Matthews, repeatedly using "cocaine," falsely asserted Clinton strategist "raised drugs"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On The Chris Matthews Show, Matthews falsely asserted that Mark Penn "raised drugs again when I had him on Hardball." In fact, that entire Hardball segment was devoted to the controversy over remarks made by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's then-campaign co-chair about Sen. Barack Obama's past drug use, and Penn was not the first to "raise[]" the issue. On the December 14 edition of Hardball, Matthews accused Clinton's campaign of engaging in "dirty politics"; Matthews and his guests went on to say "cocaine" a total of 10 times during the show.

During the December 16 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews falsely asserted that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) chief strategist, Mark Penn, "raised drugs again when I had him on Hardball that same night this week." Matthews was referring to an exchange he had on the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Penn, Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) chief strategist, David Axelrod, and adviser to former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) Joe Trippi. The exchange concerned controversial remarks about Obama's past drug use made by William Shaheen, a Clinton campaign co-chair who subsequently resigned. Contrary to Matthews' assertion that Penn "raised drugs again" on Hardball, the entire Hardball segment was devoted to the controversy over Shaheen's comments, and Penn was not the first to "raise[]" the issue, as Media Matters for America documented. Matthews explicitly asked Penn at least three distinct questions about the topic, two of which directly referenced "drugs" or "drug use," and Penn had offered at least two specific responses before he said "cocaine," which he said in direct response to Matthews' question about whether "going after his [Obama's] perhaps youthful drug use" is an "appropriate shot[] at the opponent or ... below the belt." Indeed, prior to using the word "cocaine," Penn disavowed the tactic, saying, "I'm really disappointed. I think this thing with Billy Shaheen, he's stepped down. It was never a part of this campaign. It was unacceptable." Moreover, the video clip of the Hardball exchange aired on The Chris Matthews Show did not include any of Matthews' questions and began with Penn's third distinct answer, the first in which he mentioned "cocaine."

Similarly, during the December 14 edition of Hardball, Matthews thrice aired a video clip of the exchange from the December 13 edition of the show. In all three cases, the clip did not include any of Matthews' questions and began with Penn's remark. Matthews introduced the clip the third time by stating: "Let's take a look at Mark Penn last night on Hardball, the way he brought up the issue of cocaine." Politico chief political columnist Roger Simon also asserted that Clinton has "gone negative just in stupid ways," citing as an example "Mark Penn's raising the cocaine issue on with you yesterday." Matthews replied, "Yeah, right here."

Further, while Matthews accused Clinton's campaign of engaging in "dirty politics," he began the December 14 edition of Hardball by asking, "Is the Clinton campaign pushing the drug story? When it comes to stopping Obama, do things go better with coke?" Matthews and his guests then proceeded to say "cocaine" a total of 10 times during the December 14 show:

  • Matthews asserted that "Hillary Clinton's top message man, Mark Penn, came on Hardball and dropped the word 'cocaine' twice amidst the storm of criticism that Hillary Clinton was already going too far in attacking her opponent."
  • Matthews said that Clinton's "top man, as we just saw -- her top message man late last night mentioned cocaine twice on Hardball."
  • NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory said that Penn was "on this program, and he's saying, 'Well, we're not raising the cocaine issue,' even though he says 'cocaine' twice."
  • Matthews asserted that Obama "must be thinking, 'Wait a minute, I scolded her, and later in the afternoon, she responded to my scolding by having Mark Penn come out and nail me for cocaine twice.' "
  • Matthews said that Obama "as a teenager admitted having used drugs -- including cocaine."
  • Gregory asserted that "Mark Penn said this last night on the issue of the cocaine use with Barack Obama, say, 'Oh, no, we -- this issue is dead now. This is over. Everybody's moved beyond this.' "
  • Simon said that Clinton has "gone negative just in stupid ways," citing as an example "Mark Penn's raising the cocaine issue on with you yesterday."
  • Matthews asserted, "Let's take a look at Mark Penn last night on Hardball, the way he brought up the issue of cocaine."
  • Matthews said, "Well, that was Joe Trippi brilliantly grabbing -- notice how the camera guy, he pulled the camera over to him so he could call the guy for saying "cocaine" twice."

