updated 4/20/2004 10:29:39 AM ET 2004-04-20T14:29:39

Guests: James Mann, Frank Gaffney, Fareed Zakaria, Bob Wright

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Iraq climbs to 509 today as Spain announces it will pull out of the troops within weeks, and Honduras considers doing the same. 

And Bob Woodward‘s new book puts the Bush administration on a political war footing as John Kerry goes on his own plan of attack against the president‘s alleged sweetheart ties with Saudi Arabia.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

It was a bloody weekend in Iraq for U.S. forces as 10 American troops were killed Saturday.  We‘ll have the latest on the fighting and what it will take to win the peace. 

Plus, NBC responds to the FCC ruling on indecency on the Golden Globes.  Chairman and CEO Bob Wright will be with us later in the program.

But first, in his new book “Plan of Attack,” Bob Woodward writes that the Bush administration planned for war with Iraq long before it went to Congress to ask for approval. 

James Mann is author of “The Rise of the Vulcans” and formerly a longtime correspondent with the “L.A. Times.”  And Frank Gaffney is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy. 

Frank, thank you for joining us. 

Thank you, sir, for joining us. 

Let me go right now to the first quote in the Powell book—it‘s all hot stuff.  This is the hottest of it.  Here is Secretary Powell warning President Bush about going into Iraq in August of 2002.  Here‘s what Powell said to the president in August of 2002: “You‘re going to be the proud owner of 25 million people.  You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems.  You‘ll own it all.” 

James?

JAMES MANN, AUTHOR, “THE RISE OF THE VULCANS”:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s where we‘re at, isn‘t it?

MANN:  That‘s right.  Tensions between Powell and Cheney go back all the way back to the first—to the Gulf War and first Bush administration, when Powell was chairman of the joint chiefs and Cheney was secretary of defense. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the fight about back then?

MANN:  The—Powell was probably the most powerful chairman of joint chiefs there‘s ever been.  He was—he‘d been Reagan‘s national security adviser. He‘s going off talking to the State Department and talking to the White House.  Cheney thought it should go through him.  Civilian control of the military was the issue in his mind. 

MATTHEWS:  So who was controlling the military?

MANN:  Well, Powell was a very independent chairman. 

MATTHEWS:  Directly under the president?

MANN:  Yes, exactly.  Particularly in opposing the Gulf War originally. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to my question.  I thought it was the prescience of Powell there. 

Frank, do you think the president needed to be told that when you win a war and you take over a government, you affect a so-called regime change, that you are, in fact, the new owners of the property, the Pottery Barn rules?  Those rules apply: you broke it, you bought it?

FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:  I don‘t think that‘s right, Chris.  I think what happens is you liberate a people and you give them an opportunity to govern themselves. 

What we‘re trying to do now is to fashion with them that kind of a arrangement.  In the end it‘s going to be up to them.  If they don‘t want us there, we‘re not going to be there.  It‘s not because we own it.  And I think that‘s a completely wrong-headed appreciation of the situation. 

If we owned it, you wouldn‘t be seeing the kinds of things that are taking place today.  We don‘t own it.  We‘re trying to enable people who do own it to exercise ownership.  And there‘s a small group, and I believe it remains a small group that are determined to try to prevent that from succeeding. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s just the point.  I think the question is how in the world do you find out what a people want, and does it matter what they want if the people with the guns and the ammo don‘t want you?  How do you discern—how do you discern that moment when the Iraqi people tell us to go back to America?  Frank?

GAFFNEY:  Chris, look, one of the things...

MATTHEWS:  How do you discern that moment?

GAFFNEY:  I‘m going to respond.  One of the things that you‘ve got to appreciate is that people who have lived under terror for decades are going to be very careful about who they say what to, especially when there are guys with guns, not us, but guys with guns who are trying to tell them to keep their heads down and not make any waves. 

The only way you can do it, Chris, I think is by, you know, the kinds of things we‘ve seen recently.  Several media organizations have conducted polls. 

But also to give them a chance, to give them an opportunity to express themselves ultimately through elections, but in the interim through a transitional process that will give them the institutions that allow the elections to mean something.  Not just one shot, one time, one man, one vote, one time, but a transition to a real working election.  A working democracy. 

And that‘s something that requires patience on our part. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand.  So many third world have had one election after decolonization and have never seen another election. 

Let‘s go right now to this interesting controversy, and you‘re an expert on this, Jim.  Your book is about the Vulcans, about these people. 

This is the interesting intramural fight between the vice president of the United States and the secretary of state.  Here it is right now. 

“Powell thought that Cheney had the fever.  The vice president and

Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11.  It was

a separate little government that was out there.  Wolfowitz, Scoot Libby” -

·         that‘s the vice president‘s chief of staff—“Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith and Feith‘s ‘Gestapo Office‘”—that‘s what Powell called it privately—“He saw in Cheney a sad transformation from the cool operator of the first Gulf War just would not let go.  Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation with going to Iraq.”

Let me ask you this.  Is that the way it is between Powell and Cheney?  The secretary of state charged with foreign policy, the vice president with no real executive authority, but a lot of borrowed authority from the president.  Was that fight real?  Did Powell really think there was a separate government led by Cheney and Scooter Libby?

MANN:  I don‘t know what a separate government. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I said.  Is he wrong?

MANN:  There‘s a faction within government.  Yes, that‘s absolutely what he thought.  And it was faction.

