updated 5/3/2004 10:29:48 AM ET 2004-05-03T14:29:48

Guests: Richard Cohen, Lesley Stahl, Michael Wolff, John Fund

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, the faces of the fallen.  Why is the owner of eight ABC affiliates boycotting tonight‘s “Nightline” broadcast?  And CBS‘ Lesley Stahl talks about the journalistic mine field of covering the war in Iraq.  Plus, the end of the road for the HARDBALL seventh anniversary tour. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

Tonight, “Nightline” host Ted Koppel will devote his entire broadcast

to reading the names of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq as their pictures

appear on the TV screen.  Koppel said the broadcast is intended as a

tribute.  The Sinclair Broadcasting Group, meanwhile, has ordered its eight

ABC affiliates not to run the show, saying in a press statement, -- quote -

·         “Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show, the decision to showcase the casualties appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.  While Sinclair would support an honest effort to honor the memory of those brave soldiers, we do not believe that this is what ‘Nightline‘ is doing.  Rather, Mr. Koppel and ‘Nightline‘ are hiding being this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action Iraq.”

MATTHEWS:  Michael Wolff is a media columnist with “Vanity Fair” magazine and John Fund is a columnist for OpinionJournal.com.

Michael Wolff, you sense of the lay of the lay of the game here. 

Which side is right? 

MICHAEL WOLFF, “VANITY FAIR”:  Well, “Nightline,” I think what “Nightline” is doing is very clear.  They know that there is some number, a line at which, at which we cross, number of bodies in which the political calculation changes entirely. 

From a media standpoint, I know what exactly they are doing.  They are figuring that that line is probably at 1,000.  And at 1,000 everybody is going to start to do this show.  So they are just doing it slightly before. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund, your sense of this dispute between “Nightline,” which is going to list and show pictures of the American casualties in Iraq killed in action and the others who died over there, and the other side, this guy who owns a bunch of TV affiliates, including the Saint Louis ABC affiliate, as well as seven others, wants to kill the show. 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Well, first, happy anniversary, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

FUND:  I think that this dispute is really not so much about ABC‘s program, but the context that it is in.  I think it is a good use of 40 minutes of television time to honor our fallen dead.

However, we are not going to discuss why they are there.  We‘re not going to put the context.  If ABC can stretch “Nightline” from 30 minutes to 40 minutes to put more names in, it could stretch it to an hour and have a fuller, more complete show.  Everyone at ABC knows that the inspiration for this, and they have admitted this, was a 1969 “Life” magazine article which showcased all of the dead in Vietnam for one week. 

That was done by opponents of the Vietnam War specifically to undermine support for the Vietnam War. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that “Life” magazine, Henry Luce‘s organization, was anti-war? 

FUND:  The biography of Henry Luce, the PBS documentary that was on PBS this week, and “Life” magazine editors who have talked about it in their memoirs.

WOLFF:  But, John, think about this, just this idea that there is a line that we cross, that there are X, when we get to that X number of dead, everything begins to change.  Don‘t you think so? 

FUND:  Sure. 

And I think that the rhetoric has been a little too heated at both

sides.  I think that Sinclair I think jumped to some conclusions.  I wish

they had more extensive conversations with Ted Koppel‘s team.  But John

McCain, Chris, John McCain wrote a letter to Sinclair calling their action

in pulling the program off their eight affiliates—quote—“unpatriotic”

·         unquote. 

That is an extremely harsh word to use for a decision that is basically meant in sincerity because they don‘t think ABC is putting this in context. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How would you put the deaths of all these service people in context in one show?  If you decide to devote one show that they do out of five each week, how do you have time to do what they want to do tonight and do this context you‘re talking about? 

FUND:  Chris, if they can stretch it from 30 minutes to 40 minutes, they could another 20 minutes in which the parents, the relatives, the military commanders, the person who served with this people, could talk about what they said before they died, what they felt their feelings were about the war. 

WOLFF:  Oh, John, that is ridiculous. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  No, that is a good show. 

WOLFF:  Well, it is your show. 

Let‘s look at the more precise point, what they are.  They are clearly making a statement.  And the statement is that, we are suddenly at a point where there are—we are beyond the point, let‘s say, where the number of casualties is trivial. 

FUND:  That is a political statement.  And I think ABC would be much

better off if they admitted that, because they won‘t admit it

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFF:  I don‘t understand.  How does it become a political statement? 

It‘s a statement of numbers. 

MATTHEWS:  Let met let Ted Koppel—you alluded to this a moment ago, John.  Let me give you the full quote from Ted Koppel.  This is an interview yesterday with the Pointer Institute. 

Koppel explained his action this way—quote—“My executive producer, Leroy Sievers, remembered, and I asked him if I remembered it and I did, a two-page spread in ‘Life‘ magazine back in ‘69 on the Vietnam War dead for one week and the impact.  He reminded me of the impact that that had had and said why we didn‘t we do—try to do something similar.”  

