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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Dec. 3

Read the transcript to the 7 p.m. ET show

Guest: Ernest Willis, Verilyn Willis, Bill Kurtis, Amy Goodman, Bob Zelnick, Joe Queenan, Stephen Battaglio, Patti Davis

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  He spent 17 years on death row in Texas, but now he is free.  Tonight former inmate 881 Ernest Willis talks about the death penalty and our judicial system.  Plus the future of network and cable television news.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  We will have more on the resignation of Health Secretary Tommy Thompson and President Bush‘s selection of Bernard Kerik to head the homeland security department later in the show. 

But first, a story that demonstrates how death penalty cases can go the wrong way.  Ernest Willis served 17 years on death row in Texas, and at one point came within two days of his scheduled execution.  Two months ago, the case against him was dismissed.  He walked off death row a free man.  He‘s here with his wife Verilyn.  Thanks very much for joining us.  It has only been two months, but I want to go back to how it all happened.  How you, an innocent man found yourself on death row for 17 years and almost got executed.  What happened the night of the fire?  What was that all about, the whole situation that led to your conviction and almost execution. 

ERNEST WILLIS, FMR. DEATH ROW INMATE:  Well, I had just had back surgery back-to-back, two weeks apart, 30 days before this all happened.  And I wasn‘t working, and my cousin, Billy, he knew these people in Iran, Texas.  He had been down there.  They had a car that I was going down there to pick up. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

E. WILLIS:  And sell, and make some money off of it.  When I got down there, it needed a lot of work done on it.  So I—it was going to take a few days to get all the parts.  So his friends said we could stay there with them.  And his friend‘s wife invited a couple of girls over, and there was a little beer drinking. 


E. WILLIS:  And one thing led to another, and my cousin‘s friends got into an argument that night, and they wouldn‘t stop arguing, and the cops took them to jail.  And locked them up.  That left me and Billy and the two girls. 


E. WILLIS:  Well, we sat around just talking, drinking beer.  I was taking those pain pills along with it because I had just had those two back surgeries.  And after a while, Billy and one of the girls went to bed, went to bed in the front bedroom. 


E. WILLIS:  And the other girl, she went to bed in the back bedroom.  And I laid down on the couch in the living room.  And then about 3:30 , 4:00 in the morning, somewhere along in there, I woke up and the house was on fire.  I took off running through the house, and it seemed like there was fire everywhere.  Of course there couldn‘t have been that much fire on the floor or I would have burnt my feet.  But I run to the back door, back bedroom door, couldn‘t get through there for the fire, went back through, tried to go through the little hall into the front bedroom, couldn‘t get in there, so I went out the front door, around the side of the house, breaking the windows out, yelling for people to get out.  My cousin jumped out one of the windows.  The two girls didn‘t get out. 

MATTHEWS:  You got—were you surprised you were charged with that? 

E. WILLIS:  Yes, I was, because you know...

MATTHEWS:  Were you surprised they even called it a crime? 

E. WILLIS:  Yes, I really was, because I thought—I thought—and I still don‘t know to this day.  But I thought it was an electrical fire or someone went to sleep with a cigarette.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that the evidence now?  After all these years?  What kind of defense did you have in court?  You didn‘t have any money. 

E. WILLIS:  Little to none. 

MATTHEWS:  So you got a public defender.  Any good? 

E. WILLIS:  No good whatsoever. 

MATTHEWS:  Do any homework?  Any due diligence? 

E. WILLIS:  He didn‘t call the witnesses that we needed on the punishment phase of the trial.  He seen me a total of three hours all the time that we were preparing to go to court. 

MATTHEWS:  Where were you in court?  Why couldn‘t you speak up?  Why couldn‘t you go to a judge or you know, ACLU, or somewhere like that?  Did you not know all these other recourses at the time? 

E. WILLIS:  They were drugging me just before and during my trial. 

You know. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is they?

E. WILLIS:  The prosecution, had to be the prosecution. 

MATTHEWS:  How did they get access to you to be able to drug you?  Did they make you take something or shoot you up or...

E. WILLIS:  I had back problems, and I still hurt all the time with my back and legs.  And what I thought was pain medication for my back turned out to be those...

MATTHEWS:  This anti-psychotic stuff. 

E. WILLIS:  The psychotic drugs. 

MATTHEWS:  Which dulls you up or what?  What does it do to you mentally? 