Matthews also used two slang terms for cocaine during the December 14 Hardball, referencing the Coca-Cola Co.'s 1963 slogan "Things go better with Coke" three times, as well as stating, "Well, the weather isn't the only thing that's turning nasty in December. Lots of buzz about snow today in Washington, but it's not the kind you're thinking of."

Matthews also further distorted Penn's remarks, claiming that Penn "says, 'Barack Obama called my candidate disingenuous, so I'll suggest he's a drug dealer. That's not exactly even-steven." But Penn never used the term "drug dealer" during the December 13 Hardball, and his reference to drugs came directly in response to Matthews' question about whether "going after his [Obama's] perhaps youthful drug use" is an "appropriate shot[] at the opponent or ... below the belt."

As Media Matters noted, during the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, guest host Norah O'Donnell highlighted the exchange from the December 13 Hardball. O'Donnell asserted that Penn "once again brought up cocaine -- twice" and later claimed that Penn "on his own brought up cocaine." Moreover, the video clip of the Hardball exchange aired on Tucker did not include any of Matthews' questions and began with Penn's third distinct answer, the first in which he mentioned "cocaine."

From the December 16 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: Where do they have alligators that you know about? Anyway, even after Hillary apologized to Obama, Clinton's top strategist, Mark Penn, raised drugs again when I had him on Hardball that same night this week.

[begin video clip]

PENN: The issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising, and I think that's been made clear.

I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator --

TRIPPI: I think he just did it again. He just did it again.

PENN: This kindergarten thing, after what the senator did --

TRIPPI: Unbelievable.

[video break]

PENN: Excuse me.

TRIPPI: This guy's been filibustering on this. He just said "cocaine" again.

[begin video clip]

MATTHEWS: That was Joe Trippi, who works for Edwards, taking a shot at Penn for saying, "Hey, you're the Hillary spokesman. You write his [sic] ad copy, and there you're pushing the cocaine issue."

From the December 14 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Is the Clinton campaign pushing the drug story? When it comes to stopping Obama, do things go better with coke?

Let's play Hardball.

[...]

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to Hardball. Well, the weather isn't the only thing that's turning nasty in December. Lots of buzz about snow today in Washington, but it's not the kind you're thinking of. Billy Shaheen, a co-chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign nationally, resigned after raising questions about Barack Obama's youthful drug use yesterday. Then last night, Hillary Clinton's top message man, Mark Penn, came on Hardball and dropped the word "cocaine" twice amidst the storm of criticism that Hillary Clinton was already going too far in attacking her opponent.

[begin video clip]

PENN: Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising.

[video break]

TRIPPI: No, no, Mark, excuse me.

PENN: Excuse me. Excuse me.

TRIPPI: This guy's been filibustering on this. He just said "cocaine" again. It's like --

PENN: I think you're saying "cocaine."

TRIPPI: No, no.

PENN: I don't know. I think you're --

[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: Well, he said it twice. More on dirty politics in a moment.

Plus, Hillary Clinton has apologized -- or, actually, been forced to apologize -- personally to Senator Obama for the drug comments by one of her people. You can take that for what it's worth, given that her top man, as we just saw -- her top message man late last night mentioned cocaine twice on Hardball.

[...]

MATTHEWS: David Gregory, the old slogan was, "Things go better with Coke." Who's this issue helping? Is it helping Barack, being the victim of what looks like a dirty attack, or is it helping Hillary by diminishing the electability quotient of Barack Obama next November?

GREGORY: Well, if that's her intention, if that's the Clinton campaign's intention, they seem to be missing the mark here. The question of his electability, of his strength and his experience -- that's exactly where they want to attack him, but that's not what's happening now.