You are saying, John, that because he remembered how effective and how influential that “Life” magazine edition was with all of the pictures of the dead that he did it for what reason?  Explain what Ted Koppel and his producer‘s motive is? 

FUND:  They should understand that if that is the inspiration and given the impact that spread in “Life” magazine had, they should cover themselves by having a fuller, more conceptual portrait. 

That is not my show.  That would be better television, bringing in the parents, brining in the brothers and sisters, bringing in the military commanders.  That would be a better show rather than this dramatic statement which can be so easily characterized as political. 

Chris, regardless of whether it is fair or not, people in this country are still rubbed raw by the coverage of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and the feeling, which is I think is somewhat misplaced, that the media lost the Vietnam War. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you—I don‘t want to get into this fight because I‘m not sure where I stand.  But let me ask you this, John.

The Vietnam Wall in Washington—and Michael, you know it very well.  We all go down there once in a while.  And that is a wall of tragedy, admittedly.  But there‘s nothing on that wall that says here were the various cases made for the Vietnam War from 1961 on or whatever.  It is just a list of people that died.  Couldn‘t this show simply be out of context simply be these people died for their country? 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFF:  There is also this other point here where we report.  We are all trying to cover this story.  This is a story of war.  And the thing that doesn‘t really get covered here is the most elemental fact, which is that people die.  They really die. 

And, in fact, this number, the number of dead now, what is it 728, something like that, is then a fraction of the number of people who are maimed.  This is very clearly a piece of dramatic news. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you what would be even more dramatic, perhaps, than even the KIAs.  And that is a long segment on the number of amputees, John.  I‘ve got to tell you, if you see a few of them, there‘s 4,000 seriously wounded people coming out of that war. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  And I know you visited them and their stories of heroic. 

MATTHEWS:  I just—well, we will come back and talk about this.  I think this is a moment of testing and emotions for this war.  And I think you are both right.  I think Michael is saying that we are getting closer to the 1,000 mark.  And I don‘t know when the tipping point on this war emotion is.

But we will come back and talk about it.  More with John Fund, an interesting discussion, with Michael Wolff—when we come back.

And later, veteran newswoman Lesley Stahl on why she apologized for her coverage of those WMDs before the Iraqi war.  And, later, more with my exclusive interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL Friday night on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, veteran newswoman Lesley Stahl on why she apologized for her coverage of WMD in Iraq. 

More HARDBALL after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Michael Wolff and John Fund. 

Here is a clip, gentlemen, from Ted Koppel from two weeks ago when he appeared on HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Is it appropriate for a journalist to say, if you‘re covering a war, you know, the whole premise behind this war is wrong because it is based on the idea of a Western power, us, imposing its cultural and political and geopolitical will on another country that is at least potentially hostile to us from the very beginning?

Can you do that?  Can you take an adversarial position on the basis premise of a war and still cover it honestly? 

TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS:  It depends on where you are, Chris. 

For example, when I was with the troops and they were driving from Kuwait up north to Baghdad, was there any doubt in my mind as to which side I was on?  Absolutely not.  That‘s one of those times—that‘s like saying there are no atheists in the foxholes. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KOPPEL:  You‘re not—was it a question of, am I supporting the Americans or am I supporting the Iraqis?  Hell no.  I was supporting the Americans, no question about that. 

Is it patriotic for American journalists to raise serious questions about the legitimacy of what is being done?  Hey, if we don‘t do that, I‘m not sure what our purpose in life is.  It isn‘t just to take what we are told by military or civilian leaders and pass it on.  You might just as well hand the microphone to them and say, here, you do it.  You don‘t need anyone going through the material. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So let me go back right now to John Fund. 

What is wrong with taking an adversarial position on a war that you think is ill-considered? 

FUND:  I think it would be wise, given the tremendous emotions that this conflict stirs up and of course with the Vietnam experience in our memory, for people to step back a little bit and say we have to be very careful.  Questions are fine.  Criticism is fine.  But if you are going to make that kind of a bold statement that listing the 740 people who have died without any kind of context, you can expect criticism.

And I think it is just unfair for John McCain to say that the stations that don‘t want to air this are unpatriotic.  I think there‘s too much emotion on both sides.

Let‘s take a look, gentlemen, Michael and John both this Friday afternoon, let‘s take a look at the Friday “USA Today.”  It‘s dramatic pictures, color pictures, on the front page of all these people that have been killed in Iraq just recently, just in this month.  Same thing in “The Washington Post” today, same set of pictures.

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Chris, there‘s an article that accompanies it.  There is lots of text that accompanies those photos. 

WOLFF:  John, I think you are making another point and I think it is the point that Sinclair is making.  And it is a very simple point and it is a very stark point.  This is really bad for the war effort.  It is really bad for the administration. 

