Hardball with Chris Matthews
Friday, December 3, 2004
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The first of the network newsanchor jobs changed hands when Tom Brokaw turned over his chair toBrian Williams this week. Dan Rather is next to go, and a potentiallydevastating report investigating CBS News’ “60 Minutes”piece on the president’s national guard service is due out next week. These events, plus criticism that the media was lax in criticizing thedrum roll to war in Iraq has us asking, are we doing our job?
Joining me, Bob Zelnick, former ABC News reporter, and chairman ofthe Boston University Journalism School. Stephen Battaglio, seniorcorrespondent for “TV Guide” Joe Queenan, who’s author ofthe book “Queenan Country,” and used to take speakinglessons with me. And Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio’s“Democracy Now,” and the author of “Exception to theRulers.”
Amy, are we doing our jobs? How is that for a big one?
AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”: Well, I thinkthe media has reached an all-time low in this country. As you said,it beat the drums for war, icing out dissent, and I think it’s reallyunfortunate. It’s a disservice to the people in this country whenthey make their decisions about the important issues of the day, tovery much, for the most part, especially with the nightly newscasts,only hear one side. The generals, the corporate executives, thegovernment officials. We need to hear a much broader spectrum ofopinion.
MATTHEWS: Establishment reporting in other words.
GOODMAN: Yes. We need to open it up. And abide by the goodprinciples of reporting, that are about hearing a diversity of voices,especially on an issue like this where the country is so divided.
MATTHEWS: Bob Zelnick, sir, Mr. Chairman.
BOB ZELNICK, FORMER ABC NEWS REPORTER: Yes, sir. I don’tagree with that. I think that by and large, the media did a good jobof reporting on Iraq. I think by and large, they tried to dig up whatthey can in the way of counterarguments. I know I heard many, many ofthe contrary views, expressed not only on the networks but on thecables, and in the newspapers. So I don’t—I don’t join in inpiling on the media for what was a very, very difficult intelligencesituation.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the media ever questioned the argumentmade by the administration, that the primary reason for war, the onegiven at the time, was that we were going to war because we suspectedthat Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Do you believethat that rationale was questioned effectively by the media?
ZELNICK: I don’t think there was a basis on which to question it. The reason is that Saddam believed in those weapons. He had used thembefore. He had defied any number of Security Council resolutions. Hehad virtually expelled the arms controllers in 1998. So the evidencewas overwhelming that he had them. And in fact, we have seen sincegoing into Iraq that he planned to use the lifting of the embargo torestore the programs to what they were in their heyday.
MATTHEWS: OK, let’s go to Joe Queenan. Is the media doing its job?
JOE QUEENAN, AUTHOR, “QUEENAN COUNTRY”: 75percent of the time, yes, which is a very high bating average. Ithink that it was always understood that there would be problems, thatthere would be some reporting that didn’t get done, that there wouldbe some bias. But the whole idea of always attacking the media hasalways struck me as being juvenile. The media did not cause the S&Lscandal in the '80s, the media did not cause the Social Securityproblem we have now. And I think that if the government and ifprivate industry and the banking organizations were doing as good ajob as the media, the country would be in greater shape.
MATTHEWS: Stephen Battaglio, same question, is the media doing itsjob?
STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, “TV GUIDE” SR. CORRESPONDENT: I would agree with Joe's percentage, but I do believe that September11th did change the public’s relationship with the media, especiallytelevision. It was an attack unlike anything we had ever experienced,and we saw it live on television. And I think that they were lookingfor something beyond the facts and both sides of the story, they werelooking to be comforted. They were looking to find—to learnthat everything would be OK, and what are we going to do next toattack this? And I think—and I think that probably muted a lotof questioning of the administration going into the Iraq war. So—and many top journalists, such as Dan Rather, hassecond-guessed the reporting that was done leading up to the war.
MATTHEWS: But back in the old days, in 1968, Walter Cronkite wouldgo on television and question the winnability of the Vietnam War. Didyou hear, does anyone here think there was that level of scrutiny atwork in the last several years with regard to Iraq and the decision togo there? Bob Zelnick again. Do you think there was questioning ofthe rationale? Not whether there was WMD, but did anyone everquestion loudly on the network news, wait a minute, is this really thereason we are going to war? Is this really the reason?
ZELNICK: I saw an awful lot of coverage of dissension, not only atthe United Nations, not only abroad, but in the build-up to the war inthis country itself.
Now, again, I don’t think that Walter Cronkite did anything that wassupernatural other than going over to Vietnam right after the TetOffensive and doing the Tet Offensive and concluding that the war hadbecome politically unwinnable. I’m not sure he was right then, butyou know, it turned out that seven years later we decided not to fightand let the place go to hell.
BATTAGLIO: Also, the media wasn’t controlled at all during theVietnam War. The war was never declared. So a lot of the type ofrestrictions that the military and the government imposes now on themedia in covering war weren’t in effect back in Vietnam. So I thinkit was a very different situation.
GOODMAN: You know, there is a great deal of focus on Tom Brokaw andDan Rather now. On the evening that the bombs started to fall onBaghdad, Dan Rather said, “good morning, Baghdad.” TomBrokaw said, “we don’t want to destroy the infrastructure ofIraq, because in a few days we are going to own that country.” These are not questioning words. These are not words of a journalistwho is impartial.
Dan Rather, a few days after September 11th, on David Letterman, saidGeorge Bush is my president. He can call the shots, or he basicallysaid -
I wrote it in my book to quote him exactly—he said, “oneof the things”— he said, “George Bush is thepresident. Wherever he wants me to line up, tell me where and he willmake the call.”
