updated 12/8/2004 2:16:50 PM ET 2004-12-08T19:16:50

Guest: Chuck Hagel, Dana Rohrabacher, Daniel Okrent, T.R. Reid

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, two prominent leaders in Congress, Senator Chuck Hagel and U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher talk about intelligence in Iraq and the intelligence reform bill here at home.

Plus, a new Gallup Poll ranks newspaper reporters lower than bankers and politicians.  Is the press losing its power?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews. 

While President Bush talked up the U.S. role in Iraq today, the top U.S. spy in Baghdad, a highly respected CIA official, said the situation is likely to get worse.  I‘ll ask Senator Chuck Hagel of the Intelligence Committee about that CIA report in just a moment, but first, here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster with more on that story and on the intelligence reform bill here at home—David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, it has been a very busy day today on Capitol Hill.  The House is about to pass the biggest overhaul of U.S. intelligence in nearly 50 years.  After two weeks of delay and negotiations, the measure is being brought to the floor at this very hour, despite the continued objections of some Republicans.  The measure is expected to pass the Senate tomorrow. 

And what it will do is it will provide for a new national intelligence czar who will be responsible for coordinating all of the spy agencies, their priorities and budgets. 

But the action in Congress comes as there‘s yet another reminder today that analysts at the CIA and officials at the White House sometimes disagree.  The latest dispute was over Iraq. 


SHUSTER (voice-over):  At the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base today in California, President Bush praised the recent defeat of Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘ve dealt the enemy a severe blow.  The terrorist Zarqawi has lost his main sanctuary in Iraq.  The Baathist insurgents have lost one of their main bases of operation.

SHUSTER:  The president then mentioned next month‘s Iraqi elections and suggested it‘s not too early now to talk about bringing U.S. forces home. 

BUSH:  We‘ll help the Iraqi government build a force that no longer needs coalition support, so they can defend their own nation.  And then American soldiers and Marines can come home with the honor they have earned. 

SHUSTER:  The problem is that the CIA‘s assessment of Iraq after Fallujah is far different.  According to a memo leaked to “The New York Times,” the CIA‘s station chief in Baghdad warned last month with U.S.  troops already in control of Falluja, the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon. 

CIA (UNINTELLIGIBLE) warned of more violence and sectarian clashes unless the Iraqi government makes improvements soon. 

After the CIA assessment was circulated and last week alone, insurgents killed more than 80 Iraqi police officers and a dozen U.S.  troops, Pentagon officials, who have often clashed with the CIA, are talking up next month‘s Iraqi elections. 

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  And I think elections in Iraq are going to be one more step on the path toward a stable and secure and a democratic Iraq.  It won‘t be the final step, but it will allow us to start then looking at—if events dictate—how we can rearrange ourselves, the coalition and Iraqi forces, for that matter. 

SHUSTER:  By rearranging ourselves, Myers also means a possible drawdown of U.S. troops. 

But security analysts and even Republicans in Congress say more troops may be needed, not less. 

The CIA suggests insurgents are simply dispersing around the country, making it even more difficult for U.S. troops to figure out where to attack next. 


SHUSTER:  And as confusing as it may be for American troops, it‘s also now quite challenging for U.S. members of Congress, because once again they face two very different assessments about the situation in Iraq.  There is one from officials at the White House and the Pentagon, and another from officials at the CIA.  Chris, back to you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David. 

Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is a Republican.  He sits on the Foreign Relations and on the Select Intelligence Committee.  He headed a delegation of senators to Iraq and the Middle East just last week.

Senator, you‘ve just come back.  Are we winning or losing? 

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  We‘re not winning yet, but this is a long effort.  And I think most who have had any understanding of what we are into appreciate that.  The CIA memo talks of that.  The president, the vice president, Secretary Rumsfeld, have all said that this is a long-term effort. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you satisfied with the president‘s statement today that we‘re going to be in there through his second administration, all the way through the next four years and we‘re not getting out until after that? 

HAGEL:  Well, I don‘t know if anyone can predict that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did.  He said, well, we‘ll be out before that time period runs out or something, but it was more or less a statement of four more years. 

HAGEL:  Well, let me put it this way: I don‘t know if anyone can accurately predict what‘s going to happen in four years.  I do think that we have three pillars here for an exit strategy, and it‘s also connected directly to the success in Iraq.  One is some modicum of legitimacy in these elections coming up.  Second is the acceleration of training Iraqi forces and troops.  And third is the economic development.  And unless significant success is made on all three fronts next year, then I think things do get worse. 

Now, how long are we going to be there?  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of these elections, the idea that the Sistani crowd, the Shia are going to win big time?  The other parties that know they‘re in the minority won‘t even bother participating, the Kurds and the Sunnis? 

HAGEL:  Well, there‘s a concern that I think is real and legitimate about that.  Legitimate governments are the results of legitimate elections, and we want to assure as best we can the active participation of all the individuals and all the different interest groups in Iraq. 

Now, the Sunnis have said that they will boycott.  I don‘t think that applies to all Sunnis.  But what our role must be now is to do everything we can to facilitate those elections.  I think deferring those elections only deepens and widens the chasm, the dangerous, dangerous chasm that will exist if the Iraqi people do not develop some confidence in themselves, in their own destiny, their future, their own security, and partially you do that by Iraqis selecting Iraqis to run their government. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the election process.  Now you also mentioned training.  Do you think our training effort has succeeded? 

HAGEL:  Well, we have a long way to go.  The generals are doing—and our military people are doing a tremendous job.  This is very difficult business, from the vetting process...

