Guests: John McCain, Ken Bode, Deborah Orin, Vaughn Ververs, Benjamin Ginsberg
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, Senator John McCain on the war in Iraq. The 2004 amazing race for the White House. And the CBS News Dan Rather document debacle. And has the anchor chair become the hot seat? CBS anchor Dan Rather faces reality and apologizes for a mistake in judgment for airing what now appears to be bogus memos, as the man who supplied them says CBS put him in contact with a Kerry campaign aide.
And for the second time in two days, Senator John Kerry said, the issue between him and President Bush is the war in Iraq. Forty-two days before the election, who will survive? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. We‘ll get to the firestorm surrounding CBS News and Dan Rather in a moment, but first, on a day when an Islamic Web site claims that a second American hostage has been killed in Iraq, President Bush spoke before the U.N. General Assembly, and vigorously defended his decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today the Iraqi and Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom. The governments that are rising will pose no threat to others. Instead of harboring terrorists, they‘re fighting terrorist groups. And this progress is good for the long term security of all of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Reacting to President Bush‘s address, Senator John Kerry painted a stark picture of what is happening in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We‘re at war. Our troops are dying. People are being beheaded. And we‘ve got countries that the president doesn‘t even bother to talk to, to say we have got to have your help. We need to be training people more rapidly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona is a member of the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Senate. Senator McCain, has the issue finally sharpened?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I think so. I think that it is very clear that John Kerry believes that we would not have been better off with Saddam Hussein removed, which is a remarkable statement. Also, he has set a date certain, which is not a time of victory, and cannot be in my view defined by time. And third of all, he seems to believe that if he were president, that there would be a number of our European friends who, quote, “haven‘t been asked.”
Maybe I can take the last one first. We‘ve asked, we‘ve begged.
MATTHEWS: You‘re smiling with confidence, Senator, so I am going to ask you to see if you can back that up. Do you think the million people watching this show, this show we‘re doing right now, do you think those people should decide this election on the basis of the war in Iraq? If they like the war in Iraq, they think it was a necessary policy decision to go to Iraq, overthrow Saddam Hussein, do what we have to do there, as opposed to those who think it was a bad decision. Should they vote on that issue or not?
MCCAIN: I think it is part of the major issue of the campaign, and that‘s the war on terrorism. Now, I‘m not tying terrorists and al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. OK? I‘m not saying that. But I am saying that a war on terror is best led by President Bush. The war in Iraq has made America, the world and Iraq better off. Is it tough? Are we in a tough fight? Are we in a death struggle with the enemy? Will the next two months be critical in whether we‘re going to succeed or fail? Absolutely yes. Have mistakes been made? Yes.
But the necessity of winning, I believe, is overwhelming. And I think that President Bush is presenting a clear picture of the benefits of success and the consequences of failure.
MATTHEWS: Should a person who believes that the president was right to take our country into Iraq, overthrow the government there, begin to put up another government, a democratic government, should that person vote for President Bush?
MATTHEWS: Should a person who believes that was a bad idea, it wasn‘t smart, that they took us into the quicksand. We‘re going to be stuck there for years, and people are going to hate us around the world. Should that person vote for John Kerry?
MCCAIN: Again, as part...
MATTHEWS: I want symmetry here.
MCCAIN: I don‘t know...
MATTHEWS: If you disagree completely with the president‘s policy, you think he was wrong, he wasn‘t wise to take us in there. Should you vote for Kerry?
MCCAIN: I think in both cases, the overriding issue is the war on terror. But the war in Iraq is an important component of it, because those who oppose the war in Iraq say it diverted our attention from the war on terror, et cetera. I don‘t see how you exactly separate the two.
MATTHEWS: How do you register your disapproval as an American of American policy toward Iraq? How do you register it?
MCCAIN: I think you vote against the president.
MATTHEWS: Last week, Senator Joe Biden said, quote, “The president has frequently described Iraq as the central front of the war on terror. Well, by that definition”—this is Senator Biden—“success in Iraq is a key standard by which to measure the war on terror. And by that measure, I think the war on terror is in trouble.”
MCCAIN: I think the war on terror is in itself so far, knock on wood, a success, because we haven‘t suffered another attack. There may be one tomorrow. I pray God—I pray every night there is not going to be one. But we have succeeded. Any objective observer will tell you this country is safer than it was on September 11. Is it safe yet? No.
On the war in Iraq, I believe that we have great difficulties, but I believe we are going to prevail. And I believe we must prevail. And I believe that when we do, that the country, Iraq, and the world are better off with Saddam Hussein gone.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, you as a United States senator, got to vote on whether to authorize the president to take the action he did.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the American people have a chance now to vote in this election, whether they thought it was a wise decision or not?
MCCAIN: Sure, they do. Sure, they do. And if in the eyes of the individual it is only the war on Iraq—to some people, unemployment is the major issue. Somebody who has lost their job, maybe outsourcing is a major issue. It depends on how it affects each individual American. There are some states where unemployment continues to be a serious issue.
