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19 February 1999

Smile-a-while: Remembering Lou Cabrazzi

Synopsis: The Hardball gang got its shorts in a wad when someone piped up about Linda.

Commentary by Chris Matthews, Susan Molinari, Tony Blankley, Charles Lane, Steve McMahon Hardball, CNBC, 2/16/99 Commentary by Linda Tripp, Jamie Gangel Today, NBC, 2/12/99

You may have thought we were kidding, in yesterday’s HOWLER, when we said anyone can say anything they want about Clinton. But there were the pundits, playing some Hardball, and really just letting ’er rip! Chris ran tape of Linda Tripp, telling Jamie Gangel that Bill wanted to kill her; and the gang began trying to figure out if stuff like that really goes on.

Chuck Lane spoke first. He’s a softy:

LANE: Look, people are afraid that something will be done to them politically. Bill Clinton--I’m sorry, maybe I’m hopelessly naïve, but I don’t think that Bill Clinton puts out contracts on people like Linda Tripp, and for her to say that on national television is delusional and self-serving.

And maybe Chuck is a little naïve, if he thought that stuff would wash. Chris and Susan Molinari gave the gab just a little more bite:

MATTHEWS: Well what about the Terry Lenzner stuff of going around, and I’ve used the phrase, the reference to Lou Cabrazzi, the tough guy that goes around and says, “Your brains or your signature are going to be on that table...”

And sad to say, he has used that phrase; he’s the master of mafia metaphor. Chris continued:

MATTHEWS: All of these affadavits that were miraculously provided during the course of this guy’s presidency, the guy’s in the affadavit business, everybody’s signing affadavits because there’s been some kind of intimidation.

Chris, of course, hadn’t named any cases. Molinari took care of that:

MOLINARI: And it has not been disputed that Kathleen Willey had a private investigator come after her.

Somehow we’d gotten from brains on the table to someone allegedly checking Kathleen Willey's phone records (see below). Tony Blankley offered perspective:

BLANKLEY: I don’t think there’s any doubt that there are people who have loyalty to the president who go around acting like thugs...

MATTHEWS: You don’t mean Carville, though. You don’t mean rhetorical thugs. You mean real thugs.

BLANKLEY: No, real thugs. Not my friend James, who is only a rhetorical thug. But clearly there are people around him who will do that sort of thing. Now, he may not know about it. He may not want them to be doing it. But there’s a reason why people have these intimidation threats.

The gang had turned in a disgraceful performance, one that is all too familiar on Hardball. We’d heard about “thugs,” “intimidation,” and Lou Cabrazzi; we’d been served up images of brains on the table. All without anyone citing a specific case of someone who’d been dealt with this way. (For further discussion of Willey, see below.)

But then someone made a remark about Tripp--actually spoke against an accuser--and civil libertarian instincts emerged all over the scrum. Here’s what Democratic consultant Steve McMahon had said:

MC MAHON: Let’s remember who we’re talking about here. Linda Tripp went on television and she said that she believes that she saved Monica’s life. She said that the president threatened her life, and further, she said that she may have to write a book so that the true story may some day be told. I mean this woman is a delusional--she’s delusional, let’s just put it that way.

Them thar’s fightin’ words:

MATTHEWS: Well, wasn’t that the charge coming out of the White House against Monica, that she was delusional?...Are you saying Linda Tripp is delusional?...This is like Soviet politics, where if you don’t agree with someone, you say they have a psychological problem.

Or you say that they remind you of Lou Cabrazzi. Tony Blankley was especially ticked:

BLANKLEY: I think we ought to be pretty careful about how we characterize, on national television, the state of mind of a political figure.

Where had those scruples suddenly come from? And then, the magic moment occurred. Lane made the obvious point:

LANE: Then Linda Tripp should be careful when she goes on national television and insinuates the president is trying to kill her!

Olé! He’d hit the nail on the head. But Blankley began to back-pedal:

BLANKLEY: No, that, she said, that’s what she thought. I, we don’t know what the truth is, but to just go on television and say she’s delusional, that strikes me as pretty close to defamatory. [His emphasis]

Almost thuggish, like something Lou Cabrazzi would do, if he ever got on TV.

No specific cases: Molinari said no one has “disputed” that Willey “had a private investigator come after her.” But it’s also true that no one has established that anything untoward has occurred. Was Willey threatened by a mysterious jogger? So far, that claim turns on Willey’s word. If there was a threat, who was its author? No one knows that either. Nonetheless, we were told that “thugs” who are “around Clinton” have made “intimidation threats.” If the pundits know what they’re talking about, they ought to be more specific.

Brains on the table: Here’s the segment from Tripp and Gangel that played at the top of the segment:

TRIPP: And beyond that, let’s face it, there were threats. And did I take them seriously? Absolutely.

GANGEL: What kind of threats?

TRIPP: Threats to my life. Threats to the lives of my children.

GANGEL: Who made those threats?

TRIPP: Monica made those threats and passed them along to me, I believed, from the president. I believed I was in jeopardy.

GANGEL: You believed that the president was threatening your life?

TRIPP: I believed that that was the message I was supposed to receive. Be a team player, or else.

We repeat the comment we made about Larry King’s interview (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/99). Told that Tripp believed that Clinton had threatened her life, Gangel never asks Tripp what had actually been said. The public is given no opportunity to evaluate Linda Tripp’s judgment.

We think, when people make such serious claims, they need to be questioned about them carefully. Otherwise, the weak of mind start to spread them around, as we saw Wednesday night on Hardball.