MSNBC's Chris Matthews problem
I do not care which person is your candidate. I don't care what you think of Hillary Clinton as a potential president. What is being done in the press is akin to a pack of rabid 7th graders trying to haze the nerdy girl in school simply because they can. It has nothing to do with her qualifications -- it has to do with gender, and these lemming pundits think that it's perfectly acceptable because everyone is doing it, including women like Andrea Mitchell and Anne Kornblut.
-- Christy Hardin Smith, Firedoglake
"OK, let's put the gender thing in here. I love gender politics, guys."
-- Chris Matthews
The behavior Christy Hardin Smith describes has its epicenter on MSNBC's Hardball, where rarely a day goes by without host Chris Matthews sputtering and shouting about Hillary Clinton, often in terms that would give Bobby Riggs pause.
Put simply, Matthews behaves as though he is obsessed with Hillary Clinton. And not "obsessed" in a charming, mostly harmless, Lloyd-Dobler-with-a-boom-box kind of way. "Obsessed" in a this-person-needs-help kind of way.
More than six years ago, long before Hillary Clinton began running for president, the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine reported that, according to an MSNBC colleague, Matthews had said of Clinton: "I hate her. I hate her. All that she stands for."
Even before that, Matthews told the January 20, 2000, Hardball audience, "Hillary Clinton bugs a lot of guys, I mean, really bugs people like maybe me on occasion. I'm not going to take a firm position here, because the election is not coming up yet. But let me just say this, she drives some of us absolutely nuts."
Not that there was much chance his feelings would go unnoticed by even the most casual Hardball viewer.
Matthews has referred to Clinton as "She devil." He has repeatedly likened Clinton to "Nurse Ratched," referring to the "scheming, manipulative" character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest who "asserts arbitrary control simply because she can." He has called her "Madame Defarge." And he has described male politicians who have endorsed Clinton as "castratos in the eunuch chorus."
Matthews has compared Clinton to a "strip-teaser" and questioned whether she is "a convincing mom." He refers to Clinton's "cold eyes" and the "cold look" she supposedly gives people; he says she speaks in a "scolding manner" and is "going to tell us what to do."
Matthews frequently obsesses over Clinton's "clapping" -- which he describes as "Chinese." He describes Clinton's laugh as a "cackle" -- which led to the Politico's Mike Allen telling him, "Chris, first of all, 'cackle' is a very sexist term." (Worth remembering: When John McCain was asked by a GOP voter referring to Clinton, "How do we beat the bitch?" Allen reacted by wondering, "What voter in general hasn't thought that?" So Allen isn't exactly hypersensitive to people describing Clinton in sexist terms.)
Matthews repeatedly suggests Clinton is a "fraud" for claiming to be a Yankees fan, despite the fact that all available evidence indicates that Clinton has been a Yankees fan since childhood. In April of 2007, former Washington Post reporter John Harris, who has written a book about Bill Clinton, told Matthews to his face that the attacks on Clinton over her history of being a Yankees fan were false. Harris said: "Hillary Clinton got hazed over saying she was a New York Yankees fan. It turned out, actually, that was right. She had been a lifelong Yankees fan. But people were all over [her] for supposedly embroidering her past." But Matthews doesn't let a little thing like the truth get in the way of his efforts to take cheap shots at Clinton: At least twice since Harris set him straight, Matthews has attacked Clinton over the Yankees fan nonsense, once calling her a "fraud."
Matthews has described Clinton as "witchy" and -- in what appears to be a classic case of projection -- claimed that "some men" say Clinton's voice sounds like "fingernails on a blackboard." In what appears to be an even more classic case of projection, Matthews has speculated that there is "out there in the country ... some gigantic monster -- big, green, horny-headed, all kinds of horns coming out, big, aggressive monster of anti-Hillaryism that hasn't shown itself: it's based upon gender."
Matthews has suggested that Hillary Clinton "being surrounded by women" might "make a case against" her being "commander in chief." He once asked a guest if "the troops out there" would "take the orders" from "Hillary Clinton, commander in chief." When his guest responded, "Why wouldn't they listen to a [female] commander in chief? Sure," Matthews responded: "You're chuckling a little bit, aren't you?" When his guest responded "No," Matthews couldn't quite believe it, sputtering: "No problem? No problem? No problem?"
