Matthews claimed he has opposed Iraq war "from the beginning," that media coverage of war "sucks" -- but he has frequently contributed to problematic war reporting

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Chris Matthews complained that the news media "sucks lately in covering the Iraq war," later asserting, "I have been a voice out there against this bullshit war from the beginning." But Media Matters has documented numerous instances during the past three years in which Matthews lauded President Bush's handling of the war, advanced false and misleading claims about the war, and attacked Democratic critics of the war.

On the September 21 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Hardball host Chris Matthews complained that the news media "sucks lately in covering the Iraq war," later asserting, "I have been a voice out there against this bullshit war from the beginning." Matthews further challenged host Don Imus to "check everything -- get your Nexis-Lexis out, get your Google out ... every column I've written from the day they started talking about Iraq has been against it."

However, Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances during the past three years in which Matthews lauded President Bush's handling of the war, advanced false and misleading claims about the war, and attacked Democratic critics of the war. Matthews has also repeatedly expressed support in recent months for two potential 2008 Republican presidential candidates, Sen. John R. McCain (AZ) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, each of whom has been supportive of the war and Bush. In fact, as recently as September 19, Matthews wondered "whether there is a strong, serious alternative to the president's philosophy, which is this sort of neoconservative, we're going to go around the world and democratize other countries with force. I don't know whether there's a strong counter to that at a time of terrorism, and I'm waiting to see if there is one, a strong alternative which says, 'We can create peace, create less enemies, and we can have less terrorism if we do a different thing than he's doing.' "

During an interview with Matthews, Imus pointed to New York Times columnist Frank Rich's book, The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (Penguin Press, September 2006), and speculated that Matthews might be "uncomfortable" reading it, given that Rich's "essential thesis that they sold us this bill of goods, the administration did -- you know, Bush, [Vice President Dick] Cheney, [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld, all of them -- about the Iraq war, and you and the rest of the media went along with them, or were like enablers with an alcoholic, you know." In response, Matthews challenged Imus to "check everything," adding, "[Y]ou know damn well you pulled my chain here. I have been a voice out there against this bullshit war from the beginning." Matthews's comments were noted by the website Think Progress.

But despite pledging that he opposed the war "from the beginning" and stating that the media coverage of the war "sucks," Matthews has contributed to the problematic media coverage of many of the major events during the course of the war. For example:

  • As Media Matters noted, Matthews was chief among the cheerleaders when Bush delivered a nationally televised speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, in which he declared that "[m]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended," all the while standing under a banner reading: "Mission Accomplished." Despite lingering questions over the continued violence in Iraq, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, and the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, Matthews fawned over Bush: "He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. ... He looks for real. ... [H]e didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does. ... We're proud of our president. ... Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president."
  • On the January 31, 2005, edition of Hardball, while praising that month's Iraqi election, Matthews falsely claimed that no insurgent attacks had occurred at polling places on Election Day. In fact, attacks on Iraqi polling places were widely reported during the January 30 elections.
  • Before Bush had even delivered his November 30, 2005, speech at the U.S. Naval Academy laying out a "Strategy for Victory in Iraq," Matthews used variations of the word "brilliant" twice to describe it, while deriding Democratic critics of the Iraq war as "carpers and complainers." Media Matters noted at that time that Matthews's over-the-top praise for Bush included his claim that "[e]verybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs" and his statement that Bush sometimes "glimmers" with "sunny nobility."
  • On the December 16, 2005, edition of Hardball, Matthews stated, "If [Bush's] gamble that he can create a democracy in the middle of the Arab world" is successful, "he belongs on Mount Rushmore."
  • On the July 31 edition of Hardball, Matthews stated that if Democratic critics recognize that Bush made a "smart decision" to invade Iraq, then Bush "deserves to have a place in history" because "[y]ou can't say he did the right thing but he didn't quite do it right."
  • During a roundtable discussion about the August 8 Democratic senatorial primary in Connecticut, Matthews accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) of having employed a "bob and weave" with her position on the Iraq war, contrasting her with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT), who Matthews said "hasn't cut and run." In doing so, Matthews adopted the terminology employed by the Bush administration, and repeated by many in the media, to attack Democratic critics who have called for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- a position polls show most Americans support.
  • In recent months, Matthews and his guests on Hardball and the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show have repeatedly gushed over McCain and Giuliani as potential presidential candidates in 2008, even though both have been supporters of the war and Bush. For example, Matthews stated on the May 10 edition of Hardball that he was "still hanging in there for a McCain-Giuliani ticket."

Media Matters has noted that McCain has repeatedly defended the Bush administration's credibility on the Iraq war, while sometimes criticizing it. As recently as July 25, McCain said Bush "has tried to emphasize this [the Iraq war] is very tough." After publicly criticizing the handling of the conflict during an August 22 campaign event for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), McCain appeared to backpedal, releasing a statement on August 25 in which he "commend[ed] the President for his public statements offering Americans an honest assessment of the progress we have made in Iraq and the challenges that still confront us there, and, of course, for his determination to defend American security and international peace and stability by succeeding in this arduous and costly enterprise." On the August 27 edition of The Chris Matthews Show, Matthews ignored McCain's recent reversal during a panel discussion about McCain's support for Bush's war policies, asserting that McCain "has stuck to his guns and to an increasingly unpopular President Bush" and suggesting that McCain "seem[s] to be more authentic than other politicians."

Giuliani has also expressed support for Bush's policies. During an interview on the September 11 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, Giuliani said, "[T]here's good and bad in everything and the good part of what's going on in Iraq is that there are people trying to put together an accountable government. If they do, that could be a transformation in the Middle East and we have to support that." During an interview on the September 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Giuliani said, "I don't really think [most Americans] want us to cut and run." Giuliani also told host Bill O'Reilly, "[W]e have to have the fortitude and the strength and the ability to explain to the American people that we have to see through creating an accountable government there [in Iraq]."

Matthews wrote his final column for the San Francisco Chronicle on September 1, 2002. In it, he wrote: "I hate this war that's coming in Iraq. I don't think we'll be proud of it. Oppose this war because it will create a millennium of hatred and the suicidal terrorism that comes with it."

From the September 21 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

MATTHEWS: The news media, which I have to say sucks lately in covering the Iraq war -- it's like, we're at war, we've lost -- we've killed 50,000 people over there in that war, that died in that war, we still get guys knocked off every couple of days, a couple of more guys are killed, and yet, it's not on the tube. It's like, are we bored with the war now? Is that the new thing? We don't cover a war our guys are fighting? And I watch the news and I don't see the war anymore. It's been taken off television. And Bush must love it, because certainly Karl Rove loves the fact that the Iraq war has gotten boring for the American people.

IMUS: It probably had something to do with the tainted spinach, you know, if you think about it. So --

MATTHEWS: Well, it's just not -- how can we be at war and not watch it? I don't get it.

IMUS: Well, I don't know. It's a good question.

[...]

IMUS: It'll probably make you uncomfortable to read Frank Rich's book, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, 'cause it's Frank's essential thesis that they sold us this bill of goods, the administration did -- you know, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, all of them -- about the Iraq war, and you and the rest of the media went along with them, or were like --

MATTHEWS: Me?

IMUS: -- enablers with an alcoholic, you know.

MATTHEWS: No you're -- no, no, no -- Don -- Don -- Don -- you can check everything, get your Nexis-Lexis out, get your Google out, get your -- every column I've written from the day they started talking about Iraq has been against it. Now you're chuckling, 'cause you know damn well you pulled my chain here. I have been a voice out there against this bullshit war from the beginning.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews
Show/Publication
Imus in the Morning
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