But if you are—I believe that the future of our society and America and the free world rests on us winning the war on terror.
MATTHEWS: Right, but the president‘s decision to go to Iraq, most people would acknowledge, was the single distinguishing characteristic of this administration. Other presidents might have done it—might not have done it, and he went to Iraq, and that decision, should he be judged by the effectiveness of that that decision?
MCCAIN: To me, the central aspect of the presidency was when he stood in the rubble of the World Trade Center and put his arm around that hero and said, we‘re—the world is going to hear from us. And then we went to Afghanistan, where al Qaeda was, which was the right decision. And...
MATTHEWS: Well, by that definition, he should get 80 percent of the vote. Because everybody agrees with those decisions. But half the country disagrees with the war with Iraq. And shouldn‘t they register that by voting against him?
MCCAIN: If they believe that the war in Iraq is a larger question than the entire war on terror, then yes. But if they viewed the war on terror, of which this is a part of, which have not failed yet, Chris. We have not failed yet. There are certain things, the good things that have happened. Is it a tough struggle? Yes, it‘s tough. And we‘ve made mistakes. Yes. But in every war, there‘s been mistakes.
And I don‘t mean to drag this out, but one of the greatest generals in our history was General Douglas MacArthur. He told Harry Truman, looked him in the eye and said, don‘t worry, the Chinese will never invade.
Mistakes are made in wars. Mistakes are made...
MATTHEWS: Right, he was fired.
MCCAIN: The key is to adjust.
MATTHEWS: But Douglas MacArthur was fired.
MCCAIN: He wasn‘t fired because of that. He was fired because he wanted to use nukes.
MATTHEWS: Well, because he crossed the Yalu. OK, let me—and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Let me ask you this, do you think that the situation in Iraq is getting better or worse, right now?
MCCAIN: Right now at this moment, I think that it is in a serious situation, worse than it was a year ago, in many respects. There are some better things. For example, northern Iraq is rather quiet, and things are going pretty well there. The Sunni triangle and Fallujah being sanctuaries is an unacceptable situation. I think it‘s very, very tough.
MATTHEWS: Are we putting off the worst until after the election, by
not going into Fallujah and all those difficult areas? You think there‘s a
· you‘re an expert. You know what the military is up to. Do you think there‘s been an implicit decision to say, look, these are going to be bloody, horrible situations when we go into these places. Let‘s not do them before November 2.
MCCAIN: No. I don‘t think that that decides—drives that decision, because if we wait much longer, and wait too long, then—every day we wait they are getting stronger.
MATTHEWS: Well, why are we waiting?
MCCAIN: I think they‘ve tried several other things, other methodologies and other avenues. But the general, the Marine general in charge there, General Conroy (ph), said in “The Washington Post,” one, that he didn‘t think they needed to go in when they went in. But he said once they went in, they should never have pulled out.
MATTHEWS: Right, Fallujah.
MCCAIN: In Fallujah. And that was a mistake. But again, mistakes are made.
MATTHEWS: Right. And elections are held. And we have to judge the success of a policy. And I‘m just—I think your point is that the president should be judged on the whole performance in this war on terrorism.
MCCAIN: Yes, and I‘d also like to point out that John Kerry is saying that America and the world are not better—are not safer with Saddam Hussein‘s removal.
MATTHEWS: Oh, he‘s clear.
MATTHEWS: ... this is the first time—we‘ve been on this show many times, you‘ve been on—we‘re lucky to have you. For the first time, John Kerry is stalking out an anti-war position. He said, if there was no imminent threat—and there wasn‘t one—if there was no WMD—and there weren‘t any—if there was no connection to al Qaeda, we shouldn‘t have gone into Iraq. He said it this week and I believe he‘s sticking to it. We‘ll come back and talk about this new decision by the senator from Massachusetts to make this issue of the Iraq War a fundamental difference with the president.
We‘ll be right back with more on this, and also about the CBS mess.
More on that, coming back with Senator John McCain.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL with Senator John McCain. You know a lot of people in the media and you‘re in politics, Senator. What‘s the impact of the Dan Rather mess?
MCCAIN: I don‘t think it is huge. Obviously, it has damaged Dan Rather and all of us are fallible. And he apologized. I think we should move on. I think the most important thing about this is, we‘ve got to stop refighting the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was over 30 years ago. We are not going to be able to erase a single name on the Vietnam War memorial. And we should be talking about Iraq, as you and I were talking about earlier in the program.
MATTHEWS: So even if you had known—even though the CBS report had turn out to be true, this is what I wondered about, I want your view on it, even if it turned out to be true that the president had not got a physical he was supposed to have 30-some years ago, would that have mattered to anybody‘s vote?
MCCAIN: It shouldn‘t have. The president of the United States served honorably in the National Guard. John Kerry served honorably in the United States Navy. We have to move on. And for us to reopen all those wounds, I think, is a very, very damaging thing to older guys like me.
