Hardball with Chris Matthews
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Amy Goodman is the host of Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now” is the co-author of the new book, “The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media That Love Them,” and Debra Saunders, a familiar face on the show. She’s columnist for “The San Francisco Chronicle.”
Amy Goodman, what are you talking about here basically? You think that the press laid down for the war with Iraq?
AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”: Oh, I mean, there’s no question about it. The media has reached an all-time low in this country. There’s a reason why our profession is protected by the U.S. Constitution, because we’re supposed to be the check and balance on government.
Instead, the media has acted as a megaphone for those in power, as a conveyor belt for the lies of the administration. And, really, that’s what paved the way for going to war, is that people in this country believe the media and the media kept alleging over and over again weapons of mass destruction. And it simply wasn’t true and there were plenty of people who were saying it. but the media iced out all of that dissent.
MATTHEWS: But wasn’t that merely the role of—quote—“objective” close quote—journalism to simply say the administration says there’s weapons of mass destruction? Isn’t that the role of the media, to simply report on what the administration is saying?
GOODMAN: No, absolutely not the case.
I mean, it is fine to quote the administration. But it is our role to bring out the dissent as well. And there was plenty of dissenting opinion within the establishment and outside. There were many people, for example, within the intelligence community who were saying, this stuff just doesn’t fly. There were military families who were asking serious questions.
And the media’s role is to provide a forum for all of that debate and discussion. There was much more debate in the streets of this country than there was in the mainstream media. And that’s got to change.
MATTHEWS: Debra Saunders, do you agree with that there was an uncritical look at the war as it emerged and was fought by the media?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, “THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”: Well, I don’t know what Amy wants.
The truth is that everybody thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Yes, the CIA had issues over his nuclear capabilities. But they weren’t saying they didn’t think that he didn’t have weapons. They said it was a slam dunk. The U.N. thought he had them. The French thought it. The Russians did. Saddam’s own military people thought he had weapons of mass destruction.
Now, it turns out, everybody, and I’m including me, was wrong about it. But to act—the people who were saying he didn’t have weapons, these weren’t people with special knowledge. These were people with a political axe to grind who just didn’t want to believe it.
GOODMAN: Oh, no, that is not the case.
I mean, you take some of the U.N. weapons inspectors and you go right on up to the top. And they were raising serious, grave questions about the allegations, saying, we can’t know this and it doesn’t add up. And then you talk about the stories, for example, of Joe Wilson, the ambassador who went to Niger for the Bush CIA and he came back and he said, it doesn’t pan out. And it was not only Ambassador Joe Wilson. It was also the current ambassador to Niger. It was a general as well.
They were all saying, this stuff simply doesn’t add up. And instead, how Bush responded is he incorporated it into his State of the Union address. And when finally Joe Wilson, who did not want to speak out, months later, spoke out with an op-ed piece in “The New York Times,” he is retaliated against with the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame, who is an undercover CIA operative outed by Robert Novak.
And that investigation of who did this within the White House is still going. There was plenty of dissent. But the media, unfortunately, NBC, CBS, ABC, all the media much, not just Fox, continually beat the drums for war. And that is not the role of the media.
SAUNDERS: Well, again, Amy, you keep talking about the dispute as to whether or not there were nuclear weapons, leaving out chemical and biological weapons. And everybody thought that that’s what he had. His own people thought he had such weapons. That’s why they felt secure in Saddam Hussein fighting the United States.
So you’re just ignoring all that.
GOODMAN: No, no.
SAUNDERS: As for Joe Wilson, I didn’t know he was the shy guy who didn’t want to come out. I know that the Senate looked at his story and they found some issues with it as well.
GOODMAN: But, as I just pointed out with Ambassador Joe Wilson, it wasn’t only Joe Wilson. It was also the current ambassador to Niger. It was also a general who had investigated the same thing.
But, in every case—and, of course, the allegations of the links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, the links between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, all of this was proven over and over again. I mean, what is interesting is who Bush is choosing right now to be his Cabinet is frightening. And it is all of the people who, despite the evidence, people like Stephen Hadley, who will now be the national security adviser. He was the one who allowed in the whole issue of the allegations of uranium and Saddam Hussein going for them in Niger, despite the warnings of George Tenet. He took the fall on that, and that—now he is being handsomely rewarded, because he is now national security adviser.
Condoleezza Rice as well.
SAUNDERS: You bring up George Tenet. George Tenet said WMD in Iraq, slam dunk. He believed it. And he, of course, was first made the CIA chief by Bill Clinton. So this idea that I know that the leftist media likes to cook up of Bush getting everybody to say what he wanted them to hear and having his own people do it, George Tenet said slam dunk.
GOODMAN: No, but George Tenet did not say slam dunk on nuclear.
SAUNDERS: That’s right. But you’re taking the nukes.