It is, as I think the Sinclair people have said, a profound setback.  But that does not necessarily make it political.  What it is, is this statement—and let‘s call it a statement, because I think “Nightline” is making a statement—but it is a statement of fact:  X number of people have died.  There‘s no way around that.  That in and of itself has meaning. 

FUND:  Michael, I‘m simply saying that, if the media wants to avoid the kind of criticism, fair or unfair, that happened in Vietnam, they should be more—they should careful in making their statements. 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFF:  John, you are in a loop. 

First thing, I don‘t think the media necessarily wants to avoid that, nor does the media—nor should the media avoid that.  In fact, I think you can go larger here and say that the media has really gone out of its way to avoid being part of a controversy in terms of the war, so much so they have failed to report the war. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Oh, I think the last year has been filled with criticism, much of it legitimate. 

MATTHEWS:  John, let me ask you a question.  Do you think the media why coverage, all in—all print and network television and cable, all, put it all together, has there been fair coverage of this war? 

FUND:  I would say television has given an incomplete picture because television loves pictures of violence and conflict, much less about the reconstruction of Iraq. 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFF:  Wait a minute, John.  We have seen almost no pictures of dead people.  There is no—other than some remote puffs of smoke, we have not gotten anything in terms of what is happening gone on the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, gentlemen, this is a hot and important discussion. 

Thank you both for being so civilized tonight. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a great conversation.  Thank you.  And we are going to be continuing this for months, Michael Wolff of “Vanity Fair” and John Fund of OpinionJournal.com.

Up next, Lesley Stahl will join us. 

You are watching HARDBALL‘s seventh anniversary week end tonight on

MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Chris, everybody in California was on cloud nine when HARDBALL was coming to Southern California to cover the recall election last year.  And I will tell you, the revenue, your staying at Shutters (ph), doing the program on the beach, riding around in the bus, it was all great fun for all of us.  But there was a moment when we contemplated throwing in the towel.  I went to Arnold and reported to him on the following:

MATTHEWS:  I would say look for an upset by Bustamante, because if 48 percent of the people vote against the recall, that is 48 percent that is in play that is going to be looking for somebody besides Schwarzenegger. 

DREIER:  And I will tell you, Chris, having seen that, it is a wonderer that you have been able to survive for seven long years.  Good luck for the future.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WRIGHT, NBC CHAIRMAN & CEO:  Chris, congratulations on seven years.  And I think it is appropriate that I‘m making this congratulations just when we are talking about Carlin‘s seven dirty words.  So seven is a big number for you.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Lesley Stahl is a correspondent an co-editor for “60 Minutes.”  She‘s also the anchor of “48 Hours.”  And she served as CBS News White House correspondent during the Carter, Reagan and first Bush administrations.

Lesley, thanks for joining us.

Let me ask you about that speech you gave in Virginia Beach.  Journalists of your caliber are not used to confessing.  What made you think about even confessing anything about our coverage—or your coverage in particular—of this war in Iraq? 

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS:  Well, actually, the confession was that I had gotten weapons of mass destruction wrong.

And I went to Don Hewitt.  And I said let‘s do a “60 Minutes” piece admitting that we got it wrong.  I did two pieces on weapons of mass destruction, saying in effect that they were there.  And Hewitt said, great.  But we never really did it fully. 

So I needed to get this off my chest.  I went to went to Baghdad right after 9/11, in October 2001.  We were all talking about going after Iraq and the Iraqis in effect asked me to come over, “60 Minutes” to come over, to tell us that they destroyed all the weapons of mass destruction. 

And I had two interviews, one with a general and one with Tariq Aziz.  And they said, we destroyed them all and said it over and over.  And I came back and I interviewed Richard Butler, who was the chief U.N. weapons inspector, the former one.  And he said, they are lying to you.  And in effect my piece said in so many words they were not telling the truth. 

Then I did another story with a defector, an Iraqi defector, saying that these biological weapons factories were in trucks riding around the countryside.  Everybody thought there were weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration, the weapons inspectors, Congress, and the press.  And I just felt we should admit that we were wrong.  And I did.  And I‘m glad I did.  I feel good about it.

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever figure out—maybe this is more intuition than reporting—but did you ever figure out why Saddam Hussein, if he had no weapons of mass destruction, no advanced plans or programs to create them, why didn‘t he do what anybody like you or I would do?  If somebody accuses of having a weapon and we didn‘t have it, we would say, search the house, take all day, look under every rock as long as you want.

Why didn‘t he give an open door to do that? 

STAHL:  Well, of course I asked Tariq Aziz and we ran it in the piece. 

And Tariq said because the inspectors are spying on us.  And I said, well, what do you have to hide?  And he said, they are here to find out the whereabouts of the president.  They are only looking to find out where he is, so you can kill him.  He says that on camera. 

And I guess they were paranoid about that.  And I also—you know what is interesting is that Rumsfeld—now, this is October 2001.  We are talking six weeks after 9/11.  And I have a quote from Rumsfeld talking about them having their biological and chemical weapons programs under way and in these vans moving around the countryside.  So I quote Rumsfeld.