MATTHEWS: You‘re a Republican from the west, from Arizona. You must have that sort of westerner‘s view of the East Coast establishment media. Do you think this feeds into that idea that we have a case where a top producer for “60 Minutes” calls up Joe Lockhart and says, will you call up this guy and help us get the piece?
MCCAIN: You just don‘t understand those kinds of things because, one
· somebody said about Napoleon after he had done something really idiotic, he said, worse than a crime, it is a mistake. I don‘t get it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this campaign. Predict the results.
MCCAIN: Bush by a sizable majority.
MATTHEWS: Four or eight?
MCCAIN: Pardon me?
MATTHEWS: Four percent or 8 percent?
MCCAIN: I think somewhere between the two. I think—the reason why I don‘t think we can be definitive, I think we‘ve still got to have three debates. I believe that three debates won the election for George W. Bush. I think Americans saw that here was a guy who really believed what he said against a guy who they really showed up as three different people in three different debates.
MATTHEWS: Who is your (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Kerry or Gore?
MCCAIN: I think Kerry. The reason why is because Kerry has always surprised people. Kerry...
MATTHEWS: You know him. You know him better than I know him.
MCCAIN: And you‘ve had Bill Weld on the show. Bill Weld, the governor of Massachusetts who is a very articulate, attractive guy. And Kerry beat him in debates. If I were the Bush campaign, I would be raising the expectation bar for John Kerry as high as I could...
MATTHEWS: God, he‘s smart.
MCCAIN: He has a record of great debate performance.
MATTHEWS: How much does personality matter here? Is it Bush‘s charm that makes him difficult to beat because even if he isn‘t the expert on something, he seems to have that facility to sort of win.
MCCAIN: I‘m not sure it is his charm as much as it is the belief that this guy really believes what he says. And when he says it, I can take it to the bank. And he‘s my leader. I may disagree or agree with him, but I sure know where he stands. I think that‘s the impression that he gave Americans in his debate with Gore and I think that‘s what he is doing on the stump where he‘s by the way far more relaxed and I think doing pretty good.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, you or Giuliani in 2008? What do you figure? Someone has to take on Hillary so I‘m wondering who it‘s going to be. It‘s got to be you, right? You can do it.
MCCAIN: But I think that Rudy Giuliani is great. I think Mitt Romney is great. I have at least 10 or 12 colleagues...
MATTHEWS: Great vice presidents.
They‘re all great. You‘re playing that old pyramid play.
MCCAIN: Listen, we‘re going to change the constitution and it will be the Terminator.
MATTHEWS: Oh, god. I think Bill Clinton after that heart stop, maybe he can come back. Anything is possible in this world. Comeback Kid.
Thank you, Senator John McCain.
When we come back, longtime NBC news reporter Ken Bode, now professor of journalism on Dan Rather‘s mess at CBS. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. To say that Dan Rather is a broadcasting icon would be an understatement. He has handled some of the most challenging stories in journalism while carving out a unique and obviously controversial style. Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While it was unusual and dramatic...
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Also, I want to say personally and directly, I‘m sorry.
SHUSTER: Drama has always seemed to follow Dan Rather. He has provided award winning coverage on everything from the civil rights movement to the Kennedy assassination to Watergate, Iran/Contra and U.S. military operations. In 1991, he conducted a controversial interview with Saddam Hussein just before the first Gulf War. Republicans have been angry with Dan Rather as far back as the Nixon administration.
RATHER: Thank you, Mr. President, Dan Rather with CBS News.
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you running for something?
RATHER: No, sir, Mr. President, are you?
SHUSTER: While that was Rather‘s most famous Watergate moment, Nixon supporters remember Rather pounding the president nearly every day.
RATHER: Could you give us some reason why the American people shouldn‘t believe that that was at least a subtle attempt to bribe in that case and at least gave the appearance of a lack of moral leadership?
SHUSTER: Many Republicans thought this question crossed a line.
RATHER: Mr. President. Mr. President. I wonder if you could share with us your thoughts, tell us what goes through your mind when you hear people who love this country and people who believe say reluctantly that perhaps you should resign or be impeached.
NIXON: Well, I‘m glad we don‘t take the vote in this room, you see.
SHUSTER: During the Reagan administration, CBS reporter Leslie Stahl said Rather was a man many in the Reagan White House saw as the devil himself. When vice president George Bush was running for president in 1988, Rather tried to corner him on the Iran/Contra arms for hostages scandal.
RATHER: You sat at a meeting in which Secretary Schulz, in the most forceful way, registered objections. And then you said you never heard anybody register objections.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If it was most forceful way, I‘ve heard George Schulz be very, very forceful. And if I were there, and he was very, very forceful at that meeting, I would have remembered that. I don‘t remember that.
RATHER: How do you explain—you can‘t remember the other people at the meeting saying he was apologetic.
