Wash. Post's Romano challenged Matthews on his "obsession" with Clinton marriage "logistics"

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

On the May 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, in his dogged quest for what he would consider "straight answers" on the Clintons' marriage and on how much time the couple spends together, host Chris Matthews elicited the following response from Washington Post reporter Lois Romano: "[W]hat is your obsession with logistics here?"

Matthews fired off numerous questions about the Clintons' marriage to a panel that included Romano, Newsweek reporter Jonathan Darman and Washington Post staff writer Chris Cillizza:

  • "How many days of the year are they actually together in the same roof overnight, if you will?"
  • "Well, how many is it? Is it 20 days a year?"
  • "What's their deal? What is their deal, Jonathan? ... Are they in, like, what you'd call a long-distance marriage, where one person works in one city, the other works in another? How often do they actually see each other?"
  • "What does it mean to say you talk to your spouse almost every day?"
  • "Are they living on the same planet? Do they ever see each other physically?"

Referring to President Clinton, Matthews asked Romano, "Is he going to live in the White House, if they win?" Romano responded with her "obsession with logistics" question, then added, "Of course, he's going to live in the White House," before Matthews cut her off, exclaiming, "Because I'm talking to three reporters, and I'm trying to get three straight answers, so I don't want attitude about this. It's a point of view. I want facts. Tell me what the facts are, Lois, if you know them. If you don't, I don't know what you're arguing about."

Following a pattern that has been noted by Media Matters, Matthews referred to the Clinton marriage as a "sitcom," asserting:

MATTHEWS: Just remember, we were told at great lengths on 60 Minutes before the last election. This is not going to be a story again. The sitcom is over with. No more discussions about it. And all of a sudden, it became the biggest story of the second term, Lois. It really did. It became the biggest story of the second term of that presidency. And to pretend it's all gone and it's not going to be a story again, I think, is to cover up what is going to be a developing story between now and the election.

As Media Matters for America has noted, Matthews has previously obsessed over the Clintons' marriage and what he has referred to as Bill Clinton's "social life," "personal behavior," "current behavior," and "personal life," in a pattern that included Matthews comparing the former president to Holly Golightly, the fictional New York City call girl featured in Truman Capote's 1958 novel Breakfast at Tiffany's as well as the 1961 film of the same name.

Additionally, when Romano said that the Clintons spend "half a month every month" or "half a year" together, Matthews, incredulous, said, "Oh, really? I would recheck the reporting." Darman, who recently wrote a Newsweek cover story on the Clintons, responding to the same query, asserted, "I seem to recall a figure that was 70 days a year and -- so that's less than half a year." But notwithstanding his incredulity, in a May 23, 2006, New York Times article -- noted by Media Matters and frequently cited by Matthews -- reporter Patrick Healy wrote that "since the start of 2005" the Clintons, according to aides, "have been together about 14 days a month on average," and that "[o]ut of the last 73 weekends, they spent 51 together." Further, as Media Matters noted, on the May 31, 2006, edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Healy acknowledged that it was "a very fair point to make" when host Zahn wondered whether Healy's calculation of the number of days the Clintons have recently spent together would be "really any different from members of Congress whose families stay at home in the home district and the -- the working member of Congress stays in Washington." Healy responded that the time the Clintons spend together is "pretty similar" to other families that include a member of Congress.

Weblogger Bob Somerby noted some of Matthews' comments on the Daily Howler weblog on May 22.

From the May 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Is Bill more trouble than he's worth, or is he a big plus for Hillary getting back -- the family back to the White House?

DARMAN: I mean, so far, Chris, I think we've seen how he's a big asset for her. He's gone out there and he's raised a lot of money for her, and he's certainly whispering in her ear. And you look at who her top team are, they're all Bill Clinton people. They're people like Terry McAuliffe and they're people like Mark Penn. These are people who know what Bill Clinton thinks about the race, and that's really helpful to any candidate. Now --

MATTHEWS: What's their deal? What is their deal, Jonathan? You must have done some reporting on this. Let's not get into the particular human details of their relationship because who knows about any relationship, but do they live in the same world? Are they in, like, what you'd call a long-distance marriage, where one person works in one city, the other works in another? How often do they actually see each other?

DARMAN: They don't see each other that much. And this is, of course, a pretty sensitive issue for them. And it's actually also a sensitive issue as they talk about that global ambassador role that he's supposedly going to play if he's in the White House. Some people see a sort of coded message in that, which is, "Hey, he's not going to be hanging around the White House." But then that invites all its own problems, with people saying, "Well, how close is this marriage, and how much time are these people really spending together?"