And he says, Rumsfeld is a war-monger.  This is Tariq Aziz.  He is a war monger.  He is biased and they want to come after us. 

So, even in October 2001, they were paranoid about us coming after Saddam Hussein. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, this is a tough question for you and I wouldn‘t ask it to anybody else, but you are tough.  You can handle this.

STAHL:  Let‘s hope.

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that they were right? 

STAHL:  Well, they were right.  I believe that they did destroy their weapons of mass destruction. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, that they right about the bias of the people in the administration and that this war was not about WMD, it was about ideology, it was about Mideast remapping, it was about getting even for something the old man couldn‘t do, it was about the unfinished agenda of Dick Cheney, that there were a lot of—there is a myriad of motives going into this war and none of them really had to do with weapons of mass destruction.  Is that possible? 

STAHL:  Well, what I was trying to say with my speech was that I do think on that front, on weapons of mass destruction—and this is my personal belief—this administration really thought they had them.  And so did everybody.  You probably did, too. 

And I don‘t think that there was any connection with al Qaeda, certainly with Osama bin Laden.  So, I think they were wrong on that front. 

(CROSSTALK)

STAHL:  And I don‘t want to talk about—I don‘t want to talk about their sincerity on that point.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  But on weapons of mass destruction, I do think they sincerely, honestly believed it and didn‘t believe the denials.  And neither did I. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess I‘m getting back to the question was—whether they believed it or whether I knew it or—I assume I went along with everybody else in thinking there must be fire where through‘s smoke.  But was that the motive for the war?  Because, if you look at the war as it has been sold since, nobody is saying, oh, we made a big mistake.  We fought a war for no reason. 

Everyone says now from the top down, we fought the war to liberate, to change the situation in the Middle East, to change whatever in the world.  Nobody seems to saying we made a mistake, like you did with regard to what your report said. 

STAHL:  Right.  Right. 

Well, we know that they were talking about Iraq long before the president was even elected in papers and articles that Wolfowitz wrote and that Rumsfeld was part of. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

STAHL:  So, yes, of course, this was a design ever since ‘91.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did you think of “New York Times” piece today, front page, bottom of the fold, left side, about the role of this special office in the Pentagon?  Its purpose was to try to establish a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.

STAHL:  Well, we knew about that.  That is not a surprise or a secret.  We knew about that office.  This is the first time they let reporters in to actually talk to them, although I didn‘t get much out of the article about the actual connections that they claimed existed between Iraq and al Qaeda. 

But part of this—I went over because Tariq Aziz wanted to tell me that there were no weapons of mass destruction.  But he also wanted us there to say, we had nothing to with 9/11 and Osama bin Laden hates us even more than he hates you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And you believe that to be the case.

STAHL:  I totally believe that.  And my piece conveyed that that was true.  There was no connection.  And I firmly believe that, just as firmly as I believed there were weapons of mass destruction. 

I thought this article was interesting today because “The Times” gave them their say.  I didn‘t think they came out as firmly early enough in the piece to say that there has never been a connection proved.  There hasn‘t been a connection proved.  Most people think there is no connection. 

MATTHEWS:  But that seems to be an element of almost ideological truth on the part of those who believed in the war, that—the Laurie Mylroie argument there was somehow a connection between Iraq and the ‘93 attack on the World Trade Center.  This long effort to try to prove that our enemies of 9/11 were also our enemies in Iraq would obviously have a political justification.  You want to justify war as payback.  But has anybody ever come up with any proof?   

STAHL:  None.  Zero.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s great.  You‘re so honest.

Let me come back and talk to you about the Woodward book, because there‘s another guy who certainly has tried to figure out this White House.  And you have tried to figure out the White Houses under many presidents, including Jimmy Carter. 

We will be right back with Lesley Stahl. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, excerpts from my interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund and “The Washington Post”‘s Richard Cohen.  Plus, Ron Reagan stops by as we mark our seventh anniversary.

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” and “48 Hours,” both on at CBS.

Lesley, what did you make of the Woodward book in comparison to the earlier books?  It seems like we‘re living by the best-seller list, the Clarke book, the Suskind on Paul O‘Neill.  Do they all add up or is there a contradiction there? 

STAHL:  Well, I am not sure about—if we are talking about the portrait of the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  Woodward‘s book puts him more in the middle of the story, more as a decision-maker. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

STAHL:  But, as someone said, it is Bush‘s book.  This is the story that Bush told Woodward.  And so it is his version of events.  He comes off as very resolute in the middle of asking all the best questions in the book.  All the best questions come out of the president‘s mouth. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I thought the one interesting thing—I want you to trigger some thought here.  He said in the book—the president is quoted by Bob Woodward as saying he doesn‘t like the Cheney habit of hiding in undisclosed locations, because it either makes him look more important than he is or less important.  And I don‘t think the second part is the concern of the president.  Is this president concerned that Cheney looks like the man behind the curtain? 

