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Chris Matthews Doesn't Rewrite History About the Clintons, He Just Makes It Up

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First of all, you have to ask, 'Is history a reasonable basis on which to make a statement?'...
We're not talking about opinion here. Chris Matthews on Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough January 11, 2008

True enough. Chris Matthews did not support his argument with opinion. He flat out lied. It wasn't a slip of the tongue. He gave it a lot of thought and preparation.

Matthews was defending some comments about Hillary Clinton that triggered widespread revulsion, most notably from the women on The View:

Let's not forget, and I'll be brutal, the reason she's a US Senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front runner, is that her husband messed around.

That's how she got to be a senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn't win it on her merit, she won because everybody felt, "My God, this woman stood up under humiliation, right?" That's what happened! That's how it happened. Matthews on Morning Joe January 9, 2008

Matthews' thesis is that "in the midst of all this humiliation," a phrase he couldn't repeat often enough, Hillary Clinton's poise, toughness, and "heroic" campaigning caused people to feel sympathy for her. But if you believe Life's a Campaign, then it's oxymoronic to say Hillary shows toughness and poise and then say, "She didn't win it on her merit."

According to Matthews. the turning point in Hillary's viability as a candidate occurred during September - November 1998, when she campaigned for Chuck Schumer in New York.

Back in 1998 in the midst of the terror that he was involved with in that intern, he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, and then he faced conviction in the U.S. Senate, in the midst of all that in the fall campaign of 1998, Hillary Clinton went out and heroically campaigned for Chuck Schumer. Matthews on January 11, 2008

Remember, "We're not talking opinion here." So how many falsehoods did you find? Here's my count:

1. Back in 1998 ... he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives

False. The House did not impeach Clinton until after the November 1998 election in lame duck session.

2. ...and then he faced conviction in the U.S. Senate...

No one seriously thought that a conviction, which required a 2/3 vote, was either politically or arithmetically possible. Democratic Senators were uniformly against impeachment and a number of Republican Senators had severe misgivings. (On the final vote, the Republicans favoring conviction failed to attain a simple majority.) After Americans watched Clinton's videotaped testimony, the percentage in favor of even beginning impeachment proceedings was 31%.

3. In the midst of the terror that he was involved with that intern...

Terror? (Listen on Joe Scarborough how Matthews emphasizes the word "terror.") On September 25, 1998, Bill Clinton's approval rating was 67%. It had shot up from 61% right after the public got a good hard look at Bill Clinton's videotaped testimony about his relations with Ms. Lewinsky.

The apparent resurgence for Mr. Clinton has come swiftly -- and is surprisingly pronounced. Not only has the months long slide in his personal ratings halted but, in a marked shift from only a week ago, Americans also trust him more as a leader, like him more, are less inclined to think he committed perjury before the grand jury and increasingly believe that the scandal is a private matter that has little to do with his job as President... 78 percent of Americans, and 65 percent of Republicans, said [the videotape] should never have been released. People said they objected to the committee's prying into what they regard as a private matter and that it was unnecessary to make public salacious details about sex. In addition, 65 percent of Americans said Republicans in Congress were unfairly trying to weaken the President and the Democrats; 39 percent of Republicans saw it that way as well.
The New York Times September 25, 1998

Also, 60% of Americans said it was appropriate for the President to refuse to answer questions about his sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. At the time, House Speaker Newt Gingrich's approval was 18%.

4....went out and heroically campaigned for Chuck Schumer...

What's so heroic about campaigning in friendly territory? At the time, Bill Clinton had a 69% approval rating in New York, and the Ken Starr investigation was red meat for the Democrats. To drive home the point, the Schumer campaign aired a TV spot reminding voters that his Republican rival, Al D'Amato, investigated Whitewater. Schumer proudly campaigned aside Bill Clinton as well as Hillary.

Oh, and in case anybody forgot...

In a stunning rebuke to the capital's taste for scandal, voters on Tuesday handed Democrats surprising victories in key Senate and governor's races and held out the possibility of closing the Republicans' slim majority in the House. St. Petersburg Times November 4, 1998

But here's the kicker:

If you go back and look at the newspapers, which I did last night to confirm all this, you will find glowing accounts, especially in USA Today, I picked it up on the front page, by Kathy Kiely a great reporter, about how it was her poise in standing up in the midst of that humiliation where she was able to go out and campaign politically and show her strength in New York state, up and down that state for Chuck Schumer. And then she gets a call two or three days later from our old friend in New York Charlie Rangel...

The story ran, "It was her poise in the campaign in the midst of all this humiliation that made her a candidate for the senate." So if you don't accept the history then accept the syllogism, "Had Hillary Clinton not been a United States Senator right now because of that election would she be a serious candidate for president?"