MATTHEWS:  How did that faction operate?  Was there 9:30 conference calls with Scooter and Feith and the V.P.?  Who was on that conference call?

MANN:  They talked a lot.  They talked on the phone, the standard ways.  They‘re all close to each other. 

Cheney had a whole series of aides from the first Bush administration who were throughout the government.  Includes Scooter Libby, as chief of staff, deputy—NSC, Steve Hadley.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Is it your contention, by the way, since the president of the United States makes these calls?  Was Bill Clinton—Was George W. Bush, is he now to this day aware of the separate government, if there is one of those factions, as you call it?

MANN:  I don‘t think he‘d think it was a separate government.  He‘s aware—he‘s certainly of this faction.  Sometimes, he may pretend it doesn‘t exist, but he knows it‘s there. 

MATTHEWS:  Frank—Frank, what do you make of the charge by Powell in the new Woodward book that there was a separate government out there, I guess more or less led by Cheney and Scooter, his chief of staff, including people from the State Department—not the State Department except for probably Baldwin (ph) but the Defense Department and NSC?

GAFFNEY:  Chris, the irony of this is the pot calling the kettle black.  The separate government was Powell.  The guys you just mentioned were clearly, if Bob Woodward‘s book tells us anything, were clearly pushing for the agenda that the president himself wanted. 

Powell was the odd man out.  Powell, Armitage and a couple others guys like him were basically running their own government.  That‘s the real separate government. 

I think what you had was, unfortunately, a lousy exercise of discipline by the president on Powell to have him work within the rest of the team.  That‘s where the real breakdown was, in my estimation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s get right now to another point.  All these are good points.  By the way, they‘re not all mutually exclusive.  These are points of view we‘re hearing tonight. 

Here‘s John Kerry tonight in Florida—today in Florida talking about the allegation in Woodward‘s book that the White House made a deal with Saudi Arabia that would deliver lower gas prices by election day. 

Let‘s listen to the presumed Democratic nominee for president.  Here he is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If, as Bob Woodward reports it is true that gas supplies and prices if America are tied to the American election, then tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Changed man.  Do you think that‘s a reason—do you think that‘s a well-based charge, that Prince Bandar and Crown Prince Abdullah all cut deals with this administration so they can have a nice low drop in gas prices in November?

MANN:  I can‘t confirm that.  If it‘s true, it‘s shocking.  I would be shocked. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Frank that.  This is not an ideological question here.  It‘s a question of political intrigue, Frank.  Would it make sense for this administration to call in their old friends, their dynastic friends in the country, “Come on, guys.  If we don‘t get gas prices down before election day, I‘m cooked.” 

GAFFNEY:  Chris, I don‘t know if it‘s true or not.  But I can tell you, I think one of—and I‘ve long thought one of this president‘s great vulnerabilities is the extent to which the public perceives him to have, at the very best, a blind spot...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GAFFNEY:  ... as far as what the Saudis are doing to wage the war, the Islamo-fascist war against us, to be the prime movers, in many respects, behind the terror we‘re confronting and not get tagged for it. 

And this could, if I‘m right about that, be one point on which John Kerry, as we saw him do today or yesterday, is going to run to George Bush‘s right on the whole war on terror...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GAFFNEY:  ... by claiming that he is—he‘s too close to these guys, he doesn‘t have it right on them. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the hawks—do you think the hawks on the war in Iraq are split on this think that Kerry‘s less tied to—well, he‘s not tied at all to the oil crowd, the dynastic coupling of the Bush family and Saudi family.  It seems to be going all the way back to the days of, you know, the old (UNINTELLIGIBLE) oil company back in the ‘40s. 

GAFFNEY:  Yes, my biggest concern is, at the moment, there are so many outfits in this country that are tied to Saudi Arabia, that have been promoting basically the sort of Islamist agenda within our own government that the president has, I think unwittingly, nonetheless embraced as part of his reach out to the Muslims that he has unfortunately compounded whatever else went on historically...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GAFFNEY:  ... between his family and the Saudis.  That‘s the danger.

MATTHEWS:  How could the president have so many interesting friends?  He has—He‘s as close to, you know, as close to Sharon as any president‘s been to any prime minister of Israel.  He‘s as close to the Saudi family as you can get physically.  He‘s close to the more neoconservative political policy. 

How does it all fit together, Frank?

GAFFNEY:  I think he‘s a more multifaceted guy than most people give him credit for. 

MATTHEWS:  It is mutually exclusive?

GAFFNEY:  No.  Well, I think the Saudi part of it is somewhat exclusive of everything else.  And I think it‘s a throwback—Maybe it‘s genetic, I don‘t know.  But it‘s a throwback to a family relationship that I think is frankly bizarre.  And potentially, politically, very costly for the president at this time. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we talking Freud or oil here?

GAFFNEY:  Don‘t go there, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:                  We‘re coming right back.  More with James Mann, author of “The Rise of the Vulcans.”  He‘s not talking about the guy on “Star Trek,” either.  And Frank Gaffney.  More with that. 

We‘re going to talk more about this amazing new book by Bob Woodward.  I‘ve been reading through it on the set today.  It‘s a hell of a book.  And we‘re going to talk more with “Newsweek‘s” Fareed Zakaria later on.  And of course, Howard Fineman‘s going to join us.  And of course, NBC chairman and CEO Bob Wright to talk about decency on television.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with more with James Mann.  He‘s the author of “The Rise of the Vulcans,” and Frank Gaffney.  We‘re talking about the hottest book in town.  That‘s Bob Woodward‘s new book, “Plan of Attack,” which is very tough on President Bush, unlike the book earlier where it was pretty pro-Bush. 