MATTHEWS:  Sure...


HAGEL:  ... who‘s on our side.  We‘ve had some successes, we‘ve had some major failures.  But this is I think as much a core part of the future of Iraq as any one thing. 

The interesting thing, Chris, is that on one side, and this is a dilemma for the United States, we are the guarantor or of security in Iraq, but on the other side of that, we are also a force, because of Iraqi nationalism, of destabilization, the occupying army.  The longer we‘re there without the Iraqis feeling that they‘re in charge, the more difficult it is for our soldiers. 

Our soldiers are performing magnificently, but this is a political problem.  It is a classic insurgency, and that warfare has to be dealt on the basis of that classic insurgency warfare that our generals understand. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re a military guy.  You fought in Vietnam.  You know, you understand the problem here of a war of attrition.  And I want to ask you this, every time we kill an Iraqi, we‘re killing an Arab on world television.  Every time one of our guys—we lost—there‘s a human being we care about.  How do we win in a situation where every time we kill one of them, we lose, and every time one of our guys, we obviously lose that in human terms.  How do you win a war when you really don‘t want to be killing those people?  And that‘s what you‘re doing every day.

HAGEL:  Well, you can‘t win a war of attrition.  We found that out in Vietnam and throughout history.  That‘s why a political underpinning, a foundation must be found as quickly as we can.  That‘s why we go back to the elections, Chris, because elections are absolutely... 

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t read you, Senator.  And maybe I‘m pushing too hard, because I know it‘s very difficult.  You‘re a Republican, you‘re loyal to the president.  But was going to Iraq a blunder, or wasn‘t it?  Was it a smart thing for our American interests, or was it a bad thing for our interests in the long run?  I‘m not talking about values and guts and who‘s the toughest president, but was it a good thing to do for our country, to go into that war in Iraq and try to change that country? 

HAGEL:  I don‘t think we know that yet. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think? 

HAGEL:  Well, I don‘t think we know yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you?

HAGEL:  No, I don‘t know yet, because we don‘t know how it‘s going to turn out. 

I said before we went in there...

MATTHEWS:  If we had four more years of casualties and four more years of killing Iraqis, and four more years of more Arab hatred in the world, more terrorists because of that, isn‘t that an indication if you‘re looking forward to that, the way the president just said today, look forward to the next four years of that, he said today.  It‘s going to go on.  Doesn‘t that in itself give you a test of yes or no, we should have gone or not gone? 

HAGEL:  It‘s not that easy.  It‘s far for complicated than that, Chris.  Because here‘s the way I see it—doesn‘t mean it‘s right—Iraq is part of a wider fabric of the Middle East, just as the Israeli-Palestinian issue is one of the core issues in the Middle East, and I don‘t believe you‘re going to bring stability and security to Iraq or to any part of that region until that Israeli-Palestinian issue, at least is seen by Arabs and Muslims, as on a path to resolution. 

Now, back to Iraq, whether it was a mistake or not.  The reason I say I don‘t know, and I don‘t think we‘ll know for a while, is because it has a ripple effect.  It has an impact of more than just Iraq.  It‘s the entire region that‘s at stake here.

MATTHEWS:  Right, well, that‘s...

HAGEL:  Now, whether we‘ll be successful or not, Chris, I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, isn‘t it like going to a part of the world and say, we‘re going to fight part of that world, knowing that the other part of that world isn‘t going to like what we‘re doing.  For example, if you‘re killing Arabs and you‘re doing it on television, we live in a television age where news travels instantly.  Every time we go into a house and kick down the front door and humiliate the Arab guy, and his family—his wife is being checked out and the husband is being checked, bound and gagged or whatever in the middle of the room, I‘ve been reading that people in the Arab world really—not that we wouldn‘t—but they really detest that.  That‘s really humiliating.  I think it would be humiliating to an American to go through those searches.  How do we win friends by that night after night with the flashlights and the guys coming in in fatigues?  How does that win friends?

HAGEL:  You‘re right.  It doesn‘t.  That‘s why I go back to the point about elections moving the Iraqis into a position where they feel they are in charge of their country.  They are defining their future. 

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re asking us to stay. 

Well, believe that whatever be the case.  But they‘ll say we want you here. 

HAGEL:  Chris, I‘ll answer it but let me make another point.  Four years of fighting in Iraq, the United States going house to house and doing what we have been doing.  I don‘t think we‘ll ever see that for four years.  The United States will be asked to leave by a legitimately elected Iraqi government.  We can‘t sustain four years of that.  Not only casualties, but the entire Middle East will blow up, will erupt.  Connected to that is the Iranian peace, we‘ve got the Syrian peace, the Israeli/Palestinian peace...

MATTHEWS:  P-i-e-c-e not the p-e-a-c-e. 

HAGEL:  Right.  And it‘s all woven into the same fabric.  It‘s dangerous, it‘s complicated, it‘s deep. 

MATTHEWS:  Does the president see it that way?  I‘ve never see him look at it that way.  He never moved on the Middle East until recently.  He basically said let them settle their own problem which they didn‘t do.  His attitude has been laissez faire in the Middle East all the way up until recently, right?

HAGEL:  You‘ll have to ask the president.  I can‘t speak for him.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just watching. 

HAGEL:  I would say that this January 9 election and we just—my colleague and I were with Prime Minister Sharon, Abu Mazen in Ramallah...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s starting to soften up, isn‘t it?  At least he‘s saying things like I‘m going to help them hold those elections on the West Bank.  Do you believe that?