STAHL:  You know, it doesn‘t come out in the book that he is concerned about that.  In the book, Bush is so self-confident and so sure of himself all through the book.  It is the same message he conveyed at the news conference last week. 

I think it is studied.  I think that is a calculated image that they have worked on.  I think they have gone and studied Reagan and how resolute he was and how much the public liked it.  All the polls showed that.  And I think it is something that they calculated in terms of the image. 

On the Cheney relationship, something is very strange in Woodward‘s book, because all through it, as I say, the president is making all the decisions.  But then they come to the big decision of when to start the Iraq war.  And the president goes around the table.  Everyone tells them they think he should go to war.  Then, he says, wait a minute.  And he calls Cheney out and they go into a room and confer.

And then he comes out of the room and says, OK, I‘ve decided we will go to war.  And then Powell tells Woodward, that is the way it always is. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  They used to say back in the Carter administration, which you covered and I worked under, that all the decisions were made in the men‘s room after the meeting. 

STAHL:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It would be like Hamilton, Jordan, and Jody were there with Bob Strauss or somebody.  Forget the diversified meeting of 40 people in it.  The real meeting is in the bathroom.  And you‘re saying—I guess the book is saying the real meeting is when Bush and Cheney get together.  That‘s the one that counts.

STAHL:  No, that is just one line in the book. 

The rest of the book has the president making all the decisions.  So it is kind of strange. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, it is certainly a new vice presidency we have now, because if you look back to Mondale and George Bush Sr. and all those, they were never power players.  They were never given any executive authority.  Isn‘t Cheney the first to have real power, not just influence? 

STAHL:  Well, we don‘t know.  I think it is still a mystery.  I think we all suppose and assume that he is sitting in the room and kind of hand-signaling to the president about what he‘s supposed to do, but we don‘t know that. 

And this book is confusing.  In the book to me the most interesting thing in the book is the president‘s line about his father, which was—it just grabs you by the heart when you hear it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of that, about not listening to your father, but listening to another father?

STAHL:  He said, you don‘t go to this father for strength.  Whoa.  You don‘t want to be overpsychoanalyzing the president.  That‘s dangerous.  But so much of what he does is a repudiation of what his father did. 

He finds the U.N. hostile.  Multinationalism, everything his father stood for, he seems to be going against. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me complete the list.  His father raised taxes.  He‘s lowered taxes.  His father was tough on Israel.  He‘s been very pro-Israeli.  His father had no connection to the Christian conservatives in the South.  He‘s almost one of them.

You know what it reminds me of?  That scene when he was growing up and he got drunk and he come home one night, and the father was mad at him because he had taken out the younger brother and exposed him to trouble.  And he said, let‘s go outside, dad, and go mano-a-mano. 

STAHL:  Yes.  Right.  Exactly. 

So there is something interesting.  He has definitely repudiated a lot about his father and completely embraced Ronald Reagan.  And that news conference—I have to come back to the news conference.  Everybody wants to know why his popularity went up after his bad week. 

MATTHEWS:  I do, too.

STAHL:  And it was that news conference where he said over and over, I‘m staying the course.  I don‘t waver.  I haven‘t made any mistakes.  That is Reagan, completely and totally.  And they know that people like that.  People like that firmness.

MATTHEWS:  Is that why women like men that don‘t stop and ask directions? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious.  Is there a certain appeal in almost that blind self-confidence? 

STAHL:  Don‘t put this on women.  The men are just as bad on this.  We want a president who is firm.

And both Reagan and this President Bush‘s polls show exactly the same thing.  If you ask about specific issues, how he is doing on the economy, even about the war, the numbers are very weak.  But if you ask about how him as an overall leader, they love him, both cases.  And they don‘t—the numbers don‘t fit together, you know, the issues and the president. 

And when Reagan ran for reelection, he ran on his personality and who he was as a human being.  And that is what this president is doing.  There‘s a big story in “The New York Times” about how he is not running on any issues.  He‘s just running on his strength, his character. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you, sense, from having covered all these presidencies as they have gone for reelection, etcetera, and faced these political challenges, do you think events drive elections or it is the prism through which the president looks at things?  If he is confident and he sees a high casualty rate and wounded people coming out of Iraq and he still looks resolute, that that is the lens that the voter takes to heart? 

STAHL:  Well, if the president is clever and has a good strong plan, then will do that.  And that is what this president is doing. 

And Kerry is having his worst week.  He came on your show last night...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  ... and showed anger, which you don‘t want to really see in a

guy running for president.  So

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  See, I thought that was—I thought that was—it shows what I—well, I thought that was strategic.  I thought he wanted to show anger to keep the fight hot on the area he‘s know he is strong, which is his war record.  And the more they want to talk about his medals, the more it reminds people that he got three Purple Hearts and Cheney, etcetera, took a lot of deferments. 

