updated 2/28/2005 8:33:10 AM ET 2005-02-28T13:33:10

Guest: Margaret Carlson, Stephen Hayes, Anthony Padovano, William Donahue, John Ward Anderson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  A suicide bombing in Tel Aviv kills at least three people and jeopardizes the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

A Palestinian suicide bomber has blown himself up outside a nightclub in Tel Aviv.  It is the first suicide attack since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a cease-fire earlier this month meant to end four years of violence. 

NBC‘s Martin Fletcher joins us now from Tel Aviv. 

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Chris. 

The calm here was shattered tonight by a huge bomb blast in a crowded Tel Aviv nightclub that took everyone here by complete surprise. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FLETCHER (voice-over):  Eleven-twenty at night here in the heart of Tel Aviv‘s nightclub area close to the beach.  Dozens of young people are waiting to get into the Stage nightclub when suddenly an explosion tore through the crowd.  A burst of flame and heat and metal shrapnel sliced through the air, at least four people killed and more than 50 wounded. 

A string of ambulances arrived within minutes and raced the wounded to nearby hospitals.  Eyewitnesses said there were two suspicious people among the crowd, but nobody had time to act before a suicide bomber blew himself up.  It‘s believed the bomber came from the West Bank town of Tulcam (ph).  It is not clear which group is responsible, but the blast has shattered an unofficial truce between Palestinian militants and Israel. 

The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned the attack.  One official said, whoever was behind the bomb was trying to sabotage the efforts being made to revive the peace process. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLETCHER:  Tonight, Israel said the Palestinian Authority had failed to prevent terror.  The spokesman said it is no good to maintain a dialogue with militants.  Israel wants the Palestinian Authority to destroy the militant organizations and not negotiate with them—Chris.  

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, what happened to the wall separating Israel from the territories?  Why didn‘t it work this time? 

FLETCHER:  Well, that wall, Chris, is still there, of course.  The Israelis say they‘re going to continue building it.  And, in fact, the area from which the Israelis say they believe the bomber came, Tulcam, actually, there‘s a wall right in front of it.  So, it is not clear what effect that wall had.  Clearly, if he came from Tulcam, it didn‘t stop him. 

But there‘s still plenty of areas along the line between Israel and the West Bank where there is no wall and it is pretty easy for any suicide bomber to get through.  The way to stop them, the Israelis say, is by the Palestinian Authority security organization.  They can‘t rely only on that wall.

MATTHEWS:  As of this moment, do we know who is responsible? 

FLETCHER:  Well, Islamic Jihad originally claimed responsibility, at least, according to the press, in Beirut.  Then Hezbollah in Beirut was accused by different organizations.  It‘s not clear who is responsible.  It is going back and forwards. 

But the main point, according to Israel tonight, to Israel‘s spokesman, is that the Palestinian Authority, Israel says, is responsible for stopping any organization that wants to send suicide bombers, but that truce that the Israelis and Palestinians have been maintaining for almost three months now, unofficial truce, shattered tonight, not clear yet by whom. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the targeting of this nightclub.  This seems to be a pattern here.  Do the terrorists look for these crowded groups of young people as a very clarion call to their call or what?  Why nightclubs right there on the sea? 

FLETCHER:  Well, Chris, you‘ve been here.  You know, it is a very painful thing, of course, to attack the young people in their innocence, if you like, young people, boys and girls going tonight clubs. 

First of all, it is a very easy target, because that‘s where you get -

·         where you get concentrations of people, in the evening, at night.  Where else would the terrorists go?  This is an easy target.  But you know what?  One thing tonight that stopped an even worse death toll, according to the Tel Aviv police chief, he said the security guards at that nightclub recognized the suicide bomber, stopped him from going inside.  If he had gone inside, there would have been a lot more dead and wounded. 

At the moment, as far as we know, only—well, not only, but four dead and more—about 50 wounded.  So, yes, it is an attractive target, nightclubs, because of the concentrations of young people.  And among—I think, what, 120 suicide bombs, is it now, in the last four years, a good many of them in nightclubs in the Tel Aviv area. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much for the grim report, Martin Fletcher in Tel Aviv.

John Ward Anderson is a reporter for “The Washington Post.”  He is on the phone from Jerusalem. 

Mr. Anderson, thank you much for joining us tonight. 

Let‘s talk about the impact of this suicide bombing.  How much time do you believe Mahmoud Abbas has to do something? 

JOHN WARD ANDERSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, you know, I think Israel is probably going to be somewhat restrained in their response.  The Israeli officials have said all along that they did not expect complete 100 percent -- 100 percent quiet and that they would be patient and not immediately respond to something like this. 

You know, that having been said, a suicide bombing, as opposed to attacks on Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip or something, is the kind of thing that really strikes an emotional chord among the Israelis.  And there will be a lot of pressure for Sharon to respond somehow.  Abbas has been working reasonable hard at trying to get these various militant groups to agree to a cease-fire. 

