updated 3/25/2004 11:37:52 AM ET 2004-03-25T16:37:52

Guests: Bill Nelson, Richard Shelby, Michael Isikoff, Dana Milbank, Terry Holt, George Carlin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight on HARDBALL, American‘s former top terrorism adviser, Richard Clark, apologizes for the U.S. government‘s failure to prevent 9/11. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CLARK, FORMER TERRORISM ADVISER:  I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11.  To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you.  Those entrusted with protecting you failed you.  And I failed you.  We tried hard.  But that doesn‘t matter because we failed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

I‘m Chris Matthews.

Richard Clark, the counter terrorism adviser for the past three presidents, defended his credibility before the 9/11 commission today.  He testified that the Bush administration did not see the al Qaeda threat as an urgent issue. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARK:  I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue. 

They—well, President Bush himself says as much in his interview with Bob Woodward in the book “Bush at War.”  He said, “I didn‘t feel a sense of urgency.” 

George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So who dropped the ball when it came to preventing the 9/11 attacks?  My guests are Senator Richard Shelby, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Senator Nelson, why do you think this man—he‘s a bureaucrat.  He was never elected by anyone.  He wasn‘t appointed, actually, by a president.  He‘s one of those people you sort of inherit. 

Why did he feel like he had the command presence and authority to apologize on behalf of the United States government today in such grand fashion?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D-FL), SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:  Well, I think he‘s an honest person, and I think he feels a certain sense of responsibility. 

I have yet to hear of anybody that does not speak of—very highly of his professionalism.  And he served Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton and now the present administration. 

So I think that there is just an incumbent feeling there that he shares part of responsibility.  And I thought that was a very gracious thing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  But Senator Shelby, we never hear that from the elected people in this administration, the top cabinet members.  I mean, Condi Rice couldn‘t wait to come out and said, “Nobody could have imagined something like this happening, 9/11.  How can you blame us?”

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL), FORMER CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE

COMMITTEE:  Well, I don‘t blame Condi Rice.  I don‘t blame President Bush. 

But I have said many times that our intelligence community, overall, in its totality, I think, failed the Clinton administration, and I think it failed the Bush administration.  If you look at all the things.  If they had cooperated and shared intelligence, maybe we wouldn‘t have had a September 11.  That‘s something it‘s hindsight; we won‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we do know this.  Here‘s what Richard Clarke said today.  He presented a scenario as to how 9/11 might have been thwarted.

Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE:  I would like to think that had I been informed by the FBI that two senior al Qaeda operatives who had been in a planning meeting earlier in Kuala Lumpur were now in the United States, and we knew that and we knew their names.  And I think we even had their pictures.

I would like to think that I would have released or would have had the FBI release a press release with their names, with their descriptions, held a press conference, tried to get their names and pictures on the front page of every paper, America‘s most wanted, the evening news and caused a successful nationwide manhunt for those two, two of the 19 hijackers. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is that a smart critique, Senator, or is that 20-20 hindsight to say that we should have put him up like the post office bad guys, the wanted list?

NELSON:  We had a lot of hands that didn‘t know what the other hand was doing.  Just look at all the missed cues on Moussaoui.  Look at the missed cues...

MATTHEWS:  Tell us about Moussaoui, Senator.

NELSON:  Well, that‘s true but...

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about Moussaoui? 

NELSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the guy that was picked up asking to get flight training in 747‘s...

NELSON:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  And he couldn‘t fly a paper cup.

NELSON:  The Minnesota case. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NELSON:  There was another case down in Arizona where an FBI agent had written a memorandum that it never got sent up to the headquarters.  So there were a lot of mistakes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you get a sense that who‘s on trial here are the policy makers, Senator, in the administration level, the president, the vice president, the people in the National Security Council, the Defense Department high command, or is it technocrats that are on trial here, people like Richard Clarke?

SHELBY:  Well, we‘ve got to remember this is a political season.

MATTHEWS:  So the politicians are on trial.

SHELBY:  So the politicians are on trial right now.  And there are going to be charges and counter charges. 

But the president is not going to have any more information than comes up to him from the intelligence community.  Bill Nelson referenced the FBI and the CIA and all the lack of—and even George Tenet did.  Lack of cooperation.  We can go right through it.  A lot of instances.

I think our agencies have been too stove piped, still are and as long as...

MATTHEWS:  What does stove piped mean?

SHELBY:  Stove piped means they keep the information, you know, one stovepipe here, one here and no flow. 

MATTHEWS:  No flow.

SHELBY:  No flow.

NELSON:  One hand not knowing what the other is doing. 

SHELBY:  That‘s right, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about mindset.  One of the charges by Richard Clarke in this book, which by the way, I hear from a guy I know in publishing, because he publishes my books, says this book‘s doing well.  This book could be No. 1 in a couple of weeks.  And we‘ll be talking about this for awhile.

But he basically said there was a mindset coming in with this administration.  It was almost like Austin Powers in the movie, where the guy‘s been frozen 30 years and he comes back into the office.  And all he can think is we‘ve got to get SDI up there because the Russians are coming.  We‘ve got to go back after Iraq, because my old man got chased by them.  They tried to kill him.  And no new thought to the threat of al Qaeda and organizations like it. 

