Matthews repeated disputed claim about Sen. Clinton's presidential ambitions


On the June 3 edition of NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews asserted that, in their forthcoming book, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co., June 2007), Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta "charge[] that more than 20 years ago, the Clintons 'planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two terms for [Sen.] Hillary [Clinton (D-NY)].' " However, as Media Matters for America has noted, Gerth and Van Natta's claim that the Clintons expanded their purported "twenty-year project" to include a Hillary Clinton presidency is based on a source who has referred to the account as "preposterous."

In a prepublication copy of Her Way obtained by Media Matters, Gerth and Van Natta claim that, early in their respective careers, the Clintons made a "secret pact" to "revolutionize the Democratic Party and, at the same time, capture the presidency for Bill" -- their so-called "twenty-year project." Gerth and Van Natta cite former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta and an anonymous "former Clinton administration official" as their sources for the Clintons' original "twenty-year project."

In the version obtained by Media Matters, Gerth and Van Natta also claim that, shortly after Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, the Clintons updated the alleged "plan" to include two presidential terms for each of them. The authors' source for this claim is an account by former New York Times reporter Ann Crittenden and her husband, John Henry, of a conversation they purportedly had with historian Taylor Branch. In the conversation, as reportedly described by Crittenden and Henry, Branch allegedly recounted to them a conversation he had with then-President Clinton in 1993 in which Clinton said both Clintons had a plan to become president. But as Media Matters has previously noted, in a May 25 article, The Washington Post reported that "Branch said that 'the story is preposterous' and that 'I never heard either Clinton talk about a 'plan' for them both to become president.'"

In Her Way, Gerth and Van Natta write:

By the summer of 1993, the ways of Washington, sometimes called Potomac fever, had not dissuaded Bill or Hillary. According to one of their closest friends, Taylor Branch, they still planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two for Hillary.

Branch described the plan to two Washington friends, John Henry and Ann Crittenden, over a barbeque dinner at a rodeo in Aspen, Colorado, that summer.71 The president would frequently talk with Branch, a well-respected historian and author, about his place in history, and shortly after he was elected president, Branch said, Bill asked him to begin recording "diary sessions"72 as part of an oral-history project.

Branch had just come from one of those sessions, a marathon late-night chat with Bill at the White House, where the two men had talked as they stood on the back balcony, looking toward the Washington Monument. Now in the cool mountains of Colorado, Branch told his friends about the Clintons' presidential plans. The bold goal of sixteen years in the White House took Henry's breath away. "I was shocked,"73 he said. [Pages 128-129]

Associated endnotes:

71. Author interviews with John Henry and Ann Crittenden in 2007. Branch, in an interview with one of the authors in 2007, said, "I don't remember" the conversation but "I'm not denying it." He acknowledged that he knows Henry and Crittenden and that he has been to Aspen many times. But Branch declined to discuss Hillary or Bill, saying it was "stupid" to do so in light of the fact that he was doing his own book on Bill's presidency.

72. Julie Bosman, "Historian Plans Book from Chats with Clinton," New York Times, March 22, 2007, El; author interview with Taylor Branch in 2007. Bill Clinton, in his autobiography, says the oral history project began in late 1993. (Clinton, My Life, ii.)

73. Author interview with John Henry in 2007.

Later, Matthews posed a question to Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that even he conceded "may be sexist." He asked: "[T]he question, I think, somewhere in the middle of this -- and this may be sexist, I don't deny it -- but is the charge that she's calculating, that they're calculating together, a little too much planning, this two presidency following two presidencies, this 20-year plan, so-called, does this hurt?"

On the March 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Matthews asserted that "[i]t's the women" who criticize Sen. Clinton and that the men he talks to "don't knock Hillary." Matthews added: "[T]he crowd I hang out with don't want to be caught knocking her, because it's sexist." At that time, Media Matters noted numerous examples of Matthews himself making remarks about Clinton that could be construed as sexist:

  • On the January 29 edition of Hardball, Matthews asked how former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) could "go into a debate with Hillary Clinton and land a punch against a woman." Matthews continued: "Isn't that going to be tricky for somebody like Rudy, who knows how to land a punch, to go up ... against a woman?"
  • During MSNBC's election coverage on November 7, 2006, Matthews said: "We were watching Hillary Clinton earlier tonight; she was giving a campaign barn-burner speech, which is harder to give for a woman; it can grate on some men when they listen to it -- fingernails on a blackboard, perhaps."
  • On the September 19, 2006, edition of Hardball, Matthews stated that Clinton "may not want to risk being another Dukakis -- this time in a dress." Later, Matthews declared, "[G]o see Deer Hunter if you think [Clinton] can get elected president," adding that "Midwest guys" whose "idea of heaven is out hunting with the beer cans and shooting a pheasant or a bear" are "not up to modern women as president."
  • On the December 19, 2006, edition of Hardball, Matthews compared Clinton to a "strip-teaser," said "her hair looked ... great," and wondered if Clinton is "a convincing mom."
  • On the July 11, 2005, edition of Hardball, Matthews said Clinton "looked more witchy" because she criticized the Bush administration's homeland security spending priorities on July 8, a day after the London bombings.
  • On the April 24, 2005, edition of the Chris Matthews Show, Matthews referred Clinton as "sort of a Madame Defarge of the left," a characterization he repeated on the March 25, 2007, edition of the show.

Media Matters also separately noted sexist remarks made by Matthews at the MSNBC-hosted Democratic presidential debate on April 27, where he focused obsessively on the appearances of Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) wife, Michelle, to the point that NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell reminded him that they are Yale and Harvard-educated lawyers, respectively.

From the June 3 edition of NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: But this week, two new books -- Carl Bernstein's A Woman in Charge and Her Way by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta raise some new questions. For one, Her Way charges that, more than 20 years ago, the Clintons "planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two terms for Hillary."

Patrick, apart from all the details in these books -- and they're going to be read all summer by the political junkies -- does this force the conversation back to the past and the problems, and away from where Hillary must want them to go, which is hope and the future?

PATRICK HEALY (New York Times reporter): Yeah, it puts all these issues back on the table in a way that the Clinton campaign doesn't want. They don't want it to be about her, her personality, her marriage, her vote on Iraq in 2002 -- wants it to be about competence, about her agenda for the country, about health care.

But, inevitably, this raises a lot of people's feelings about -- does she -- where does she start and he end, you know? Are they just such a unit -- are they such an arrangement that, inevitably, all the scandals, all sort of the bad news from the past is going to come and get in the way of the message that she wants to get out to people?

MATTHEWS: Cynthia, the question, I think -- somewhere in the middle of this -- and this may be sexist, I don't deny it -- but is the charge that she's calculating, that they're calculating together, a little too much planning, this two presidency following two presidencies, this 20-year plan, so-called, does this hurt?

Posted In
Chris Matthews
The Chris Matthews Show
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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