And, in fact, tonight, although Islamic jihad, one cell claimed responsibility, the leaders of Islamic Jihad down in Gaza have denied responsibility.  So I think there is going to be a lot of pressure on Abbas to do something quickly.  But I‘m not sure what he can do, to tell you the truth.  He doesn‘t have a lot of power.  He doesn‘t have a lot of forces and he doesn‘t have a lot of popularity in the streets. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he capable or would it even be smart politics for Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian entity right now or the territories, would it be smart for him to just round up the usual suspects?  Or wouldn‘t that work?  Does he have to really catch the bad guys? 

ANDERSON:  You know, I don‘t think that would work.  Every time you arrest one or kill one, they‘ve all got brothers.  They‘ve all got cousins.  And there are brigades that follow them.  You need—the Palestinians say what you need here is a political resolution to this problem, not a military one.  Going out and arresting people trying disarm militant groups they claim is not going to solve the problem. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he has to rely on the unusual or unexpected occurrence of the people who committed this attack, this suicide attack, admitting it publicly so he‘ll know who to go after.  Is that likely? 

ANDERSON:  Well, look, they have pretty good security organizations and I‘m sure that they have lots of informants who might be able to help them find (INAUDIBLE) As a matter of fact, the Palestinians have often used (INAUDIBLE) to set up a joint investigative committee.

So, my sense is that they‘re going to find out who this person is.  They almost always identify the bomber in these cases.  The real question is, look, there are a lot of small cells.  And this is part of the problem with this whole conflict.  Every small cell in every little village out in the West Bank can basically destroy the peace process on its own, without having to abide by a hierarchy within a military organization. 

Anybody who can strap a bomb can go destroy the peace process.  So, that‘s one of the real problems here in trying to resolve this.  You can make an agreement with the leaders of these militant groups, but that doesn‘t mean that every little cell that is a member is going to abide by it. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re talking to John Ward Anderson of “The Washington Post” over there in Jerusalem on the phone. 

Let me ask you a last question.  We might be losing you here gradually.  Let me ask you about this.  I‘ve always thought—tell me if I‘m wrong—that for a Palestinian leader to really become a significant partner with the Israelis, he has to be willing to kill Arabs who kill Israelis.  Do you think there‘s any sign that this guy, Mahmoud Abbas, will be willing to meet that test? 

ANDERSON:  I think it is a little too early to tell. 

I think that he started out by saying that he wants to do this by negotiation and persuasion.  And I think what he really needs to do, or what he thinks and analysts say that he needs to do is show the Israeli public that he tried that and—and—and made a good-faith effort. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ANDERSON:  At then, at the end of that, if it hasn‘t worked, then he can make the argument that I tried that and now we have got to use the guns.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ANDERSON:  And we‘ve got to go in and do it with force.  And, in that case, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Got to go, John.

John Ward Anderson of “The Washington Post,” great report from Jerusalem on the phone. 

Coming up, Pope John Paul II recovers from Thursday‘s tracheotomy.  But questions about his health have led to a debate.  Is there a time for a pope to retire? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the Vatican says Pope John Paul II is recovering from his tracheotomy.  But is there ever a time for a pope to retire?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:   The pope‘s frail health has reignited debate about whether the 84-year-old pontiff should retire. 

William Donahue is the president of the Catholic League and is opposed to the idea of the pope stepping down.  And Anthony Padovano is a Catholic theologian.  And he thinks it is time for the pope to retire. 

Anthony, give us the case for the pope to retire.  It is an unusual event. 

ANTHONY PADOVANO, CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN:  Well, I‘m not quite sure if this is the moment. 

What I wanted to make clear is that there has to be a time when we say a pope must retire. If a pope goes into a coma, if he suffers dementia, if he clearly cannot handle the affairs of his own office, that‘s an issue that every family in the world faces.  A time comes when people cannot do the particular tasks that they‘ve been doing.  That certainly that doesn‘t mean that they don‘t continue their calling, that they don‘t continue to serve. 

When bishops or pastors of parishes give up those pastoral appointments, they continue also to serve.  So, I mean, the pope will be a servant of God for his entire life.  Whether he should be managing an organization of one billion people is a question that needs to be settled by the church, not only for this pope, but for any pope in the future. 

MATTHEWS:  Who should make the decision, Anthony? 

PADOVANO:  Well, at the present moment, under canon law, only the pope can do that.  But what do you do if the pope goes into a coma or dementia?  Obviously, someone else has to do that. 

One of the problems in the church‘s canon law is that it hasn‘t worked out a structure to deal with those things.  What do we do with a pope who is no longer competent or able to make decisions? 

MATTHEWS:  Bill—let me go to Bill Donahue.

It seems like this pope wants to serve until he dies.  Does he have the choice as you see as to whether to retire? 

WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE:  Well, certainly, he has the choice.  I think that was made clear by the secretary of state, Angelo Sodano.

And I think what Anthony said bears some merit.  And I was particularly glad to see that he was sensitive to the fact that, you know, the timing of this is very important.  Once the pope passes away, if the Vatican wants to entertain this kind of discussion, like what we did in this country when—during FDR‘s time, we had a constitutional amendment process at a later date, that might be suitable, but not at this moment. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the whole question that‘s been raised here about the pope being in a coma.  I‘ve been studying up on this, like a lot of other journalists, in preparation for whatever may happen and when it happens, the pope passing away.  And one of the things I learned is, there‘s a tradition that‘s so wondering old and ancient that to determine the death of a pope, someone goes up to him and ask him three times, calls him three times by his name.  And if he doesn‘t respond, he‘s dead. 