E. WILLIS:  It just makes a zombie out of you. 

MATTHEWS:  So you are sitting in court in a kind of a vague fog.  Do you remember the proceedings? 

E. WILLIS:  I don‘t remember none of it.  I actually do not remember it.  When I got the transcript of my trial it was 32 volumes long.  When I started reading that transcript it was like reading a novel of a dream.  You know? 

MATTHEWS:  When did you get clearheaded and realized the predicament you were in?  You were not to able to appeal this case...

E. WILLIS:  Shortly after they took me to death row.  Because I wasn‘t receiving the psychotic drugs, and then I was back to myself. 

MATTHEWS:  Were there any jailhouse lawyers around or people that would tell you, you got railroaded, buddy? 

E. WILLIS:  Oh, yes, everybody did.  There was no—everything was circumstantial evidence.  There was no motive for me to do anything like that. 

MATTHEWS:  So when you get into a death row situation, you figure the other guys are guilty, because they are there, you told me something before the show that before you got in this situation, you shared that mind set a lot of us have, which is—not obviously in this case, sounds funny, but where there is smoke, there‘s fire.  If somebody‘s on death row, he belongs there. 

E. WILLIS:  That‘s true.  That‘s what I thought. 

MATTHEWS:  Now what do you think. 

E. WILLIS:  Most of the public thinks that way. 

MATTHEWS:  Were the guys in there on death row that you met, you believed their story, when they said they were innocent. 

E. WILLIS:  There‘s a few . 

MATTHEWS:  But again doesn‘t everybody say they are innocent? 

E. WILLIS:  Just about. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s hard to tell on first hearing. 

E. WILLIS:  I never did say that I was innocent.  I would say, well, I didn‘t do it.  But I wouldn‘t broadcast it or talk to the media.  I kept a low profile because I know that everybody thought that I had done it. 

MATTHEWS:  You thought it would be useless. 

E. WILLIS:  And I thought it would useless because everybody hollers that. 

MATTHEWS:  Even when you‘re stuck in there knowing a lot of the guys aren‘t going to make it, you still say to each other, we‘re innocent. 

E. WILLIS:  Well, a lot of them do.  Now there‘s a few of them that will own up to it, say I‘m guilty, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  You said somewhere, I read in an interview there is even a heart in that place, even on death row. 

E. WILLIS:  You would be surprised how the guys stick together and help each other out. 

MATTHEWS:  One guy that did was a friend of yours, your late brother-in-law. 

E. WILLIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Who introduced you to who? 

E. WILLIS:  To my lovely wife here. 

MATTHEWS:  Verilyn, when did you first become aware of this fellow? 

When he was on death row, obviously.

V. WILLIS, HUSBAND WRONGLY CONVICTED OF MURDER:  It was in 1998 or 1999.  I had a brother that was also on death row.  He kept on and on and on for me to write him.  I said no, no, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he was looking out for his buddy.  And you felt you were doing sympathy work in the beginning I guess. 

V. WILLIS:  In the beginning I just flat wouldn‘t do it.  And he knew my weak spot.  And he would tell me, but Sis, he doesn‘t have any real friends.  He doesn‘t have anybody to come visit him.  It‘s just him and he just sits there.  I said, OK, get his address. 

MATTHEWS:  That was nice.  Let me ask you about—everybody watching the show is focused right now.  I hope they are, is thinking it could have been me.  When you are in there, and you know you didn‘t do it, and you know most of the guys around you probably did what they are accused of, do you just like think, God, what is this?  Do you think?  I mean, you had 17 years to think about being screwed. 

E. WILLIS:  Yes.  And the first couple of years, I was so angry and having so much hate for everybody.  And I just had to let all of that go because it started eating on me and eating on me and there‘s no way I could have survived. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What was it like to face that two days—I read that you came within two days of being executed once back in the eighties.

E. WILLIS:  It was a little bit scary.  Of course I had my appeal process in front of me.  But you never...

MATTHEWS:  But they gave—you had already ordered your last meal, your cheeseburger. 

E. WILLIS:  Well, no.  I had given my last will and testament.  And they asked me if I wanted a black or blue suit. 

MATTHEWS:  To wear to the execution. 

E. WILLIS:  To be buried in. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the means of execution? 

E. WILLIS:  Lethal injection. 

MATTHEWS:  No choice in that state. 

E. WILLIS:  No choice. 

MATTHEW:  And then you had another 15 years. 