HAGEL:  He told us that he will do everything he could to facilitate...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s great news.

HAGEL:  Here‘s part of the reason.  Those elections are almost as critical for the Israelis as they are for the Palestinians.  He needs a partner.  He understands that he‘s at a moment in history that probably won‘t come again for a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  Not for him. 

HAGEL:  No.  And we‘re all connected to that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m very optimistic.  I shouldn‘t answer my questions but I‘m very happy to see Sharon is looking for a peace partner and trying to do something in the West Bank. 

HAGEL:  I think he does feel that way.

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, we‘ll talk about the intelligence reforms now before the Congress and passing tonight.  Senator Chuck Hagel.  Tomorrow, I‘ll sit down with King Abdullah of Jordan.  He‘s going to be in Washington to meet with President Bush about the prospects of peace in the Middle East.  I‘m going to be talking to him tomorrow.  And on Friday, former president Jimmy Carter is going to be right here.  As I‘ve said four times now at this table. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, just returned from a trip to the Middle East and is headed off to meet with Tony Blair.  You‘ve all worked on this intelligent bill.  It‘s been the bone and throat of the Congress this year to get it through.  Is it going to make us safer just having a national director, a counter-terrorism center.  Will it work? 

HAGEL:  I hope it does.  I think there‘s a misconception out there that a new bill moving some boxes around, changing a structure is somehow going to make America safer.  That‘s part of it.  But intelligence is very complicated.  It‘s about people, it‘s about relationships.  It‘s about culture.  It‘s about experience.  Motivation.  So it‘s not just a matter of moving the boxes around.  I‘ve always believed also if we‘re going to reform intelligence and it appears we are and I think this bill overall is a good bill.  There are some parts to it that are probably a little raggedy, but nonetheless, it does move us in the direction that we need to do.  And that‘s accountability and responsibility. 

Partly Duncan Hunter‘s problem with it and in my opinion was legitimate.  I think he read it differently.  But you don‘t want to take away the capability of our decision makers, especially our fighters and our war fighters to have that tactical intelligence all the way up to the line to have your policy makers from the president on down, not to have a direct line for strategic intelligence.  This is also all about analysis. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is going to be the boss?  You‘re president of the United States, maybe you will be someday, Senator, and you‘re sitting there in the office and it‘s 2:00 in the morning and you can‘t sleep and you‘re worrying about something you read about in some briefing paper.  What the hell‘s going on in Jakarta?  There‘s some kind of meeting there.  Who would you call up in the middle of the night, wake up and say tell me what the hell is going on in that part of the world?  I just sent another cable on that.  Would you call the CIA director?  Would you call the national intelligence director?  Who would you call?  Would you call the national security adviser?

HAGEL:  Well, I think first of all, you have to realize and I‘ll answer your question more directly, but let me get to the bigger point here.  Every president sets up his office and his national security team and structures the way he wants to do it.  Every president has been different.  Clinton was different than both Bushes. 

MATTHEWS:  He never got a briefing from Woolsey.  Didn‘t like him.

HAGEL:  That‘s my point.  He didn‘t even get a CIA briefing.  To your question about how you get information.  The president wakes up 3:00 in the morning, says I want to know about Jakarta.  In the new structure, probably but again it depends on the president, you would to the national intelligence director.  That doesn‘t mean that‘s the only avenue. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think any of this stuff would have stopped 9/11? 

All this moving boxes around?

HAGEL:  No, I don‘t.  The CIA has really gotten unfairly beat up on 9/11.  The FBI, the Congress, all the national security agencies that are involved in the intelligence community, the Pentagon, the White House, all have to take some responsibility here.  I don‘t think you can just say because we have a new bill and the CIA is now going to be under a new kind of a structure that that would change it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope that you‘re at the signing ceremony to say that.  Because everybody‘s going to be passing pens around and now we‘re safer. 

HAGEL:  I still think it‘s better than what we had and we need to reform. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Senator Chuck Hagel on the foreign affairs committee.  He‘s going to meet Tony Blair soon.  Up next, Congress Dana Rohrabacher and why he‘s not happy about the deal made to get this intelligence bill through.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Not everyone in Congress is happy about the bill to reform America‘s intelligence systems.  Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California says the bill does not go far enough.  Everybody‘s doing hooplas tonight about this bill getting passed.  What‘s your worry? 

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, first of all, it takes exactly the wrong approach, and 9/11 was not caused because there was a problem with the flowchart.  And this bill just basically is what they call a realignment, which is changing the boxes on the flowchart.  We do not need a czar that will come in.  The energy czar did not help us with the energy.  The drug czar didn‘t end drug use.  Having an intelligence czar will probably have the same impact, which will be an impediment of actually getting the kind of intelligence we need to the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, tell me in real terms.  The president of the United States wants to know what‘s going on in, say, Jakarta.  He wants to know what‘s going on in Detroit. 

ROHRABACHER:  Right.  He‘s got the National Security Council there who can operate with his—under his jurisdiction and with his authority, to go to any of these intelligence organizations. 

What caused 9/11 was not the flowchart.  Caused 9/11 -- and by putting this bill up, making this realignment, we‘re giving people exactly the wrong impression, that we can change—we can make ourselves safer by doing this type of reform.  9/11 was caused by bad policy.  Gorelick herself signed documents to prevent the CIA from cooperating with the FBI.  That was bad policy. 

MATTHEWS:  On what issue? 