That’s not what journalists should be doing. We should beindependent, not just being the megaphone for officialdom. It is avery serious problem the direction American journalism has gone.
MATTHEWS: OK, bold point. We’re coming back with Bob Zelnick,Stephen Battaglio, Joe Queenan and Amy Goodman. And next week, it’sHARDBALL State of the Union—actually, “Head of theState” week. I’ll sit down with King Abdullah of Jordan. Hewill be in Washington to meet with George Bush about the prospect forpeace in the Middle East. And then, on Friday, former President JimmyCarter will join us here on this table.
You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We’re talking about the future of news with former ABC News reporterBob Zelnick, who is now chairman of the journalism department up atBoston University, “TV Guide” Steve Battaglio, JoeQueenan, who is the author of “Queenan Country,” and AmyGoodman of Democracy Now.
The Pew Research Center has surveys going back 10 years which askviewers where they go for national and international news. Networks,the broadcast nets, were ahead by a hair back in '93, 11 years ago. But by last year, cable had a huge lead.
Steve, tell me, what has that done to journalism, that now you canget it 24 hours a day? You don't have to wait for Uncle Walter or hissuccessors at 6:30 at night?
BATTAGLIO: I think that, clearly, the dominance of network news iscoming to an end or has certainly waned quite a bit.
You know, it’s not unlike what you had, really, in pretelevision age,before—you talk about so many different types of media now thatespouse a point of view. Well, you know, back in the '20s, ’30s, and'40s, you went to a city, you had eight different newspapers. If youwanted a conservative, you bought the Hearst newspaper. If you wantedanother point of view, you had other choices.
And I think we are returning back to that now with the fragmentationof the media, the networks not as dominant, so many other sources,many of them providing different points of view.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Bob Zelnick, who is a veteran of thisbusiness.
Bob, it seems to me that to find those people in America who wait forthe 6:30 news, almost like waiting for a person waiting in the ThirdWorld waiting for the Big Ben sound for BBC to come on, you got to goto people -
I remember being up at William L. Shirer’s house up in westernMassachusetts. He was an old CBS hand, as you know.
Do young people, are they in that habit, too? Is anybody under, say,60, in the habit of waiting for the evening news to come on as a bigdeal?
ZELNICK: No. I think you hit the precise figure, also. The averageage of the network news viewers these days is 60 years. The averageage of all Americans is 35.
Yes, there has been tremendous competition from cable. Yes, there isa change in lifestyles. People aren’t getting home that early. Youhave a lot of two-spouse households where they are both working, andneither one of them have time for the news. But I’ll tell you, thereis a dirty little secret to this, also. I think a lot of people arejust not staying informed on current events.
It’s not simply that they have turned away from the news networks,and I think that we see it all the time when we give news quizzes,unless we assign the papers…
ZELNICK: … and assign the networks, they are not as well informedas they should be.
MATTHEWS: You mean it’s like “Jay Walking” on the JayLeno show, where he goes around and interviews people and they don’tknow anything about politics. And he says, what do you for a living? And they say, I’m a history teacher.
Let me go to Joe Queenan.
Do you haven’t 6:30 habit? Do you watch the nets?
QUEENAN: No. My wife watches Jim Lehrer’s show. And I watchthat because I’m friendly with David Brooks, or at least I used tobe.
But, no, I never watch those shows unless there is a really, reallybig event. And when there’s as really big event, I think everybodywatches those shows, because there is something reassuring aboutpeople like Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. Certainly, there’s nothingreassuring about Dan Rather. But, on cable, you don’t get that samequality, excluding your boyish charm.
But, on a lot of the cable shows, I don’t know if a really major,cataclysmic event had happened, that I would go to either Larry Kingor Bill O’Reilly.
BATTAGLIO: Chris, I would also point out that I think—not togo back to—harp on 9/11 too much, but I think that probablyprolonged the length of time the three network anchors have been on. If 9/11 hadn’t happened, I think all three of those chairs might havechanged over by now.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you a question, Amy.
ZELNICK: It didn’t help their ratings, though.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but I watch the commercials, which is where the moneycomes from. It seems like pain relief is the No. 1 theme of thenightly news.
GOODMAN: That’s right.
MATTHEWS: They’re beyond Cialis and Viagra. They don’t evenbother.
They past the crowd.
MATTHEWS: They’re into the really older people.
And I’m just asking you, Amy, is it possible that this is passing,that what we have seen here, all these years since Cronkite was bigand before that with whoever, Chancellor and all the rest of them,that that is a passing scene, that we are getting into 24 hours newsnow, simple as that?
GOODMAN: Oh, yes. I mean, yes, the average commercial is somethinglike for—to prevent heart disease and to lower cholesterol. AndI really do think like attracts like.
You have got older white men, and that is the audience that they areattracting. And young people are also—and I think this isextremely healthy, given how I think the—especially the nightlynewscasts have very much only reflected the establishment point ofview. Young people are very much going to the Internet, and that’sgood, because we have to get views from all over the world. It’s alsoa way to get access to international newspapers.
MATTHEWS: Do you find it interesting that no women are in line toreplace Rather?
GOODMAN: Oh, yes, I think it’s a very big problem. Even Tom Brokawhimself said eight or nine years ago he thought that, when these guysleft, it would be the end of white male anchor time. It should be.
MATTHEWS: By the way, I hope to be an old white man, too, some day,so I don’t want to get too ethnic here with you.
Anyway, thank you, Amy Goodman.
You’re going to be joining us.
The rest of the guests are staying with us.
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