On John Kerry, here‘s what he had to say.  Quote—on John Kerry in Iraq, Bob Woodward wrote, quote, “Rove was gleeful.”  That‘s the president‘s chief political adviser, Karl Rove.  “‘It‘s on tape,‘ he said. 

‘And we‘ve done testing on it, and you put it out there, literally you take

the footage of him saying some of this stuff”—that‘s the anti-war stuff

·         “and then have him in the exchange with Chris Matthews, saying I‘m anti-war and people say, What a hypocrite.‘”

What do you think, Frank Gaffney?  Do you think John Kerry has a problem with the existing tape, just what he said in the last year or so about the war, yes and no?

GAFFNEY:  I think he said both yes and no, Chris.  And I think that probably will cost him. 

The question really is how does this play out on the ground?  And depending on what happens from here on is probably going to be more important than how he positions himself relative to it.  Than what he‘s done so far. 

MATTHEWS:  yes.  Do you think the president‘s made a mistake—I mean, who know, he‘s been so successful politically all his life, or most of it.  The president basically says it‘s unthinkable to pull out of Iraq.  It‘s basically unthinkable to pull back from the position I‘ve take up front here. 

More or less saying to his supporters, “If you don‘t support me on the war, you might as not vote for me, because this is what I believe in.” 

Whereas Kerry is so ambiguous, Frank.  I mean, you could be a hawk and still vote for him if you‘re a lifelong Democrat.  And you can vote for him if you‘re a total dove.  You could vote for him if you‘re somewhere in the middle.  If you‘re somewhat confused, if you‘re—I mean, why hasn‘t Kerry opened up a wider range of opportunity for his voters than the president has?

GAFFNEY:  Well, conceivably, Chris.  But look, this going to shape up.  It‘s going to have be a sort of a tightening up of his position between now and then. 

And I think you‘re going to find some people will say, “I like George Bush‘s vision.  I‘m not quite sure how we‘re going to get there from here, but frankly it‘s not all that different from what John Kerry is saying we have to do.  We have to stay the course.  We can‘t cut and run.  We can‘t relinquish the responsibilities that we‘ve assumed here.”

But what‘s going to happen on the ground I think is we‘re going to see both candidates, both candidates having to talk to the American people quite frankly about we have a responsibility here to make sure that the relatively small number that are determined to have this go south, whether they‘re from Iran, whether they‘re from Saudi Arabia, whether they‘re home grown Ba‘athists are not going to succeed in stealing from the people of Iraq, the best chance they ever had for a different world and frankly for a very different Middle East. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—let‘s go right now.  There‘s an interesting new quote in the book about weapons of mass destruction.  And the president is asked about weapons of mass destruction. 

Here‘s what he tells—Bush tells them.  This is what Woodward says of the president.  “But we have not found any weapons of mass destruction.” 

And the president replies, “We have found weapons programs that could be reconstituted.”  The president goes on to say, “An actual weapon could be built very quickly.  And so therefore, given that, even if that‘s the very minimum you had, how could you not act on Saddam Hussein?  That‘s my answer.”

And he goes on to say, the president, in the book that basically how can I admit we can‘t—we haven‘t been able to find weapons of mass destruction that will make all the war critics think I‘m saying, “I told you so.”  Or let them say it.

He‘s basically saying, “I‘m not going to admit I can‘t find weapons of mass destruction, because then my enemies will look good.” 

GAFFNEY:  Well, Chris, here‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Let Jim get in here first.  Sorry, Frank. 

GAFFNEY:  What he‘s saying now is a little different than what he was saying a year ago.  And no, he‘s not going to admit he didn‘t—they can‘t be found.  He‘s just going to leave it out there hanging, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Why?  He did it again during the press conference.  Why doesn‘t he say, “You know, I can‘t find anything yet.  If I find anything, I‘ll let you know.” 

GAFFNEY:  Can I offer a thought on that?

MANN:  Sure. 

GAFFNEY:  Here‘s the thing.  I think he‘s exactly right.  When he talks about the concern that prompted us to go to war with Iraq, it was the connection between a guy who we believed to have weapons of mass destruction and the ability, through his ties to terror, to hook them up with people who might use them against us. 

And that‘s not necessarily large, cavernous quantities of artillery shells filled with chemical weapons.  It could be as small as a vile of B.W.  It‘s something that could be well in hand, given the existing production ability that was there when we went in that we have found. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you happy with the success so far, Frank, in discovering the weapons of mass destruction that were used, at least purportedly used, as justification for the war?  Are you happy with this hunt so far?  Are you happy?

GAFFNEY:  Chris—Chris, I was unhappy hanging our hat, for the U.N.‘s benefit, on the weapons of mass destruction purposes.  Of course, I‘d rather seen more tangible evidence of this than we have.  I‘m not persuaded they‘re not.

And more to the point, I think those weapons production capabilities, which are there, dual-use production capabilities are sufficient to justify what we‘ve done, even if there weren‘t the other considerations.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t most nations have dual use potential to create weapons if they had to?