E. WILLIS:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about this system now? 

E. WILLIS:  This system don‘t work.  If it worked I wouldn‘t have spent 17 years on death row. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it the prosecutor simply want to get a conviction? 

E. WILLIS:  That‘s a lot of it.  That‘s the main thing.  Until they make the prosecutors liable and not exempt from prosecution, they are exempt from prosecution or lawsuits. 

MATTHEWS:  If you get a decent lawyer, do you think you can get some restitution for that state?  I mean I‘ve heard of big finings like $150,000 you hear people getting when they get out after a really—an awful incarceration.

E. WILLIS:  There is a limit in Texas.  Texas will give you $500,000. 

What it amounts to is $25,000 up to 20 years.  And that‘s tops. 

MATTHEWS:  And what have you gotten?

E. WILLIS:  I haven‘t gotten anything.  I got two $50 checks when I walked out of there. 

MATTHEWS:  No hope of getting more? 

E. WILLIS:  Well, there‘s hope. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, good luck.  Stick with us.  We‘re going to have Bill Kurtis come in and join us. 

When we get back, investigative reporter Bill Kurtis will join.  He‘s the author of “The Death Penalty On Trial.”  We‘re going to ask him how many more innocent people could be right where Ernest was on death row.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We are examining how Ernest Willis got railroaded to death row in Texas.  I also want to bring in television host Bill Kurtis right now, whose new book is called “The Death Penalty On Trial: The Crisis in American Justice.” 

Let me ask you, Bill.  You‘ve been listening, you picked up on the elements of this case, how this fellow got himself on death row for 17 years.  How does the system allow that to happen? 

BILL KURTIS, AUTHOR:  This is exactly the kind of case that I‘ve been talking about, too.  The appellate system that is supposed to be set up for judicial review to catch all these things isn‘t really designed to catch the mistakes here.  This was evidence that was hidden by the prosecutor.  He may have forgotten about it, he may have been so overzealous, he didn‘t want to tell people that in fact a psychologist had said that Ernest was not dangerous.  Now, that‘s important to a jury. 

They are also in a law and order state, especially like Texas, ready to believe anything the prosecution said, especially back in 1987. 

But there are a series of mistakes that are now coming out, primarily triggered by DNA, which gives us the ultimate judgment that these men are innocent, it allows us a look inside the criminal justice system at all the other mistakes. 

And can you go down the line.  Ineffective defense counsel, many who don‘t get paid very much.  In this case, they didn‘t even enter a character witness in the penalty phase.  They met with him for 3 hours before the trial.  I mean, these things are unbelievable. 

One of the original attorneys was disbarred for using cocaine.  It‘s just—they are. 

MATTHEWS:  We are focused on cases like the Scott Peterson case where you got a guy like Geragos who is a big shot, and you think everybody gets this kind of defense when that‘s the rare case. 

KURTIS:  The rare case. 

In this particular case, the heroes are the lawyers who came after.  You had a defense attorney who devoted a life to setting him free after 17 years.  A prosecutor, -- Ori White (ph), who was stand up guy, and said I‘m going to make sure this is a fair judgment.  We made a mistake.  And it was a terrible way it was mishandled.  And the judge who came forward. 

It wasn‘t the system working.  It was these lawyers overriding the system. 

And the problem here is that the Geragoses of the world do not practice law in Dry Gulch, Texas, the small towns in Kansas.  And we have inexperienced defense attorneys going up against very talented prosecutors, who swamp them.  They are talented.  And they can sell anything to a jury. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the penalty—Bill, what is the penalty when a hot-shot 28-year-old prosecutor who wants to get in the headlines with a successful prosecution in a capital case and he does railroad a guy.  What is the penalty phase for him? 

KURTIS:  Nothing.  There is no discipline.  Nobody goes back and punishes him. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that, Ernest? 

E. WILLIS:  That‘s the way the system can be fair is hold these prosecutors liable for what they do.  When they hide evidence, hold them liable.  They are exempt from prosecution.  They are exempt from lawsuits.  They know they can get away with anything.  And you got a lot of gung-ho prosecutors out there that will do anything for a conviction. 

MATTHEWS:  And sometimes the public defender may be looking for a job on the prosecutor‘s staff. 

E. WILLIS:  True, true. 

MATTHEWS:  Talk about a stacked deck.  You got a prosecutor as ambitious as hell.  He or she is on their way up.  You got a public defender.  Where do they get these public defenders from in capital cases?  Are they drawn from a list? Are they required to do it?  Or are they just hard up for a few bucks?  Or they have good intentions but are incompetent?  What is the story? 