But what does that say about a coma?  He obviously couldn‘t respond in that case. 

Bill? 

DONAHUE:  Well, let‘s face it.  His mental acuity is at a state where nobody is questioning that.  I mean, you‘re talking about something which could happen.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DONAHUE:  But I can tell you this much, Chris.  I‘m looking over my files on the pope today.  And I find this wonderful article.  It was really good in “The New York Times” magazine saying that the buzz in Rome is, he is on his last days.  That was written 10 years ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DONAHUE:  Then we find out that, six years ago, in 1999, Rosemary Radford Ruether, who is a dissident theologian, she was asked if she was going to the pope when he comes to Saint Louis.  She says, no, he is on his last legs.  Why bother to protest?  He‘s going to be dead soon.  And here he keeps going.  This guy has got more energy than the Energizer—

Energizer bunnies.  He just keeps on going and going.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a great thing.  He is obviously an athlete, a great actor in the old days.  He is a man of tremendous vitality, even in his Parkinson‘s at this stage. 

I guess the question—the surprising thing doing the research, Anthony, and you can fill us in on this.  I would appreciate it if you would, that there have been popes in the distant past, going back to the 15th century—I heard it was Gregory XII in 1415.  He did leave the papacy before his death.  There was four or five other cases.  What has been the—what is the history of popes not serving until death? 

PADOVANO:  Yes, we‘ve had six popes that most historians would say were bona fide retirements.  There were two of them in the first millennium.  There were two of them during the 11th century.  And then there was Sallust (ph) in the 5th, who actually was canonized a saint after he left the papacy. 

And Gregory XII, as you said quite correctly.  So, the idea of retirement is already built into the church‘s history and system.  To say that it can‘t happen is certainly something that cannot be maintained.  The longest reigning pontiff was Pius IX, 31 years, about 150 years ago.

And during that time, one of the cardinals, John Henry Newman made it quite clear that no pope should serve more than 20 years, that the pope should retire.  So, theologically, there‘s no problem with this happening.  And, historically, it has happened on a number of occasions in the past.  That did not damage the papacy, nor did it even damage the reputation or the service that the people who resigned were able to continue to maintain. 

MATTHEWS:  Bill, I guess the question, it‘s up to the pope.  We can argue all we want, but this pope seems determined to serve until death.  I read a quote here, there‘s no place for an emeritus pope, he once said.  So, he doesn‘t want to fill that role.

DONAHUE:  Well, that‘s right.

But, I mean, you know, I think somehow we have got this imagery that we have got this enormous bureaucracy and we have this man at the command controls and if he‘s not there to run things, it somehow doesn‘t work. 

Any institution that‘s been around globally for 2,000 years is on automatic pilot.  He is not making decisions in Kenya any more than he‘s making decisions in Kansas.  He makes decisions on saints and bishops.  The rest of it, it really is much more automatic pilot than what a lot of people give it credit for. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, a lot of critics would say, Bill, that those decisions and that oversight hasn‘t been handled well, especially in this country, and that we need a pope who has the firm hand of control and can clean up some of these diocese. 

DONAHUE:  Well, I‘m with you on that.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.  I know you‘ve been tough on this and honest on this.  Thank you very much, Bill Donahue.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you...

PADOVANO:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Anthony Padovano.

PADOVANO:  Thank you, Bill.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll have you back. 

DONAHUE:  Thank you, Anthony.

MATTHEWS:  As this story develops.  We all love the pope.  Let‘s see what happens.

Why are so many Americans, wounded troops left to fight for medical benefits when they come home here? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Army National Guard and Reservists make up almost half of the U.S.  fighting force in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But hundreds who were injured in combat have lost their pay and medical coverage and many of the wounded require months of rehabilitation.  So why are our soldiers not getting health benefits for their injuries? 

Paul Rieckhoff the executive director of Operation Truth.  And Retired Army Colonel Ken Allard is an MSNBC military analyst. 

Paul, who is not getting the treatment they deserve for having fought for us overseas? 

PAUL RIECKHOFF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OPERATION TRUTH:  Well, I think it is mostly the National Guardsmen and the Reservists, Chris.  And you‘re right.  They make up roughly 42 percent of our fighting force in Iraq. 

And they‘ve been neglected and underfunded for decades.  So, what you‘ve seen is a series of Band-Aid solutions to try to remedy that problem.  And the recent testimony before the DAO—GAO—by some of these National Guardsmen and the Reservists really bring to light problems that we as veterans have known about for over a year now. 

Senator Bond brought this issue up back in October of 2003.  And now we‘re hearing excuses about why it hasn‘t happened already. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s get specific before we bring Colonel Allard in.

RIECKHOFF:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are people—let me—we‘ve just spent some time with people who have had serious injury, people who have been suffering amputations of a couple limbs and arms, etcetera. 

Are those kinds of people coming back with those kinds of wounds not getting treatment? 

RIECKHOFF:  Yes.  Unfortunately, they are. 