BUSH: Maybe I wasn‘t there at that point.
RATHER: You weren‘t in the meeting?
BUSH: I‘m not suggesting. I‘m saying I don‘t remember it.
SHUSTER: The year before, rather had left the desk angry about a decision to carry a tennis match running long. The match end and CBS stations were on their own for seven minutes. During the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, he was highly skeptical of independent council Kenneth Starr and the Republican in Congress. And during Florida recount four years ago, Rather reported, “Florida‘s Republican Secretary of State is about to announce the winner as she sees it and she decrees it.”
Republicans were infuriated with Rather. But the courts agreed with them and the recount continued.
(on camera): Still, through the years, Dan Rather‘s hard hitting style has always stood out, sometime making him a bigger story than whatever he was covering. And now it has happened again. Only this time his critics are ecstatic. I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thanks, David.
Joining me now is Ken Bode, journalism professor at DePaul University and former NBC news political correspondent. Ken, thanks for joining us.
What do you make of this whole thing?
I mean, you‘ve got a lot of vintage perspective on this.
KEN BODE, FMR. NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it seems to me that CBS News has a lot of explaining to do. That piece you just finished makes him look like a registered Democrat. There‘s no question about that. But I think Rather has been tough on just about everybody. What has happened here is really a failure of CBS standard. And whether Rather pays for this or somebody else at CBS, CBS failed to authenticate the documents, they failed to check their source.
They gave anonymity to somebody who should have never have been trusted. And it seems to me, that this really goes to the top of CBS, whether it‘s Rather or it‘s the president or the top, Andrew Heyward, somebody has got to pay for this.
MATTHEWS: What is your hunch as to why they trusted Bill Burkett so much?
To trust their entire reputation this one guy who said he got these from somebody, and then it turns out he got them from somebody else. He could have made them up as far as we know.
BODE: Well, that‘s an excellent question. It seems me that he was a biased source from the start. They should have known that, and certainly did know that he had been criticizing President Bush for years. That he was angry at the national guard. Who in the world is now the elusive and mysterious—Lucy Ramirez who he got the documents for or says he got these documents from. There are just so many questions about this at the moment.
MATTHEWS: I mean, we had Kitty Kelley on last week, and I was pushing her to tell who was this person. Who did they talk to, where did it come from? Then she would say, I didn‘t get to the person. In this case, wouldn‘t you want to get to the person who had the authenticity to say that the documents were real?
BODE: Well, first of all we have to remember that Burkett lied to CBS. He lied to CBS and then tried drag a friend of his who‘s in Europe in. Then he says he got the documents from this fellow. Then he said he got it from Lucy Ramirez. Then he said he burned the original documents. This is a very strange man. And it is not somebody that a journalist ought to trust. They don‘t even to have asked the right questions of the producer, who was down in Texas doing all these negations.
Who is this guy and why is he a good position to know these things? Does he have an axe to grind?
And had they found just those thing, they wouldn‘t have certainly not trusted Brukett and gone as far as they did. What CBS has done, whatever happened with Dan Rather in the past, what CBS has done with this incident is, first of all, produced a two-week distraction so we‘re not talking about real issues in this campaign. We‘re talking about did CBS get forged documents or did they get real documents. And secondly, no matter how it comes out, CBS has inoculated President Bush as far as any further criticism is concerned of his national guard records in Texas during the Vietnam War.
MATTHEWS: Do you think CBS will bring down axe on Heyward and/or Rather?
BODE: Well, I don‘t think it will be Rather. But I think the president of CBS News is the steward of the values and of the ethics of the news division and accuracy. It seems to me that Heyward, once he produces his independent investigation, ought to have the courtesy and the decency to step forward and say, I take the bullet for this one. This is shop I run, and It wasn‘t run very well.
MATTHEWS: If Dan Rather did not have the credibility of years of good reporting, should he have gone on this alone?
Is he saved by his vintage work in the past?
BODE: Well, I think he is probably not going to be fired for something like this. I think Dan Rather, as somebody said today, that he is near the end of his career. And he probably is. And it is sad that that, that it would end like this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going against a hard break. You know what that means. Ken Stay with us. When we come back, we‘re going to be joined by New York Post, Deborah Orin and Vaughn Ververs of the hotline. Watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, what about the heat on Dan Rather at CBS? Longtime political correspondent Ken Bode joins us, along with “The New York Post”‘s Deborah Orin, “The Hotline”‘s Vaughn Ververs, and Republican insider Ben Ginsberg.
But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re back with Ken Bode, journalism professor at DePauw University, and a former NBC political correspondent. We‘re also joined now by Deborah Orin, Washington bureau chief of “The New York Post,” and Vaughn Ververs, who is editor of the political newsletter “The Hotline” and writes a weekly column on the media.
Let me go back to Ken and start with you, Ken, because you were here first.
You don‘t think that Dan Rather is perceived by Republicans as on the other side?