KURTIS:  Well, usually they are appointed because they don‘t have anything else to do.  And they are willing to take $11.96 an hour to defend somebody.  Or they won‘t defend them at all, but they‘ll go through the motions. 

This case was an exemption.  A large law firm, one of the largest in Texas, asked a young man, James Blank, after the fact incidentally on appeal, to go into the case and see what he can do.  The Dallas Morning News jumped into the scene, too.  They did their investigation and spent $5 million from the state. 

This is the exception.  Usually, the defense lawyer is disbarred because he is railroaded for—not railroaded, but is charged with ineffective counsel and the prosecutor is on his way to governor.  I mean that‘s the career path. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, we only got a couple minutes, Bill.  Thank you.

Let me ask Ernest, you have gone through this, you paid the price of this system.  You talk—talk to the camera.  What should we do? 

E. WILLIS:  Hold these prosecutors liable for what—you know, for what they are doing: withholding evidence, lying, just anything to get a conviction.  And another thing is pay these court-appointed attorneys a fee where they can represent you.  You can take a good attorney and give him $25,000 and he‘s not competent because he don‘t have the money. 

MATTHEWS:  Can‘t pay to get the witnesses in town, can‘t pay for transportation. 

E. WILLIS:  You can‘t pay for nothing. 

MATTHEWS:  He can‘t do the discovery. 

E. WILLIS:  You can‘t even buy a car for that. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

E. WILLIS:  You know?  How can he depend—you know, someone‘s life is on the line, you know?  And $25,000 won‘t even hire an investigator. 


Bill, let me ask you this last question.  I hadn‘t thought of this.  You have been studying and writing about it in a couple of books.  How many people right now do you think are sitting in Ernest‘s situation where he was for 17 years on death row and factually innocent, they didn‘t do it? 

KURTIS:  Well, since 1976 we have executed 800.  There are now 3,500 on death row.  But we have found 114 -- and I think Ernest may be 115 who are wrongly convicted, innocent.  So where there is one...

MATTHEWS:  People who actually didn‘t do it.  Not that there was a miscarriage, but they didn‘t do it at all. 

KURTIS:  Well, Ernest did not do it.  Now if you have one, you should reform the system.  We have more than 100.  We should impose a moratorium and study it. 

Illinois has imposed 80 recommendations for changing the criminal

justice system.  And they still have a few crimes—of heinous crimes

where they haven‘t.  There is a compromise here.  But it really needs work

by the law profession itself. 

MATTHEWS:  Bill Kurtis‘ book is called “The Death Penalty On Trial.” 

Thank you very much.  It‘s an honor to have you on.  Thank you. 

Ernest, thank you for coming on this show.  And thank you Vera Lynn for saving this guy.

E. WILLIS:  Could I have a second? 


E. WILLIS:  I want to thank Judge Ferguson, Judge Jones, Ori White and attorney general‘s office, because those were the only 4 people that cared enough to do the right thing.  And I want to thank all of my attorneys and everybody that‘s helped me since I‘ve been out.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much.  Ernest Willis has a fund to help him get back on his feet.  To contribute, make checks available—payable to Ernest Willis, care of James S. Blank.  James S. Blank.  The address is Latham & Watkins, 885 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022.

Up next, the future of television news with Bob Zelnick, Steve Battaglio, Joe Queenan and Amy Goodman.  Then later, Patti Davis, daughter of President Ronald Reagan, pays tribute to her dad.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The first of the network news anchor jobs changed hands when Tom Brokaw turned over his chair to Brian Williams this week.  Dan Rather is next to go, and a potentially devastating report investigating CBS News‘ “60 Minutes” piece on the president‘s national guard service is due out next week.  These events, plus criticism that the media was lax in criticizing the drum roll to war in Iraq has us asking, are we doing our job? 

Joining me, Bob Zelnick, former ABC News reporter, and chairman of the Boston University Journalism School.  Stephen Battaglio, senior correspondent for “TV Guide”  Joe Queenan, who‘s author of the book “Queenan Country,” and used to take speaking lessons with me.  And Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio‘s “Democracy Now,” and the author of “Exception to the Rulers.” 

Amy, are we doing our jobs?  How is that for a big one? 