And the problem is that they‘re also dealing with a suffocating bureaucracy.  That‘s really where we‘re seeing major shortfalls here, is that they have to not only deal with their amputations or blindness or mental trauma.  They‘ve also got to navigate a ridiculous maze of red tape.  And the Army keeps telling excuses about how they haven‘t planned for this. 

They haven‘t built out the system.  Well, the big question is, why not? 

And why is it taking so long? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s—I want to go to Colonel Allard right now.

Is this the case that you understand, that people aren‘t getting treatment for war injuries? 

COL. KEN ALLARD, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Chris, as I understand it, the problem is the fact that we simply had not geared our military medical system around the needs of the Reservists, simply because of the fact that we had pretty much figured out how to call these guys back to active duty, how to deploy them, even how to train them. 

But figuring out how to treat them long-term, trying to make sure that the medical treatment and their terms of service or enlistment, that those things had some correlation to each other, that‘s where the system has begun to really fall down. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Paul again.

Paul, give me a couple of examples.  Give me one rich example of a person who suffered an injury in combat or on duty who hasn‘t been treated. 

RIECKHOFF:  Well, I‘ll give you an example of a guy I served with who had a knee injury who was at Fort Stewart, Georgia, as a National Guardsman.

After the rest of the unit came home from Iraq, he was forced to stay at Fort Stewart and deal with his knee injury, going on and off of active duty, having to deal with service orders, while his family was in Pensacola hundreds of miles away.  So, they could have very easily let that soldier go back to his home unit, placed him with a unit closer to home and not put that tremendous toll on his family and forced them to go back and forth hundreds of miles every weekend and try to help him rehabilitate himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Why, Colonel, do they keep asking these Guardsmen to keep reenlisting, to go active? 

ALLARD:  Well, basically, it is because they simply have not understood that what happens when a kid gets injured, that may or may not be related to his obligated term of service. 

And what we need to do is to find some kind of solution in which, when this kid is injured, when this kid is wounded, that he is simply kept on active duty for the length of time that is required for him to be treated, for him to be rehabilitated.  These two things historically have very little to do with each other. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me read you something, gentlemen, from the deputy chief of staff for personnel U.S. Army.  And this is Army talk.  So, please, interpret it, Colonel and Paul. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  “If a Reserve member is found by military medical authority to be unable to perform normal military duties, and if the medical condition requires treatment that will extend beyond 30 days to voluntarily submit a written request for placement into active duty for medical care.”

You have got to sign up again to get medical care.  “The soldier is put on active duty pending the resolution of their medical condition or completion of the physical disability evaluation system.”

What does that mean, Colonel? 

ALLARD:  Well, that is bafflegab. 

But it simply means that we are treating as individual cases something which should be treated as an act of policy, maybe even as an act of legislation, whereby, if this kid is injured, if he is wounded, for the time it takes to treat him, for the time it takes to rehabilitate him, he is simply kept on active duty, so that absolutely eliminates any possible ambiguity. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me right now go to Paul and a simple question. 

Let me lay out to you a simple case.  A member of the National Guard has reached the end of his tour, but he is still suffering from the fact he lost a leg.  He is in treatment.  What does he have to do to keep that treatment up once he goes off active? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Does he have to go back on active?

RIECKHOFF:  No.  He can transition to the VA, but the problem there is that we have got the VA running full steam ahead in one direction and the DOD in another direction.  The two aren‘t really talking.  And that‘s where we really see the cracks that many soldiers are falling into now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, who would you rather be treated by, the DOD, the Defense Department, or would you rather be treated by the VA?

RIECKHOFF:  To be honest with you, most of these guys will take any kind of treatment.  That‘s the problem, is that they‘re dropped off active duty.  And you‘re talking about people who are not making a lot of money here.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RIECKHOFF:  And a month without pay is a significant amount to a lower-level enlisted soldier, a specialist or a sergeant.

ALLARD:  Absolutely. 

RIECKHOFF:  That‘s a tremendous amount of money for them to lose for a month.  And they‘re trying to make a mortgage payment, a car payment.  And they can‘t wait around for some bureaucrat to find out where their paperwork is. 

If they really support the troops, they have got to get serious here and allocate the money for the proper physical therapist, the proper evaluators, and the bureaucrats and office workers who are going to push this paperwork, because these guys are dealing with enough already, without having to deal with all this additional burden. 

MATTHEWS:  Colonel, is this an attempt by the military to save money by simply making it more difficult through red tape to get treatment?  Or is it just a screw-up that can be fixed? 

ALLARD:  This is just a screw-up that can and should be fixed. 

I would just tell that you the Veterans Administration is not the agency that you want to place in charge of training these people who are wounded on active duty.  The Veterans Administration is for guys like me who have long since left active service.  That‘s where we get our medical care.

The active component and even the people on active duty who have been wounded in this—in Iraq, they ought to be treated by the DOD until such time as it‘s proven that they‘re capable of returning to civilian life. 

MATTHEWS:  Paul, we‘re going to keep trying to bring attention to these kinds of problems affecting the people with the guts and patriotism to serve our country.  And I mean that completely. 

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for bringing this case to our attention.

MATTHEWS:  And, thank you, Colonel Allard, for straightening us some of this stuff for us. 