ROHRABACHER:  On intelligence, on basically when you‘re—when intelligence agencies, domestic and foreign, were looking at domestic threats, the FBI was—said they could not cooperate with the CIA on these things, and vice versa.  That was bad policy.  During the Clinton years, we had bad policy toward the Taliban.  We had bad policies—we had bad immigration policies especially. 

MATTHEWS:  If we never did this homeland security bill, if we don‘t do this, haven‘t gotten this other bill going through Congress right now and being signed by the president, Condi Rice would have been in charge of all of this, as the national security adviser, right?  She‘s the one responsible under current passed law to basically bring all this stuff together to the president‘s attention. 

ROHRABACHER:  The president of the United States is responsible for making sure we have an intelligence system.  Just like we have a military that works.  He‘s the commander in chief.  We don‘t need this idea of an intelligence czar, which by the way will just mean there‘s another bureaucracy established under him.  How‘s one man going to know everything?  Create a czar?  You‘ve got a new bureaucracy here. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about this...

ROHRABACHER:  So we‘re going to be—so we are going to be less safe because of this bill. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about this driver‘s license issue.  And I‘ve been skeptical as hell about this, because it seems to me if you get on the airplane with a driver‘s license, and you‘re not in the country illegally, then the question is, why even bother show a driver‘s license?  They‘re all irrelevant.

ROHRABACHER:  Well, the bottom line, that‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t this bill address that?

ROHRABACHER:  Again, bad policy.  What we have had is bad immigration policy.  The hijackers were here...

MATTHEWS:  Do we have an immigration policy in this country?  I don‘t think we have one.

ROHRABACHER:  We don‘t have one—we haven‘t had one for 20 years, and that‘s one of the reasons 9/11 happened.  We had terrorists who were able to freely come into our country.  Eight of them were registered to vote, and now they‘re talking about—the Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  What?  Eight of the 19 were registered to vote? 

ROHRABACHER:  Yes, eight of the 19 were registered to vote.  And I get into this, we‘ve got, what, Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman now taking everything out of the bill that we passed through the House dealing with illegal...

MATTHEWS:  Why did they do that...

ROHRABACHER:  ... immigration.

MATTHEWS:  It was in the 9/11 Commission report.  The fact that the Congress should deal with the fact that some states issue driver‘s licenses to people—like Virginia apparently—who are in the country illegally. 


MATTHEWS:  And you can get them by mail, practically.

ROHRABACHER:  Right.  And once they have done this, terrorists will go straight to that state, to make sure they can open up their bank accounts, they can travel anywhere they want.  This is a crime against the security of the United States committed by the United States Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it pandering?  Is this why they‘re doing it?

ROHRABACHER:  I would imagine.  As I say, Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman.  Susan Collins said, I‘m not going to do anything unless Joe Lieberman agrees.  Lieberman says, I‘m not going to do anything unless the Democrats in the House agree.  And of course, what we‘ve got there are the most liberal people in the world. 


ROHRABACHER:  That‘s what they...

MATTHEWS:  What about this defense thing?  Are you worried about the fact that the defense—the military commander in the field in battle will have a problem with his chain of command with (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who‘s his intelligence officer? 

ROHRABACHER:  If we create a czar of all intelligence, that would have been a big problem.  The fact is Duncan Hunter worked really hard to overcome that problem.  So that probably was overcome, but I will tell you this much, that the illegal immigrant part of this, that alone should mean that the bill is a horrible bill. 

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re president of the United States someday, who would you call to find out what was going on in the world?  Would you call this new national intelligence director, or would you call the CIA director?

ROHRABACHER:  I would hope that...

MATTHEWS:  Or would you call—who would you call?  The DIA, the head of Defense Intelligence?

ROHRABACHER:  Having worked in the White House, you should be able to answer.  You call your national security adviser, and he‘s the one that gives you the information. 

Chris, that‘s why we established the National Security Council.  So that they would have be—be able to find the information and give the orders, not just in intelligence but in the military et cetera, and there‘s a large number of people who work for that organization right under the president.  That‘s the way it should be, and we should make sure that people are held accountable.  The president of the United States should be held accountable for these type of things.  We need the kind of reform, but the president‘s the one that got to do it.  And he‘s got to change the attitude, the culture within intelligence, and we‘ve got to change the bad policies.  

MATTHEWS:  I am still amazed the president got a briefing on August 6th, before 9/11, less than—about a month before 9/11, or a month and a couple of days, that said “bin Laden to attack inside the United States?” 

ROHRABACHER:  Let me tell you something, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  What more do you want?

ROHRABACHER:  Well, let me tell you something.  The day before 9/11, I called up the White House—I had figured it out.  You know, I‘ve been deeply involved with fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for five years.  I figured it out.  We‘re about to be attacked in a major terrorist attack...

MATTHEWS:  Who did you call? 

ROHRABACHER:  I called up Condoleezza Rice.  I had an appointment—she made an appointment to see me the next day, on 9/11, and on her schedule, it says “see Dana Rohrabacher to be warned about impending terrorist attack.” 

And if I could figure it out, why couldn‘t the CIA figure it out?  I mean, I knew it was going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, well, I‘m sorry, but George Tenet having breakfast that morning with David Bourn (ph), head of Northrop Grumman, said, “I hope that‘s not that guy trying to get flying lessons.”  I mean, how come they knew but nobody did anything? 

ROHRABACHER:  I think what you‘ve got here is a culture and an attitude, and it‘s not a change in the flowchart that‘s going to change that culture and attitude. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

ROHRABACHER:  And we‘ve got hundreds of people working over at these intelligence agencies, on Afghanistan, on bin Laden, the No. 1 target, and we weren‘t warned something—an operation like this. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree completely.  I mean, and it‘s heyday for the FBI to have a great flowchart and a great leader, and great leaders. 