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”:  Well, I think the media has reached an all-time low in this country.  As you said, it beat the drums for war, icing out dissent, and I think it‘s really unfortunate.  It‘s a disservice to the people in this country when they make their decisions about the important issues of the day, to very much, for the most part, especially with the nightly newscasts, only hear one side.  The generals, the corporate executives, the government officials.  We need to hear a much broader spectrum of opinion. 

MATTHEWS:  Establishment reporting in other words. 

GOODMAN:  Yes.  We need to open it up.  And abide by the good principles of reporting, that are about hearing a diversity of voices, especially on an issue like this where the country is so divided. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Zelnick, sir, Mr. Chairman. 

BOB ZELNICK, FORMER ABC NEWS REPORTER:  Yes, sir.  I don‘t agree with that.  I think that by and large, the media did a good job of reporting on Iraq.  I think by and large, they tried to dig up what they can in the way of counterarguments.  I know I heard many, many of the contrary views, expressed not only on the networks but on the cables, and in the newspapers.  So I don‘t—I don‘t join in in piling on the media for what was a very, very difficult intelligence situation. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the media ever questioned the argument made by the administration, that the primary reason for war, the one given at the time, was that we were going to war because we suspected that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?  Do you believe that that rationale was questioned effectively by the media? 

ZELNICK:  I don‘t think there was a basis on which to question it.  The reason is that Saddam believed in those weapons.  He had used them before.  He had defied any number of Security Council resolutions.  He had virtually expelled the arms controllers in 1998.  So the evidence was overwhelming that he had them.  And in fact, we have seen since going into Iraq that he planned to use the lifting of the embargo to restore the programs to what they were in their heyday. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to Joe Queenan.  Is the media doing its job? 

JOE QUEENAN, AUTHOR, “QUEENAN COUNTRY”:  75 percent of the time, yes, which is a very high bating average.  I think that it was always understood that there would be problems, that there would be some reporting that didn‘t get done, that there would be some bias.  But the whole idea of always attacking the media has always struck me as being juvenile.  The media did not cause the S&L scandal in the ‘80s, the media did not cause the Social Security problem we have now.  And I think that if the government and if private industry and the banking organizations were doing as good a job as the media, the country would be in greater shape. 

MATTHEWS:  Stephen Battaglio, same question, is the media doing its job? 

STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, “TV GUIDE” SR. CORRESPONDENT:  I would agree with Joe‘s percentage, but I do believe that September 11th did change the public‘s relationship with the media, especially television.  It was an attack unlike anything we had ever experienced, and we saw it live on television.  And I think that they were looking for something beyond the facts and both sides of the story, they were looking to be comforted.  They were looking to find—to learn that everything would be OK, and what are we going to do next to attack this?  And I think—and I think that probably muted a lot of questioning of the administration going into the Iraq war.  So—and many top journalists, such as Dan Rather, has second-guessed the reporting that was done leading up to the war. 

MATTHEWS:  But back in the old days, in 1968, Walter Cronkite would go on television and question the winnability of the Vietnam War.  Did you hear, does anyone here think there was that level of scrutiny at work in the last several years with regard to Iraq and the decision to go there?  Bob Zelnick again.  Do you think there was questioning of the rationale?  Not whether there was WMD, but did anyone ever question loudly on the network news, wait a minute, is this really the reason we are going to war?  Is this really the reason? 

ZELNICK:  I saw an awful lot of coverage of dissension, not only at the United Nations, not only abroad, but in the build-up to the war in this country itself. 

Now, again, I don‘t think that Walter Cronkite did anything that was supernatural other than going over to Vietnam right after the Tet Offensive and doing the Tet Offensive and concluding that the war had become politically unwinnable.  I‘m not sure he was right then, but you know, it turned out that seven years later we decided not to fight and let the place go to hell. 

BATTAGLIO:  Also, the media wasn‘t controlled at all during the Vietnam War.  The war was never declared.  So a lot of the type of restrictions that the military and the government imposes now on the media in covering war weren‘t in effect back in Vietnam.  So I think it was a very different situation. 

GOODMAN:  You know, there is a great deal of focus on Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather now.  On the evening that the bombs started to fall on Baghdad, Dan Rather said, “good morning, Baghdad.”  Tom Brokaw said, “we don‘t want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we are going to own that country.”  These are not questioning words.  These are not words of a journalist who is impartial. 

