During MSNBC's August 7 coverage of the AFL-CIO Democratic presidential forum, host Chris Matthews asked Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson about former Sen. John Edwards' (NC) performance: "Why did they seem to be glancing blows that didn't grab the audience? Is the fact that he's a small man -- I mean, literally, physically?" Robinson responded: "He's not physically that small." Later, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan said that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) sometimes "moves from being strong to being strident," and that "she was getting close to it toward the end." After he added, "She didn't go too high," Matthews interrupted, saying, "You didn't hear the fingernails on the blackboard. ... You didn't hear them." Matthews then asked the panel, which also included former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, "You all agree?"
In contrast with Matthews' comments on Edwards' size and Clinton's voice, Matthews has accentuated what he clearly regards as the positive when discussing Republican candidates, as Media Matters for America has documented. On the January 19 edition of Hardball, Matthews said of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: "He has the perfect chin, the perfect hair, he looks right. He looks like a Mountie. He looks like [he's] from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police." Discussing former Sen. Fred Thompson's (TN) potential presidential bid on the March 29 edition of Hardball, Matthews asserted that Thompson "looks like a movie star" and that "people like movie stars," adding, "Maybe we will get [actor] Harrison Ford next time." He also said (subscription required) of Thompson: "Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva?" On the May 2, 2006, edition of Hardball, Matthews had said of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, "He looks like a president to me."
However, Media Matters also noted that, during the July 18, 2006, edition of NBC's The Tonight Show, Matthews predicted a Giuliani victory in 2008, but also asserted: "I hope the American people take the next election very seriously and don't just vote partisan ... or personality or who has the happiest smile ... but picks the person that makes us feel the safest."
As Media Matters has noted, Matthews -- who on his June 24, 2007, program said that he "love[s] gender politics" -- has frequently focused on gender issues when discussing Clinton. He has said that "some men" say Clinton's voice sounds like "fingernails on a blackboard"; wondered if Clinton is "a convincing mom"; claimed that "men don't knock Hillary" and that they are "are afraid" to criticize her. He once also claimed that her criticism of the Bush administration's homeland security spending priorities made her look "witchy" and has wondered if there is a "gigantic monster," a "big, green, horny-headed ... monster of anti-Hillaryism that hasn't shown itself."
Matthews' discussion of Edwards' height and Clinton's voice came about three hours after a conversation on Hardball about gay marriage, during which he turned to Karen Finney, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, and said, "[Y]ou don't love your wife, do you? I'm just kidding." Moments later, Matthews said: "Let's get back to the debating point here before we get too frivolous."
From the August 7 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Does the Republican Party have a position on gay marriage now that you guys have obviously a position on multiple marriages?
JOHN FEEHERY (Republican strategist): Well, we're against gay marriage. I think the party is against gay marriage. I think that's pretty --
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think that's fair.
FEEHERY: -- pretty clear that most Republicans -- all Republicans I -- as far as -- maybe [Rep.] Ron Paul [R-TX] -- but all Republicans are against gay marriage.
FEEHERY: Well, because they think it's -- marriage is between a man and a woman, not between two men or two women. I mean, that's one of the party's principles.
MATTHEWS: Do they believe it's a danger to straight marriage to have gay marriage?
FEEHERY: I think some do -- some just --
MATTHEWS: The last thing you need in the Republican Party is another danger to straight marriage. 'Cause you've got a lot of them already, right?
FEEHERY: Well, you know -- I'm married. I love my wife, and that does it.
MATTHEWS: Oh, here we go. Let's -- you don't love your wife, do you? I'm just kidding.
FINNEY: I happen to be single, Chris, thanks for that.
MATTHEWS: Let's get back to the debating point here before we get too frivolous.
From MSNBC's August 7 post-forum coverage:
MATTHEWS: What about -- let's go back to Gene for that question. Do you agree with the mayor?
ROBINSON: Yes, I --
MATTHEWS: That Edwards missed a chance tonight?
ROBINSON: Absolutely. I do agree that Edwards -- Edwards took his cuts. I mean, he --
MATTHEWS: Why didn't they seem to sting? Why did they seem to be glancing blows that didn't grab the audience? Is the fact that he's a small man -- I mean, literally, physically? Is there something that can't command that stage?
ROBINSON: He's not physically that small. He's -- you know --
MATTHEWS: But what doesn't work?
ROBINSON: -- but he seems smaller in the setting of Soldier Field. It takes a lot to command Soldier Field.
MATTHEWS: I think he's great in a room of 200 people. I saw it in Iowa last time. He's fabulous in a cozy room. But in that --
ROBINSON: He's engaging. He's charming. He brings people in, but in that setting, he did not come across.
MATTHEWS: I agree. He doesn't work in the big hall. And there we are in Soldier Field.
BUCHANAN: But I think Hillary won it for this reason: Hillary had one problem in a sense --
BROWN: See, Hillary won.
BUCHANAN: -- and I think Hillary won -- but she has one problem and she's -- I tell you what: Edwards made a dumb mistake. He said, you know, "I'm not -- I won't be on the cover of Fortune magazine as the candidate of the corporation." She came on back, "I fought the right wing. I did -- I'm their -- I'm your girl." And she had --
MATTHEWS: "If you want somebody to take on the right wing, I'm your girl."
BROWN: "I'm your girl."
BUCHANAN: She was concrete. She --
MATTHEWS: She's post-feminist. You can say girl now. It's so fascinating.
BUCHANAN: But she had one problem --
MATTHEWS: It's not like million-dollar baby out there.
BROWN: Yeah, but, keep in mind --
BUCHANAN: Let me tell you one problem she had. Hold it. Hold it.
BROWN: Keep in mind, guys, she also said: "I'm your sister" in New York.
BUCHANAN: All right, let me tell you one problem she had. She's in Soldier Field and these guys -- all these guys -- you could feel they're brought out by the stadium and the size of it, they're almost yelling. And when she moves up that line, she moves from being strong to being strident, and she was getting close to it toward the end.
But she was -- I mean -- because you have to do that when you are in a stadium. When you see those folks, you don't think the microphone's doing it for you. You think all of them got to hear you in the back row and your voice has got to get louder. But she held it. She didn't go too high, but she can go awfully --
MATTHEWS: You didn't hear the fingernails on the blackboard.
MATTHEWS: You didn't hear them. You all agree? Hillary was not too strident, Mr. Mayor? Or what? Or do you think she went too far?
BROWN: No, she was not too strident. As a matter of fact, she was very clever. She talked about how her father came to Soldier's Field and he would be absolutely enthralled to see her or any member of their family on the 10-yard line.
BUCHANAN: 10-yard line.
BROWN: That was a neat way to enter, unlike Mr. Obama, whose home court it was, she immediately became an acceptable person in that forum.
ROBINSON: Well, he did that too. He makes an --
MATTHEWS: My God, she's everywhere. She was an Arkansas first lady for all those years. She's a New Yorker. She's the homegrown candidate of Chicago. She's really mobile, this woman. She is mobile.
ROBINSON: But did you notice, though, that when she is the former Arkansas first lady, she has the Southern drawl. Tonight --
MATTHEWS: Did you notice the Chicago? A little Chicago there.
ROBINSON: Well, look, she's from there. So, she earned that.
MATTHEWS: I know but it came back. It was revisited.
ROBINSON: It really came back. It was very strong tonight. It was very, very strong --
MATTHEWS: That "ah" sound that I of course got to know through my father-in-law. But the fact is: She's very good.
ROBINSON: It's called the Midwestern twang, I think it's called.