From a Republican National Committee (RNC) press release to the tirades of right-wing pundits, conservatives have repeatedly accused MSNBC host Chris Matthews of being a "liberal Democrat." But while Matthews did work for former President Jimmy Carter and former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D-MA), his statements on major political issues belie the claim that he consistently sides with the Democrats.
Despite Matthews's assertion that Vice President Dick Cheney clearly won the 2004 vice presidential debate over Democratic nominee Sen. John Edwards ("The analogy would be a water pistol [Edwards] against a machine gun [Cheney]"), the RNC issued a press release following that debate titled "Democrat Chris Matthews' Selective 'Analysis': Matthews Pinch Hits For Edwards And Strikes Out The Truth." Similarly, in recounting a September 1, 2004, confrontation with Matthews in his new book A Deficit of Decency (Stroud & Hall, April 2005), former Sen. Zell Miller claimed that Matthews took him out of context because "Matthews was only interested in his usual liberal bias and rapid-fire questions."
Media figures have also broadly labeled Matthews a liberal. Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh frequently asserts that Matthews is a "liberal Democrat," most recently on May 10 (membership required). Media Research Center president L. Brent Bozell III recently declared of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews: "When it comes to liberal or radical guests, he [Matthews] ought to rename the show 'Cuddles with Chris.' " Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin described Matthews as one of "the Democrat Party waterboys in the media." NewsMax.com columnist Wes Vernon described Matthews as a "Democrat-leaning commentator."
The erroneous description of Matthews as a liberal may serve to advance the more general misperception of balance in MSNBC's prime-time lineup. In fact, joining former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough's Scarborough Country, progressive* commentator Keith Olbermann on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and Hardball will soon be The Situation with Tucker Carlson, hosted by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson.
Those who label Matthews a progressive have evidently ignored telling indicators to the contrary. As recently as the May 27 edition of Hardball, Matthews responded to documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi's suggestion that members of the media -- including Matthews -- have portrayed President Bush as a "dunce" by asserting that he has voted for Bush "at least once" and that he has "defended [Bush] against the liberal elitists":
MATTHEWS: I make this president look like -- you don't watch this program, Alexandra. That has never been the case with me. And anybody watching knows right now, we treat this guy [Bush] with respect. I happen to like him. I voted for him at least once. I'm not going to go any further on that. But the idea that we treat him like a dunce is just inaccurate.
MATTHEWS: Just to straighten the record out, Alexandra, back in the 2000 race, I was one of the few journalists that pointed out that George W. Bush did extremely well in those debates against Al Gore. In fact, I said he won in terms of personality, in terms of likability and fairness and on other grounds. I was the one who took a lot of heat for taking that position.
From the beginning, I've defended him on issues like saying Jesus Christ is his personal philosopher. I've defended him against the liberal elitists who did put him down. So, I don't think it's fair to say that I have in any way abused him. Do you want to take that back or do you want to start over or what here?
Matthews previously admitted that he "voted for Bush" in the 2000 election on the October 3, 2003, and February 23, 2004, editions of Hardball. Further, his stated positions on a variety of issues undermine characterizations of him as a liberal, and his false and misleading claims have often furthered a conservative or Republican agenda. Some examples since the 2004 presidential election are listed below.
Matthews on the filibuster debate
Matthews has repeatedly espoused Republican talking points while discussing the Senate compromise over judicial filibusters. He has claimed, among other things, that progressive advocacy groups are "fanatical" and "militant"; that because of the recent bipartisan agreement aimed at averting the "nuclear option," Democrats can stop "pouting and bitching ... [and] actually participate in legislation now"; that Republicans might "get double-crossed or screwed by the Democrats"; and that the Republican position that every judicial nominee deserves an up-or-down vote "sounds great to me."
Matthews on Social Security
Matthews baselessly impugned the motives of Democrats opposing Bush's proposal to cut Social Security benefits for middle-class and wealthy retirees using so-called "progressive indexing" and falsely suggested that means testing would result in cuts only for those who "do well" or "make more than the average income." Earlier in the Social Security debate, Matthews echoed privatization proponents' crisis rhetoric and pushed the Bush administration's terminology on Social Security privatization by referring to "personal accounts" more frequently than "private accounts."