Dan Rather, a few days after September 11th, on David Letterman, said

George Bush is my president.  He can call the shots, or he basically said -

·         I wrote it in my book to quote him exactly—he said, “one of the things”—he said, “George Bush is the president.  Wherever he wants me to line up, tell me where and he will make the call.” 

That‘s not what journalists should be doing.  We should be independent, not just being the megaphone for officialdom.  It is a very serious problem the direction American journalism has gone.

MATTHEWS:  OK, bold point.  We‘re coming back with Bob Zelnick, Stephen Battaglio, Joe Queenan and Amy Goodman.  And next week, it‘s HARDBALL State of the Union—actually, “Head of the State” week.  I‘ll sit down with King Abdullah of Jordan.  He will be in Washington to meet with George Bush about the prospect for peace in the Middle East.  And then, on Friday, former President Jimmy Carter will join us here on this table. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re talking about the future of news with former ABC News reporter Bob Zelnick, who is now chairman of the journalism department up at Boston University, “TV Guide” Steve Battaglio, Joe Queenan, who is the author of “Queenan Country,” and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. 

The Pew Research Center has surveys going back 10 years which ask viewers where they go for national and international news.  Networks, the broadcast nets, were ahead by a hair back in ‘93, 11 years ago.  But by last year, cable had a huge lead. 

Steve, tell me, what has that done to journalism, that now you can get it 24 hours a day?  You don‘t have to wait for Uncle Walter or his successors at 6:30 at night? 

BATTAGLIO:  I think that, clearly, the dominance of network news is coming to an end or has certainly waned quite a bit. 

You know, it‘s not unlike what you had, really, in pretelevision age, before—you talk about so many different types of media now that espouse a point of view.  Well, you know, back in the ‘20‘s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, you went to a city, you had eight different newspapers.  If you wanted a conservative, you bought the Hearst newspaper.  If you wanted another point of view, you had other choices. 

And I think we are returning back to that now with the fragmentation of the media, the networks not as dominant, so many other sources, many of them providing different points of view. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Bob Zelnick, who is a veteran of this business. 

Bob, it seems to me that to find those people in America who wait for

the 6:30 news, almost like waiting for a person waiting in the Third World

waiting for the Big Ben sound for BBC to come on, you got to go to people -

·         I remember being up at William L. Shirer‘s house up in western Massachusetts.  He was an old CBS hand, as you know.

Do young people, are they in that habit, too?  Is anybody under, say, 60, in the habit of waiting for the evening news to come on as a big deal? 

ZELNICK:  No.  I think you hit the precise figure, also.  The average age of the network news viewers these days is 60 years.  The average age of all Americans is 35. 

Yes, there has been tremendous competition from cable.  Yes, there is a change in lifestyles.  People aren‘t getting home that early.  You have a lot of two-spouse households where they are both working, and neither one of them have time for the news.  But I‘ll tell you, there is a dirty little secret to this, also.  I think a lot of people are just not staying informed on current events. 

It‘s not simply that they have turned away from the news networks, and I think that we see it all the time when we give news quizzes, unless we assign the papers...


ZELNICK:  ... and assign the networks, they are not as well informed as they should be. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean it‘s like “Jay Walking” on the Jay Leno show, where he goes around and interviews people and they don‘t know anything about politics.  And he says, what do you for a living?  And they say, I‘m a history teacher. 

Let me go to Joe Queenan.

Do you haven‘t 6:30 habit?  Do you watch the nets?

QUEENAN:  No.  My wife watches Jim Lehrer‘s show.  And I watch that because I‘m friendly with David Brooks, or at least I used to be. 

But, no, I never watch those shows unless there is a really, really big event.  And when there‘s as really big event, I think everybody watches those shows, because there is something reassuring about people like Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings.  Certainly, there‘s nothing reassuring about Dan Rather.  But, on cable, you don‘t get that same quality, excluding your boyish charm. 

But, on a lot of the cable shows, I don‘t know if a really major, cataclysmic event had happened, that I would go to either Larry King or Bill O‘Reilly. 


BATTAGLIO:  Chris, I would also point out that I think—not to go back to—harp on 9/11 too much, but I think that probably prolonged the length of time the three network anchors have been on.  If 9/11 hadn‘t happened, I think all three of those chairs might have changed over by now. 


MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you a question, Amy.

ZELNICK:  It didn‘t help their ratings, though.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but I watch the commercials, which is where the money comes from.  It seems like pain relief is the No. 1 theme of the nightly news. 

GOODMAN:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re beyond Cialis and Viagra.  They don‘t even bother. 