STAHL:  Yes, but the body language—I think you are right in terms of what he is talking about. 

But the body language, you don‘t want to convey anger. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  You want to look like you are in control all the time.  That is appealing to people, as we have said.  Someone said something wonderful to me today I have to pass on to you. 

MATTHEWS:  please.

STAHL:  They said that in Texas there‘s an expression.  It is called hillbillying.  And when Bush hillbillies, that means he is charming you and he‘s being very authentic and he‘s doing Texas and it woos people.

And Kerry doesn‘t know how to hillbilly.  And it is not a Texas thing, by the way.  John F. Kennedy used to hillbilly us.  And that meant that he flirted with us.  He had a twinkle.  Bill Clinton hillbillied us.  And Kerry has got to learn how to do that.  He has got to dial back and show some relaxed affability. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like those country lawyers that look like they‘re not too sophisticated and they take your pants off.

STAHL:  That‘s exactly right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” and “48 Hours,” both on CBS.  Thanks, Lesley.

Up next, reaction to my interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his remarks that he never was asked by President Bush if we should go to war with Iraq.  And later, Ron Reagan will be here with more on the seventh anniversary of HARDBALL, the last words on the subject. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told me that President Bush never asked for his advice on going to war in Iraq.  We‘ll get reaction from “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund and “The Washington Post”‘s Richard Cohen when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

I sat down with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this Thursday  for an exclusive interview.  And tonight, I‘m joined by “Washington Post” columnist Richard Cohen and John Fund with “The Wall Street Journal.”

Take a look at what Secretary Rumsfeld told me about his role or lack of it in advising the president to go to war in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Secretary, let me ask you about the war in Iraq and the boldest question I could put to you here in the Pentagon.  Did you ever advise the president to go to war?

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, now, Chris, I saw some clipping of your interviews on this subject when you asked that question of Woodward, and Woodward said that the president said he had not asked me.  Now, so why would you ask me?  You have it from the horse‘s mouth.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s right, in that circumstance, in that room.  But all those months in the run-up to war, I would imagine that at some point, sitting in the interstices of the West Wing, he would say, “Hey, Don, you think we ought to go?”

I mean is there any—weren‘t you ever asked your advice?

RUMSFELD:  I don‘t know who he might have asked their advice.

MATTHEWS:  Well, apparently he asked the vice president.

RUMSFELD:  Possibly.  I just don‘t know.  I haven‘t read all these books...

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t ask his father.  We know that.

RUMSFELD:  Is that right?

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s all I go by, these books, as you put it, these bibles we‘re reading, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD:  You ought to get a life.  You could do something besides read those books.

MATTHEWS:  This is my life.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about something a little more...

RUMSFELD:  Let me answer your question.

MATTHEWS:  Did you advise the president to go to war?

RUMSFELD:  Yes, he did not ask me, is the question.  And to my knowledge, there are any number of people he did not ask.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Does that surprise you, as secretary of defense?

RUMSFELD:  Well, I thought it was interesting.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think?  Do you think, Richard Cohen, it was interesting the president of the United States never asked his Pentagon chief whether going to war made sense? 

RICHARD COHEN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I did.  And when I read that in Woodward‘s book, I was kind of shocked by it.  But, in retrospect, when you look back on it, there was almost a consensus within the White House and the Pentagon, and with the exception of the State Department here, that we were going to war.

And I think it was perfectly clear from about October on that this war in Iraq was—we were heading for war in Iraq.  And by the beginning of the year, it was almost impossible to turn it off. 

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t this one of these “Guns of August” thing, if nobody stops registers a gut check and says, let‘s look at all the options, let‘s look at the probable lay of the land when we get there?  When we buy it, we are going to own it. 

It seems like there never was sort of a final gut check.  In fact, if you particularly pay attention to the Woodward book, as late as the end of 2002, he is not satisfied with the intel regarding WMD.  And he still goes ahead within a couple weeks and says to Colin Powell, we are going.  Take your orders. 

COHEN:  You know, Chris, the World War I analogy is a really good one here, for the most part, because it was mobilization in World War I that started the war.  You tell the generals to mobilize and then the generals tell you, well, you can‘t tell us to mobilize and not go to war because we can‘t back down.  We will look bad.  We will lose face.

We got into the same position.  And it was clear by February that we were going to go to war and there was nothing that could stop it, because we couldn‘t lose face, because you couldn‘t have 130,000 troops sitting in the desert through the summer.  So war became almost a product of the mobilization. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask John Fund, old buddy, are you surprised at the lack of formality, sort of like a countdown for a space takeoff.  Don‘t you check with your Cabinet people and say, if only for history‘s take, Don, do you think this is right thing we have to do?  Is this is a necessary war?  Colin, is this a necessary war?  Dick, is this a necessary war? 

Are you surprised that that formality, that protocol, wasn‘t dealt with? 

