As a guest on the October 6 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews explained his reaction the previous evening to Vice President Dick Cheney's performance: "I think I got snookered again last night by the guy." As Media Matters for America noted, in contrast with the apparent consensus among commentators on networks other than MSNBC that the debate was a draw, Matthews and other MSNBC panelists -- immediately following the debate -- declared Cheney the undisputed victor.
Today, new insights shed light on the outlier reactions of two of MSNBC's pundits to last night's debate.
Matthews explained during his appearance on Imus that, while he continued to think that Cheney won, his analysis was based on Cheney's "brilliant cosmetics," which gave him the appearance of a "very moderate, middle-of-the-road Washington type ... when in fact he is a hawk." Matthews also noted the distortions and fabrications by Cheney during the debate -- and the administration, more generally -- in their efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq.
From the October 6 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:
MATTHEWS: Well, look, I've watched [Vice President Dick] Cheney for about 25 years now, and I think I got snookered again last night by the guy. He has this very moderate manner. It's a different kind of cosmetics. I mean, you look at Edwards, you say, oh, he's good looking, got his hair, nice face, looks about 38. But that's one kind of cosmetics. The other kind of cosmetics is the guy who manages to make himself look like a moderate, reasonable, with no real ideology, no weird quirks, paranoia or anything. Cheney is a hawk. Given any option, he'll be the hawk. He's got an itchy trigger finger in this sense politically. He'll always go for the worst-case option, I'm sure his people will tell you that. He always wants to say, they're out to get us, we're going to nail them before they nail us. This was true all the way back to Grenada in '83, he's been like that. If there's any sign of possible trouble, "We're going to kill those people." Yet, he doesn't look like a guy with an itchy trigger finger. He looks like a very moderate, middle-of-the-road Washington type, the button-down shirt, the calm manner, everything about himself says trust me, I'm calm, I'm a moderate man, when in fact he is a hawk. This war hasn't been justified yet.
Last night, I got the sense, no WMD was even mentioned, the nuclear piece is totally made up, the connection to 9-11 -- it was so great that [NBC anchor] Brian Williams and his producers dug up the tape to prove that Cheney wasn't telling the truth. There was no evidence of a reason for war.
MATTHEWS: I thought Cheney won the debate, I don't know how you could see it any other way, but again it's brilliant cosmetics. He looks like a reasonable man. He's a man of the right, and everybody gets this wrong, and I don't expect the voters to get it right either because Cheney is such a good imitator of a moderate man. ... Cheney's a heavyweight who's not only smart, he's able to present himself in a way that he's not. He's really good.
Meanwhile, Salon.com's Eric Boehlert wrote in an October 6 article that MSNBC Scarborough Country host Joe Scarborough -- who declared immediately after the debate, "Edwards got obliterated by Dick Cheney" -- was perhaps "trying to appease his right-wing fans who, [as Scarborough] later remarked, flayed him alive for giving the debate to Kerry last week."