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Ambush journalism… or my evening with caveman Chris Matthews

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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 20, 2004 02:34 AM

Here’s a peek behind the cable TV curtain. It’s not pretty.

So, my publicist arranges for me to go on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews on Thursday night to talk about my recent columns on the FBI and national security profiling and my new book. Despite the show’s basement ratings, we figure it’s a good opportunity to reach out to a new audience. FOX News, with whom I have a contract, has generously allowed me to appear on some competing networks to talk about the book. Thursday was the second to the last day that I could make such appearances.

A few hours before the show, a producer calls to tell me I will be on for two segments–the first topic will be the Swift Boat Veterans, the second topic will be related to the book. Fine. This is the news business. I understand the need to go with the flow and cover the hot issues of the day. I am prepared to discuss both topics.

In a pre-interview, the producer goes over general questions about Kerry’s response to the Swift Boat vets, whether the charges will be an issue in the presidential debates, and the basic themes of my book and its implications for the current War on Terror. I am originally scheduled to be on with the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. This was scratched and I am informed at the last minute that the other guest will be former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.

As I am seated at the table with Matthews, who I am meeting for the first time, he cracks a joke–and not in a well-meaning way–about how I look. (There are quite a few people who are hung up on this.) “Are you sure you are old enough to be on the show? What are you? 28?” I grit my teeth. He badgers me again with the same question. I politely answer his question and supply my age.

(I wonder how Matthews’ wife, the respected TV journalist Kathleen Matthews, who hosts a show about working women, would react if informed about her husband’s treatment of a fellow female journalist. I’ve been in the business a dozen years and would be happy to talk to Mrs. Matthews about my firsthand experience with Neanderthal chauvinism in the workplace.)

Needless to say, things went downhill, fast and loud, from there.

1) Matthews introduces me, says we’ll get to the subject of my book “in a minute,” and launches into a spiel about how Bush should order the Swift Boat Vets to stop running their ads. Matthews intentionally mischaracterizes me as “speaking on behalf of the Bush campaign,” when he knew full well I was there (with special permission from FOX News) to talk about my book, which he had sitting right next to him on the table and which he had chatted with me briefly about before the start of the segment. I correct him. He does not acknowledge his error.

2) When I tried to make a point about how the mainstream media ought to subject John Kerry to as much skull-pounding interrogation as private citizens such as Swift Boat Vet Larry Thurlow had endured from Matthews and the Washington Post, Matthews cut me off and snorted that he had never been thought of as “mainstream.” Yeah, keep snorting.

3) In response to Matthews’ claim that the Swift Boat Vets campaign was orchestrated by the White House, I noted that the Boston Globe–hardly a hothouse of GOP operatives–had raised many of the same questions about Kerry’s war record as the Swift Boat Vets had. No response from Matthews.

4) Willie Brown expresses exasperation over Swift Boat Vets’ questions about Kerry’s wounds. He says: “There are questions about the shrapnel wounds. So what else is there? How much he got shot? How deep? How much shrapnel does he have?

Note that I didn’t bring the subject of shrapnel. (Got that, Keith Olbermann?) Willie Brown raised the issue.

Here is how I responded verbatim:

“Well yeah. Why don’t people ask him more specific questions about the shrapnel in his leg? There are legitimate questions about whether or not it was a self-inflicted wound.”

Matthews frantically stuffed words down my mouth when I raised these allegations made in Unfit for Command that Kerry’s wounds might have been self-inflicted. In his ill-informed and ideologically warped mind, this transmogrified into me accusing Kerry of “shooting himself on purpose” to get an award.

I repeated that the allegations involved whether the injuries were “self inflicted wounds.” I DID NOT SAY HE SHOT HIMSELF ON PURPOSE and Chris Matthews knows it.

Only someone who had not read Unfit for Command would interpret what I was saying the way Matthews did. The book raises questions by vets, many of whom were with Kerry, about whether there was or wasn’t enemy fire during the Dec. 1968 incident that led to his first Purple Heart (Patrick Runyon is quoted in a Boston Globe account on p. 35 saying “I can’t say for sure that we got return fire or how [Kerry] got nicked. I couldn’t say one way or the other. I know he did get nicked, a scrape on the arm.”) and whether the injury came from a self-inflicted wound after he caught a tiny piece of shrapnel when he fired a grenade from his M-79 grenade launcher too close (p. 36); whether or not there was “intense rocket and rifle fire” during the Feb. 1969 incident that led to his second Purple Heart (Rocky Hildreth, officer of an accompanying boat on Dam Doi Canal that day, says there was no “intense rocket and rifle fire” on p. 78); and whether the shrapnel wound in his buttocks, which Kerry says he sustained in March 1969 and led to the awarding of his third Purple Heart, was the result of a mine explosion while on a mission or from a wound from his own grenade that he set off too close to a stock of rice he was trying to destroy (p. 87). See also pages 30-31. I was trying to get to these points, but Matthews would not let me finish a sentence.