GAFFNEY:  Most nations have advanced chemical industries and biotech industry, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re an honest man.  Frank Gaffney, it‘s great to have you on.  Jim Mann, good luck with the book, “The Rise of the Vulcans.”  It‘s not about Leonard Nimoy.  It‘s about this administration and the intellectuals—there they are, “The Rise of the Vulcans.”  Great book about the insiders of this war effort.

Up next, a look at what Bob Woodward‘s book means for the Bush

administration and the presidential race with “Newsweek‘s” Fareed Zakaria

And later, NBC chairman and CEO Bob Wright weighs in on regulating the media in the aftermath of this famous, or infamous picture, the wardrobe malfunction.  Let‘s see what he has to say.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Fareed Zakaria is author of the book “The Future of Freedom.”  He‘s also the editor of “Newsweek” international.  Reed, thanks for joining me.

FAREED ZAKARIA, AUTHOR, “THE FUTURE OF FREEDOM”:  Pleasure, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the big question.  Do you think that, in Bob Woodward‘s book where he has the secretary of state, Colin Powell, basically briefing the president as if the president were a neophyte, saying just remember when you invade Iraq you‘re going to become the occupier of Iraq and you‘re going have that whole country in your control, and you‘re going to have to deal with all its ethnic problems. 

Doesn‘t that strike you as almost first grade foreign policy?

ZAKARIA:  Well, what‘s more striking, Chris, is that the president doesn‘t seem to have taken it to heart.  Because as was know, there was almost no post-war planning done. 

So I think there was a sense that, as always, Powell was not right.  The president never seemed to listen to Powell.  Powell not only didn‘t really have the president‘s ear, didn‘t have his gut.  So, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you explain all the—all those people around the president, a lot of them with master‘s degrees or foreign policy PhD‘s, Cheney and Wolfowitz.  And he‘s got a political science PhD. 

This is the best and the brightest all over again from the 1960s and the Vietnam War.  These guys are well-educated sophisticates.  They read the major newspapers every day.  They keep up.  They probably read “The Economist” from London. 

They know all that.  But they don‘t know that a country like Iraq, that has been colonized before, won‘t like invaders?

ZAKARIA:  I think the key here is ideology, Chris.  Because for many of these people, they go into this with very strong ideological convictions and prejudices about the nature of the Ba‘athist regime, about the importance of Chalabi, about de-Ba‘athification. 

And what surprises me is they don‘t really care enough about getting Iraq right.  They want to prove their point. 

So you think that you come in with prejudices like this to life all the time, but then you see what‘s happening on the ground.  You go in and in two weeks and you see, OK, you know what?  Mr. Chalabi has no domestic support.  Let‘s do something else. 

You know what?  We thought that the Iraqis were going to welcome us as liberators; they‘re not.  Let‘s quickly go to the U.N. 

The odd thing is that they were so stubbornly clinging to these ideological positions that they ended up getting Iraq wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, those ideological positions were we needed a lean force, a mean force, not a big force, that the oil would pay for the war and the occupation.  That the happy—Iraqis, in your colleague Howard Fineman‘s elocution, would be happy to see us, the happy Iraqis.  The Turkish government would support a two-front war with our help, coming in from the north.  I mean, everything would work out fine. 

What did you make of the very strong language here in the Bob Woodward book about Colin Powell, the secretary of state‘s view of his opposition.  Here‘s Powell questioning the war.  And here‘s what he‘s up against.

He talks of a separate government, “a separate little government,” he called it out there, led by the—Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, Doug - Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, which he said, this guy runs a Gestapo office over in the Defense Department.  Strong language. 

Of course today, he—the secretary of state says, “I don‘t recall using that term.”  But he clearly hasn‘t denied it. 

Tell me about this civil war in the administration between people like, on one hand, the war moderates, Secretary of State Powell, Richard Armitage, the undersecretary of state, Richard Haas, probably, and a few others, against this faction led by the V.P., his chief of staff, Wolfowitz, Feith, Hadley, et al.  John Bolton, that crowd?

ZAKARIA:  I think that—you‘ve been around Washington long enough, Chris, that I think it‘s fair to say that to ask you—don‘t you agree that this is probably the most divided administration one has ever seen?  At least in modern history. 

The people talked about Vance Berzinsky (ph), but this—all that stuff pales in comparison.  What you have is constant strife and below the level of the principles, that is the secretaries of state and defense. 

You just have continuous antipathy and warfare.  There is no interagency process.  And the heart of this dysfunctionality is the fact that you have this completely new super presidency created in the vice president‘s office. 

So we have—people talk of the Bush team as very competent.  And you know, at some level they are.  But the breakdown of the interagency process because of these deep divisions has actually led to extraordinary levels of incompetence, just pure and simple. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Fareed Zakaria of “Newsweek.” 

By the way, a programming note.  Bob Woodward will be our guest this week on Wednesday.  The great author is coming here on HARDBALL.  I think he‘s had, like, 10 No. 1 best sellers so far.  And I‘d say this one‘s zooming to the top.

Up next, NBC chairman and CEO Bob Wright responds to the FCC ruling on indecency at the Golden Globes.  And of course, a lot about Janet Jackson.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, NBC chairman and CEO Bob Wright on why he says more government regulation of broadcasters isn‘t necessary.  Plus, “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman with the political fallout from Bob Woodward‘s new book.

But first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As Congress is working on legislation that would increase the maximum fine for broadcasting indecency to $500,000 for each violation, the FCC overturned its own staff and ruled that rock singer Bono was indecent when he used profane language at last year‘s Golden Globe Awards, which was broadcast on NBC. 