ROHRABACHER:  That‘s it.  There you are.

MATTHEWS:  We need great leaders.  Anyway, thank you very much, U.S.  Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. 

Up next, a new poll out shows the American public ranks newspaper reporters low on honesty and ethics.  I‘ll ask the public editor, the ombudsman of “The New York Times” about it.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, why are newspaper reporters rated so low on issues of honesty and ethics?  I‘ll be joined by Daniel Okrent, public editor of “The New York Times.”  Plus, is Europe threatening America‘s global supremacy? 

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk. 


MATTHEWS:  Newspaper reporters scored poorly on honestly and ethical standards in a new Gallup poll released today, ranking lower than bankers and politicians. 

Joining us now is Daniel Okrent, the first public editor of “The New York Times,” a man who has the ability to take on the most powerful newspaper in the world.

Mr. Okrent, thank you for joining us. 

Describe your position.  It‘s unique at “The New York Times.” 

DANIEL OKRENT, PUBLIC EDITOR, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Yes.  I‘m the first one to do this job. 

My role is to criticize whatever I find in “The Times” that merits criticism for violations of ethical standards, for not coming up to levels of journalistic practice that the paper ought to be engaged in.  And I get to do it in the pages of the paper.  I write a column every other week.  It doesn‘t get edited by anybody at the paper.  And I‘m free to say what I wish to say about what the paper has done. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you discover—what have you discovered about bias at “The New York Times” since you‘ve taken this role?  What have you written and said about that? 

OKRENT:  Well, I‘ve written a few things about it. 

One, I think that, relative to the political campaign, I ended up thinking that if there was bias, if somebody was ordering support for a particular candidate, they weren‘t being followed very well.  The commissariat had failed at it.  I think that you can find any given article, any given stories covered a particular way, or even a photograph, and you could say, well, this is favoring one side or favoring the other. 

But over the course of a long campaign, I could show you as much counterevidence to the support of one candidate as I could to the other.  On the other hand, I do think that “The Times,” and I am speaking only for myself and not for “The Times”—I have to say that—does on some social issues, particularly, if not hue to a liberal line, I think that there is sort of a tendency to support certain positions that are, I think, you know, indicative to the nature of the journalistic class of the city of New York and Washington, where most of the journalists live.  And that gets into the paper on a regular basis.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think if the paper was located in Salt Lake City, you would have a different view on social issues? 

OKRENT:  Yes, absolutely, because the people who write the paper, they‘re a product of the environment they live in.  And there are things that those of us see on a daily basis in New York that we see as very ordinary and sort of acceptable parts of our lives that would be rather surprising somewhere else and vice-versa, I think.

MATTHEWS:  Would a woman reporter for “The New York Times” likely use the phrase unborn child for a late-term pregnancy? 

OKRENT:  I would hope not. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t like that term.  You think that‘s...


OKRENT:  Well, yes, I think that we need to avoid any kind of term that has a suggestion of a tendency to lean one way or another. 

I think that, in fact, if you‘re going to deal with the abortion issue, the terms pro-choice and pro-life are both I think equally tendentious. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I try to use abortion rights, opponent or in support of abortion rights.

OKRENT:  Yes.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  If the pro-choicers don‘t like the word abortion, I say, well, then you might have a problem with abortion you don‘t know about.  You shouldn‘t have a problem with the word you use.

OKRENT:  Exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re for the right to have one. 

Let me ask you, do you find at “The New York Times” that there are very few women who are opposed to abortion—or who are supportive—I‘m going to have to get my phrase right—who are opposed to abortion rights? 

OKRENT:  Well, I don‘t know.  I don‘t go around interviewing people and asking them what their feeling is on it. 

MATTHEWS:  Come on, but you know.

OKRENT:  No, I think that my general supposition would be that there would be more support for abortion rights than not, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  How about terms that have been new to the vocabulary that have been thrown in, I will argue, pushed by the war supporters, terms like regime change, weapons of mass destruction, the profligate use of the word terrorism to apply to anybody who is an Arab on the other side of any conflict?  Do you watch for that kind of thing? 

OKRENT:  Yes. 

I think the real crucible for that is in the Palestine-Israel conflict. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

OKRENT:  Where the word terrorist—one man‘s terrorist is somebody else‘s freedom fighter.  What is the word that you can use that could actually convey the meaning of what somebody is doing? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, someone who attacks civilian targets. 


OKRENT:  To me, that‘s a terrorist.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

OKRENT:  But I think, once the person has done the attack on the civilian targets, not somebody who might be contemplating it or you think might be able to do it or supports people who might do it.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, there are some people on one side of that issue who hate the word suicide bomber because it suggests a heroism that‘s not appropriate.  Would you allow that word, suicide bomber, or would you say murderer?

OKRENT:  No.  I would say suicide bomber.  I think that both words are accurate.  The person is committing suicide and he‘s got a bomb. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the editorial page and the news pages of “The New York Times.”  The editorial page is liberal, right? 

OKRENT:  Yes, definitely. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the newspaper itself in the A-section and the rest of the paper, is it liberal or neutral?

OKRENT:  I think it‘s by and large neutral, although, as I say, on some issues—I think that, on environmental issues, you would have to say that it moves a little...


MATTHEWS:  Gay marriage, where does it stand?  Where do most of the stories—do they suggest a support for that? 