Matthews has wondered if she is unable "to admit a mistake" because doing so would lead people to call her a "fickle woman." He has said that Clinton is on a "short ... leash" as a presidential candidate, lacking "latitude in her husband's absence" to answer a question. He has, at least twice, called Hillary Clinton an "uppity" woman -- both times, pretending to attribute the phrase to Bill Clinton. But, as Bob Somerby has explained, there is no evidence Clinton has ever used the term.
One of Matthews' favorite topics is Clinton's marriage. After The New York Times ran an article purporting to count the number of nights the Clintons spend together, Matthews' imagination ran wild, and the MSNBC host couldn't get the Clintons' marital life out of his mind. At one point, Media Matters counted 90 separate questions Matthews asked guests about the topic during seven separate programs; the number undoubtedly grew after we stopped counting. In the middle of one of Matthews' bouts of obsessive speculation about how often the Clintons are "together in the same roof overnight, if you will," Washington Post reporter Lois Romano asked him, "[W]hat is your obsession with logistics here?" In response, Matthews snapped at her: "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."
Matthews has claimed: "[T]he reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around." John McCain's political career got started after he left his first wife for a wealthy and politically connected heiress, married her, and ran for Congress. But Chris Matthews doesn't suggest that the reason McCain is a "U.S. senator ... a candidate for president ... a front-runner" is that he "messed around." Even Fox News' Bill O'Reilly said Matthews' comments about Clinton went too far: "I mean, it's rough business what these people over there [at MSNBC] are doing. We don't do that here. We would never say that Senator Clinton got her job because her husband messed around. I mean, that is -- that is a personal attack. And it is questionable whether a network should allow that or not."
Matthews periodically gets it into his head that the most important question in the world is whether Bill Clinton will be a "distraction" or whether he will "behave himself." He badgers Clinton aides about the question and warns that Bill Clinton "better watch it." He asks if Clinton will be a "good boy" or be guilty of "misbehavior." Matthews is not so subtly referring to Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. But curiously, he doesn't have the same concerns about McCain or about Rudy Giuliani, as I wrote nearly a year ago.
Think about this for a second: Chris Matthews is holding it against Hillary Clinton that her husband cheated on her. But he doesn't hold it against John McCain and Rudy Giuliani that they cheated on their spouses. Matthews seems to think women are to blame when their husbands have affairs -- and men who cheat on their spouses are blameless.
And then there's Matthews' fixation on Hillary Clinton's "ambition." In December 1999, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson appeared on Hardball to discuss Clinton's Senate campaign. Matthews asked Wolfson eight consecutive questions about whether Clinton was "ambitious." Finally, Matthews said, "People who seek political power are ambitious by definition," leading Wolfson to tell him: "if you say so. If it will make you happy, I'll agree." If Matthews has ever displayed as much interest in the "ambition" of male candidates like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, or Mike Huckabee, he has done so in private.
And, in the midst of his years-long assault on Hillary Clinton, much of it either directly based on her gender or on a sexist double standard, Matthews has the audacity to accuse Clinton of being "anti-male" and to insist that "she should just lighten up on this gender -- 'the boys are coming to get me' routine."
None of this should surprise us. Chris Matthews acknowledged his feelings about Hillary Clinton long ago: "I hate her. I hate her. All that she stands for." And "she drives some of us [guys] absolutely nuts."
But Matthews' questionable treatment of women extends beyond Hillary Clinton.
Matthews has described House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as "scary" and suggested she would "castrate" House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. And he has wondered how she could disagree with President Bush "without screaming? How does she do it without becoming grating?"
Just this week, Matthews claimed there isn't a plausible female presidential candidate "on the horizon" because there aren't any "big-state women governors" -- but Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius all run states with populations comparable to male governors who have recently run for president, including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Bill Richardson. How large a state does a woman have to run before she qualifies as a plausible presidential candidate to Chris Matthews? One that is twice as large as Mitt Romney's Massachusetts? Three times as large?