Do you accept that assessment, Senator?

SHELBY:  No, I don‘t accept that assessment.  I‘m going to go back to the CIA and FBI and what they did, what they failed to do.  And this goes back to the Clinton administration and perhaps even to Bush and Reagan administrations. 

You‘ve got to remember, on September 11, the Bush administration had only been in power just a few months, you know, six, seven or eight months at the most.  And they were doing OK.

But the ‘93 -- you remember the ‘93 deal in New York.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  They attempted to knock down the towers.

SHELBY:  We remember the bombing of our embassies in ‘98.  We also remember—I believe it‘s ‘96, the Sudan government offered up Osama bin Laden.  The Clinton people won‘t take him. 

So there‘s a lot of blame to go around. 

MATTHEWS:  And you accept Bob Kerrey‘s assessment that this was the Clinton administration‘s failure to use military power? 

SHELBY:  I believe a lot of it was.  I think they were reluctant to use it.  They were reluctant to kill Osama bin Laden.  We changed that, and we should have killed him long ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this assessment.  Do you think we have a Cold War, let‘s go back to Iraq mentality coming in with this administration?

NELSON:  Every piece of evidence, we heard it from Secretary of the Treasury O‘Neill.  We now have heard it from Mr. Clarke. 

I can tell you my own personal experience, where I was told there were unmanned drones that could be put on ships off the eastern seaboard, dropping chemical or biological warfare over eastern seaboard cities.  All of that turned out not to be true. 

And what‘s worse, Chris, is that I was not told that there was a dispute in the intelligence community.  Air Force intelligence says that‘s not true.  And they know more about unmanned aerial vehicles. 

MATTHEWS:  So there‘s a mindset get us to war with Iraq again, rather than going after al Qaeda?

NELSON:  I was presented that we had an imminent threat to the interests of the United States, indeed the homeland, and it wasn‘t true. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of media people in this business heard that, too. 

Senator, thank you very much, Senator Shelby.

As always, Senator Nelson, good to have you here. 

Coming up, finding answers to the question of whether 9/11 could have been prevented.  Will we ever know the truth?

Plus, White House reaction to the Richard Clarke revelations.  They‘re tough.

And join us Friday at 7 p.m. for a special report on the wounded soldiers who served bravely in Iraq who are now at Walter Reed.  We‘re going out to the hospital to look at these fellows.  I had the opportunity to spend some time with the recovering soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, and they will touch your heart.  Watch these guys.  They‘re trying to recover for what they took for us over in Iraq. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, White House whistle-blower Richard Clarke testified today before the 9/11 commission.  Will the panel and the American public believe him?  When HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Michael Isikoff is an investigator reporter for “Newsweek” and Dana Milbank is a White House correspondent for the “Washington Post.” 

Gentlemen—you first, Michael—what‘s the biggest development today?  Was it the apology for the United States government for 9/11 by Richard Clark?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I think Clark‘s overall testimony because I think it was highly affective. 

There was a rather furious effort by the White House and some of the Republican commissioners to dent his credibility today.  They threw a lot at him.  I don‘t think they succeeded. 

I thought the apology that he began with was actually a brilliant stroke.  It sort of set the tone, but it also raised the question.  If I, Richard Clarke, who recognized the al Qaeda threat worked as hard as anybody could on this, and I‘m going to apologize to the families of the victims of September 11. 

It raises the question, should others in this White House, as well as past White Houses, do the same thing?  And I think that‘s probably not a question the White House wants to have asked. 

MATTHEWS:  Just to be deeply skeptical, could it well be, Dana, that he was simply covering his rear end against charges that he was grand standing by appearing so apologetic?

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  I‘m shocked that you would think somebody in that lining of work would do such a thing.  But—well of course.  It was strategically brilliant from beginning to end, really.  But that doesn‘t mean it wouldn‘t work.

MATTHEWS:  See, it runs up against—excuse me.  It runs up completely against what Condi Rice said.  Condi Rice in that great picture of her—she‘s a beautiful woman.  She stands behind that lectern and says, “No one could have imagined such a thing.” 

Well, if nobody could have imagined it, nobody could be blamed. 

MILBANK:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Condi Rice here, because it runs so much against that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  I don‘t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another plane and slam is into the Pentagon, that they would try to use the airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.  All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Clarke said today he was afraid a plane would be used as a missile at the Atlanta Olympics, and he hastily assembled an air defense system for the games. 

Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE:  As to your question about using aircraft as weapons.  I was afraid, beginning in 1996, not that a Cessna would fly into the Olympics but that any size aircraft would be put into the Olympics.

And during my inspection of the Atlanta Olympics security arrangements a month or two before the games, I was shocked that the FBI hadn‘t put into effect any aircraft, air defense security arrangements.  So I threw together an air defense for the Atlanta games, somewhat quickly, but I got a system in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So it wasn‘t, like, outside the box, an attack like that?

ISIKOFF:  It wasn‘t totally outside the box.  But Clarke has also said that the famous August 6 Crawford briefing that mentions the possibility of an al Qaeda hijacking attack was not really about slamming it into missiles...