OKRENT:  Yes, I think they do.  I think that gay marriage is probably the perfect issue to do it with.  It‘s something that is sort of accepted as normative at “The Times.” 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the people at the paper who write for the paper are surprised that it‘s not in the country at large?

OKRENT:  Oh, no, no, no.  I don‘t think so at all. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not surprised that most people in America are opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage?

OKRENT:  No.  If they are, they‘re not very good reporters. 

MATTHEWS:  But it is like sort of foreign coverage for them? 



MATTHEWS:  I mean, were they surprised by the Ohio results, the results around the middle of the country on the issue of gay marriage? 


OKRENT:  I just wouldn‘t want to characterize what they think, because there are too many people there.  I think there are a lot of people there who weren‘t surprised at all.  The good reporters who have been out there, they know what the country is thinking.

MATTHEWS:  Who writes your editorial lead on the question of who to endorse?  Is it Mr. Sulzberger, the publisher, or is it the editorial pages? 


OKRENT:  First, don‘t say you, because it‘s them.

MATTHEWS:  Editorial board.

OKRENT:  It‘s the editorial board.  Gail Collins is the editorial page editor.  And she won‘t do anything like that without consulting with Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the newspaper.

MATTHEWS:  Who made the decision to endorse Kerry? 

OKRENT:  I presume that that was a joint decision by Gail Collins and Arthur Sulzberger.  But I‘m not party to those.


OKRENT:  And I frankly, don‘t care about their endorsements.  I think that they‘re free to endorse whomever they wish and to take whatever positions they wish on the editorial pages.  My concern is the news pages. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did Bill Safire quit?  Do you know?

OKRENT:  You‘d have to ask him.  I don‘t know.  He‘s 73 years old.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to get everything out of you today.

OKRENT:  I know.

He‘s 73.  He‘s 73 years old.  And I can tell you, writing once every two weeks is hard enough.  And he‘s been doing it twice a week for over 30 years. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s like living under the windmill. 

Anyway, we‘ll be right back.  This is great.  I‘m going to try to get everything I can out of this guy, Daniel Okrent, public editor for “The New York Times.”  He‘s the first one there ever was.

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, the report on Dan Rather‘s flawed report on President Bush‘s National Guard service is due out any day now.  What effect will it have on the news business?

HARDBALL is back after this.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Daniel Okrent. 

He‘s public editor for “The New York Times.” 

Daniel, a lot of Americans, I guess on the right and many of them watching right now, would love your job because they think that “The New York Times” deserves kind of hard criticism.  Do you think it needed you? 

OKRENT:  I don‘t whether it needed me particularly.  I think that it needed somebody doing this. 

And I think it‘s really good for the paper because, if the paper shows that it‘s willing to be criticized in its own pages and to allow somebody to do this, it shows an openness that I think a lot of people wouldn‘t expect it from “The Times” and that it certainly didn‘t have in years past. 

MATTHEWS:  You said—in one of your great columns, you said that it‘s not about facts.  It‘s about fact selection, which of the facts you have at hand in front of you on a piece—like I used to, when I wrote a column, I would write 17 pieces of paper in front of me and I would write a column out of that, because they would all be little points I wanted to make.  But you said you can‘t use all the points and you have to put them in order.  And that is what journalism often comes down to, that choice.

OKRENT:  Right.

And you also have to decide whether you are going to put them on the top of the front page or bury them on page A-23. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the editor‘s decision.


OKRENT:  Absolutely.

And so every choice that‘s made is really an editorial choice and not simply a matter of objectivity.  And I think that the objectivity myth begins—really gets to be shown when you realize that I can decide that what I want to say about Chris Matthews, I could give you five facts and it may not be the Chris Matthews that his mother knew. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  In the old days, “The Washington Post” would always have the negative economic news under Nixon and “The Washington Star” would have the good economic news.  Looking at the same Labor Department numbers, they would find what they liked.

Let me ask you about an unfair column.  I read Dick Cohen—and I like Dick Cohen—in “The Washington Post” this morning, who referred to Bob Novak as odious, personal shot. 

OKRENT:  Well, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Should columnists be prevented from just taking what are obviously personal—I‘ve been a victim of.  A guy named Chuck Conconi takes shots at me all the time in “The Washingtonian,” personal shots.  Is this something that belongs in column writing or not?


OKRENT:  There‘s a guy on the Web who has got a blog called “Who Doesn‘t Hate Daniel Okrent?”


OKRENT:  I think that, in column writing, you can‘t begin to say what‘s fair or not fair in column writing.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

OKRENT:  Because somebody has opinions and maybe goes a little bit too far, but who‘s to tell them not to go too far?  Then it‘s not Dick Cohen any longer.


OKRENT:  And, presumably, we‘re paying to read him or in fact to not read him.  We‘re all free to ignore columnists we don‘t like.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about corrections.  Do you think columnists should issue them? 

OKRENT:  Yes.  I absolutely do.  And I wish they would.

MATTHEWS:  I think Broder does.  I think David Broder does. 

OKRENT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I have noticed the good guys who do it and make an effort to clean up messes they may have created over the term of writing a column.

OKRENT:  Right. 

“The Times” didn‘t even have a policy on columnist corrections until this past February.  And I can‘t say that it‘s being practiced—it‘s put into practice as much as I would like to see it.  But they‘re moving in the right direction.  And certain columnists, Maureen Dowd particularly, she has a couple times very forthrightly come forward with corrections.  Tom Friedman does it.  Certain other columnists, you can‘t twist their arm enough to get them to do it.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the White House‘s decision never to give an interview to Tom Friedman? 


MATTHEWS:  Tom Brokaw was talking about that the other night, just total news management. 