In an op-ed in today‘s “Wall Street Journal,” NBC chairman and CEO Bob Wright said the American public would bear the brunt of new legislation and he cautioned against—quote—“an overzealous government willing to limit First Amendment protections and censor freedom of expression.”

Bob, welcome to the show.  Welcome to HARDBALL. 

You know the old line in “Ghostbusters,” who are you gonna call, who are you gonna call?  Who are the people sitting out there watching television right now supposed to call when they see something gross like Janet Jackson on their sets? 

BOB WRIGHT, CHAIRMAN & CEO, NBC:  Well, they can call their congressman.  They can call the FCC, actually.  The FCC takes calls and then actually follows up on people‘s calls or letters or messages that they get to them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, who‘s the last resort?  When all the argument in the government is done and industry is fighting back and forth, who says, this is smut, the average person and their kids don‘t have to watch it on the Super Bowl? 

WRIGHT:  Well, I suppose Congress can say that if they want to legislation that particularly, but the FCC is actually the authorized agent of Congress to have that last call and after that you have the courts. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the FCC under Michael—what‘s it—

Powell, Michael Powell?  What do you make of them? 

WRIGHT:  Well, they cover a wide gamut of activities.

And I think in this particular case, there‘s been so much pressure on Congress for them to do things that are quite out of character in fairness to what they normally do that it‘s hard to tell.  He‘s under—seems to be under a great deal of pressure to react to an angry Congress at a point in time where this really hasn‘t been an issue that the FCC has had a—an enormous amount of activity in. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go through a number of cases, because I think your point in the article today was, there are different situations, and we better address them pretty sophisticatedly. 

One is somebody who makes a clear-cut to try to exploit situation, Janet Jackson.  I‘ll say it.  She did it on purpose.  It wasn‘t equipment failure.  She knew what she was doing.  It was a great way to save her career and to get her separated although for five or 10 weeks from her brother Michael.  What do you do when someone just brazenly misuses the public airwaves like that? 

WRIGHT:  Well, I think the issue here, Chris, is everything has to be taken in context.  That‘s really the whole point on this First Amendment discussion. 

It isn‘t about accepting inappropriate behavior.  It‘s not about saying that that was OK and this wasn‘t.  It‘s about the context of when something is done and trying to understand it.  You know, that is probably inappropriate by anybody‘s—anybody‘s guidelines.  Now, what you do about it, well, they did.  They—Mel Karmazin appeared in front of Congress.  He was asked to talk about it.  He explained it.  There was a lot of jawboning going on there. 

Viacom seems to have taken a lot to heart.  They‘ve done a lot of things.  The FCC could have done the same thing.  They could have brought him in.  They could have asked him to appear en masse.  They could have asked him to appear in front of the chairman.  Those things are powerful tools. 

And I guess my argument here is that those tools aren‘t being used now, you jawboning or at least going to your organization like the FCC and saying, listen, we want you—we expect you to be active in your surveillance of inappropriate behavior and the commission probably would have said, got it, but maybe we need some more money here or this, maybe we need this, that or the other thing and then give it some time to see how it‘s impacted.

But this particular case, though, you know, they brought the defendant

in and it was like a 20-hour -- 20-second trial.  He pleaded guilty and

then they said, we‘re going to change the law.  It‘s

(CROSSTALK)

WRIGHT:  That‘s the issue here.

MATTHEWS:  Did not something good come out of it, Bob?  Didn‘t we get the five-second delay on live broadcasts?  Is that a good or a bad thing? 

WRIGHT:  Well, it‘s a thing. 

As an idea, it‘s a concept.  It‘s all right.  I think for shows like Academy Award shows or, you know, shows where there are a lot of entertainment people that might be having a long night or something, that‘s probably not inappropriate.  But for regular news, I think that‘s highly inappropriate.  I don‘t think people expect to be seeing live news on a delayed basis, you know? 

(CROSSTALK)

WRIGHT:  Thousands of hours of this take place, you know, every year. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about entertainment situation.  It could happen on this show.  We‘re on cable, but it happens a lot of places, where you have people that are used to newsroom language, which can be pretty raw and they forget they‘re on television and they drop a line they shouldn‘t, the F-word or whatever.  Do you think that is something we should just admit it was a mistake like the Bono thing? 

Show business is a rough business and there‘s a lot of sexually tinged language, you know.  You deal with these guys.  Should that guy be punished in any way at all? 

WRIGHT:  Well, we admitted that the Bono remark was inappropriate within hours after it aired.  As a matter of fact, we didn‘t air it in the Pacific and Mountain time zones.  So, I mean, we understand that.  But the power of having somebody appear or discuss it or be chastised is also very powerful. 

My concern here is that we have gone way beyond that and we‘re entering an area now which by raising the fine so much with such vague guidelines, you‘re going to end up—everything is going to end up in court.  And you‘re going to have a lot of federal agencies doing administrative work on something that has been pretty well settled over the last 30 years almost. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you had—you had the kiss, you know, a while ago between the two women on national television.  A lot of people I think thought that Janet Jackson was just the next escalation in that sort of thing. 

WRIGHT:  Well, I hope that‘s not the case, but, you know, we‘re never going to know what she exactly intended to do, nor are we going to know what he intended to do, because we saw what we saw.  And it‘s unfortunate.  But I don‘t think that was the point here. 