Well, guess what? This foaming jerk Matthews, who called me irresponsible and kicked me off the show admitted that a) he himself had not read the damned book, b) he was not interested in asking Kerry about the specific doubts raised by vets about his wounds, and c) he had not and would not question Kerry about these specific allegations.

“Are you saying he shot himself on purpose?” Matthews hammered. I repeated myself again clearly that I was referring to the allegations about self-inflicted wounds in the book. When I tried to explain that the vets who were with Kerry had cast a lot of doubt on whether enemy fire occurred during the first two incidents, Matthews cut me off again. “Why did you say that?” he badgered. Because, I said, I was talking about what was in the book, which he had admitted he hadn’t read.

“Don’t you wonder?” I asked.

“No, I don’t,” he bellowed. “It’s never occurred to me.”

With that, I was kicked off the second segment.

As the show broke for commercials, Matthews scrambled for his producers to see if what he said was true. And I’m irresponsible? One staffer ran to the office where I had left my copy of the book, and handed it to Matthews, who–for the first time, apparently–started flipping through it. I asked for my book back and politely said thank you. After I left, he trashed me again on the air and his scurrilous charges were repeated by his MSNBC colleague Keith Olbermann, who called me an “idiot.”

I am used to playing hardball. I expect it. I am used to ad hominem attacks. I get more in a day than most of these wussies have received in their lifetimes. But what happened last night was pure slimeball and the unfair, unbalanced, and unhinged purveyors of journalism, or whatever it is they call what they do at MSNBC, should be ashamed.

What I take away from all this is that the Democrat Party waterboys in the media are in full desperation mode. I have now witnessed firsthand and up close (Matthews’ spittle nearly hit me in the face) how the pressure from alternative media sources–the blogosphere, conservative Internet forums, talk radio, Regnery Publishing, FOX News, etc. –is driving these people absolutely batty.

Keep bringing it on.

***

By the way, the full MSNBC Hardball transcript is here. Matthews and Olbermann’s blog bloviations are here. Olbermann expresses incredulity that I was simply reporting what the Swift Boat Vets’ book says, rather than spouting off in a half-baked manner:

Ms. Malkin wouldn’t even go so far as to attribute the suspicion to herself. It was in the book.

Olbermann, alleged journalist, is smearing me because I agreed to discuss and analyze claims made by the authors of Unfit for Command and actually referred to what was in the book–rather than cluelessly spew uninformed opinions about the book a la Chris Matthews (of whom Olbermann drools, “never prouder of you, Chris.”) Parroting Matthews’ conspiratorial line, Olbermann ignorantly suggests that I am following orders from the Swift Boat Vets to “steer the Kerry-Shot-Himself flotsam into the mainstream media.” I suggest he talk to the producer, Dominic Bellone, who booked me about the circumstances of my appearance on the show and ask whether I was dispatched by the Bush campaign or Swift Boat Vets operatives or anyone else associated with the vets’ book.

The feedback e-mail for Hardball is hardball@msnbc.com.

Chris Matthews’ phone number is listed in the Spring 2004 News Media Yellow Book as 202-885-4600.

***

Just wanted to end with what I think was the most significant exchange on the show involving Wille Brown, who made a stunning admission from a fellow Democrat about John Kerry’s core deficiencies:


BROWN: John Kerry is the kind of a guy who is always laid back. He is always been dealing with people who were gentle, who were in every way respectful, who have a sense of dignity about themselves and a sense of honor. John Kerry may not be fit for the terrible battles and wars of the world of politics.

He may be absolutely perfect as a president. But in term of a candidate, he probably has a series of imperfection that�s may be fatal in his successful, in his pursuit of a successful candidacy. That�s not to take anything away from his integrity. He should have been doing exactly what he�s doing today. He should have been doing that from day one.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Massachusetts politics is softball?

BROWN: I think Massachusetts politics is always been very respectful of the other person�s view and very committed to the idea they don�t want to seem negative and they don�t want to be criticized for an absence of integrity.

MALKIN: He is a boy in the bubble, Chris. And…

MATTHEWS: What does that mean?

MALKIN: He hasn�t been subjected to this kind of heat. And as Willie Brown is suggesting, if he can�t stand the heat from his fellow veterans, do we really want to trust him to stand up to Islamic extremists?

Update: Keith Olbermann said I had made a “fool of myself,” not that I was an “idiot.” I stand corrected and apologize for mistakenly characterizing his insult.

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