OKRENT:  Yes.  I think it‘s ridiculous.  I think it‘s not only an insult to Friedman.  It‘s more.  It‘s an insult to the readers who read Friedman.  And it‘s an insult to our democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  If you were president of the United States, would you read Maureen Dowd every day or just try to enjoy your morning? 

OKRENT:  If I were president, I would resign immediately.


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Thornburgh commission.  Last question.  It‘s coming out.  It‘s an in-house effort by the CBS network news department to try to find out if they did anything wrong with regard to the president‘s National Guard records, particularly with regards to that story which used that document which turned out to be phony. 

Do you think it‘s going to shake up the newsroom of “The New York Times” as well? 

OKRENT:  No, I don‘t think so. 

Interestingly, “The Times” was on to that story as well.  I did some reporting.  They didn‘t go with it because they weren‘t confident in the documents.  And I think that it‘s clear that somebody at CBS made a terrible mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they didn‘t look at that typewriter.  Anyway, thank you very much.  It‘s great.  I don‘t know how we got you.  You‘re a great get, as we say in this business.

OKRENT:  Nice to talk to you.

MATTHEWS:  But I would love to have you come back sometimes. 

OKRENT:  I will.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Daniel Okrent, who is public editor of “The New York Times.”

When we come back, is Europe challenging today‘s American global supremacy?  We‘re going to talk to the author who says Europe is emerging as a 21st century superpower. 

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Joining me now is T.R. Reid, who, as “The Washington Post”‘s London bureau chief, reported on the rise of the European Union.  He‘s now “The Post”‘s Rocky Mountain bureau chief.  His latest book is “The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy.”

You make an interesting point in the book and in your interviews since, Tom, that the Europeans don‘t to do what we want to do.  They don‘t want to have a big military with all the latest gadgets and rockets and all kinds of things.  They don‘t want to have Star Wars.  They want us doing all that. 


MATTHEWS:  What they want to do is have a great welfare state and let us pay for the defense of the West. 

REID:  Exactly.  That‘s their gamble, that you can be a superpower in the 21st century without military power. 

They don‘t want military power.  They would have their—as you say, their expensive welfare state.  In Europe, university education is free.  The doctors make house calls.  You never get a bill.  You retire on 80 percent pension.  If you have a baby, the government hires you at your salary to stay home for a year and raise the child.  It‘s pretty sweet.  And the reason they can do it is, we‘re paying 70 percent of the cost of NATO.  We have 100,000 soldiers stationed in Europe.  We‘re defending them.

MATTHEWS:  How much of this is a different philosophy?  If we‘re the blue states and the red states, they‘re further over from the blue states. 

REID:  Oh, they‘re way left of our blue states. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re like way left of Canada.

REID:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They believe against war, right?  They don‘t believe in war.

REID:  Exactly, because the whole reason they came together and formed this union was to eliminate war, to end wars.  They had three terrible wars, killed 60 million people through World War II.

And, afterwards, it was Winston Churchill who said, we‘ve got to stop this.  We‘ve got to form a united states of Europe.  And that‘s what they did.  And I say in my book, one thing about it is, it worked. 


REID:  In 60 years, European countries have not had a war.  And they‘re not going to.  You can go over there and see that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Churchill said right after World War II, I believe it‘s—that the secret to this whole thing would be the relationship between France and Germany.  And that‘s been sweet. 

REID:  That‘s exactly right.  He figured that out.  The French and the Germans had to work together.  They had to build steel together.  They had to do everything together and stop all these wars.  And it worked. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about us who are sentimentalists and are Europeanists, because a lot of us are European-Americans?

REID:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We come from that part of the world originally.  We like that relationship.  We like being friendly with the Germans, the French, the Brits and Spanish and the Italians and everybody else. 

Is that—the neoconservatives argue, that‘s all the past.  They‘re the old countries.  They‘re yesterday.  They‘re old Europe.  We should be forming alliances with any country willing to fight the Arabs with them. 


MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that basically what that is about, a whole new dimension, a different way of looking at alliances?  If they‘re not willing to fight on our side against the terrorists, so-called, then they‘re not reliable.  The relationship is not reliable.

REID:  That‘s exactly what they‘re saying.  I don‘t think it‘s going to work.  I don‘t think divide and conquer is going to work, because the European Union is working for these countries.  It‘s the best thing that has happened to many of the countries.

MATTHEWS:  Well, did the French buy off the terrorist threat from the Middle East? 

REID:  No, I don‘t think they bought it off.  They‘re scared of them.

MATTHEWS:  How come they don‘t get hit like we get it?

REID:  Well, that‘s a very interesting question.


MATTHEWS:  Why aren‘t they hated like we‘re hated by people like al Qaeda? 

REID:  Because they‘re not invading countries.  That‘s why.  That‘s the reason we‘re in trouble over this, the reason people don‘t like us. 

They‘ve decided that war is not the answer.  They‘re into diplomacy, international alliances kind of thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they believe that they can deal with something like al Qaeda, the organization of Islamists who attacked us 9/11?  Do they believe they can deal with them through diplomatic and economic means? 

REID:  And police means.  You talk to a European and they will tell you—and this is true—the only people who have been convicted and jailed from al Qaeda were in European countries. 

MATTHEWS:  And the French, according to the latest reports, have been very helpful to us in catching them.  They‘re very good at tracking them down.  They‘ve got the intelligence.

REID:  Yes.  And they...

MATTHEWS:  Because they have a lot of Arabic-speaking people in France, right? 