There‘s been a lot of concern by the Congress about radio complaints and about certain material that appeared on radio.  For some reason or another, Congress was really not willing to take that on directly or to give it time, and jumped at this particular issue as way to make an enormous change.  That‘s my concern. 

MATTHEWS:  You want to keep it as free as possible, right? 

WRIGHT:  Well, absolutely, I do.  I want to keep it as a place where talented people, writers, directors, performers, producers can feel that they—they operate under significant guidelines.  You know, we have standards and practices operation. 

We review 1,500 hours of programming a year, 50,000 commercials.  The people that work for the networks and work for us in particular know that we have all those kind of guidelines.  You don‘t want to scare the daylights out of them by giving the impression now that they should go someplace else if they want to have a little more artistic freedom. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I want when we come back, how come some of these shows that are really good today—and I‘m not selling them, but I know the writing is great, “Sopranos,” things like that, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” why they‘re showing up on paid cable and not on broadcast networks. 

We‘ll come right back and talk to Bob about the quality fight and perhaps the quality flight because of chilling effects of too much regulation. 

Back in a moment with Bob Wright, CEO of NBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re coming back with Bob Wright, plus, “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman with the political fallout from Bob Woodward‘s new book.

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m back here with Bob Wright, the chairman and CEO.

We‘re talking of indecency on air. 

I hope I don‘t break any rules, Bob, but I thought the Oscars this year sucked.  So is that because they were all chilled, all those actors and writers and performers because of what the FCC was up to?  It was a boring three hours.  And no comedian said anything even slightly interest.  Nobody pulled any political stunts.  It was just terrible.  Is there a chilling effect out there, do you think?  Do you sense it? 

WRIGHT:  Well, so far, there‘s no law against poor programming either.  We haven‘t gotten to that point.  Inappropriate—appropriateness isn‘t the issue, but you ought to be careful what you just said.  That may be a problem, by the way. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe not on cable. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But let me ask you.  No, do you sense, when you talk—you‘re about to be head of the NBC, Universal and the whole thing.  You know all the film people and the TV people.  Are you noticing a quality flight from people who normally would work on, say, “West Wing,” and they would say, no, I‘m looking for a more interesting venue where I can be a little broader in my attack—on literature and writing and everything, so I going to go over and work for “The Sopranos” network? 

WRIGHT:  Well, of course that‘s a concern. 

There are quality people working in lots of different networks.  Some of them are broadcast and some of them are not.  We certainly don‘t want to encourage or make people feel that they‘re taking their life in hands if they‘re going to perform for a broadcast network, as opposed to another one. 

I don‘t want us to be—I don‘t want to regulate the other 90 some odd channels.  That‘s not the point at all.  We live with a certain amount of regulation which distinguishes broadcasting.  I guess I want to point out, Chris, that we do have a lot of regulation.  Our performers and talent understand it.

But this current fever—and the law hasn‘t passed, remember.  We‘re through the House.  It‘s sitting before the Senate.  Whether it goes, where it goes, I‘m not sure.  But if it is enacted the way it‘s currently drawn, I think you‘re going to find a lot of people are going to say, hey, I don‘t need this.  This is too vague.  I‘m not sure what it is. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you find a different category for someone like Howard Stern, who makes what he does for a living?  That‘s what he does.  It‘s not an accident.  It‘s not Bono dropping a line he doesn‘t.  And it‘s not somebody pulling a stunt.  It‘s every day, this is how he makes his living.  How do you distinguish NBC or any product from that under the law? 

WRIGHT:  Well, everything has to be in the context and you have to look at how he says and how he does it.  And that gets its own judgment.             

We are not trying to say we should be doing that.  I‘m not trying to say he should be doing that either.  That‘s like going into a library and saying, there are some bad books in this library, how many would you take out.  Would I say, 10, 20, 28, 32?  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

But Howard Stern is not a—he is every day a different show.  And every day he has different material.  And some of his material may be just terrific and other of his material may not.  You have to make a judgment call piece by piece. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the big network, broadcast networks, are going to basically try to self-police now and try to avoid this push to more regulation? 

WRIGHT:  Well, I don‘t know that they‘re doing it to avoid the regulation, because it appears that the regulation is full steam ahead. 

What I‘m trying to point out is before it is done that that could be potentially very damaging and very inefficient in terms of having everything decided by a court.  The self-policing action, the jawboning that took place in Congress, has proven to be extreme effective right now.  So give it a rest.  Let‘s see.  Let a year go by.  Let the commission come back at the end of next year, the beginning of next year, and say how do they think the jawboning that‘s already taken place, what impact has it had?  To me, that‘s the proper procedure. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Bob Wright, CEO of NBC.

WRIGHT:  You‘re welcome, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman with the political fallout from Bob Woodward‘s new book.  What a new book.  Woodward has done it again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re talking about the political fallout right now with Bob Woodward‘s new book, “Plan of Attack.” 

Joining me right now is Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for “Newsweek” and MSNBC and NBC analyst.

Let‘s go here.  Let‘s talk about this book today, this—well, let me go to the news.  The news is probably the biggest thing.  John Kerry comes out of this today and he says, well, what I found in the book of interest to me was that the president and Prince Bandar, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, have cooked up this deal where right before the election, the price of gasoline is going to drop and everybody is going to be happy for $1.25 gas or whatever.  What do you think of that charge?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think it is politically potent.  And I think John Kerry was making it down in Florida with Joe Lieberman at his side.  And it played well to the crowd.  And Saudi Arabia is a bigger boogeyman in American politics than I think the Bush administration quite realizes.  So that‘s probably a very...