ALLARD:  You bet. 

RIECKHOFF:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  “The Weekly”—“The Weekly Standard”‘s Stephen Hayes and “TIME” magazine‘s Margaret Carlson see things differently over this week‘s top political stories.  They‘re coming up. 

And later, film critic Roger Ebert—he‘s good—tells us what to look for at the Oscars this weekend.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush is back home following his week-long trip to Europe.  The White House is calling the tour a success.  No surprise there.  But did it help repair our relations with Europe, torn over the war in Iraq, and did his meeting with Russian President Putin on working together to control nuclear terrorism help make this country, our country, any safer? 

Stephen Hayes writes for “The Weekly Standard” and Margaret Carlson is a contributing editor at “TIME” magazine.

That‘s a tough question, but I give it you, sir.  Are we safer because of this meeting between the president and the president of Russia over how to control all those thousands of nuclear weapons that are still alive over there and useful in a dangerous way in Russia? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Yes.  I would say, marginally, I think we probably are a little bit safer.  I mean, any time you‘re talking about controlling these loose nukes, which I think is one thing that Democrats have been talking that about for quite some time, where they actually have a good point about the president and about his war on terror. 

What are we doing to control these loose nukes?  They‘ve been a problem for a long time.  We saw Porter Goss in front of the Senate say that we couldn‘t account for so many of them.  Any time you‘re talking about accounting for them, any time you‘re talking about keeping track of them, you‘re on the road to making us safer.

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t we just get rid of it?  We don‘t we tell the Russians to get rid of it?

HAYES:  Well, I don‘t think the Russians would necessarily listen to us if we said just get rid of them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We might have to buy them one at a time. 

Margaret, can we put them in what Al Gore used to call a lockbox? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, really, I don‘t like them out there pointing this way. 

MARGARET CARLSON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “TIME”:  Listen, lockbox turned into a joke, but his lockbox on Social Security and certainly weapons would be a good idea. 

All Bush would have to do would be to fully fund the Lugar-Nunn program for nailing these things down. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s named after Richard Lugar of Indiana...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  And Sam Nunn. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  But every report you get is that they‘re out there and that the money hasn‘t been provided to get them. 

And he didn‘t talk Europe into not selling arms to China. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARLSON:  And he didn‘t talk them into many troops helping out with the training.  And he did not really come up with anything on Iran, as far as I can tell. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, if we weren‘t so intellectual about this, and we were regular people, Stephen and Margaret, we would be thinking, you know, we keep working about the Iraqis getting a nuclear weapon.  They didn‘t get one in time to hurt us.  We keep working about the Iranians finally getting one.  And we worry about that fellow up in North Korea having them. 

But isn‘t the easy evident way to get—if somebody was rich, and we knew them, we‘d say, you want a nuclear weapon, you go to these Russian engineers.  They‘re out of work.  They‘re dying because of the oligarchs over there.  Give them a couple million bucks and get a nuclear weapon.  Isn‘t that still the biggest danger?

HAYES:  Look, I think it is entirely possible that some of these terrorist groups may have some form of nuclear weapon. 

I mean, we‘re that far sort of behind.  So anything you can do to catch up I think is a good thing to do.  And I think this was a positive step.  It needs to happen faster. 

MATTHEWS:  And both these guys—this is a rare occurrence where both have a common interest, right, Margaret?  Why wouldn‘t Putin want to have this stuff locked up for good?

CARLSON:  He might.  But there are so many differences. 

And Bush, the cowboy in chief, was holstering his gun there.  But I figured out what he saw when he looked into Putin‘s soul.  He saw himself, because Putin proves to be very stubborn.  He didn‘t give an inch.  He didn‘t even say these were frank and candid discussions.  He just ignored Bush on almost everything he brought up. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk a bit about that, that issue of democracy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s a little pushy for a leader of one country to tell a leader of another country, you know, I don‘t think you should have appointed governorships.  I think they should be elective.  Isn‘t that a little bit invasive? 

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES:  Well, look, there was no way for the president to come out of this and make his critics happy. 

On the one hand, if he didn‘t confront Putin, people were going to say, oh, the president went soft.  He is not really following what he said in his inaugural address. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HAYES:  He doesn‘t really mean it.

MATTHEWS:  About extending democracy throughout the world. 

HAYES:  About extending democracy and about confronting Putin. 

I think, by confronting Putin and by laying these things out on the table and saying, look, you have got to be serious.  We consider you an ally, but you need to be serious about democracy.  Russia is the only democracy—this has been said many times over the course of the week—that has actually gone in the other direction over the past 15 years.  It is a serious problem.  I think the president deserves credit for challenging Putin and for laying these things out on the table.  I would have actually liked to have heard him been a little bit tougher. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But what is our stick here? 

HAYES:  Well, I think our stick is that, you know, the president has staked his foreign policy on the spread of democracy.  He has said that‘s a good in and of itself.  We need to spread democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  But what is the president‘s stick against Putin?  How does he get Putin to do something Putin obviously doesn‘t want to do, which is liberalize his country? 

HAYES:  Well, I think one of the ways he does it is by raising it in a public forum like this and calling him on the table on it and start the discussion. 