BODE: Oh, I absolutely think Dan Rather is perceived as Republicans -
· by Republicans on the other side.
I was driving over here today and saw in the back of a car a great big sign that said “Dan Rather is a lying sack of dung.”
BODE: It‘s absolutely clear that he‘s been perceived by Republicans
MATTHEWS: Why do they perceive it that way?
BODE: Well, you gave a pretty good report a while ago. And he‘s been kicked around by Fox News for a long time as being somebody who is to the left. And, of course, we have Bernie Goldberg‘s famous book called “Bias,” which was a best-seller for a while, all of which suggested that Rather had left-leaning tendencies.
Let me to go Deborah Orin.
Do you perceive, do your readers perceive that Dan Rather is shilling for the Democrats?
DEBORAH ORIN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE NEW YORK POST”: Well, judging by the letters to the editor we‘re getting, yes, I think that‘s absolutely the case.
MATTHEWS: And, as a reporter, comment on that. What facts do the viewers have that would justify that kind of an opinion?
ORIN: Well, remember that Dan Rather had a showdown in an interview with Bush‘s father back in 1988, where the Republicans felt that it was very anti-Bush, there were little buttons people wore that said, I would rather be for Bush.
ORIN: And so there‘s a history there and there is a sense, fairly or unfairly, that he is—I mean, there was a poll the other day. I think Rasmussen in his daily tracking poll asked people which network do you see as biased on which side And the network seen as most biased pro-Democrat was CBS.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Mr. Ververs, is that the perception of the American people, that CBS is the liberal network?
VAUGHN VERVERS, EDITOR, “THE HOTLINE”: Well, certainly it‘s perception of the American people today after the story has broken.
I think what is damaging CBS the most right now is that there was contact between CBS News and the Kerry campaign itself. How that contact came about, Burkett apparently says that it was part of some deal, that he would give these papers...
MATTHEWS: He said...
VERVERS: Right. That he said.
MATTHEWS: Explain the deal.
VERVERS: He says that it was part of some deal, that he would give the papers to CBS if they would put him in contact with the Kerry campaign. He had made attempts in the past to contact the Kerry campaign, hadn‘t been able to get through.
MATTHEWS: Well, this does prove in a weird way that the Democrats weren‘t caballing with CBS until they got the call.
VERVERS: Right. You have to give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt on this one for now until there‘s some kind of evidence that they were part of this deal.
We don‘t know what the CBS producer said to Joe Lockhart when she called and told him that Burkett wanted to get ahold of him. We just know that they ended up talking to one another.
MATTHEWS: You know one thing I think—let me ask you, Ken. You‘ve been around. Isn‘t there an identity in this country, most people—I don‘t mean just liberals, conservatives, or whack jobs on either side—that the establishment, the New York establishment, “The New York Times,” CBS, everybody, including I guess NBC and everybody, we‘re all part of the establishment, not cable, but definitely broadcast, and that establishment tilts liberal?
And so, when you get mad at a guy like Rather, you‘re really pounding the establishment as much as the left.
BODE: Yes. But don‘t leave yourself out of this, Chris. Cable television is considered somewhat as well is part of the establishment as well. But let me tell you, I think...
MATTHEWS: I‘ll accept that benefit when it comes. But let me ask you, are we seen as part of the left?
BODE: Not part of the left, necessarily.
The guy right now who is curious about his own behavior is Joe Lockhart. He must have said, when he finished, when he put that phone down, why did I ever take that telephone call?
MATTHEWS: Because that does what to him, that phone call? Three minutes.
BODE: What it does is, it puts the Kerry campaign fingerprints on this in a way that it wasn‘t possible to do before.
MATTHEWS: And it also suggests the mind-set of somebody at CBS, the producer who called him, that they assumed they were talking to a colleague in battle, that somehow CBS and the Democrats were in the same deal against the Republicans. So, of course, Joe would make the call, right? That‘s the way outsiders would look at it, I think.
BODE: Well, you know, I listened to Mr. Ginsberg before as he spun this web of conspiracy.
You can spin this thing. You can tell it flat or you can tell it round. You could figure that the Republicans would love to have this whole thing end up on Joe Lockhart‘s desk, with memos produced forged by somebody named Lucy Ramirez or somebody else.
MATTHEWS: If she exists.
BODE: Completely reverse of what Ginsberg said.
VERVERS: And, you know, Chris, people like conspiracy theories. People thrive on them. They did during the Clinton years. They had during the Reagan years, all the way back to JFK. People love these conspiracy theories because they actually think that‘s it is going to be there.
MATTHEWS: Well, by the way, if there was a deal between this producer to get the story, which involved bringing the Democrats into it, Joe Lockhart for the campaign, that is a conspiracy. That‘s not complicated.
ORIN: It‘s not just a conspiracy. It is unethical.
MATTHEWS: Tell me why it‘s unethical, Deborah. Lay it out.
