [Y]ou never see him talking about people in a partisan fashion. He debates the issues."

Matthews' failure to challenge Davis' claim is particularly noteworthy because, just one year ago, the MSNBC host provided a friendly forum for McCain to attack Obama regarding congressional efforts to enact lobbying reform. After McCain accused Obama of abandoning what he called bipartisan efforts on the subject, McCain appeared on the February 7, 2006, edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Do you stand by your letter back to Senator Obama?

McCAIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's take a look at it because I think the people will learn a lot from this about -- I know you're being nice now, but the way in which Obama treated you here. The first line of the letter -- I thought we were going to see this on prompter here -- "I'd like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere." You're basically saying what here?

McCAIN: I'm saying that I believed that his efforts were sincere at the time. The letter that I received contradicted that, at least my reading of it -- and I don't know how you read it any other way -- and so, therefore, I -- that's exactly what I said. It was a little straight talk, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, "I concluded" -- there's more here -- "I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions." You're saying to the guy," I thought you were a gentleman and a civil servant and now you're obviously not."

McCAIN: Well, I thought it was pretty well written; didn't you?

Some other examples of McCain "talking about people in a partisan fashion" include:

  • After Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) October 30, 2006, statement that "[e]ducation, you know, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," McCain called for Kerry to apologize, saying, "The suggestion that only the least educated Americans would agree to serve in the military and fight in Iraq is an insult to every soldier serving in combat today." McCain's comments were reported on the November 1 edition of Hardball. As Media Matters has noted, Kerry said he botched a joke and claimed he was actually referring to President Bush's poor preparation for the war, not the lack of education of members of the U.S. military.

Appearing on the November 1, 2006, broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America, McCain responded to Kerry's explanation:

McCAIN: Well, I've read and watched the statement over and over and I'm not sure how you could construe it that way, but if that's the case, an apology is in order and we can move on. I have made a number of mistakes in my life, which I'd not like to chronicle all over again. But I've found that if you -- if it is just a botched joke, then apologize and move on.

But as it stands, he owes an apology to the men and women who are serving -- who are serving in Iraq out of patriotism and love of country, not because of any academic deficiencies, and we're grateful for them. And when they read statements like this, it's not beneficial to their morale.

  • In a February 2007 profile of McCain, Vanity Fair reported his attacks on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):

On another flight, later that day, McCain reacts to the news that Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, has used campaign money to contribute to the employees' Christmas bonuses at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, where Reid and his wife, Landra, own a condominium. In legal terms Reid's move was dodgy at best. "Who knew he lived at the Ritz?," McCain says. "Not bad for a boy from Searchlight, Nevada." Then McCain -- a former amateur boxer and inveterate gambler, whose wife is the wealthy heir to a beer-distributing franchise in Phoenix -- goes on to recount how the McCains and the Reids once ran into one another in Las Vegas and went to a boxing match. It turned out that the Reids took free tickets, while the McCains paid.

"I wouldn't say this publicly," McCain tells the crowd at the private Thune fund-raiser, speaking of Reid, "but I came to the House with him in 1982 and he's always been ... " Here McCain pauses -- as if suddenly realizing that what he's saying he is indeed saying publicly -- and then goes on to finish the thought anyway: " ... a little on the edge."

  • As noted by the weblog Think Progress, after Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) came out against the Iraq war, National Review White House correspondent Byron York wrote (subscription required) in the December 12, 2005, issue of The New Republic that McCain told him, "John Murtha is 'a lovable guy,' but 'he's never been a big thinker; he's an appropriator.' " York continued: "Using language that Bush never could, McCain tells me that Murtha has become too emotional about the human cost of the war. 'As we get older, we get more sentimental,' McCain says. 'And [Murtha] has been very, very affected by the funerals and the families. But you cannot let that affect the way you decide policy.' "
  • In 1998, McCain reportedly told a "joke" about Chelsea Clinton: "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."