MATTHEWS:  It was about traditional hijacking. 

ISIKOFF:  It was about there was a report that the son of the blind sheikh had said maybe we should hijack an airplane and hold the passengers ransom for the release of my father.  And that was what initiated that being in the August 6 briefing. 

MATTHEWS:  But here we have this guy testifying, Richard Clarke, who‘s pretty focused in what he is trying to do here.  He‘s trying to impeach the efforts overall of the U.S. government and the attempts by the politicians leading our government to really try to do a serious job by saying, “Hey, look, I thought of this.”

MILBANK:  Yes.  I mean, if you—Well, there‘s been a bit of self-aggrandizement in—he‘s taking credit for an awful lot of things.  But if you think about it, his critique is devastating. 

He said essentially that September 11 could have been prevented, that President Bush did not care about terrorism before September 11 and didn‘t do the right things after September 11.  This undermines the whole Bush administration. 

So what they really have to do is, rather than take on argument by argument, they just have to pull the rug out from under him and completely try to undermine his credibility.  That‘s what you saw some of the commission members doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Tenet held harmless by all this, George Tenet?  Is he sort of not in the line of fire on this whole week?

ISIKOFF:  Well, Tenet got off really easy this morning.  In fact, I was astonished at how—what softball questions they asked of the CIA director, because after all, I mean, this was primarily his brief, you know, with the FBI‘s. 

But you know, look, the CIA had information about two of the hijackers.  They had them for a year and a half when they had tracked him... 

MATTHEWS:  When he had breakfast the morning of 9/11 at the Carlton Hotel or at the St. Regis, he said, “I hope it isn‘t about that guy that we were questioning out in Minnesota.” 

ISIKOFF:  That Moussaoui, but that was an FBI screw up, which Tenet perhaps let the world think that‘s what he was thinking after.  The question is, why aren‘t you thinking about the guys you knew about, your agency knew about and had failed to sound the alarm on, didn‘t put them on the watch list.  They didn‘t tell them to the FBI.

Incidentally, one interesting part of Clarke‘s testimony, really interesting, is he did lay out a scenario, the first one I‘ve seen by which the September 11 attack actually might have been thwarted. 

And that is it‘s those two guys the CIA had tracked going from Malaysia to the United States.  Then only on August 21 does the CIA Alert the FBI.  White House never knows.

Clarke said, “If I had known I‘d like to have think I would have put out an all purpose bulletin alert, called a press conference, put them on ‘America‘s Most Wanted,‘ had their picture in the newspapers.” 

And had they done that—had they don‘t that prior to 9/11, it is very possible that those guys couldn‘t have gotten on the airplane because their pictures would have been all over the press. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the big focus of the success of these things?  I‘m, by the way, very impressed by these panel members.  They‘re so much better than members of Congress.  There‘s one big problem with our political system: elections.  As long as guys are facing elections, they‘re going to grandstand.  These guys aren‘t grandstanding. 

Let me ask you: is the big news coming out that‘s going to be pre-9/11, how we failed?

MILBANK:  Well, sure, because they‘re, by definition, limiting it to that.  They‘re excluding (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  People kept saying, why in the private testimony didn‘t you talk about the obsession with Iraq?  And it‘s like, that‘s not what you were asking me about.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Still more to come on the obsession with Iraq, thanks to these latest developments by Richard Clarke. 

Thank you very much, Michael Isikoff, one of the great investigative reporters.  I ought to know. 

Dana Milbank, thank you again.  You‘re also in that league.

Up next, the political ramifications of the 9/11 commissions hearings with Ron Reagan and Terry Holt. 

And later, legendary comedian George Carlin on the affect Janet Jackson‘s wardrobe malfunction is having on this industry and the entertainment industry. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Battle for the White House heats up as former counter terrorism czar, Richard Clarke, testified before the 9/11 commission.  And White House chief of staff Andrew Card takes to the airwaves to defend against Clarke‘s attacks on the administration.

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  The primary focus that he suggested we should pay attention to is cyber security.  And in fact, the briefing that he demanded to have with the president dealt with cyber security, not with the al Qaeda network and terrorist attacks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Finally, a Republican with a Massachusetts accent. 

Anyway, Ron Reagan is an NBC News analyst.  Terry Holt is with—is national spokesperson—you guys have politically correct like that? -- or spokesman for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. 

Well, look at this, there seems to be the usual American political game being played here.  There‘s a pattern of responses from the administration when someone out of the White House disagrees with the president. 

In talking about former White House adviser Richard Clarke, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said, quote, “This is Dick Clarke‘s American grandstand.  This has more to do with politics and book promotions than it does about policy.”

Vice President Cheney said of Clarke, quote, “He wasn‘t in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff.”

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said of Clarke, “Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to.  He was the counter terrorism czar for a period of the 1990s when al Qaeda was strengthening and when the plots that ended up in September 11 were being hatched.”

When former treasury secretary Paul O‘Neill came out with his tell-all book, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “I think it appears to be more about trying to justify personal views and opinions than it does about looking at the results that we are achieving on behalf of the American people.”

Terry Holt, is this SDI?  Is this strategic defense?  Any incoming attack must be destroyed?  Anyone who speaks out, anyone who blows the whistle must be personally destroyed?  Their character, their sanity, everything destroyed?  It seems like that. 