MATTHEWS:  Frank Gaffney, a well-known neoconservative, made that point on the program tonight, that that‘s—of course, when you break with the neocons and you‘re President Bush, you‘ve got problems.  These guys say he is too soft and too blind to the Saudi Arabian—this problem we have with them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... most of the hijackers were Saudi Arabian, although you have to argue, I think reasonably, they were against their own argument. 

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s true.  But it is a difficult argument to make in the American arena that, hey, the people who would take over from the Saudi royal family would be worse. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  That‘s a hard case.

FINEMAN:  But that‘s basically the case you have to make.  And that‘s the case that the Bush family and America, both in the Clinton and Bush administrations, basically have been making for decades. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is Kerry continually pushing the economic button, not the Iraqi button, as the Iraqi situation worsens?  Why does he say gasoline?  Why did he fasten on that?  Why does he fasten always on the economic issues? 

FINEMAN:  It is interesting, because I think the way the Kerry strategists view it is that the war in Iraq, up until now, has been at best a push for Kerry.  It is not a winner.  It is not, to use George Tenet‘s term, a slam dunk. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  Now, it could eventually become that if Iraq continues to worsen politically and militarily, if the Middle East blows up even further.  But for now, Kerry knows that his basic strength is going to be the economic argument. 

MATTHEWS:  Can I give you another case? 

FINEMAN:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  I think what John Kerry, the guy we‘re looking at right now

·         by the way, when these guys learn to loosen their ties and roll up their sleeves instead of just taking the coat off—anyway, they look like MBA students outside for an hour. 

               

Let me ask you this.  Could it be that what Kerry is doing is, he figures maybe 40 percent of the country is anti-war down the line, 35 percent, pretty dovish.  He figures there‘s about 40 percent that‘s pretty hawkish, 35 percent maybe.  In the middle are 20 or 30, who don‘t really know.  They don‘t like Islamic terrorism.  They saw what happened to us.  They want to be tough.  They like a leader.  They don‘t really know if this war is a smart idea, whether the costs are going to be too high. 

So what Kerry is saying, I want all the doves.  I want the middle-of-the-roaders and I even want some hawks.  I want some people who would like to go to war with Iraq, but think it was done the wrong way, bigger territory to cover, more potential votes.  Bush has basically said, if you‘re not with me on the war, forget about it.  And that could be a mistake for the president. 

FINEMAN:  I think that‘s true.  I think that‘s true.  Kerry‘s risk in doing that is the accusation of flip-flopping and so forth. 

MATTHEWS:  It hasn‘t hurt him so far. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  It hasn‘t hurt him so far. 

And Kerry I thought uttered the great line of his campaign the other day in a speech to a bunch of fund raisers in New York.  He said, all I need to do is preserve my acceptability. 

MATTHEWS:  Who does that sound like? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton‘s protect my political viability in his letter to that colonel back in draft-dodging days. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  That‘s Kerry‘s strategy.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  Preserve acceptability to as wide a range as possible. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s—we‘ve agreed on that.

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk to you about the fact of what‘s going on. 

The horror of Vietnam—or—I made a mistake there—the horror of Iraq war is that people getting killed.  And I hate talking politics about it, but that‘s what‘s going on.  It seems to me that, if you want to pick the winner of this election is, watch the front pages.  Forget the opinion pages for the next six months, because if the war continues to be costly, with no clear end in sight, people are going to look for a change, aren‘t they? 

That‘s the reality.  It is all about the president.  It‘s not about how good John Kerry looks or whether he rolls up his sleeves or not or he makes people like him or not.  It is whether people feel that this president is taking us to a safer place. 

FINEMAN:  I agree with you.  I think the election is about, are we safer than we were?  Are we safer as a result of having gone to Iraq? 

What Woodward‘s book says is that the president never convened a meeting of all his key people and said, is this worth the risk?  Is this really worth the risk?  Is it really going to make us safer?  He never held that meeting. 

MATTHEWS:  And the old Reagan question, will we be better off? 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  We will be better off?

He never asked that question.  He apparently thought so in his mind, but didn‘t test it against tough advisers inside.  So the American people are going to hold him to account for that.  And that‘s why Kerry strategy is to maintain minimum acceptability. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  He‘s hoping for a break.

FINEMAN:  Because he knows events are going to dictate this. 

This month, by the way, the month of April, has been the deadliest month for American G.I.s of any in the Iraq war so far.  And that‘s an important political fact. 

MATTHEWS:  Trust me on this.  I‘m going to ask you a question, old pal, because this is the toughest question in the world.  The president‘s way of thinking, a lot of our lives we spend, we trust a person who seems self-confident.  I think a lot of male attraction—women like men who are self-confident and know what they‘re doing, even if they‘re a little wrong. 

And a lot of people have been attracted to Bush for that reason.  He‘s the kind of guy that goes—I know he‘s not like you and me.  I know you and I, if we were to get elected president, the night before, the two nights before the inaugural ball, we would be doing dancing lessons and we would be trying to get it right. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s a frightening thought, for sure.