MATTHEWS: It may be obvious, but tell us.
ORIN: Well, reporters are not supposed to be helping one side in a political election, dig dirt on the other side.
And, in this case, you sort of ask yourself, what was Joe Lockhart thinking? If he didn‘t know who Bill Burkett was, as virtually every reporter covering the campaign did, why didn‘t he do a Google search? A Google search would have turned up in a second that this is a guy who has been pedalling conspiracy theories about the president for years and since before he was president and that a lot of the conspiracy theories he‘s been pedaling haven‘t held up.
And a campaign senior strategist would look at something like that and say, wait a minute. I don‘t need to make this phone call.
VERVERS: What he looked at was saying some evidence from the CBS was saying this person has been helpful on a story you know that I‘m working on. Of course maybe it piqued his interest a little bit.
I don‘t fault necessarily him for trying to find out what was there or trying to find out maybe, what can we get on this guy? Some things that turn up are actually legitimate.
MATTHEWS: Just to get these things straight, Deborah, any reporter—
I have done this a million times—you go to the other side to get the poop on the other side. You call up. What do you hear about this? Can you help me? And you take the notes. Then you follow the story. In this case, the CBS producer did not call Joe Lockhart looking for dirt on the other side. She called Joe Lockhart to help warm up a source.
ORIN: Yes. I mean, she called—as was said before, the real question is, what‘s the conversation between Lockhart and the producer?
Because it‘s possible from Lockhart has said publicly to imagine that the conversation was, Joe, we‘re working on a story that you guys are really going to like. But we need something from someone and he‘ll only give me what I need, which are some documents, if you‘ll talk to him.
ORIN: And that‘s not proper.
MATTHEWS: OK. I hear you on that one.
Let‘s let Joe—let‘s see what he said on this, Joe Lockhart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE LOCKHART, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: CBS got these documents on a Friday. I got a call on a Saturday, after they had had the documents, and basically, the producer was saying, this guy wants to talk to you. Here‘s his number. Call him if you want. If you want to call that arranging a call, that‘s fine. But it was up to me whether I was going to make the call or not.
And I made the call. I talked to him. We talked about three or four minutes. He had some advice on how to hit back on the swift boat veterans who have been running this smear campaign against John Kerry. I thanked him for his interest and his advice. Three or four minutes later, it was over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ken, is that kosher, what he did, if he did what he said he did? Ken?
BODE: Oh, no, I don‘t think it is kosher at all. I don‘t think he should have taken the phone call, should have made the phone call. And I think he‘s very sorry right now he did make the phone call.
Joe Lockhart is a smart guy. He was a network news producer at one point. He‘s been a White House press secretary. He should have known—as Deborah Orin said, he should have known something about who this guy was. And, by the way, so should CBS have known and should not have ever trusted Bill Burkett.
VERVERS: Well, I think that‘s the key. CBS should never have made
that call. If there was any kind of deal between Burkett and CBS, that
makes the story 10 times worse
MATTHEWS: OK. Having interviewed Burkett, I find it confounding that a number of CBS people, all the way up to Heyward, believed in this guy. Just look at the tapes from this show and you have got to walk away with wonder at a guy who has so many claims against President Bush, so many claims, so many interviews he overheard, telephone conversations he overheard, papers he saw on tops of trash cans, things he calls conveyances, which is a big word for, I overheard somebody talking in the alley.
We‘re coming right back with Ken Bode, Deborah Orin and Vaughn Ververs.
And up next, we‘ll get reaction from Ben Ginsberg, who is a Republican election attorney.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, more on this mess at CBS.
HARDBALL back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re back with Ken Bode, Deborah Orin and Vaughn Ververs. And we‘re joined right now by Ben Ginsberg, who is an election lawyer who previously served as the top lawyer for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Ben, what we know so far—join in the conversation. What we know so far as hard facts is what we just heard, that Joe Lockhart, a senior adviser now to the Kerry campaign, admits he got a call from the CBS producer who put together the package on this guy down in Texas, Bill Burkett, and what he claims about the president and all the papers he presented that are now apparently bogus. And Lockhart played ball and called back. He called Bill Burkett, the guy we‘re all questioning his veracity. He joined in what looks like sort of a deal.
What do you think of it?
BENJAMIN GINSBERG, FORMER BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Well, what Lockhart did all falls into a large pattern of a number of events that all kind of fell together to think there wasn‘t some sort of coordination by the Kerry campaign or the DNC, or at least that the news media shouldn‘t be looking at that, Chris, given the standard that was applied toward the swift boat ads and the Bush-Cheney campaign.
But there were a number of events that took place right around September 8 or 9 to pretend that there wasn‘t some sort of coordination involved.
MATTHEWS: Particularly—I talked to you earlier. You believe particularly that the role of the former lieutenant governor, Ben Barnes, who says now that he helped put together that sweet billet for the president back in the Guard back all those years ago, having said the opposite before. And, of course, his daughter is questioning that and challenging that. You believe he was part of the package.