CARLSON:  And doing it finally, because he‘s let it go a long time. 

HAYES:  He has, but you have to give him credit.  I mean, he called Putin on the Ukrainian elections.  He has challenged Putin several times.  This is somebody, as you said, who Bush...

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES:  ... look into his soul.

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, what do you make of President Putin confronting

our—or, rather, his reporters in the room—they may have been ringers

·         they may have been Jeff Gannons...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But there was a couple Russian reporters over there in Slovakia in Bratislava who confronted the president, our president, with the charge that he‘s had a couple of reporters fired. 

CARLSON:  I know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are they talking about Judy Miller and Matt Cooper and being asked to testify or what? 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  An urban legend that Putin believes that, somehow, the White House can actually fire reporters, not that anybody leaves, not the Jeff Gannon story.  I...

MATTHEWS:  Well, apparently, apparently, though, they can employ reporters, like this guy Jeff Gannon, who comes into the White House, no apparent means of support except this blogging operation. 

CARLSON:  Well, by the way, do we feel safer?  I don‘t feel safer knowing that you can get into the White House using an alias, which Jeff Gannon did. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of this guy?  You‘re a real reporter.  What do you think of this guy who says he‘s a—he operates under a different name.  He‘s a blogger, I guess.  But he has always got time on his hands to sit in the White House press room all day. 

HAYES:  Well, it certainly raises questions about the screening process, to say the very least. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES:  But, look, at the end of the day, if we‘re worried about too many conservatives in the White House press briefing room, this is a discussion that is not going to resonate with the American public. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying most of those people who are paid to be journalists in that room are liberals?

HAYES:  Yes, of course. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?  Is that true? 

HAYES:  I don‘t think there‘s any—is there a debate about that? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s Helen Thomas, who I would call liberal.  But who else is in there?  Seriously.  There are a lot of straight reporters in that room. 

CARLSON:  I think they‘re mostly straight reporters.  And I don‘t think you can keep your job otherwise. 

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES:  Well, I don‘t think—I don‘t think these are people who necessarily go in and are ready to wield an ideological axe. 

I think that many of them are informed sort of by a conventional-wisdom, liberal world view.  And their questions reflect that. 

CARLSON:  No.

But Elisabeth Bumiller reports for “The New York Times,” which has a liberal editorial page.  But she plays it straight down the middle. 

HAYES:  She does not play it straight down the middle.

CARLSON:  I think these get confused. 

HAYES:  Look, she is a good reporter.  She‘s a smart reporter.  She is a liberal reporter.  There‘s no question.  You can go back and look at her columns, one after another after another of her articles.

CARLSON:  She doesn‘t write columns. 

HAYES:  Well, we can debate that.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES:  Her news articles. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” and the major journals like “The L.A. Times” are still packed with liberal writers? 

HAYES:  Yes, I think, by and large, they are.  I agree...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  When you look at the front page of “The Post” or “The Times,” it is exactly what the White House said.  You open saying the White House is pleased with Bush‘s trip.  Well, yes.  And that‘s what they do. 

The whole front page is reporting on what the White House has dished out.

HAYES:  I don‘t remember the White House saying, we lied about WMD.  I mean, that was on the front page of “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” for months. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t think I saw the word lied.  But, in fact, they didn‘t level about weapons of mass destruction. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  So you call it as it is. 

MATTHEWS:  “The New York Times”probably is more a liberal paper.  I don‘t think “The Post” is anymore.  And I think other papers like “The Inquirer” in Philadelphia are probably liberal papers. 

But—and by the way, I disagree with you.  I think it is also the news sections.  I sense it, because I also listen...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  So Elisabeth Bumiller is writing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.  No.  No.  Not—I would never single anybody out, because I don‘t think she is, actually, in her case.

CARLSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But I do think that we‘re separated, since we‘ve entered this discussion, which is never going to end, cable television, with the exception of this show, is pretty conservative.  I don‘t know where I‘m at sometimes.  Talk radio is pretty damn conservative.  I don‘t know how many successful liberal people out—we‘ll see how Franken does.

But the major newspapers and the prime-time—rather, the network, broadcast network news shows, I think are balanced off by these new media.  I think it is a fact.  I don‘t know who is going to win this war, but you don‘t think it is alive out there, a battle of the media between left and right? 

CARLSON:  Oh, it‘s totally alive. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it is a very hot fight and probably good for the country. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Unless you only watch one.  

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  But cable is, we don‘t report, you decide.  It‘s all, it seems to me, skewed. 

HAYES:  No, there‘s plenty of good reporting, I think, on all of the cable stations, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  At night, almost everything is skewed one way or the other. 

HAYES:  Sure, but at least it‘s labeled.  I mean, I think that‘s the major difference between cable and what you get on the front page of “The New York Times” sometimes, is that it‘s labeled as opinion.

MATTHEWS:  So, right now, you think we need to have at least one clear-cut ringer in the White House press room on the right to balance off what you see...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES:  I‘m not pro-ringer.  I don‘t want to be known as pro-ringer. 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  Who has a porn Web site on the side. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... something to do with porn.  The only porn name—he says—I loved it when Scott McClellan says, a lot of people use aliases.  And the only one I could think of was Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights,” the porn star.  I said, I don‘t know many people at all.  Marilyn Chambers?  Who are these people that have these names?  Anyway...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  And how many who get into the White House? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We have ranged too far, Stephen Hayes, Margaret Carlson.