MATTHEWS:  Right, but we would be doing those basics, because we didn‘t want to make a fool—he didn‘t bother.  He did the Freddie or something.  He didn‘t care what anybody thought. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  A lot of the time—he said this in his new book about Tony Blair.  Tony Blair said, when I get a letter from a parent who lost a kid in the war, I reconsider my position.  I think it through again.  I have my doubts.

And Bush says right to Bob Woodward, when he heard that, he says, I don‘t have any doubts. 

FINEMAN:  He said, I...

MATTHEWS:  That absolute doubtlessness. 

FINEMAN:  He said more than that.  He said, I haven‘t suffered doubt. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  As though doubt were a medical condition.  And that‘s the way Bush thinks. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is so important to us, because most Americans, and me included, don‘t know whether we should be in Iraq or not.  We can follow our old history.  I was in the Peace Corps.  I knew Third World countries don‘t like invaders and occupiers.

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t even like Peace Corps people talking politics.

I know that.  But what did the president know when he ignored his Cabinet, never took a poll, never checked with his father, apparently, never checked with anybody like Jimmy Baker or Scowcroft, the experts in the old days, just decided to go on his own decision-making?  What does that mean when a guy like that makes a decision like that?  What should—we to make of it?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  If his resolve results in catastrophe and makes us less safer as a nation, then George Bush is going to pay for it. 

MATTHEWS:  But skip the politics.  Next term, if he gets a second term

·         he could well get one.  Is he still going into that quiet moment with his own self as counsel or, as he puts it, the other father as counsel?

FINEMAN:  The higher father. 

MATTHEWS:  Which I wonder about. 

FINEMAN:  The higher father. 

MATTHEWS:  That sense of intercession, whatever your religion is, the sense that you‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... going to get led by God into war is an amazing assumption I don‘t think most people would make.  It‘s too bold to believe that God would intervene in one person‘s case and say go to war or don‘t go to war.  You have to make up that decision yourself. 

FINEMAN:  I think this is the way he is.  I think he also comforts himself that there‘s strategic value in his mind in playing it the way he‘s playing it, because, don‘t forget, they‘re negotiating like crazy behind the scenes with Brahimi, with the United Nations, with NATO.  They desperately want to cut a deal. 

MATTHEWS:  This administration. 

FINEMAN:  This administration.

MATTHEWS:  So we can relieve ourselves of authority. 

FINEMAN:  So we can relieve ourselves of the authority. 

So Bush is saying—not only does Bush think this way, but he has satisfied himself that it is a good negotiating strategy also. 

MATTHEWS:  Could he also means that God is with him because he has been lucky so far?  But he hasn‘t been lucky. 

FINEMAN:  No, he hasn‘t been lucky. 

MATTHEWS:  This war, he didn‘t get the Turks on our side.  We thought we would.  We didn‘t get the Europeans on our side, as we thought we would at the end.  This is stuff we‘ve heard at this table.  You‘ve been here.  Most of the advocates of the war have said this, that the people are going to love us, the happy Iraqi scenario.  That‘s your locution, which I absolutely love. 

The idea that oil would pay for this.  None of these things have come true.

FINEMAN:  None of them have come true.  And the planning, I think everyone would agree that planning for postwar Iraq, if indeed we are in postwar Iraq, was not well done. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, a small question. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Secretary of State Colin Powell, how could he oppose the war, be ignored by the president, support the war like a good soldier, go to the U.N. and make the case for the war, and then come back and talk to Bob Woodward and say he doesn‘t like that war.  Is that honorable? 

FINEMAN:  Well

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Put it all together.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Two things amaze me about this book, in terms of the administration: why Colin Powell hasn‘t resigned.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  And why George Tenet, the head of the CIA, hasn‘t been fired. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  Now, what I take from the second, the fact that..

MATTHEWS:  These are lies without consequences. 

FINEMAN:  The fact that Bush hasn‘t fired Tenet means to me in the end that the WMD case was not that important, because if the WMD case had been indispensable to the president‘s case and to the president‘s thinking, he would have strung George Tenet up by a yardarm for having told him it was a slam dunk to make the case. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  Tenet has not submitted his resignation, has not been fired.  Colin Powell seems to prefer to offer his resignation in slow motion through Bob Woodward than to actually do it. 

MATTHEWS:  How can you have a fundamental no-confidence vote against the president from inside? 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Well, it is a no-confidence vote expressed journalistically through Bob Woodward.  And the fact is that Colin Powell remains politically important to this administration. 

He was key in the 2000 convention.  He was key to the theory compassionate conservatism. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  He is an important guy.  He has apparently decided to stay, but in a sort of passive-aggressive way is making it clear that he warned them of the consequences before they went.  It‘s really remarkable.

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me the president is using Colin Powell as an indicator that he is partially moderate, he has this moderate international soul, when he doesn‘t.  He is a lone gun. 

FINEMAN:  He seems to be.

MATTHEWS:  And I think it doesn‘t make the—I love Powell, but it makes no sense to me, what he‘s done.  I don‘t understand it.  If he cooperated with Woodward, he should walk.  It‘s easy for me to say.  I‘m not secretary of state, but that‘s what I just said. 

Anyway, Howard Fineman, as always, top political adviser to this program. 

Tomorrow on HARDBALL, Senator John McCain is going to be here to talk about his new book.  And don‘t forget, on Wednesday, Bob Woodward will join us right here.  He‘s the author, the man of the week.  It is Woodward‘s week.

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

END   

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