Water Man Spouts

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Let's Play Hardball

In the 48 hours since I posted "Leaks in Perception," about the relationship between progressives/democrats and the media in regard to the Plame scandal, a couple significant events have taken place. The first was Karl Rove testifying for the 5th time in the on-going grand jury investigation; the second was today's decision by Judge Walton, rejecting the Team Libby motion to dismiss the charges against Scooter.
There has been a tremendous amount of discussion about the significance of Rove's situation. I've enjoyed watching the coverage on the tv, reading articles in the papers, and especially viewing discussions on the internet. I've participated in a few of the discussions on one of the progressive forums, including some where there has been heated disagreement on a report by TruthOut's Jason Leopold on the possibility that Rove and his attorney Robert Luskin had received a "target letter" from Patrick Fitzgerald.
The majority of those discussions were focused on interpreting what facts were known, and what may have been speculation. A few were unfortunately negative, and concentrated on personal attacks.I was reminded of some of the experiences of people in the Civil Rights movement, as well as in Native American sovereignty work.
A lot of the conflicts in those areas was the result of people who infiltrated the various groups, with the goal of disrupting. But many more conflicts were rooted in petty personality-based disputes. This is human nature.
I worked in human services for many years. I enjoyed that type of work, because I like people, and am fascinated by "human nature." But, to be honest, there were some people that I encountered over the decades that I did not like. (And some certainly did not like me.) If you have a co-worker you don't like, you have a couple choices. You can allow personality-based disputes to contaminate the quality of your work, or you can rise above that, and go on the principle that your work is more important than personality. Some of the best work I did was in cooperation with people that I was not friends with.
Likewise, in doing work as a "community activist," I have had plenty of experience working with individuals that I didn't particularly like. There were also agencies that I believed were incompetent. But as Vine Deloria Jr. noted, the incompetence of individuals and agencies is not often a mortal sin.
I am hoping that we could look at one individual who a number of people on the progressive internet sites I read seem to dislike. Chris Matthews, from MSNBC's Hardball, who is unpopularly knows as "Tweety" on the Democratic Underground, is a case in point. For fun, let's look at Mr. Matthews in terms of his work on the Plame scandal.
Ambassador Joseph Wilson starts the first page of his book "The Politics of Truth" with his conversation where Matthews told him about Karl Rove telling him "Wilson's wife is fair game." Wilson noted that before "abruptly hanging up, Matthews added: 'I will confirm that if asked'."
Later in the book, Wilson recounts telling Tim Russert on Meet the Press that a "respectable reporter" had told him about Rove's "retailing the Novak article." This was before Wilson had publicly identified Matthews as his source. (page 373)
It is interesting to compare what Wilson says about Matthews, to what some seemingly intelligent bloggers attribute to Wilson. On a January 11, 2006 essay on the Huffington Post, David Fiderer expresses his personal dislike of Mathews' personality, knocks his ability as a journalist, and then projects his emotions onto Wilson with statements like, "According to Joe Wilson, Chris Matthews is a guy who can't keep a secret or a promise," and "Matthews has every reason to resent Wilson." Again, the conflict does not exist between Wilson and Matthews; it is located between Mr. Fiderer's ears.
A rationale look at Matthews' work was found on Arianna Huffington's "Chris Matthews and the Power of Repetition." She did not concentrate on Mr. Matthews' alleged tendency to interrupt guests on his show. Instead, she discussed his "acting as a village explainer, using the dramatic example of Sept. 8, 2002," to illustrate how the administration used the media to sell the war in Iraq. On that Sunday, Judith Miller had a front-page report in the New York Times based on misinformation provided to her from Scooter Libby. That morning, high-ranking administration officials including VP Cheney, Powell, and Rice went on the morning talk shows, and used Miller's article as a reference in spreading the Libby lies.
Matthews appreciates that power of repetition. His reporting on the Plame scandal has used that same tactic by showing, over and over, that the administration's lies about WMD were used to convince the country to support the invasion of Iraq; that Joseph Wilson had evidence that the administration had information that indicated Iraq did not have the WMD programs; that the OVP conducted an underhanded attack on Wilson; that VP Cheney talked with Libby about {a} Wilson's wife working for the Agency, and {b} tactics to use in attacking Wilson in the press, including leaking the NIE.
Hardball has featured the high-quality reporting of David Shuster, as well as a variety of guests who have knowledge of the Plame scandal. Matthews has been hammering VP Cheney more than any other corporate media journalist. Consider the following examples, from his October 27, 2005 show:
Matthews: "How does this not go back directly to the vice president? If the vice president got her identity, gave it to his chief of staff, the chief of staff gave it to Judy Miller, isn't the chain of custody complete?"
"You know, when you go back and look at the record, it isn't just about a leak, this story; it's about the war in Iraq and how the case was made and roles played and the method of operations of people like the vice president's chief of staff. And you realize that he was leaking to the New York Times for weekend use so the stories would run on Sunday, so that the vice president, who was already scheduled to appear, would go on Sunday television and say, 'Did you see that New York Times piece this morning?' to Tim Russert."
Last week, Matthews had a gentleman named Michael Smerconish on. Mr. Smerconish said thaty no one outside of the "beltway" was interested in the Plame scandal, and that it was "too esoteric" for common folk to understand. Rev. Al Sharpton responded that people understand that people like Rove and Libby will "lie when the truth will hurt them." And Matthews told Smerconish that his show's ratings rose whenever he was covering current events in the Plame scandal. He made clear that a growing number of Americans are very interested in the case.
Chris Matthews may be an individual that some people simply do not like. Hardball does not do as well on other issues as it does on the Plame scandal. In that sense, it might be fair to view him as the head of an agency that is frequently incompetent. But that is not a mortal sin. And at a time when progressives/democrats should want more Americans to hear reports on the administration's participation in the Plame scandal, we should take close note that Hardball's ratings go up when he covers the story. The management at MSNBC surely does.


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