GINSBERG: He was part of the package. The forged documents appear to be part of the package. The next day, on September 9, a liberal columnist in “The New York Times” Nicholas Kristof comes out with a column on that subject.
“The Boston Globe,” John Kerry‘s hometown paper, gets the document dump. Texan for Truth starts off with a series of ads funded by MoveOn.org. Stan Greenberg is the pollster for the Kerry campaign and MoveOn at the same time. And above all, Terry McAuliffe holds a press conference on September 9 calling George Bush AWOL. That‘s a lot of moving parts combined with Lockhart‘s role to at least not enjoy a serious scrutiny by the news media.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this, Ken Bode. Is there anything wrong, Ken, in the Democrats in the portion here of Terry or anybody else at the Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, any of those people caballing together to try to push bad stuff on George Bush to CBS? Is that wrong? It doesn‘t sound new to me.
BODE: Well, I don‘t see that they‘re the ones who did it.
What sounds like Ginsberg is doing here is what Claude Rains did at the end of “Casablanca.” He says, round up all the usual suspects.
BODE: He just takes a whole list of these guys and he says now, because they all said something around the same time, therefore, there must have been coordination. I don‘t think there‘s any proof of that at all. I think there‘s as little proof of that as there is that these memos were in any way authenticated by CBS. This is a CBS issue. This is not an issue that involves Terry McAuliffe and Ben Barnes and the rest of these guys.
MATTHEWS: There‘s a little bit to your logic that sound like the people who said that LBJ must have killed Kennedy because he got to be president afterwards. Just because someone benefits from some development doesn‘t mean they did it, does it?
But look at the difference in the scrutiny that was visited upon the swift boat veterans on the basis of basically a lawyer having two clients and one donor who hadn‘t talked to Karl Rove in six months, compared to sort of the explanation that Ken just gave, which basically says there was nothing wrong there. That‘s a different level of scrutiny.
MATTHEWS: Deborah Orin, is there a perception among your readers—well, I‘ll just ask you. Do you believe that there was a cabal here involving CBS and the Democratic Party, especially the DNC and the Kerry campaign?
ORIN: I don‘t think we know the answer. But I think we do know, go back to what Ken said, CBS did something that‘s totally improper. And whether the—that‘s the first step.
And the second step—I‘m sort of between Ken and Ben on this. I think you can‘t prove coincidence of timing means coincidence of events. But it is sort of fascinating that the DNC was all ready to go with this ad campaign attacking Bush and accusing him of being AWOL in the Guard using, of all things, video from Dan Rather‘s interview with Ben Barnes right after the Rather piece aired.
And it sure looks as though they knew what was coming and they were gearing to take full advantage of it. And so the question is, did somebody tip them off that something was coming? You also have the fact that the campaign manager for Kerry, Mary Beth Cahill, was on the phone apparently to Ben Barnes, the guy who was interviewed in this piece, three seconds afterwards, one of the first calls congratulating him on what a great job did he in trashing Bush. So it raises questions.
GINSBERG: Chris, the point is, somebody should be asking the questions.
MATTHEWS: That‘s you, Ben, right?
MATTHEWS: Well, I think we‘re doing it. I think we‘re doing it. I think we‘re doing it right now. What do you think?
GINSBERG: But you‘re the first one to do it.
VERVERS: If this is a cabal, it is the most incompetent one ever run. Those documents were called into being fakeries within hours when they hit the Web site.
I do think, though, all of this creates more of the perception that
there was coordination coming after the swift boat ads, coming after all of
that. And the Kerry campaign just weeks ago were out complaining about
these links between Bush and—it makes it even worse for CBS and it makes
MATTHEWS: What I‘ve seeing here—Ken, you‘re a professor of the media today. And now the media, very broadly defined, includes not just the cable and broadcast nets and the newspapers and magazines and wire services. It also includes these bloggers out there.
And the question is, why don‘t the broadcast nets watch cable, at least, if they can‘t keep up with the bloggers? Anybody who had seen Bill Burkett on our show in February would not trust him with documents. They would not say, well, if he says they‘re OK, these—this is the genuine article here.
So, clearly, Ben—you‘re laughing, Ken, because you know this is competitive. But the producers at “60 Minutes” aren‘t even watching HARDBALL, let alone the bloggers.
BODE: Exactly right.
Well, Bill Burkett did get his start on your show. I forgot about that, until you brought it up.
But these bloggers are like jungle drums out there. And sometimes you have got to put your ear to the wind and hear the jungle drums. And CBS needed to do that. You‘re absolutely right.
MATTHEWS: Well, sometimes a broken clock is, what, twice a day, it is right.
We‘re coming right back with the panel.
And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on HardBlogger, our election blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re back with Ken Bode, Deborah Orin, Vaughn Ververs and Ben Ginsberg.