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Lois Romano. Without getting any further than I'm going right now, how do you explain a comment from the former president -- "I talk to her almost every day"?

ROMANO: He does. I --

MATTHEWS: Well, what does that mean, though? What does it mean to say you talk to your spouse almost every day?

ROMANO: Well, look, what I think --

MATTHEWS: What does that mean, to say something like that?

ROMANO: I think they're extremely close. They're of one mind. And I -- I --

MATTHEWS: I'm not asking about that. Are they living on the same planet? Do they ever see each other physically?

ROMANO: They're completely -- oh, yes, yes, yes.

MATTHEWS: Where?

ROMANO: Chris, come on. They're a partnership. Because, look, she's a senator. She goes home on weekends. He's traveling around. But they are -- they are -- make no mistake about it, they are a partnership, and they are a love story. I mean, regardless of anything else that's happened --

MATTHEWS: Well, how many is it? Twenty days a year? How many days of the year are they actually together in the same roof overnight, if you will?

ROMANO: I think -- I think that I saw a report that said it was about half a month.

MATTHEWS: A year?

ROMANO: Yeah. Well, a half a month every month. So, whatever -- half a year, yes.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really? I would recheck the reporting. Is that what you got, Jonathan, in your reporting, that they're together half the time overnight?

DARMAN: I --

MATTHEWS: They actually live together half the time? I don't think I'm getting that from your -- your words so far tonight.

DARMAN: From what I've -- from what I've heard from people -- this is not, again, something they like to talk about that much -- but that it's a little bit less than that. And I seem to recall a figure that was 70 days a year and -- so that's less than half a year. But again, I mean, there's this -- there's this question of -- in a lot of ways, both of the Clintons have really benefited since they've been out of the White House by going out there and carving out their own identities. He's doing his global thing with the foundation, and she's sort of distinguished herself as a senator, and they've really, you know, benefited from getting their own individual identities and not having everyone fixating on what their --

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense, Jonathan --

DARMAN: -- marital dynamic is.

MATTHEWS: You put a cover piece, so I'm going to keep pounding on you. Is he going to live in the White House, if they win? Why are you laughing, Lois?

ROMANO: Because -- what is your obsession with logistics here? Of course he's going to live in the White House and --

MATTHEWS: Because I'm talking to three reporters, and I'm trying to get three straight answers, so I don't want attitude about this. It's a point of view -- I want facts. Tell me what the facts are, Lois, if you know them. If you don't, I don't know what you're arguing about.

ROMANO: Of course, he's going to -- of course, he's going to -- look, they're dancing a very delicate dance now. He doesn't want to be too influential. He doesn't want to be around too much. He wants to advise her. Of course they're going to say he's not going to be at the White House 24/7 because then everybody will say, "Oh, he's going to be president." But I believe he's going to live in the White House, and I believe --

MATTHEWS: You don't think it's -- Lois, you don't think it's a relevant story for people who are going to vote in this election?

ROMANO: No. I don't.

MATTHEWS: You don't think it's relevant whether Bill Clinton comes back and lives in the White House? You don't think that's relevant?

ROMANO: It is relevant because people are going to be concerned that he's going to be the president. People that want him to be the president will like that, and others that don't like either of them will keep bringing that up. But I mean, I think it's crazy to think he's not going to live in the White House. Is he going to travel and do other stuff? Of course, he's going to do that.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Just remember --

CILLIZZA: And it's very hard to get at.

MATTHEWS: -- we were told at great lengths on 60 Minutes before the last election. This is not going to be a story again. The sitcom is over with. No more discussions about it. And all of a sudden, it became the biggest story of the second term, Lois. It really did. It became the biggest story of the second term of that presidency. And to pretend it's all gone and it's not going to be a story again, I think, is to cover up what is going to be a developing story between now and the election.

ROMANO: No, I'm not saying it's not going to be a story. Of course, everybody is focused on their relationship. But what I'm saying is that, basically, they are a team. They are a partnership. And he's very popular right now. I mean, yeah, is it an issue?

MATTHEWS: Yes? Well, then --

ROMANO: But I think it's --

MATTHEWS: -- it's a positive.

ROMANO: What's an issue is what you don't want to talk about, and that is the blow-up over Monica Lewinsky. I mean, that's the issue that people don't want to talk about and that they're staring at right now and saying, gee --

MATTHEWS: Right.

ROMANO: -- you know, a little -- everybody's a little edgy about it, but -- but you -- you know, but aside from that, which is a big aside, they are a partnership. His numbers are way through the ceiling right now.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

ROMANO: I mean, he just brings positives to, I think --

MATTHEWS: Yes, because the American memory is about, what, three minutes?

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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