Last October, Matthews mused aloud about a hypothetical couple trying to decide who to support for president. In Matthews' mind, the wife just wants to see "the first woman president." According to Matthews, the husband has to explain the math to his wife: "[T]he husband says, 'You know, dear, you know, this is going to kill our tax bracket. You know that tuition thing we pay every couple of years for the kids, every year, we can't do that if we get a higher tax bracket. We have to pay more money.' "
After the Des Moines Register endorsed Hillary Clinton earlier this year, Matthews suggested that the paper's "female editors and publisher" succumbed to "lobbying" by Bill Clinton.
Matthews has repeatedly focused on the physical characteristics of his female guests. He recently began an interview with conservative radio host and author Laura Ingraham by telling her, "I'm not allowed to say this, but I'll say it -- you're beautiful and you're smart." He ended the interview by saying: "I get in trouble for this, but you're great looking, obviously. You're one of the gods' gifts to men in this country. But also, you are a hell of a writer." Note that Matthews said Ingraham is also a good writer -- apparently, to Chris Matthews, there is no reason for men to care about whether a woman can write, only about how she looks.
Matthews' comments about Ingraham came only a month after he told CNBC anchor Erin Burnett, "You're a knockout," adding: "It's all right getting bad news from you." Matthews also told Burnett: "Come on in closer. No, come in -- come in further -- come in closer. Really close." Matthews made such a spectacle of himself during the exchange that The New York Post said "it sure looked" like Matthews had been "perving on CNBC hottie Erin Burnett on live TV the other night." Matthews explained that he had merely been "kidding around."
During MSNBC's April 26, 2007, coverage of the first Democratic presidential debate, Matthews discussed the "cosmetics" of the evening. In doing so, he complimented Michelle Obama's pearl necklace and declared that she "looked perfect," "well-turned out ... attractive -- classy, as we used to say. Like Frank Sinatra, 'classy.' "
Matthews also appeared to argue that many viewers would be basing their decisions about the candidates on how, in Clinton's case, the candidate was dressed, or, in the case of the male candidates, how their spouses were dressed: "Some people are, by the way, just watching tonight. They stopped listening a half-hour in, and they noticed how pretty she is -- Michelle -- and they said, 'I like the fact he's [Barack Obama] got this pretty wife. He's happily married. I like that.' They like the fact that Hillary was demure, lady-like in her appearance." When NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell interjected, noting "You're talking about two ... lawyers," who went to "Harvard and Yale," Matthews defended himself, saying, "Cosmetics are a part of this game."
Nor is any of this new: In August 1999, Matthews hosted notorious liar Gennifer Flowers, during which he told her: "I gotta pay a little tribute here. You're a very beautiful woman, and I -- and I have to tell you, he knows that, you know that, and everybody watching knows that; Hillary Clinton knows that. How can a woman put up with a relationship between her husband and somebody, anybody, but especially somebody like you that's a knockout?" After Flowers told him "Gosh, you make me blush here," Matthews replied, "[I]t's an objective statement, Gennifer. I'm not flirting."
In 2000, Matthews responded to linguist Deborah Tannen's explanation of then-presidential candidate George W. Bush's efforts to appeal to women voters by saying, "So is this like the political equivalent of Spanish fly? That these seductive number of words you just drop out there and women just swoon." That led another Hardball guest, Lynn Martin -- a Republican -- to point out, "You wouldn't suggest he's seducing men."
Chris Matthews has been treating female guests as sexual objects for years. He has been judging women -- senators, presidential candidates, the speaker of the House -- on their clothes and their voices and their appearance for years. He has been referring to women as "castrating" for years. He has been applying double standards to male and female candidates for years.
This is who Chris Matthews is. He is a man who thinks that men who support women politicians are "eunuchs."
He isn't going to stop unless you make him stop. Chris Matthews uses his voice to marginalize women. Use yours to tell MSNBC you've had enough.
It's time to play a little "hardball." Please contact MSNBC and Chris Matthews today and let them know what you think.