You can't argue that she's a United States senator because of the fact in which, in humiliating circumstances she showed her toughness and elicited one whale of an amount of sympathy from people for having the guts to go out and campaign in the midst of all that humiliation...Hillary would not have been a U.S. senator and not have been in eligibility to run for president had that humiliation not been thrown upon her." Matthews on Morning Joe, January 11, 2008

There was no such story in USA Today. Matthews fabricated the quote. More specifically, he revised Kathy Kiely's story in USA Today, dated November 9, 2000, to fit his insupportable claims. Kiely wrote:

Clinton's poise under pressure impressed New York Democratic leaders, who began wooing the president's wife to make a bid for the seat of the retiring Moynihan, who was first elected in 1976. Her months on the campaign trail transformed the first lady from a reluctant public figure into an energetic and thick-skinned politician.

The word humiliation shows up nowhere. The word sympathy shows up nowhere. The article does not say that Hillary's poise was the deciding factor for New York Democratic leaders. Think about it for a second. Do you think other attributes - name recognition, affiliation with an extremely popular President, familiarity with the ways of Washington, being a quick study and a hard worker - might be deemed more important than poise? Here's what Knight-Ridder printed on October 28, 1998:

After making more than 50 appearances at fund-raising events and rallies through the year, Clinton campaigned full time in the week before the election, traveling to New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

She's a huge drawing card,'' said Michael Tucker, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which helps finance Democratic Senate candidates.

She is perhaps the strongest voice we have in terms of firing up the base. She's always been that way, she's always had a lot of base appeal. She appeals to working families, organized labor, minorities, teachers. [Emphasis added.]

Now consider the second sentence in Kiely's passage, "Her months on the campaign trail transformed the first lady from a reluctant public figure into an energetic and thick-skinned politician." Is that factual reporting or literary license? Before September 1998 Hillary was a reluctant public figure? Please.

This brings up another fatal flaw in Matthews' assertion of historic fact. Contemporary political analysis in a newspaper is not the same thing as historic fact. A historic fact is something beyond dispute. No one disputes that the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. But many dispute that the invasion, which ignored widespread looting, was an unqualified success. Citing a newspaper account describing the Iraq invasion a success does not, in and of itself, prove a historic fact.

As for going back and checking with the newspapers, I did a search on Factiva covering the period in 1998 when Hillary campaigned with Schumer. The search was for "Schumer" and "Hillary" and "Clinton" and "campaign" and "New York" and "sympathy" and "humiliation." Total results: zero.

Matthews' challenge, "If you go back and look at the newspapers," is a favorite stunt of the Bush White House. Check out Tony Snow's press conferences. Nine times out of ten, whenever Snow uttered the words "if you" followed by a reference from the past (e.g. "if you go back and look at..." or "if you actually take the trouble to read....") the reference was bogus. Michael Chertoff used the stunt a few days after Katrina, when he said, "I remember on Tuesday morning [August 30] picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, 'New Orleans Dodged The Bullet.'" There was no such headline. Chertoff lied and no one called him on it.

Getting back to the reaction from The View, I think Scarborough and Matthews missed their point. I think they were offended by the mean-spirited way in which Matthews devalued Hillary's accomplishments. "[T]he reason she may be a front runner, is that her husband messed around... She didn't win it on her merit..." It's analogous to saying Colin Powell sat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff only because of affirmative action. In that regard, Matthews' remark is no more defensible than Ann Coulter's comment that, "If [Max] Cleland had dropped a grenade on himself at Fort Dix rather than in Vietnam, he would never have been a U.S. Senator in the first place."

Once again, Chris Matthews pulls out all the stops to portray the Republican narrative as absolute truth. We saw it in his attempt to say that Bill Clinton did not speak out against the Iraq invasion. And we saw it in his attempt to conflate Hillary's vote on the October 2002 war resolution into the decision to invade Iraq. As he has for the past decade, he argues that the Lewinsky affair central to the lives and careers of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Except, according to the polls, vast majority of Americans, then and now, did not see it that way.

If Barbara Walters wants to debate history and debate politics, and what's happened in this country in the last 50 years, if she wants to go on Jeopardy and see what she knows and what I know, I'll take her on... Matthews, January 11, 2008

Hey Chris, I'm willing to call your bluff and take you on. I'm not famous and I've never worked in politics. But I majored in History. And I sure know the difference between a fact and a lie.

ADDENDUM: (January 23, 2008, 7:23 pm) I just saw Chris Matthews apologize to Senator Clinton and others who were offended by his remarks. He also said he gets it. Good for him.

All talking heads and politicians should look to Joe Biden as a role model. On this first day of his campaign, Senator Biden said something dumb about Senator Obama. Biden apologized and everyone moved on.