I mean, what was striking last night on this program is that here is Hillary Clinton's chief strategist -- not just message man, strategist, her guru, besides her husband, the guy who has predicted historic female voting patterns for Hillary Clinton, the guy who's written a book about all the microtrends in the country -- and yet he's on this program, and he's saying, "Well, we're not raising the cocaine issue," even though he says "cocaine" twice. He basically says that "he" -- Obama -- "started getting mean before we did," and that, "Oh, by the way, he's too ambitious," something that nobody would accuse the Clintons of.

So if that's a sign of where their campaign is --

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

GREGORY: -- on the heels of Bill Clinton attacking the press and misstating his position about the Iraq war, it's a sign of defensiveness.

MATTHEWS: You know, it's like he said last night, as you point out -- I want to show the clip right now, David, but he said -- this is Mark Penn, who I always thought was a really smart guy, and I think he is, generally speaking. And Mark Penn, her chief message man, who writes the copy for her TV ads, so you can't say he's off message -- this is the message -- he says, "Barack Obama called my candidate disingenuous, so I'll suggest he's a drug dealer." That's not exactly even-steven.

Let's take a look at what Mark Penn said last night. As you said, he used the "C" word twice.

[begin video clip]

PENN: Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising, and I think that's been made clear.

I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator --

TRIPPI: I think he just did it again. He just did it again.

PENN: This kindergarten thing, after what the senator did --

TRIPPI: Unbelievable. They just literally --

[crosstalk]

PENN: Excuse me.

TRIPPI: No, no. No, no, Mark, excuse me.

PENN: Excuse me. Excuse me.

TRIPPI: This guy's been filibustering on this. He just said "cocaine" again. It's like --

PENN: I think you're saying "cocaine."

TRIPPI: No, no.

PENN: I don't know. I think you're saying "cocaine."

[crosstalk]

TRIPPI: You just did it.

PENN: I don't know why you're saying it.

[crosstalk]

MATTHEWS: OK, Joe Trippi's turn.

[crosstalk]

TRIPPI: No.

MATTHEWS: Joe Trippi's turn.

TRIPPI: What happened -- no, look, the person who the person who won today was John Edwards. Why? Because he's speaking to the frustration of Americans about something that's going on, how greed's taken over Washington and stopping health care from happening, stopping trade -- you know, trade deals that go through that talk about corporate profits. He was talking about real stuff that is really, really affecting working people here in Iowa, who are frustrated and worried about their jobs, while we listen to this garbage that's been going on for a couple of days now. It needs to stop.

[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: You know, it's amazing. We all think back on The Wizard of Oz -- I always did -- to the men behind the curtain. Who is the man behind the curtain? We just saw three of them right there, Axelrod, who was outside, but the two guys inside were mixing it up.

[...]

MATTHEWS: He's scolding her still for letting her people speak this way.

ANDREA MITCHELL (NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent): Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Especially, he must be thinking, "Wait a minute, I scolded her, and later in the afternoon, she responded to my scolding by having Mark Penn come out and nail me for cocaine twice."

MITCHELL: But then he sent out -- he, Obama, sent out a fundraising letter. He has -- they've made the calculation, the Obama people, that they have more to gain by showing her playing old-fashioned politics, negative politics -- the way they would cast it, at least -- than to lose from bringing this up, at least in a Democratic primary context.

MATTHEWS: What's the weekend line on this? David Yepsen, you're political columnist for The Des Moines Register. You're reporting this weekend, what is the score on this? Is Obama winning because he's the victim of what looks like a sleazy campaign effort to tie him up as an old drug dealer, literally, or is it Hillary, who's been able to damage him as electable?

YEPSEN: No, I think it's John Edwards because of the reasons Joe Trippi said. If Edwards can stay above the fray, the pattern out here has always been, that candidate comes out ahead. And John Edwards, as you just mentioned, took a hit, started going negative, his numbers dropped. He's backed off. He's Mr. Nice Guy now. And Obama and Clinton -- you know, this doesn't sell very well.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do people make out there -- what do people make out there, David -- and then David Gregory jump in. David Yepsen, what do people make in Iowa of the charge that a guy, who, as a teenager, admitted having used drugs -- including cocaine, if you read the book -- and did it quite candidly about the part of growing up and making mistakes and wasting his life as part of his sort of rite of passage, if you will? How does that play, just that fact, if it's clear that he did use drugs?