TERRY HOLT, BUSH-CHENEY RE-ELECTION SPOKESPERSON:  Dick Clarke imploded this morning when he found out that in 2002 he came out and briefed a group of reporters about how pro-active this administration had been, that the president had set the agenda from the beginning, targeting al Qaeda and that he‘d funded a whole new makeup of—make over of the CIA.  So...

MATTHEWS:  But he was on the payroll back then.  Now he‘s speaking off the payroll.  Isn‘t it more honest?

HOLT:  Well, I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re on the payroll, you‘re under White House discipline.

HOLT:  I think the American people would expect that the truth be told by these people when they‘re advising the president on counter terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you allowed to speak the truth in your current capacity or do you have to give the White House line every day?

HOLT:  I happen to have the truth on my side, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, that‘s helpful, but it‘s also convenient. 

Let me go to—let me go to Ron.  This sort of a practice of SDI, strategic defense, you wait for somebody to attack you and then almost like the old Soviet system, you declare them insane if they say something that‘s out of line. 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Some of these people are going to have their photographs erased from the class pictures, you know?  You bring up a very good point, and there‘s something, I think, very psychologically revealing about this. 

You don‘t go out and destroy people if you think that the truth is on your side.  You simply tell the truth, and you assume that the truth is going to carry more weight than whatever they‘re saying. 

When you engage in these sort of ad hominem attacks and going after people‘s family members, for instance—that‘s a claim at this point with Ambassador Wilson‘s wife—it says something to me, at least.  It says, “We‘re very nervous.  There‘s something we don‘t want to get out here, and so we‘re going to destroy the messenger who...” 

HOLT:  But what we find out is the book is a sensationalized, dramatized work of fiction.  And that the things he says in the book...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the main fiction? REAGAN:  What‘s the fiction?

HOLT:  That the administration didn‘t care about al Qaeda, that Condi Rice didn‘t even know who al Qaeda was.  Clearly, obviously not true. 

REAGAN:  I haven‘t read the book, because it just come out.  I don‘t know if you have.  Did he actually say anywhere in the book the administration didn‘t care about...

HOLT:  I am holding him accountable for the various interviews that he‘s done over the last few days: the interview that he did on “60 Minutes” the other night...

REAGAN:  Did he say the administration did not care?

MATTHEWS:  No.  He said that Condi Rice didn‘t recognize the phrase when he used it. 

REAGAN:  That‘s a different thing.  It says they didn‘t know about it.

HOLT:  That it was outrageous that the president should be in charge of the global war on terror when, in fact, the president has gone on offense and said, in fact, that I‘m tired of swatting at flies when it came to al Qaeda. 

And look, the Clinton administration simply didn‘t have a plan from the start, in January, when in six months, this administration had a plan to target al Qaeda.  So I think...

REAGAN:  They would go to Iraq first and do that. 

HOLT:  Well, it would have been irresponsible to not look at Iraq after Iraq had used weapons of mass destruction and been on every major plot to, in fact, kill a former president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  You are a spokesman for the campaign.  Why did it take until today for the White House, through Andrew Card, to admit that they had plotted, they had put together a draft plan for attacking Iraq six days after 9/11?  Why did they deny that up until today?

HOLT:  Well, I can‘t speak for the White House on that specific point.

MATTHEWS:  This is going to disclosure.  It always makes you incredible if you only put out the information when you decide to put it out.  And we‘re going to give you a bigger chance in a minute. 

We‘re coming back with Terry Holt, give him a free fire zone against Ron Reagan.  Back in a moment. 

And later, comedian George Carlin on decency in the entertainment industry and Janet Jackson‘s so-called wardrobe malfunction. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour, more on the politics of 9/11.  How will voters decide whether Bush or Kerry is the best man to protect us from the terrorists?  And comedian George Carlin will be here to talk about politics, indecency and his new movie, “Jersey Girl.”

But, first, the latest headlines right now.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with more from Ron Reagan and Terry Holt. 

You know, you were saying before Terry, very authoritatively, that you can‘t trust this guy, Richard Clarke, because back when he was on the payroll, he was much more supportive.  And you are right.  Here is how Clarke, however, explained why he praised the Bush administration‘s approach to the terrorism in a background press briefing back in August of 2002. 

Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE:  I was asked to make that case to the press.  I was a special assistant to the president and I made the case I was asked to make. 

JOHN THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSION:  Are you saying to be you were asked to make an untrue case to the press and the public, and that you went ahead and did it? 

CLARKE:  No, sir.  Not untrue.  Not an untrue case.  I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done.  And as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing.  I‘ve done it for several presidents. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Terry, that‘s the job you have got, right, isn‘t it? 

Highlight the positive and play down the negative.

HOLT:  Sometimes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t what you are doing here right now tonight? 

HOLT:  Sometimes playing the tape is the most illuminating thing.  I mean, what—his answer is essentially, I was just following orders. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t there a sign about you have got to highlight—you know show business.  What is it, you‘ve got to highlight the positive...