FUND:  Chris, Bob Woodward has complained in some interviews that 98 percent of the people who are commenting on his book have ready only about 2 percent of it.  And I know you have read all of it. 

But what you have to understand is, Rumsfeld said, the president—quote—“must have asked 5,000 questions over the period of a year about this.  What could go wrong?”  “I knew where Rumsfeld was,” Bush said. 

So whether or not there was a formality of a question, “Should we go to war?” everybody knew where Rumsfeld was and everybody knew where everyone was. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to go look at the tape I did him yesterday?  Rumsfeld was surprised he never asked him.  I‘m not the one raising the surprise.  Rumsfeld himself was surprised he was never asked to go to—whether he thought we ought to go to war.  But you are not surprised.  How do you know more about the thinking of the defense secretary than he does?

FUND:  Because David Frum and other people have described this administration as a very cohesive group of people.  Sometimes they may be too illogical, as you have pointed out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s an objective opinion.  David Frum is one of the ideologues behind the war. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Ask Paul O‘Neill.  Ask Paul O‘Neill if this administration marches with one mind.  He was a victim of the fact that he was a dissident of that opinion.

MATTHEWS:  Was Rumsfeld part of that mind? 

FUND:  Yes, he says in his interview with you...

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why did he say to me yesterday he‘s surprised he was not asked?

FUND:  Because in all his Cabinet meetings, he expressed his opinion, we should go to war.  He didn‘t have to be asked, Chris.  He told you that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why was he surprised he wasn‘t asked, then?  That‘s all I‘m asking.  He‘s the one that registered the surprise, not me.  He is the one that thought it was interesting he was not asked.  Why aren‘t you surprised or interested he wasn‘t asked? 

FUND:  Because George Bush is a take-charge guy.  And guess what? 

Once he makes up his mind, I guess he doesn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Gotcha.  That‘s all I need.  We‘re on the same page, John.  He doesn‘t need to check with counselors, his father or anyone, because he has his own personal opinions. 

FUND:  But he asked 5,000 questions of everybody who came through his administration.  Don‘t say he didn‘t get other points of view.  He did.

MATTHEWS:  Are you impressed, Richard Cohen, that the president sought the counsel of so few?  He didn‘t go to Brent Scowcroft or James Baker or the former president, his father.  He just did it.

COHEN:  Well, I think you can go further than that.  It isn‘t that he just didn‘t seek it.  He didn‘t want it.

And the message to Scowcroft was, pipe down.  Scowcroft was purportedly speaking for Bush‘s father.  And they didn‘t want to hear it. 

And I think it was in “The Wall Street Journal” that Scowcroft wrote an

editorial piece

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN:  Pardon?

FUND:  Yes, it was in “The Journal.”  It was very powerful.

COHEN:  Right, raising profound questions about the war.  And that was it for Scowcroft.  You didn‘t hear from him after that. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And maybe the old man has been shut off, too.

Anyway, thank you very much, Richard Cohen, John Fund.  Happy Friday.

HARDBALL‘s seventh anniversary week continues with Ron Reagan after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan is here again tonight in one final celebration of our seventh anniversary week. 

Thanks for joining me.

RON REAGAN, NBC CONTRIBUTOR:  You bet.  I don‘t have a cake this time. 

I‘m sorry. 

But, you know, Chris, you‘ve been playing HARDBALL now for about seven years.  You‘ve made a lot of very powerful friends in this business.  And I was assigned to find out what everybody really thinks of you, Chris Matthews.  And quite a few people had quite a lot to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, “THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP”:  Chris, you got your stock right here on this set.  And you have become one of our ace alumni, not one of those deadbeat alumni.  I knew you were destined for greatness early and watched your career when you were with Tip O‘Neill as his right-hand man and speechwriter. 

Here‘s an example I remember of your words that Tip had great fun with

·         quote—“George McGovern was nominated by the cast of ‘Hair.‘”  Then and there, I wanted you seated next to me on “The Group.” 

Congratulations, Chris, on the last seven years of HARDBALL.  Keep up your energy and your intellectual curiosity.  You‘re doing a great service for the American people.  Cheers.  And bye-bye.

MERV GRIFFIN, ENTERTAINER:  Hay, Chris, wow.  Happy anniversary.  Seven years.  And look what you‘ve done.  You brought a whole new technique to interviewing.  I remember when I was on with you the last time.  You asked me a question, you answered it, and when I got ready to answer it, you stared at me and then you asked another question.  That really moves the show along.  You‘re good.  Congratulations.  I‘m sure someday you‘re going to get an Emmy, too, like did I, for your hard work. 

REAGAN:  What do you think of Chris Matthews? 

AL FRANKEN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  He is one of the brightest guys I‘ve ever met who went to Holy Cross. 

REAGAN:  What can you tell me about Chris Matthews? 

MO ROCCA, TELEVISION PERSONALITY:  Well, as we all know, the big seventh anniversary is coming up.  And that‘s tin, I think.  So I‘m at home, welding away trying to make up something out of tin that he‘ll be pleased with.  But he‘s hard to please. 