[...]

GREGORY: Well, there is a cynicism about this, this approach to, "Well, I can put something out there that's clearly going to have some impact, that we hope to have some impact, and then I can bring it back in, say I'm sorry personally, and then it's all put to bed."

You know, Mark Penn said this last night on the issue of the cocaine use with Barack Obama, say, "Oh, no, we -- this issue is dead now. This is over. Everybody's moved beyond this." It can all sort of be, you know, contained in that way. Yeah, there's something eerily similar to the Mike Huckabee incident against [Mitt] Romney and Clinton against Obama.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Do you accept the law of physics that an object remains in motion unless operated on by an outside force? In other words, if you let things go, he continues to rise?

SIMON: Yes. She's got to change the conversation, but I think she's doing it the wrong way.

She's gone negative in direct ways. She's gone negative in sly ways. She's gone negative just in stupid ways -- Mark Penn's --

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

SIMON: -- raising the cocaine issue on with you yesterday.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, right here.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Well, let's look at that. I love the way you talk. Let's take a look at Mark Penn last night on Hardball, the way he brought up the issue of cocaine.

[begin video clip]

PENN: Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising, and I think that's been made clear.

I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator --

TRIPPI: I think he just did it again. He just did it again.

PENN: This kindergarten thing, after what the senator did --

TRIPPI: Unbelievable. They just literally --

[crosstalk]

PENN: Excuse me.

TRIPPI: No, no. No, no, Mark, excuse me.

PENN: Excuse me. Excuse me.

TRIPPI: This guy's been filibustering on this. He just said "cocaine" again. It's like --

PENN: I think you're saying "cocaine."

TRIPPI: No, no.

PENN: I don't know. I think you're saying "cocaine."

[crosstalk]

TRIPPI: You just did it.

PENN: I don't know why you're saying it.

[crosstalk]

MATTHEWS: OK, Joe Trippi's turn.

[crosstalk]

TRIPPI: No.

MATTHEWS: Joe Trippi's turn.

TRIPPI: What happened -- no, look, the person who won today was John Edwards. Why? Because he's speaking to the frustration of Americans about something that's going on, how greed's taken over Washington and stopping health care from happening, stopping trade -- you know, trade deals that go through that talk about corporate profits. He was talking about real stuff that is really, really affecting working people here in Iowa, who are frustrated and worried about their jobs, while we listen to this garbage that's been going on for a couple of days now. It needs to stop.

[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: Well, that was Joe Trippi brilliantly grabbing -- notice how the camera guy, he pulled the camera over to him so he could call the guy for saying "cocaine" twice in the midst of what looked to be an apology campaign by Hillary.

STEPHEN F. HAYES (senior writer for The Weekly Standard): Look, this is politics by paraleipsis. Basically means Mark Penn brought this up in a way that made it look like he was dismissing it. But clearly he was not only bringing it up, but he was going deeper. I mean, it was clearly by design.

MATTHEWS: He said the "C" word -- let me go -- do things go better with coke with this campaign? I mean, this is going to help him, right? They think it's going to help him. Jennifer [Donahue, senior adviser at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics], I want your thoughts on this.

DONAHUE: Chris, can I just jump in?

MATTHEWS: New Hampshire may not have the sensibil-- you don't have to jump in, you're in. Does New Hampshire have the same sort of sensibilities of Iowa, which is they don't like nasty campaigning? Or do they say, "Hey, Hillary's pretty tough. She's pointing out the guy's drug use. That may hurt him in the general"?

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, NBC
Person
Chris Matthews, Roger Simon, David Gregory
Show/Publication
The Chris Matthews Show, Hardball
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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