HOLT:  Accentuate the positive. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Accentuate the positive. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  That is not a happy man. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t that what Richard Clarke is seen doing here, hyping his boss when it is his boss?  And when his boss is the public and the readership of the free press, he has written a book for, he tells the truer story? 

HOLT:  Well, again, these guys timed this book deal perfectly.  It‘s on the eve of the 9/11 Commission.  This is his grasp for stardom.  

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about how you do your job.  Now, maybe you can‘t tell me.  That will be just as good, if you can‘t tell me.

How do you guys—Ron, you can jump in here—how do you guys get the story straight every morning?  You have got to get—the tom-tom drums start going around 7:30 in the morning and you get a bulletin on your e-mail that says, Terry Holt, here is the word today.  This is what we‘re putting out.  Threes point you want to make today, here they are.

Is that how you get—prepare yourself?  I‘m talking about you and the campaign.  I‘m talking about the flacks at the White House and all the people at the NSC and the people in the vice president‘s office.

HOLT:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  How do you guys get the word on what to tell some of these kinds of shows? 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  Do you know how impossible that would be to prepare for this show? 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  Here‘s your three points.  Go on Matthews.  You would get killed.  You have to be well informed.  You have to be well prepared and you have to get up at the crack of dawn to read almost everything that comes over the transom in the morning. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, who told you to start saying that Richard Clarke belongs in an asylum? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, it sounds like the old Soviet system.  The guy is off base, so we‘re going to call him a nut or a crook or a self-seeking, what‘s the right word, grandstander. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Dick Clarke is...

REAGAN:  Love that show.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  American grandstand. 

REAGAN:  The nut case charge by the way is one that the White House has trotted out before, at least the Bush people have trotted out before.  You remember John McCain in the campaign last year.  Suddenly, he was insane.  He had been in a prison camp too long and it had made him crazy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And Howard Dean was too angry.  He was overcome with his anger.  He couldn‘t think.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you just go after the message instead of the messenger?

HOLT:  There were obvious flaws in this guy‘s argument from the very beginning. 

To suggest that when the president takes you aside and said says, I want you to find out if Iraq was involved with that, obviously, Iraq as a rogue nation, one of those nations we called the axis of evil.  It seems to me that the guy fundamentally told the story he wanted to tell.  But when you put Condi Rice, as we‘ve seen for the last two days, this administration and the Clinton administration going out there and laying the whole thing out, this commission has actually been a great thing, because it has seen—it‘s given the American people a chance to take a look at what really happened. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the latest poll.  I guess the Associated Press, they got a great poll out now.  It show Kerry at 40 --

Bush leading Kerry 46-42.  And it sounds like your ad campaign and your P.R. campaign, perhaps because of your good work, Terry Holt, has brought the president from below to above.  Do you see this change the last two weeks resulting from hard work by you guys? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Or are the American people changing their mind on their own?

HOLT:  You know, the American people are still focused on the presidential campaign, the serious election.  And we see that people are more interested now than they were in October of 2000.  So they are getting information.  They‘re learning more about John Kerry. 

The president‘s numbers have been fairly stable.  It‘s John Kerry as the picture fills in about him that is leading to a sort of shift in the polls, as you guys fill in the picture. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  There was almost nothing said about John Kerry‘s record during

the Democratic primary process.  Dean absolutely exploded and John Kerry

sailed to victory on a broad

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Can you win the election if the economy continues to be sort of in this jittery mood of no real jobs being created, the stock market going down slowly again?  If we have a stock market in decline, if we have a recovery that is not even have a recovery anymore because there‘s no jobs being produced, can the president win this election on being a fighter against terrorism and because like him personally?  Are those two factors enough for him to win against a weak economy?

HOLT:  Well, he is going to win the election because he is steady, because he has been consistent in his approach to the policies.

MATTHEWS:  Even if the economy dumps?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can he win in an adverse economy? 

HOLT:  Did you see the durable gods numbers today?  It was as big was in the third quarter of last year in October.  We had that big spike.  I think the economy is still going well. 

People‘s houses are worth more.  People are making more money.  Their tax burden is down.  And if you are a senior, you have to talk about health care, that your health care, you are going to start getting a prescription drug benefit and a discount card in May or June.  There‘s a lot of good things happening with the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the economy going up or down right now? 

HOLT:  It‘s going up.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s going up? 

HOLT:  Absolutely.  Do you see the durable goods numbers today?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘ll tell you.  That‘s how I know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What time this morning did you get the durable goods number?

REAGAN:  Durable goods.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I got another question here.  Here‘s my theory.  Tell me if I‘m right. 

HOLT:  You‘re right. 

MATTHEWS:  If the president catches bin Laden or the Pakistanis catch him on our behalf and nail him, whatever we do with when we catch him, he is in good shape because nobody is going to care about 9/11 and all that stuff because they got the guy, caught the bad guy we went after?  If we don‘t catch him, you‘re not going to be able to claim much of a victory, because he said, I‘m going to catch the guys that knocked down these walls after 9/11 and he didn‘t catch him.

So that‘s not a big victory, but it doesn‘t kill him either.  If we don‘t catch him by Election Day and we get hit again, who pays politically? 