REAGAN:  Is Chris Matthews one of the sexiest men you‘ve ever met? 

ROCCA:  Yes, he is.  I think that not having a neck is just very sexy. 

He is Just sort of a big block.  So, yes, I think so.  I think that he—it‘s one of those thing like every year he is the first runner-up for “People”‘s sexiest man alive.  And he just keeps missing out.  But you know, take heart.  Remember what happened to Susan Lucci.  And it took 17 tries and then she finally won out.  And I think it is going to happen with Chris. 

DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Seven years, seven viewers.  And they said it wouldn‘t last. 

Congratulations, Chris.  You‘ve demonstrated that, yes, a viable television career can be constructed entirely on repetition of just two phrases, neocon, neocon, and Scooter Libby, Scooter Libby.  We further admire you for fighting your way through both emotional and physical challenges, specifically screaming like a speed overdosed Tourette patient while showering your guests with oral secretions and all to add exactly nothing to the national discourse. 

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  Speaking of fair and balanced, on your anniversary, I just—I got some statistics.  In seven years, for you, Chris, 1,841 interrupted responses, 3,621 guest bullied into crying, and 2,974 unfairly rephrased positions.  That‘s quite a record, Chris.  Congratulations. 

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, “CROSSFIRE”:  Welcome back to “CROSSFIRE.”  In the “CROSSFIRE” tonight, Chris Matthews.  He is big.  He is loud.  He‘s smart.  And, most of all, he‘s on television and has been for some time. 

Paul Begala, is that good for American society? 

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, “CROSSFIRE”:  Tucker, it‘s great.  I love to see Chris.  I love his style.  I love his format. 

No, Chris, congratulations on seven years of playing HARDBALL.  Just do me this one favor, buddy.  Can you get that dork to quit making fun of me on “Saturday Night Live”?  It‘s driving me crazy.  I like how they portray you, but get him to get off my back. 

CARLSON:  Really?  And, Chris, if you would not, that‘s the best part of “Saturday Night Live.” 

Chris, you talk a lot, but unlike a lot of people who talk a lot, you‘ve got something interesting to say.  Congratulations on your show.

BEGALA:  Way to go, Chris.  Congratulations on seven years of

HARDBALL.

(APPLAUSE)

PAT O‘BRIEN, “ACCESS HOLLYWOOD”:  Hi, Chris Matthews.  Your buddy Pat O‘Brien here.  And I just want to congratulate you on your gastric bypass surgery.  Al Roker had it. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Anniversary. 

O‘BRIEN:  Oh, anniversary.  OK.  Chris, Pat O‘Brien here.  Congratulations, you and Star Jones make the greatest couple that I‘ve ever seen.  And I congratulate you on your wonderful anniversary.  And the present is on the way. 

DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR:  Hey, Chris, Darrell Hammond here, impersonator of you on “Saturday Night Live” Saturday nights in front of 10 to 12 million people. 

We‘ve done you four times a year for the last five years, which around here means you‘re a hit character.  But I just want to tell you that you‘ve got the college crowd now.  I was at MIT recently, a pretty substantial school.  And I brought up your name.  And about 200 people, what do you think they said?  They said, shut it. 

Look—it‘s true.  Now, I just want to give the essence of Chris Matthews here before I go.  Let‘s find out how you got to be so big.  This is Chris Matthews ordering in a restaurant, because most people will say, waiter, when you get a chance, some time, some more ice tea. 

Chris will say:  Hey, lady, do you think you can take my order before Jesus gets back?  Which is funny at Elaine‘s in Manhattan with Elliott Gould sitting over there. 

I want to ask you a question, Chris.  And I‘ll show what you it is like to be interviewed by you.  So, Chris, I‘ll say, what do you think about the state of foreign affairs.  And you start to answer.  OK?  Start to answer.  Yes?  Yes?  Yes?  Yes?  Yes?  OK, you‘re done. 

A final note.  I want to say congratulations for a second time.  Seven years on television, it‘s amazing.  And I‘ll be thinking about that the next time I sit right over here in the studio and I say, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Ron, it‘s great to actually know all these people. 

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN:  It‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  Because they‘re are all the people that I know in this world. 

REAGAN:  You‘re a glutton for affectionate humiliation. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  Any attention is good to me.  I love the focus.  And I never would have thought of the seventh anniversary being one of significant milestones. 

REAGAN:  In television.

MATTHEWS:  And it might have passed without notice, but thanks to our executive producer, Tammy Haddad, your friend and mine, there‘s been sufficient attention paid, I think.  And it‘s about to end.  We‘re going back to normal on Monday. 

Thank you, Ron Reagan.  It‘s been a great week and a terrific seven years, obviously. 

This weekend, catch my exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and catch “The Chris Matthews Show” this Sunday on your local broadcast stations.

And join me again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

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

END   

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