Moreover, McCain has hired -- and covered for -- political operatives who have launched partisan attacks. As Media Matters has noted, McCain hired Republican operative Terry Nelson as his 2008 presidential campaign manager, despite Nelson's approval of a controversial campaign advertisement attacking former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN) during the 2006 Tennessee Senate race. The ad featured a scantily clad white woman posing as someone who "met" Ford "at the Playboy party." As the ad concluded, she looked into the camera, purporting to address Ford, an African-American, and asked him to "call" her. The Los Angeles Times noted that "[c]ritics said the ad ... plays on fears of interracial relationships to scare some white voters in rural Tennessee." As Media Matters has documented, when asked about his hiring of Nelson on the January 4 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, McCain told host Don Imus that Nelson had "realized it was a mistake" to sign off on the ad and subsequently "resigned from the group of people that approved of it." In fact, Nelson publicly defended the commercial in late October 2006, as Media Matters noted. Media Matters has been unable to find any indication that Nelson ever "resigned" from his position with the Republican National Committee.

Davis himself has also defended Nelson, telling NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell on the December 20, 2006, edition of MSNBC News Live that Nelson "has assured us that he didn't produce that ad." Media Matters has noted, however, that at the time of the ad's production, Nelson was the head of the RNC's independent expenditure unit, which paid for the spot. While Scott Howell reportedly produced the ad, Nelson was presumably in a position to sign off on its creation and broadcast -- and could have ordered its withdrawal.

McCain has also hired blogger Patrick Hynes, a strong proponent of the Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth and their campaign tactics, as Media Matters has noted. McCain had previously denounced the Swift Boat Vets' baseless smears and attacks against Kerry during the 2004 presidential race as "dishonest and dishonorable." Media Matters has also noted that, in 2004, Hynes, under his pseudonym "Kerry Crusher," characterized Clinton as "hideously ugly." "Kerry Crusher" also attacked McCain himself in 2004 as "a contemptable [sic] human being." On the February 4 edition of ABC's This Week, McCain said that these operatives "are good people who were doing as they were instructed. They are people who shape the message, don't dictate it."

From the February 27 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: What did you think of Hillary's rapid-fire response to the discussion about Bill this last week? Rapid-fire, right off the bat -- she's just blew away. In fact, Hillary, we found an old quote from her saying -- not you, Hilary [Rosen], the other Hillary, although you can join her -- that she says to deck any opponent that criticizes you. Well, she tried to deck Obama when he went after -- his buddy went after Bill Clinton's lifestyle issues.

DAVIS: Yeah, I think that part of what we learned in the 2006 election is that people want a different kind of politics. I mean, they're really trying, I think, to reject this, you know, duke it out this early kind of warfare. And I think that was Obama's line, is that, "Look, I really didn't want to get trapped into this kind of byplay." It's classic Clinton technique. I mean, you know, don't let a minute go by where you let somebody's charge go unresponded to. And if you have to respond, respond in twice the fierce emotion.

MATTHEWS: So, that's going to be your guy's attitude -- his MO.

DAVIS: Oh, no. I'm not --

MATTHEWS: No attacks on the other candidates.

DAVIS: I mean, John McCain doesn't attack other candidates. I mean, you -- you never see him talking about people in a partisan fashion. He debates the issues --

ROSEN: Well, he'll get it.

DAVIS: -- and he thinks --

ROSEN: He will.

DAVIS: -- he thinks that -- he thinks that that's what the public is looking for, is a real debate, not one that's charge, countercharge. I mean, what was that debate even about?

MATTHEWS: OK. Here's your chance to make --

DAVIS: Does anybody know what the fight was about?

MATTHEWS: Speaking for John McCain, do you hereby say on his behalf that it was wrong on the Obama people to bring up Bill Clinton's lifestyle issues?

DAVIS: No, we're not going to get into the Democratic primary fight at all.

Chris Matthews
Propaganda/Noise Machine, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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