Matthews on Hillary Clinton, Tom DeLay
Matthews has repeatedly smeared Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and questioned her ability to lead. On the May 30 edition of Hardball, Matthews expressed surprise that retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC military analyst, wasn't "chuckling a little bit" at the idea of Clinton giving orders to the troops as commander in chief:
MATTHEWS: [L]et's talk about the troops. The troops out there, they see Hillary Clinton, commander in chief, a liberal Democrat, maybe a liberal-to-moderate Democrat these days. She starts giving orders. "You guys are going to jump into hell tomorrow. You're going." Will they take the orders?
McCAFFREY: Look, the soldiers are listening -- they're listening to female first sergeants, battalion commanders, general officers. Why wouldn't they listen to a [female] commander in chief? Sure.
MATTHEWS: You're chuckling a little bit, aren't you?
MATTHEWS: No problem? No problem? No problem?
McCAFFREY: Absolutely not. None.
MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton, president?
McCAFFREY: Well, I think she's a terrific candidate, great public servant. And there's others, Condoleezza Rice.
MATTHEWS: Just remember how the military responded to Bill Clinton the first couple years. In fact, how about the first eight?
Matthews has also attacked Clinton by referring to her as a "sort of a Madame Defarge of the left." Yet he has defended House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). When Democrats turned down a Republican offer to investigate DeLay because the offer failed to correct Republicans' earlier efforts to undermine the House ethics committee's ability to initiate investigations of alleged misconduct by all House members, Matthews accused Democrats of attacking DeLay and the Republican-led House for political gain rather than offering him a chance to clear his name.
Matthews on the Iraqi election
In praising the Iraqi election in January, Matthews falsely claimed that no insurgent attacks had occurred at polling places on election day. He also claimed that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responded to the election by "calling for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces" from Iraq when Reid's statement had explicitly expressed opposition to a timetable for withdrawal.
Matthews on the Newsweek/Koran story
In line with a number of conservative commentators, Matthews praised Newsweek investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff even though the magazine was forced to retract a story co-written by Isikoff alleging that an internal military investigation had uncovered evidence that U.S. interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, flushed a Quran down a toilet. Isikoff is perhaps best known for his investigation into former President Bill Clinton's sex life, during which Isikoff relied extensively on unreliable sources.
Matthews on voters' Republican allegiances
In April, Matthews cherry-picked poll data to support his misleading claim that Catholics have voted increasingly Republican since 1960. In fact, exit poll data indicate that Catholics are actually a swing constituency: In every presidential election since 1980, a majority or plurality of Catholics have voted for the candidate who won the popular vote, including Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and Al Gore in 2000. Similarly, Matthews ignored his own network's downward revision of Bush's share of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 election, falsely claiming: "The Hispanic community in this country, in this last election, voted almost 50-50." Revised poll results gave Kerry an advantage among Hispanic voters of 58 percent to 40 percent.
Matthews on media bias
In December 2004, Matthews suggested that listening to National Public Radio (NPR) would counter the conservative slant of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, even though NPR presents primarily news content, not editorial opinion, and Media Matters has documented numerous instances of conservative misinformation from NPR as well as the Journal.
Panels skew to the right
Matthews has hosted numerous MSNBC panels that contained far more conservative commentators than progressives: during MSNBC's presidential debate coverage; its presidential inauguration coverage; and both before and after Bush's 2005 State of the Union address. While moderating discussion panels on Hardball, Matthews has repeatedly emphasized the liberal allegiances of progressive guests, while failing to note that other guests on the same panel were Republican. And the syndicated The Chris Matthews Show is no different: Of the 45 Chris Matthews Show panels convened in 2004, 21 skewed to the right, 12 were balanced, seven skewed to the left, and five featured a conservative who supported Sen. John Kerry on an otherwise balanced panel.