HOLT:  Well, the American people are very different from other people in the world.  They are not going to take kindly to being manipulated by a group of terrorists.  So I think that should be said right out there up front. 

But Osama bin Laden, as we have seen in the

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So you guys—win-win for you guys.  If you don‘t get hit, you claim, we weren‘t hit.  If we do get hit, you blame it on election manipulation.

HOLT:  You stay on offense on the global war on terror. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, you‘re still on offense.  Terry Holt, thank you for joining us.

Ron Reagan, I‘m sorry to get into your

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  That‘s all right.

MATTHEWS:  But I felt so aggressive with this guy. 

REAGAN:  You can talk to me anytime.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, comedian George Carlin—well, afterwards—talks about politics and entertainment. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

ANNOUNCER:  You‘re watching HARDBALL.  Now it‘s time for today‘s Marriott map facts.  Which state was the first to establish a state park? 

Stay tuned for the answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, legendary comedian George Carlin.  We‘ll get his thoughts on censorship, indecency, and bad language on television when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  In today‘s Marriott map facts, we asked you, which state was the first to establish a state park? 

Give up?  The answer is New York.  The Niagara Reservation, known today as Niagara Falls State Park, was established in 1885.

Now back to HARDBALL with Chris Matthews.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

George Carlin has been a giant in American comedy since the 1960s and he has done it all, stand-up, radio, TV, books, records, and in film.  George plays Ben Affleck‘s father in the new movie “Jersey Girl,” which opens nationwide this Friday.  And he joins us now from New York City.

There you are in the movie.

George, thanks for coming on tonight. 

GEORGE CARLIN, COMEDIAN:  Sure.

You must be watching all this news about, you know, Janet Jackson‘s breasts and going after Howard Stern.  I‘m shocked he uses dirty words.  And you are the guy that really started this snowball back years ago with the seven deadly words you used.  What‘s going on? 

CARLIN:  There is a big election coming up and the right wing needs to be energized, not just made to vote, but made to get out and drive people to the polls.  They need red meat.  They got gay marriage.  Now they got Janet Jackson, Howard Stern.  They need to feed that Christian base and let them know they‘re doing God‘s work there at the White House.. 

MATTHEWS:  So this is Colin Powell‘s son doing the work of the Republican Party? 

CARLIN:  Well, I guess so, yes.

No, the interesting thing is, this stuff comes up, it‘s just like being in the Army and every now and then they get chicken—I won‘t use the rest of the word—they get chicken and you have inspections every week and then it‘s lax again.  It comes and goes.  This is a burp, but this is a burp driven I think by the election. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean?  What would happen if we didn‘t have that burp? 

CARLIN:  I don‘t think anything would happen.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You mean, maybe it‘s Jackson, next time she does both breasts.  Maybe next time, it‘s full-frontal.  Maybe next time, it‘s full-frontal and a little dance to go with it. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLIN:  Nothing wrong with that.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe the time after that, it‘s a little more exotic, a little more erotic.  Don‘t you have to have these right-wing as you call them conservatives burp to keep things reasonable? 

CARLIN:  Reasonable?  Well, you see, reasonable is a very elusive thing.  What‘s reasonable?

Here is my point.  If you didn‘t have commercial constraints, if you don‘t didn‘t have people selling baby food and tires and beer and biscuits and cars in these shows, there would not be any of this problem.  This problem is driven by the cash register.  They don‘t want to offend people, so they have prior restraint.  They say, we won‘t say these things and we won‘t offend.

They are guessing.  It‘s all guesswork as to what is offensive.  In that same broadcast of the Super Bowl, there was a four-hour erection commercial. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLIN:  I didn‘t hear the FCC complaining about that.  They show guys now sitting on the toilet in a commercial. 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLIN:  So they do what they want when it advances their interests.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s more erection commercials out there or erection commercials these days? 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLIN:  You know, there is hardly a difference between the two when you get right down to it. 

The other thing is, a lot of this is driven by this nonsensical superstition, which was fostered and exploited by religion, that the body is somehow evil, dirty and sinful, a sinful thing.  A woman‘s breast is not even part of the sex act.  It‘s part of nourishing an infant.  I know it is a sideline attraction in sex, but it‘s nothing to do with reproduction. 

They just

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you could say that both T and A. 

CARLIN:  They‘re just—they‘re very inconsistent.

MATTHEWS:  Neither one are involved with the sex act, but they are considered pretty erotic and they turn guys on.  And isn‘t that what the commercials are about?  Isn‘t it to sell product?  You never see a car with nobody in it on a commercial.  You always see some incredibly beautiful woman sitting in the car.

CARLIN:  That‘s right.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  What else is new? 

CARLIN:  You‘re right. 

And here‘s one problem with the inconsistency.  You will see in a newspaper for instance, because that‘s another commercial venture—a newspaper, they will say F “blank” “blank” K in a news story.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

CARLIN:  But they will not—see, here‘s what is interesting to me.  So the F and the K are there because they want you to know the word.  They don‘t mind you knowing the word.  They don‘t object to you knowing the word that‘s in mind.  They know you know what it means.  They just leave out the U and the C because somehow that makes it worse. 

