On CNN, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz asked: "Republicans were willing to participate in an MSNBC debate with a guy [Chris Matthews] who used to work for Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill. Should Democrats be refusing to debate on Fox News?" Similarly, an Associated Press article implicitly contrasted Matthews, presented as not overtly partisan, with MSNBC colleague Keith Olbermann. Neither Kurtz nor the AP mentioned the numerous instances in which Matthews has showered praise on several of the Republican presidential hopefuls.
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On the May 6 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, host and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz asked: "Republicans were willing to participate in an MSNBC debate with a guy who used to work for [former President] Jimmy Carter and [former House Speaker] Tip O'Neill [D]. Should Democrats be refusing to debate on Fox News?" Kurtz was referring to Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball and the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, who moderated the May 3 Republican presidential debate sponsored by MSNBC and The Politico. At no point did Kurtz mention that Matthews has showered praise on several of the Republican presidential hopefuls, and during the debate itself, Matthews invited attacks on the Clintons by asking a question that did not in any way address the Republican candidates themselves or their views on issues.
A May 6 article by Associated Press television writer David Bauder also ignored Matthews' gushing over some of the Republican candidates, but took a slightly different tack on Matthews -- suggesting that notwithstanding his Democratic roots, Matthews is not overtly partisan, unlike his MSNBC colleague Keith Olbermann. In the article, which focused on MSNBC's decision to have Olbermann anchor the channel's debate coverage, Bauder set up an implicit comparison between Matthews and Olbermann, whose selection as anchor, Bauder wrote, amounted to "the MSNBC equivalent of Fox News Channel assigning the same duties to O'Reilly." In contrast, Bauder wrote: "Even for television hosts unafraid to say what they think -- Chris Matthews, for instance -- there's still a little mystery about what they'll do inside a voting booth."
In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, Matthews has asserted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "deserves" the presidency. On the March 29 edition of Hardball, Matthews stated: "John McCain certainly deserves to be president, based on his contribution to this country over the years." Matthews has also lauded McCain as a "maverick," "kind of a party renegade," and a "lone gun." On the June 14, 2006, edition of Hardball, Matthews said that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) "may well be the perfect candidate to replace [President Bush]" and that he "spoke a lot like the best of [former British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill." Matthews has also claimed that Giuliani "has street cred" on the issue of "protect[ing] this country against the bad guys." Additionally, as Media Matters has noted, Matthews continues to tout Giuliani's purported elimination of the urine smell in New York City subways. On the January 19 edition of Hardball, Matthews said of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R): "He has the perfect chin, the perfect hair, he looks right. He looks like a Mountie. He looks like from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
As Media Matters documented, during the debate on MSNBC, Matthews asked, "Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?" Later, when he reiterated the question, Matthews asked, "Should the Clintons come back to the White House, especially Big Bill?" Matthews has obsessed over what he has referred to as Bill Clinton's "social life," "personal behavior," "current behavior," and "personal life." Matthews has also stated that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) voice sounds like "fingernails on a blackboard" to some men and that her criticism of the Bush administration's homeland security spending priorities made her look "witchy." Matthews has also wondered if there is a "gigantic monster," a "big, green, horny-headed ... monster of anti-Hillaryism that hasn't shown itself."
From the May 6 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
KURTZ: All right. We have agreement on that.
Now, Republicans were willing to participate in an MSNBC debate with a guy who used to work for Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill. Should Democrats be refusing to debate on Fox News?
AMY HOLMES (Republican strategist): No.
JOHN ARAVOSIS (AMERICAblog.com blogger): Yeah.
KURTZ: Why are they?
HOLMES: Why are they refusing? Maybe they are worried that they're going to get tough questions the way Chris Matthews was pushing, you know, Mitt Romney on his Mormonism or Giuliani on abortion.
ARAVOSIS: Because Fox News isn't a real news network. It's a Republican Party propaganda organ.
Chris Matthews, on the other hand, has gotten a lot of criticism from the left that people feel he's gone too far right over the years. So, I think at least Matthews is debatable what side of the party he's on. Sort of like George Stephanopoulos now [former Clinton administration aide and host of ABC's This Week].
Stephanopoulos has pretty -- cleansed himself of the liberal thing. I mean, he goes after everyone.
Fox News doesn't go after everyone. They go after liberals.
From Bauder's May 6 Associated Press article:
In an angry commentary on April 25, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann accused Rudolph Giuliani of using the language of Osama bin Laden with "the same chilling nonchalance of the madman" to argue that Republicans would keep Americans safer than Democrats from terror.
Eight days later, Olbermann hosted MSNBC's coverage of the first debate among Republican candidates for president.
Olbermann's popularity and evolving image as an idealogue [sic] has led NBC News to stretch traditional notions of journalistic objectivity. The danger for MSNBC is provoking the same anger among Republicans that Democrats feel toward Fox News Channel.
The Giuliani campaign privately expressed its concern to NBC News about Olbermann's role in the days leading up to last Thursday's debate.
For many years, the rule for journalists was simple: maintain strict objectivity. Even for television hosts unafraid to say what they think -- Chris Matthews, for instance -- there's still a little mystery about what they'll do inside a voting booth.
Clearly there's a taste in America for both a partisan and nonpartisan press.
The middle ground is where it gets tricky.
Having Olbermann anchor -- as he will continue, with Matthews, for big political nights throughout the campaign -- is the MSNBC equivalent of Fox News Channel assigning the same duties to O'Reilly.
Fox has never done that, perhaps mindful of the immediate controversy that would result. Fox has tried to differentiate between its news operation and its prime-time opinion shows, even as its critics believe strongly that's bunk. In this case, MSNBC doesn't try to separate news and opinion people, even as it tries to separate news and opinion.