I want to start with Deborah now.
Deborah, does this disaster at CBS make the establishment media—I‘m not counting “The New York Post”—the establishment media, “The New York Times,” the major broadcast networks, less credible when they bring us bad news about the war the next six weeks in a way that you would imagine would be less credible after something of a stink bomb like there?
ORIN: I think so, yes.
It is also interesting that a lot of the bloggers who have been critical of these documents, who really raised the red flags, are also bloggers who have been very critical of reporting on Iraq, saying that the stories that are coming out of Iraq in the mainstream media, as they call it, or lame-stream media as they sometimes call it...
ORIN: Do not reflect the reality. A lot of them have been posting letters home from Marines, from soldiers in Iraq, which do tell a very different story from what we‘re getting from correspondents. So I think you‘re absolutely right.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ken on that.
Is this part of the story here for the next six weeks. The establishment media, which takes pride in giving the facts to the public, will find itself hamstrung in doing so because of this?
BODE: No, Chris, I don‘t think so.
I think what CBS has got to do is clear this up. Dan Rather says and Andrew Heyward they‘re doing extensive reporting on this whole series of events, reporting they should have done a long time ago, reporting they should have done before they ever put it on the air. But this is a CBS problem. It‘s not an overall media problem at all.
And I would like to get back at some point to this whole notion of conspiracy, because Ben Ginsberg tells a story one way. You can tell it another way. Republicans doctor up the memos. They see Burkett as an absolutely perfect source for this, a kind of guy who is a little unstable, a guy who is very anti-Bush. They give to it Burkett. He bites. Then Mary Mapes bites at CBS, the producer. Dan Rather bites. And that‘s the other way to tell that conspiracy story.
MATTHEWS: We heard that last night, by the way, from Tom Shales of “The Washington Post.”
MATTHEWS: He may be the best writers in newspapers, but I‘m not sure about that theory.
What do you make, Deborah? You‘re responding.
ORIN: No, I don‘t think that one really works, because, if that were the case, you wouldn‘t have had the—the conspiracy is based on, if there was a conspiracy, the assumption that the Democrats were ready to jump on this.
And, just quietly, I don‘t think anybody could have predicted in advance that the memos would be discredited so quickly. And I think that whoever did the forgeries was pretty stupid and my guess is pretty young, young enough not to have realized there were typewriters, for example. You know, some of the documents experts have said the amazing thing about this is, for $30 on eBay, you could have gotten an old typewriter and the whole story would have lasted a lot longer.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact—become, you start—what do you make of the fact that Michael Dobbs reported a great report from Mr. Burkett himself, the source of all this hell, that some of us have made some big risks on behalf of this campaign, taken some big risks. It sounds to me like he‘s the one who took the big risk in producing this document, not some Republican character offstage.
ORIN: I don‘t know whether—I don‘t think it‘s a Republican character offstage. I don‘t know whether it is a Democratic character offstage or whether it‘s Mr. Burkett himself.
The other thing that‘s so fascinating about this is, it doesn‘t take a genius to find the legitimate document experts in America. And, somehow, most of us found them with no trouble, and CBS never found them.
MATTHEWS: Wouldn‘t you have to be amazingly gutsy person to take a risk like this? Because, if it come back to you, don‘t do the crime if you can‘t do the time. The time for doing this is total humiliation and incrimination.
VERVERS: Either that or it would have to be such a practical joke that you never thought it would go anywhere.
The people who took a risk on this were CBS News. And I think that, back to your original question, this stains the entire profession. I don‘t think there‘s any doubt about it. I think people are less and less, not just this episode, but things we‘ve seen at “The New York Times” and other places, less likely to believe what is said in the press. But it is not going to make an overall difference.
MATTHEWS: Ben, you‘re a lawyer. Is there anything illegal about cooking up a document that said a guy was a bad Guardsman 30 years ago?
GINSBERG: Well, probably not anything strictly legally, but certainly the fallout for this is extreme.
It feeds into everything that conservatives and Republicans have thought about the media. And it tarnishes a lot of excellent journalists, and that‘s the real problem that the media is going to have in terms of the commercial side of their business, getting people to have faith in them. It‘s a stain on the whole profession, I‘m afraid.
VERVERS: I mean, if CBS does something like this, then who is to say the Matt Drudge Report isn‘t a credible source or some of these other outlets aren‘t credible sources? You can‘t get less credible than what CBS did. So it brings the level, I think, down a lot.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think credibility is a zero-sum game. I don‘t think, if somebody loses, somebody else wins. But you may have an argument, OK?
If I tell a lie, it doesn‘t mean you a truth-teller.
Anyway, thank you, Ken Bode, very much. Thank you, Deborah Orin, very much. Vaughn Ververs, thank you very much. And thank you, Ben Ginsberg, very much.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. And then tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern, it‘s an extra edition of HARDBALL. That‘s tomorrow night at 7:00 and 9:00.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.