You know, and other ones use four spaces or four asterisks.  There is no standard.  These words aren‘t harmful.  They don‘t do anything.  They don‘t corrupt you morally. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLIN:  They don‘t corrupt you morally, Chris.  They don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  I have a different occupation than you do, but one thing I do is, I make a point of saying B.S. and not spell it out or pronounce it.

CARLIN:  Yes, I know that.

MATTHEWS:  For a reason, because I want to respect the people watching the show and I know they didn‘t watch me to catch blue material. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So I always say, look, if you want the blue material, go down to the Copacabana.  But if you want to watch what I do, I‘m going to be...

CARLIN:  Copacabana.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The Copa.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLIN:  I understand the point you‘re making.  And it‘s a wonderful point.

But my point is this.  If they are allowed to know what B.S. stands for and, therefore, you can convey to them the words, the full words—they know.  Their mind says, B.S., oh, I know what that means.  That word is not a bad word because they are allowed to think it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a bad word.  It‘s not a bad word if I said it. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLIN:  Why is it bad?  Yes, you see, saying doesn‘t make a thing bad.  This is a very, very elusive area for me. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what you say, you and Lenny Bruce. 

CARLIN:  Yes, it‘s hard...

(LAUGHTER)

CARLIN:  Well, it‘s very hard to pin this down with any certainty and science.  This thing is subjective, very subjective.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you a certain factor.  If you sue a guy -

·         if you charge a guy on TV like me or Janet Jackson or anybody in different occupations but on the airwaves and you give them a $500,000 fine for saying the word that B.S. suggests, rather than the word itself, the initials, that would stop them in their tracks from being so First Amendment, wouldn‘t it? 

CARLIN:  If you did which, if you went ahead and said them and got fined?

MATTHEWS:  No.  If you fined them for $500,000, don‘t you think most performers would go—wouldn‘t they use discretion rather than the greater part of valor or whatever?  They would be careful, wouldn‘t they?

CARLIN:  Well, probably so. 

But the problem is the chilling affect that that has on further speech and other things you might think. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLIN:  And here is a point I always make.  People used to say to me, well, you know, you don‘t need those words.  I said, no, I don‘t.  They are language spice. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

CARLIN:  They are things you throw in the stew. 

I went—I did—I did about 135 -- I have done so far 135 “Tonight Show”s.  I never cursed once on those shows, because I don‘t go there to change their game or change their rules.  I go there to talk about my show or my book and they get to use my name as an attraction.  It‘s a tradeoff.  We understand the rules. 

When my daughter was little and we cursed around the house—my wife and I were very open with our language—we told Kelly (ph), we said, just don‘t—when you go to someone else‘s house, just respect their wishes and their rules. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARLIN:  It doesn‘t mean you can say what you want there. 

So it‘s a matter of choice, what you want.  And I always said, on these TV and radio shows, turn the dial.  But you can‘t turn it anywhere now because the world is growing up. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back.  I want to talk to you.  I think you have a point.  And that is, why did the Academy Awards show this year suck? 

We‘ll be back with legendary comedian George Carlin.  When we come back...

CARLIN:  Did I say that?

MATTHEWS:  No, but I think there is a big chill factor out there. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with George Carlin.

To make your point, George, I really thought the Academy Awards this years—and I love them.  I just love to see it.

CARLIN:  Yes, me, too.

MATTHEWS:  I love the guy with the beards who write the movies.  I identify with them.  I love the movie stars.  I think the only thing good this year was Charlize Theron, who was really a movie star.  She acted like one.  She was Grace Kelly, and the nice things she said about South Africa and everything and all that. 

But let me ask you this.  Didn‘t you sense that those three or four or 5,000 hours that night were almost valueless in terms of comedy because of fear?  I thought that. 

CARLIN:  Well, I see your point in retrospect.  It didn‘t strike me at the time.  I didn‘t get to watch all of it because I was on stage that night trying to earn my own credits. 

But the parts did I see, I take the point.  And the thing is, we‘re talking about a larger thing, the chilling effect.  And that is one of the problems with prior restraint and free speech issues with government censorship, is that people startle censoring themselves and speech is somehow—speech is the way we express ideas. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLIN:  So ideas are important and if we can‘t express them in our own ways perfectly, and someone says, well, what about political—you know, political thought?  Maybe that‘s next.  Maybe, after 50 years of this kind of training to us watch our speech, it becomes political speech, political thought.  And that‘s the worrisome part. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I mean, guys like and you Mort Sahl, who was unbelievable, and Lenny Bruce, who was unbelievable.  And I read his book.  I missed him a little bit because of the time when I read his book, “How To Talk Dirty and Influence People.”

CARLIN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They put such power into these words. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The guys, they would say about—the sort of racial stuff they would say...

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that was so thought-provoking. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, about Lena Horne and Kate Smith and what do guys like and how does it affect their racial attitudes and weird stuff.  Nobody else thinks speculatively about how people really are moved in this country except comedians, who seem to have to get at something, something with our nervous system that tells us about ourselves, something we don‘t even admit. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Am I being too profound here? 

CARLIN:  Probably for the listeners.

MATTHEWS:  I think what you guys deal with is a lot more interesting than the evening news.  I‘ll tell you that.