GOODMAN: He warned Stephen Hadley. And Stephen Hadley—but I think that’s very important.
SAUNDERS: But, Amy, you’re taking—and that’s been covered and covered and covered.
You’re taking the fact that there weren’t nukes and you’re making that for the whole WMD argument.
SAUNDERS: And there were plenty of reasons to believe that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. And his own people believed it.
So to expect the American media—what were we supposed to do? Drop into Iraq and find out that we couldn’t find them?
GOODMAN: No. The American media...
SAUNDERS: It just doesn’t work that way.
MATTHEWS: Amy, I want to bring this up to day, because you make some strong allegations. And I’m glad you brought up the case of Stephen Hadley, who was the guy, as you point out, who accepted responsibility publicly and finally as to having received that information from the CIA that there was no attempt by Iraq to buy uranium from the government of Niger. That all came out. And it was because of him we didn’t know about it. He finally accepted blame for it, took the bullet and has been subsequently named top national security adviser to the president of the United States. That’s quite a punishment for somebody who admitted to such a failing.
What else is being kept secret by what you consider the softball media?
GOODMAN: Well, all of this is really rather frightening when you look at the Cabinet that President Bush is amassing around him, because there is no check and balance as he takes more and more people from his inner most circle. I mean, my goodness, his own personal attorney, Alberto Gonzales, now being nominated to be the attorney for the country, and hearing people like New Jersey Senator Corzine saying that probably most senators are not going to challenge this.
So Gonzales goes from personal attorney to attorney for the country.
MATTHEWS: No, he’s no a personal attorney. He’s White House counsel.
GOODMAN: Well, White House counsel to...
MATTHEWS: That’s not personal attorney.
GOODMAN: It is not personal attorney. But he is very close. He almost basically has been, because he goes right back to Texas having been selected over and over again by George Bush and promoted right up until attorney general.
GOODMAN: There’s no sense of any kind of check and balance. And that is very serious.
I mean, Gonzales himself is deeply implicated in those memos that started to question whether their should be any international war crime applications when it comes to, for example, the torture at Abu Ghraib.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Debra.
Do you believe the media was tough enough in criticizing the case made for war? I personally never thought it was WMD. I thought that was the front case for war. That was not the reason for the war. And we got completely sent on a goose chase on that one by everybody, is there or isn’t there, when the question is, so what? That’s not why the president went there. He has said so.
His essential case for going to Iraq was to liberate the country, as he understands that to mean whatever it means. And the question now is, are we under a soft press coverage right now? Are the White House press corps as tough as they used to be in the days of Reagan and Carter and back through Johnson’s days? Is the media as tough as it used to be in criticizing presidential action, Debra Saunders?
SAUNDERS: Well, I think a lot of people in the White House press corps who are in the building are in such a bubble that they’re not necessarily doing the kind of aggressive reporting we used to see.
But when you look at “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” and other media, they’re doing a lot of brutal stories on George Bush.
SAUNDERS: They look at the war. If anything ever went wrong, oh, there’s no plan. Oh, this is the first time anything has ever happened that’s bad in a war.
And so, on the one hand, people in the building may not be—may not have the time to do the kind of coverage that people used to do.
SAUNDERS: It’s pretty clear that there are plenty of other people making up the slack and, at times, being involved in some pretty bad stories that I think are absurdly critical of the administration.
MATTHEWS: Well, that just makes my case. The more you keep a distance from this crowd, the better are you reporting on them and commenting on them. You get close into the White House, too close, and they are incredible at news management over at the White House.
Do you agree, Amy Goodman?
GOODMAN: Well, I agree that the media is way too close.
And I’m not just talking about the Bush administration. They’re way too close to simply the power elite in Washington, to the Democrats and the Republicans. I mean, before the invasion, when the Democrats joined with the Republicans in authorizing the invasion, Kerry and Edwards, they voted for the invasion as well, the media hardly expressed anything outside of that consensus.
Then we had the presidential election. So they opened up for the spectrum between the Democrats and the Republican. And, yes, there’s a debate there, because the Democrats are trying to distinguish themselves from the Republicans. Now we see it closing right back down again, for example, with these nominees, with the Democrats joining with the Republicans and saying, it is going to be a pretty smooth process.
The media should be outside of that minority power elite, because I think that’s where most of America is.
MATTHEWS: Well, we don’t have many Daniel Schorrs or I.F. Stones floating around these days. And Sam Donaldson even isn’t at the post he should have been at right now.
Anyway, thank you very much.
GOODMAN: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Amy Goodman, I like hard criticism. The name of the book is “The Exception is the Rulers.” Anyway, thank you—“The Exception to the Rulers.”
Anyway, thank you, Amy Goodman and Debra Saunders.
MATTHEWS: Join us again Friday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL, as we examine two historic partnerships that shaped this country, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
From all of us at HARDBALL and MSNBC, have a great Thanksgiving holiday.
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