They‘re playing HARDBALL in Hollywood this weekend at the Oscars.  And when we come back, film critic Roger Ebert—he‘s one of the big ones—is going to join us—I think he‘s the best—on some of picks, who is going to win.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, it‘s Oscar weekend.  Film critic Roger Ebert will be here with his favorite movies when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  For over 35 years, Roger Ebert has been telling us what he thinks about movies with his reviews in “The Chicago Sun-Times” and through his TV appearances.  He‘s also written dozens of books on film.  His latest is, “The Great Movies II,” which includes essays on 100 of the best films he think were ever produced.  And for a guy who has seen tens of thousands of movies in his career, that‘s a notable honor. 

Roger Ebert is here with us now and this evening to talk movies and the Oscars.

Roger, thank you very much.

Let‘s talk about a movie.  Let‘s look at it for the people who haven‘t seen it.  “Million Dollar Baby.” 

ROGER EBERT, FILM CRITIC:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And then I want to talk to you about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MILLION DOLLAR BABY”)

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR:  Is this your speed bag? 

HILARY SWANK, ACTRESS:  It‘s yours behind the counter.  I wish could I wore it out. 

EASTWOOD:  Hold it.  Hold it.  I‘ll show you a few things and then we‘ll get you a trainer. 

SWANK:  No.  Sorry. 

EASTWOOD:  You‘re in the position to negotiate? 

SWANK:  Yes, sir, because I know, if you train me right, I‘m going to be a champ.  I seen you looking at me. 

EASTWOOD:  Yes, out of pity. 

SWANK:  Don‘t you say that.  Don‘t you say that if it ain‘t true. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Roger Ebert, favorite movie? 

EBERT:  Yes.  Best movie of the year. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree completely.  Let me ask you about...

EBERT:  Probably will win the Oscar. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I‘m dreaming.  I‘m hoping. 

Let me ask you this.  I get emotional thinking just about this movie. 

Let me ask you this.  Why are people trying to destroy it? 

EBERT:  Well, there are people who disagreed with an action that is taken at the end of the movie. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

EBERT:  And the fact is, Chris, I disagree with that action, too. 

But what kind of movies would there be if the people in the movies could only do what we approve of? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I don‘t like gangsters.  I don‘t like gangsters either, but I like “The Godfather.”

EBERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t like slavery, but I liked “Gone With the Wind.” 

What‘s the point here?  What‘s Medved up to and those guys?

EBERT:  I think that these people—these people in this movie, in this story, would do what they do.  It‘s not what I approve of, but I don‘t think the movie argues for it.  I think the movie causes us to want to come out and talk about it and think about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let me—let‘s take a look at another movie I think has gotten a lot less attention, and it deserves it.  Let‘s take a look at a clip form a movie that was magical, at least to me, “Finding Neverland.”

EBERT:  Yes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FINDING NEVERLAND”)

KATE WINSLET, ACTRESS:  Last one in gets a hairy toad.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I won‘t.

(CROSSTALK)

WINSLET:  I‘m afraid I‘ve grown hopelessly lax in  my discipline. 

JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR:  Nonsense.  Young boys should never be sent to bed.  They always wake up a day older.  And then, before you know it, they are grown. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, if that wasn‘t the way that “Treasure Island” was created, it sure looked good there. 

EBERT:  You know, the amazing thing about Johnny Depp is how versatile he is.  If you stop to think, in the last year or so, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the Stephen King thriller “Secret Window,” “Finding Neverland.”  Now he has got a movie coming out called “The Libertine,” where he plays a 17th century French rake.

Then he is going to make “Pirates 2.”  This guy can do everything.  He is so versatile, when you think of “Sleepy Hollow” and “Edward Scissorhands” and all of these films that he‘s been in.

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, Roger Ebert talks about some of the great movies of all time and some that he didn‘t initially like, but grew to love. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

We‘ve been talking about movies with film critic Roger Ebert.  And I asked him whether there are any movies that he didn‘t much of initially, but then later realized were very good movies. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EBERT:  You know, there‘s a movie in the book that you talked about called “Plains, Trains and Automobiles.”

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

EBERT:  And when I saw it, I gave it three stars.  I thought it was a nice movie.  And then I realized, after a while, our family was looking at it every Thanksgiving.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

EBERT:  It kind of colonized my mind.  It was important to me.  It grew on my imagination.  And I realized, you know, we tend to dismiss comedy sometimes. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

EBERT:  This is a good film.  It is a better film than I thought it was. 

MATTHEWS:  And John Candy was great. 

EBERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And Steve Martin.

EBERT:  His best performance. 

MATTHEWS:  I love—the one like that for me is “The Mummy.”

EBERT:   Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Which is dismissed as sort of an old monster movie.  But when you go back to see it, it‘s almost perfect on a $5,000 budget. 

(CROSSTALK)

EBERT:  Yes, sometimes, there‘s a movie like that, that you only gradually realize how good it really is. 