CARLIN:  Yes, comedians are a smart class, I find an intelligent class.  They investigate.  They study thing.  They look under the rock.  They look behind things. 

And I love finding a new way into an old idea, something that everybody is talking about.  But I love finding the side door to it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLIN:  And having a different set of logic for it and say, well, you know, did you ever think about it this way?  And that‘s what people appreciate. 

But Lenny certainly broke down all the doors on honesty on the stage. 

Mort Sahl was the—just the champion, and still is, political satirist. 

And both of them were helpful to me in my early career, by the way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I remember Mort Sahl coming on one night with a big blackboard on “Johnny Carson.”

CARLIN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Explaining where everybody stood politically. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Where Bobby Kennedy was somewhere in the middle.  And Marshal Ky was somewhere off to the right from South Vietnam. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And he—he made political education fun. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And he had people thinking. 

CARLIN:  That‘s right.  And he is just so bright.  It is a good example of the type of thing. 

I mean, I think Jon Stewart and Bill Maher today are fabulous political satirists.  They‘re about the only two.  I don‘t really like topical humor, but I like the way they approach it, perhaps just because they both seem to be a little bit left of center.  And I find myself there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then you‘ll like this joke by Jay Leno the other night.  He said, what‘s all this talk about George Bush suffering from bad intelligence?  Didn‘t we know that when we elected him? 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLIN:  Yes, right.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a pretty good line. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Conservatives don‘t like to hear it, but they‘re going to repeat what I just said, because it is a funny line. 

CARLIN:  And I like to point out that his mother was big on teaching children to read or reading to children or reading children‘s teachers or teaching children‘s readers to teach and reach and teach and teach and teach and reach and the sister—whatever the other one is, the wife now, Laura, is big on reading.  Didn‘t this reading thing ever reach George? 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLIN:  Why didn‘t this penetrate in our own family? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s division of labor.  If your mother is going to do it and your wife is going to do it, why bother?  It‘s already done.   

CARLIN:  But, I mean, he didn‘t do the reading.  His mother must be teaching other children to read because it didn‘t work at home so much on her family.  Maybe it‘s guilt. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we lighten up?  What is it like working with J.Lo and Ben Affleck? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This smart Harvard guy who is a brilliant writer and then chasing after this beautiful movie star.  And you‘re watching the whole thing on the set, making this movie, “Jersey Girl.”  What was that like?  What did you learn for us? 

CARLIN:  Well, I hate to cut short the scandalous aspects, but I only have one scene with Jennifer and Ben both in it.  So Jennifer, only one scene.  Ben and I spent the whole movie doing scenes together with the little girl. 

But they were both great.  The media, especially tabloid media, they kind of, you know, exaggerate things and they look for familiar spots to hit and keep hitting and keep hitting and keep hitting. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLIN:  And they‘re just normal humans.  They‘re a little bit under siege.  They were under siege at the time.  You didn‘t notice it where we were.  You really didn‘t paparazzi and all that.  But I thought they were both graceful and friendly.  And Ben is just—I mean, he—this is one of the most down-to-earth kind of open people I‘ve ever met. 

MATTHEWS:  And smart. 

CARLIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He is the most—smartest regular guy. 

CARLIN:  He‘s a smart dude.  He‘s a smart dude. 

MATTHEWS:  He knows more about baseball and stuff than anything.  He is incredible. 

CARLIN:  Yes, that‘s true.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, George Carlin, I‘m a big fan of yours. 

CARLIN:  Thank you.  Thanks for—and I you. 

MATTHEWS:  And you belong in that pantheon of greatness, along with Mort Sahl.

CARLIN:  Thank you.  Wow.

MATTHEWS:  And, of course, the great Lenny Bruce.  And don‘t get arrested. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLIN:  Don‘t forget Lewis Black.

MATTHEWS:  Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Our guests include former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen.

And make sure you join us again Friday night at 7:00 p.m. for a HARDBALL special report, “America‘s Wounded Sons and Daughters.”  I spent the day with a number of brave men and women out at Walter Reed Hospital who are recuperating here in Washington. 

Here‘s a look at one of those courageous soldiers. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve seen the Afghanistan part of the war.  You have watched the other part of the war.  What is your sense about the mission and what—is it a winnable thing?  Is it important?  Your own—when you‘re going to tell your kids about this, what are going to you tell them?  What is your sense of the war? 

STAFF SGT. ROY MITCHELL, U.S. ARMY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  The whole war on terrorism thing, starting on 9/11?

MITCHELL:  When 9/11 happened, it was a tragedy.  It was just, you know—a lot of people say it could have been prevented.  Yes, but that‘s outside—outside my lane, you know?  But the war on terror, it is definitely a winnable—it‘s a winnable thing.  And, you know, we‘re proving that by—we caught Saddam, you know?

And a lot of people said that we weren‘t going to be able to catch him.  Bin Laden has been evading us for years now.  But we‘re tracking him down.  We‘re getting closer and closer.  So it is definitely a winnable thing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a day and what show it is going to be.  Friday night, you‘re going to meet some real guys with some real injuries who are trying to overcome them, our HARDBALL special report this Friday at 7:00 p.m.

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann. 

END   

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