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2 March 1999

The Howler review: It’s a gong show

Synopsis: Monday night, Chris Matthews led the Hardball gang through an evening of spin and mayhem.

Commentary by Chris Matthews, Michael Leahy, Terry Jeffrey, William Bennett
Hardball, CNBC, 3/1/99

Commentary by Julian Epstein, Joe diGenova
Rivera Live, CNBC, 3/1/99

A no-nonsense scribe from darkest Arkansas was telling it just like it is:

LEAHY: Chris, another point, you know I think the fact that there is no smoking gun, quote unquote, that comes out of her story, coupled with the ambiguity--

MATTHEWS: You mean no evidence that the president used strong-arm tactics to shut her up--

LEAHY: True. And that coupled with the ambiguities and the gaps in her story lends it an eerie credibility, Chris, because it’s not one of those neatly tied stories with bows.

You’ll recall that when we looked in on Michael Kelly last week, he was helping us sharpen up our logic, telling us that because Juanita Broaddrick had once denied the alleged rape, it was more likely that the rape had occurred. Now, a two-fisted scribe from Clinton’s hometown was taking it to the next level. Because Clinton’s hadn’t tried to silence Broaddrick, the story seemed even more true!

Yep. The Hardball gang was in rare form, pimping the tale on all fronts. Indeed, it was only three minutes into the show when Human Events’ Terry Jeffrey stepped up, and sent a softball from his host screaming toward the centerfield bleachers:

JEFFREY: When you go back and look at the last thing that David Schippers said in the House impeachment hearing, he said, “We have credible evidence of other instances of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, people being intimidated, we don’t have enough time to move forward on these now, but we’re going to come back and look at them next year...[Gesturing] Bruce! Lindsey! provided! the false! affadavit! that Juanita Broaddrick! gave to the Jones attorneys! Is that part of the pattern?

MATTHEWS: Of course it’s part of the pattern, because it’s the same form that Monica Lewinsky had to sign.

Matthews’ point was just part of the gong show that CNBC stages each night. Broaddrick’s lawyer, a Republican office-holder, has said that he approached Lindsey on the matter. But Jeffrey had managed to get on record the latest silly GOP spin, while Howard Fineman and Norah O’Donnell--news reporters!--deftly chose to sit silently by. They know the way today’s Hardball is played, even though they’re two of our faves. Silence in the face of foolish spin? Let’s just say it’s all part of the pattern.

Meanwhile, does Matthews ever get anything right? Here he was, with cranky Bill Bennett, in the latter part of the program:

MATTHEWS: I’m not a conspiratorialist, but I do find it interesting that none of the major polls have been taken in the past several days on this issue--

BENNETT: It is interesting--

MATTHEWS: Why is nobody polling on this thing? I mean Fox did, and MSNBC had a non-scientific poll. But none of the big polling organizations have been commissioned to poll on this one because you and I know what the likely response is. Probably a plurality if not a majority of people will say they think there’s a good measure of truth to the accusations...

BENNETT: It is very odd.

This exchange aired around 8:40 PM Eastern, in a show taped a few hours before. But CNN’s Inside Politics, just after 5:30, had reported on the new CNN/Gallup poll, examining precisely this subject. Matthews was wrong in saying no polling was being done, and predictably wrong on the outcome (as always); by 54 to 34, Americans had said they were inclined to find Broaddrick’s charge false. We can’t fault Matthews for guessing wrong, but does he ever do any actual work? Before he chose to go on the air, and tell viewers that pollsters were avoiding the issue, did he ever think to make a few calls, and find out if his charges were true? Or does truth play a part in this game any more? On Hardball, it’s doesn’t seem all that likely.

Grumpy old Bennett closed the show, making a few more factual errors; to this guy, “character” clearly doesn’t mean making accurate statements when you go on TV. The gong show would be closing down, until the next edition, tomorrow evening. And what will the pundits do with their time? If we’re polled, we won’t vote for “research.”

Ungonging the bell: Meanwhile, on Rivera Live, Julian Epstein (D) and Joe diGenova (R) had somehow agreed on the truth:

EPSTEIN: Nobody believes seriously that Ms. Broaddrick’s decision to file an affadavit denying that the rape occurred was in any way manipulated by anyone other than herself. It was her own decision. No one seriously contests that.

DI GENOVA: I think that’s right.

EPSTEIN: I think Joe would agree with that.

DI GENOVA: Yes, I do.

Visit our incomparable archives: We chuckled last spring when AP’s Walter Mears didn’t know how today’s Hardball is played. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/98.