MATTHEWS:  I looked in your book.  And there‘s movies here probably people watching will disagree with their love, but there‘s like “Bridge on the River Kwai.”  There‘s “Annie Hall.”  There‘s “Five Easy Pieces,” “Patton,” “Jules and Jim,” “Romeo and Juliet,” the Zeffirelli version, “Shane” and “The Searchers.” 

I want to ask you about “The Searchers.”  I‘ve always been a “Searchers.”  nut. 

EBERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did that not become—it was early—mid -- ‘56 it came out.  What happened?  Why—was it the end of the period?  I think you wrote about it.  You did write about it here.  You talked about how it was at the end of the cowboy period. 

(CROSSTALK)

EBERT:  It was a time when westerns were kind of becoming a little passe, I think.  And it never really broke through, but it became classic anyway.  And it inspired a lot of other movies.  For example, “Taxi driver,” Martin Scorsese, is based on or inspired by “The Searchers.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Paul Shaffort?  What‘s his name?  Paul..

EBERT:  Paul Schrader.

MATTHEWS:  Paul Schrader wrote it.

Let me ask you about “The Searchers.”  It‘s about a John Wayne character probably I think up there with “Red River” as the best John Wayne.

EBERT:  Yes, Ethan.

MATTHEWS:  He hates Indians.  There‘s no doubt about it.  It isn‘t complicated.  One reason he is a great tracker of this bad guy Indian, Scar, is because he hates him, because he‘s an Indian. 

EBERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you put that together with great art? 

EBERT:  Well, I have another movie in the book called “The Birth of a Nation,” which is a very racist film.  It seems to me you have to deal with the racism, but you have to also deal with the fact that it‘s in a film that has a certain amount of importance. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.   

EBERT:  The one I really had trouble with was “Birth of a Nation.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

EBERT:  Because the last half of that movie is really vile. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s all about the KKK, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

EBERT:  In “The Searchers,” the Ethan character, played by John Wayne, is a racist, but the other characters in the movies are seen in various kinds of ways.  And so it is a little more complicated. 

MATTHEWS:  Was that a fair ending? 

(CROSSTALK)

EBERT:  John Ford, who directed that movie, didn‘t hate Indians at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Was that a fair ending, though, when he finally captured Natalie Wood, brought her back from the Indians, who she had been raised with and probably had sex with her, or whatever.  That‘s the illusion here.  Was that a fair thing, for him to really love her, embrace her?  Would—when the movie was aimed at him going to kill her for having slept with an Indian? 

EBERT:  He seems to go through a change of heart, doesn‘t he? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how fast can you change your heart?

EBERT:  You could say that was inconsistent, yes, yes.  You could say...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It was a beautiful ending, but did you believe it? 

EBERT:  The real ending of the movie is him in the doorway.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

EBERT:  All alone by himself, because, you see, he will never really be a member of a family.  He restores this family and yet he‘ll go out, get on his horse and ride away.  Ethan will never have a family of his own. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why are so many American heroes in the movies, and maybe Ethan is the best, who can‘t fit in with us, but yet, like “Shane,” they can‘t—our heroes are people that can‘t fit in with us.  Why do we like the people that don‘t fit in with us? 

EBERT:  Yes. 

I don‘t know.  But it‘s like, come back, “Shane.”  They go off—it‘s the guy on the horse who goes off into the sunset.  It‘s kind of part of the American myth. 

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t go home to the suburbs.

EBERT:  Very rarely does a movie end with the hero sitting at home around the fire with his family drinking hot chocolate. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

(CROSSTALK)

EBERT:  Don‘t see pictures like that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, look again about the conflict we‘re going to see in the Oscars next week.  And it is going to be all over the papers.  And I love to advance things. 

The fight next week is going to be about—and I‘m not giving away the movie, because a lot of people who hate “Million Dollar Baby” who want to kill it want us to talk about the ending.  But a moral choice made by a character.  Aren‘t movies filled with guys who make self-destructive decisions, who make decisions that are against their own nature or in their nature and we‘re not them? 

(CROSSTALK)

EBERT:  There was an article that appeared in the paper today that called me basically a murder.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

EBERT:  As if I were advocating what goes on in this movie. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

EBERT:  And I‘m saying, it‘s a good movie.  It‘s a movie that makes people cry.  It‘s a movie that touches their hearts.  It‘s a movie that makes them think. 

I‘m not advocating what goes on in the film or in any film. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

EBERT:  I‘m not advocating what goes on in “The Godfather” or in “Taxi Driver.”  But they‘re good movies. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Having seen “The Passion of the Christ” professionally, because I had to see it, and having seen this movie, one of the two movies was about love.  Let me put it that way.  Anyway, thank you. 

EBERT:  Yes.  That‘s a good point.  That‘s a good point. 

MATTHEWS:  Good luck with the book, “Roger Ebert: The Great Movies II.”  If you love movies—obviously, we all do—take a look at this book.  Go buy it, because it will tell you which movies to rent. 

Anyway, thank you, Roger Ebert.

EBERT:  You bet, Chris.  So long. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll be back Monday at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL from Denver, Colorado. 

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

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