With criticism, pressure, and very visceral anger mounting over his dismissive and often misogynistic treatment of Hillary Clinton and other women, (documented extensively by Media Matters) Hardball host Chris Matthews began his show tonight with a four minute response.
The host began with the same sort of equivocations that are frequently offered by media types whose verbal diarrhea get the better of their good sense -- he tried to avoid being politically correct, the issues he discusses are sensitive, the show is unscripted and fast paced. His heart was in the right place, Matthews insisted.
The way the first half of the monologue was shaping up, it wouldn't be surprising to find his critics throwing up their hands and exclaiming, "He just doesn't get it." But, in time, something of a mea culpa finally happened. "Was it fair to say that Hillary Clinton, like any great politician, took advantage of a crisis to prove herself? Was her conduct in 1998 a key to starting her independent electoral career the following year? Yes. Was it fair to imply that Hillary's whole career depended on being a victim of an unfaithful husband? No. And that's what it sounded like I was saying. And it hurt people."
Matthews promised to try to be "clearer, smarter," and finally averred, "Saying that Senator Clinton got where she's got simply because her husband did what he did to her is just as callous, and I can see now that it comes across just as nasty. Worse yet, just as dismissive."
Video and full transcript follow:
UPDATE: Howard Kurtz reports that Matthews was also pressured by MSNBC execs to make his statement:
Under pressure from feminist groups and his own bosses at MSNBC, Chris Matthews apologized yesterday for remarks about Hillary Clinton that he now admits sounded "nasty."
For 10 days, the "Hardball" host had doggedly insisted he was just reciting a bit of history when he said on the air that "the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around."
But protests against those and other remarks by Matthews reached a peak yesterday when the presidents of such groups as the National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority and National Women's Political Caucus sent a joint letter of complaint to NBC News President Steve Capus.
We might soon have the first woman president, the first african-american president or a man older than we've ever elected before. And, of course, we always treat things here with hope, our uniquely American hope that we can actually make things better. That we can make the greatest of countries, not only survive, but as William Faulkner said, prevail.
In the midst of talking about this, almost always without a script and almost always on tricky subjects of gender and race and right and left and what is in our country's interest and who I think is telling the truth and who I think isn't, I know I'm dealing with sensitive feelings. I've accepted all of this as part of the business I've chosen. This program, I'm proud to say is tough, fearless, and, yes, blunt. I want people to react when I say something. I don't like saying things so carefully and so politically correctly that no one thinks they've said anything.
What I've always counted on in all the wild, speeded up conversations on Hardball and elsewhere on television, is my good heart. I've always felt that no matter how tough I got, how direct, how provocative, how purposefully provocative, people out there watching would know I'm not out against them. It was them I was rooting for. While I was tough on individuals who sought to lead the country, I was not against the hopes we all have for a fair shake. In fact, a better deal for people who have been held back before we came along.
Some people I respect, politically concerned people like you who watch the show so faithfully every night, people who care about this country think I've been disrespectful for Hillary Clinton, not as a candidate, but as a woman. They point to something I said on MSNBC's Morning Joe the morning after the New Hampshire primary, that her election to the U.S. Senate and all that's come since was a result of her toughness, but also the sympathy for her because her husband embarrassed her by the conduct that led to his impeachment. The words I used were "messed around."
The truth, of course finer, smarter, larger than that. Yes, Hillary Clinton won tremendous respect from the country for the way she handled the difficult months in 1998. Her public approval numbers spiked from the mid-40s up to the 70s in one poll I looked at. Why? Because she stuck to her duty. She performed strongly as First Lady. She did such a wow of a job campaigning for Senate candidates, especially Chuck Schumer of New York, that she was urged to run for a Senate seat there herself. She might have well gotten that far by another route and through different circumstances, but this is how it happened. The rest is history.
How Hillary went up to New York, listened to people's concerns and beat the odds as well as the Republicans to become a well respected member of the U.S. senate. I did say it right? Was it fair to say that Hillary Clinton, like any great politician, took advantage of a crisis to prove herself? Was her conduct in 1998 a key to starting her independent electoral career the following year? Yes. Was it fair to imply that Hillary's whole career depending on being a victim of an unfaithful husband? No. And that's what it sounded like I was saying. And it hurt people.
I'd like to think people normally like what I say. In fact, normally like me. As I said, I rely on my heart to guide me in the heated, fast-paced talk we have here on Hardball. A heart that bears only goodwill toward people trying to make it out there, especially those who haven't before. If my heart has not always controlled my words, on those occasions when I have not taken the time to say things right or have simply said the inappropriate thing, I'll try to be clearer, smarter, more obviously in support of the right of women, of all people, the full equality and respect for their ambitions. So I get it.
On the particular point, if I'd said it the only reason John McCain has come so far is that he got shot down over North Vietnam and captured by the enemy, I'd be brutally ignoring the courage and guts he showed in bearing up under his captivity. Saying that Senator Clinton got where she's got simply because her husband did what he did to her is just as callous, and I can see now that it comes across just as nasty. Worse yet, just as dismissive.
Finally, if anyone doesn't know this, I love politics. I love politicians. I like and respect people with the guts to put their name, their very being out there for public approval so that they can lead our country. And that goes for Hillary and Barack and John and all the rest who are willing to fight to take on the toughest job in the world.