REID:  Exactly, 10 percent of the population.  And part of this unification of Europe is, they have a uniform FBI for Europe now, Europol.  And it has done a pretty good job of tracking these people down. 

MATTHEWS:  The president‘s going to try something a little subtler apparently this second term.  He went to Canada. 

REID:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course, he was protested, but he really tried to get along a bit with Martin, the new prime minister up there.

REID:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going to make a European trip fairly soon. 

REID:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the reaction to him will be any better than it was in Canada? 

REID:  Yes.  Well, not from the people on the street, no.  They hate him.


REID:  Boy, they would not have voted for Bush.  I‘ll tell you that. 

He would be toast if they could vote in our election.

But I think Schroeder, Chirac, all those people are going to talk to him, because they have to.  And they want to be a force in the world, a key...


MATTHEWS:  Why does Schroeder—I want to go through these three European leaders who fascinate me.

REID:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to get to Blair, because everybody is fascinated with Blair.

REID:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Schroeder, he welcomed a group of congressional delegates one time to his office.  And he sat there with the windows closed smoking with a big Cuban cigar.  He didn‘t offer the cigar to any members of the delegation visiting him.  He sat there very vainly smoking this big cigar, Churchill, probably, right? 

REID:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And he says, too bad you can‘t smoke these because you don‘t trade with them.  And I‘m not giving you any of mine.

What kind of diplomacy—we always say we‘re too tough on them.  Aren‘t they being a little obnoxious to us, this kind of performance by Schroeder?

REID:  They love trashing America.  America bashing is a great national pastime.

MATTHEWS:  But even in the room?  Even in the room with a bunch of guys and he wants to trash these guys? 

REID:  Well, then he went out and leaked this to the German press, that he treated American congressmen in this way.  And that really scores.  That‘s how he got reelected, by bashing America and being the anti-Bush. 

It works in Europe.

MATTHEWS:  How come Tony Blair is our friend? 

REID:  Blair I think has decided that he—his job is to be the friend of any American president.  He was like that with Clinton.  Boom, the anti-Clinton, Bush, comes into office.  He is like that with Bush.  That‘s his job.

MATTHEWS:  That was Churchill.  That was, by the way, one of Churchill‘s last bits of advice to future P.M.s.  Stay close to the United States. 

REID:  On the other hand, Blair also...

MATTHEWS:  Thatcher did.

REID:  Yes, exactly.  They all do. 

But Blair has said, Britain has to be at the heart of Europe.  He wants them to join the euro.  He wants to be a very place, a key part of Europe.  In fact, I think Tony Blair would like to be the president of Europe, a job that‘s going to be created under a new...


MATTHEWS:  So he‘s a European and he‘s also an Atlanticist.

REID:  He‘s the bridge.  That‘s his term.  He‘s the bridge nation or the pivot nation. 


Let me ask you this, because a lot of people who watch this show are -

·         they—I think they are a little nervous about this war in Iraq right now, even if they supported it because the president said it was a good thing.

REID:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s any chance that in a second Bush term or in another administration, perhaps by a Democrat later on, that this whole fight with us in Europe is going to be over with, or is it a permanent thing? 


REID:  No, not in a Bush term.  No, they really dislike Bush there.


MATTHEWS:  A more moderate, a more traditional Republican, like George Bush‘s father, comes in there, Chuck Hagel comes in.


REID:  They liked Reagan.  What, are the American people 50-50 on the war? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, on whether we should have gone.  The current number is about 50-50.

REID:  People of Europe are 85-15.  Even in the countries that are fighting on our side, the people are against it.  No, they‘re not going to... 


MATTHEWS:  Why do you think they‘re fighting? 

REID:  They think we‘re fighting for oil.  They think we‘re fighting because we‘ve got soldiers and therefore we‘ve got to use them somewhere.  They have a lot of crazy ideas about why we‘re fighting, but we‘ve never explained to them in a way they can understand why we‘re fighting. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we have in our future a return to the American-European alliance that we grew up with? 

REID:  No, I think it‘s—No.  I argue in my book, the Atlantic‘s getting wider.  They see themselves as the un-America.  They want to be a counterweight to us.  They‘ve got more people.  They‘ve got more GDP.  They have more trade.  And they act like one country in Europe.  You get to the U.N. and suddenly they have 25 votes, so they outvote us on every...

MATTHEWS:  Friend or foe, what are they, Europe?

REID:  Partner, is what they‘d say, counterweight, mainly friend.  They‘re democrats.  They believe in free democratic principles.  They believe in free markets. 


REID:  That‘s got to be a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  How about the personal level?  When Americans travel there next summer or the rest of their life—everybody who retires wants to go to Europe at least once.

REID:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to be treated as friend or foe? 

REID:  No.  They like us.  They‘re fine.  They like our culture.  The thing they are going to do for us is gouge us, because our dollar is so weak.  It‘s going to cost like...


MATTHEWS:  I heard that prices in Europe are unbelievable right now.

REID:  Yes.  Not in euros.

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t afford a taxi from the airport.  That‘s what I hear now.

REID:  No.  You got to take the train from the airport. 


REID:  That‘s absolutely right.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Tom Reid, T.R. Reid, “The United States of Europe,” a big idea.  And we‘re getting it from him.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  I‘ll sit down with his majesty King Abdullah of Jordan to talk about the future of the Arab world.  The king is going to be with me.  And what needs to be done, he‘s going to tell us, to achieve peace in the Middle East.  There‘s a hot topic.  And then, on Friday, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is going to join me right here at this table.

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



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