They past the crowd. 


MATTHEWS:  They‘re into the really older people.

And I‘m just asking you, Amy, is it possible that this is passing, that what we have seen here, all these years since Cronkite was big and before that with whoever, Chancellor and all the rest of them, that that is a passing scene, that we are getting into 24 hours news now, simple as that?

GOODMAN:  Oh, yes.  I mean, yes, the average commercial is something like for—to prevent heart disease and to lower cholesterol.  And I really do think like attracts like. 

You have got older white men, and that is the audience that they are attracting.  And young people are also—and I think this is extremely healthy, given how I think the—especially the nightly newscasts have very much only reflected the establishment point of view.  Young people are very much going to the Internet, and that‘s good, because we have to get views from all over the world.  It‘s also a way to get access to international newspapers. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you find it interesting that no women are in line to replace Rather? 

GOODMAN:  Oh, yes, I think it‘s a very big problem.  Even Tom Brokaw himself said eight or nine years ago he thought that, when these guys left, it would be the end of white male anchor time.  It should be. 


MATTHEWS:  By the way, I hope to be an old white man, too, some day, so I don‘t want to get too ethnic here with you. 

Anyway, thank you, Amy Goodman. 

You‘re going to be joining us. 

The rest of the guests are staying with us.     

And this weekend on “Meet the Press,” two big exclusives.  Tim Russert will interview the new Democratic leader of the Cincinnati, Harry Reid of Nevada, and also the president of Iraq.  He is going to introduce him.  That‘s “Meet the Press” this Sunday on NBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Still to come on HARDBALL, where will TV news be in 10 years?  Plus, Patti Davis pays tribute to her father, President Ronald Reagan.

We‘re coming back after this.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Bob Zelnick, Steve Battaglio, Joe Queenan, and that‘s it. 

This graph, by the way, shows the drop in viewership of the three network news broadcasts.  They‘re all in decline, looking at that.

I want to ask every one of you.  That‘s in the last 10 years.

Steve, what is it going to look like the next 10 years?  Where are we going to looking at if we do this show in 10 years?  And who is watching what? 

BATTAGLIO:  I think either ABC or CBS will get out of the news business in 10 years.  The remaining network will merge with CNN. 

I think 24-hour news is the future.  It certainly is with the consumer.  You have a generation of consumers that are growing up with it.  And if are you not in that business, you‘re not going to be in the TV news business. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Zelnick, a picture.  You‘re teaching these courses up there.  You‘ve got Pete Brundia (ph) teaching them.  Ten years from now, will that slope continue for the nightly news will be all the way into 24 hour or what? 

ZELNICK:  Well, I think that the slope will flatten out somewhat.  I think that, 10 years from now, there will be at least one, possibly two network news broadcasts that are substantially similar to today‘s.  I think there will be at least one cable news program that in terms of sustained quickly and production values, is as good as the networks used to be. 


MATTHEWS:  Why is that?  What causes that concentration in an industry?  What is nature of that pattern? 

ZELNICK:  Well, you still have 29 million people that watch the network news every night.  That‘s far and away more than any other outlet is capturing at that particular hour. 

BATTAGLIO:  So, how will they make money with it?  

ZELNICK:  Well, they may not money, but there is still brand identification. 

Look, Viacom doesn‘t have to make money with “The CBS Evening News.” 

Viacom has other areas of money.  

MATTHEWS:  Right. 


ZELNICK:  And they may need the prestige and other values. 


QUEENAN:  Do you remember “The Blair Witch Project” was going to destroy the motion picture industry and everything was going to be shot with handheld cameras? 

In journalism, there is always this tendency to say that everything is going to be swept away and that things are going to be completely different some time down the road.  But “The Blair Witch Project” was a hoax.  And now big-budget movies are what we have come to expect.  I think it‘s entirely possible that the networks or at least a couple of the networks could continue to do pretty much what they are doing now simply because businesses that are entrenched and that are profitable tend to figure out ways to defend themselves. 

“TIME” magazine, “Newsweek,” “TV Guide,” “Readers Digest,” magazines whose demise has been predicted for years, continue to survive.  And I think the same could happen with the news. 

MATTHEWS:  That is the last word. 

I thank you very much, Joe Queenan.  Thank you, Bob Zelnick, as always, Steve Battaglio, as always.

When we come back, part two of my interview—and it‘s going to be fun for people—Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan.  She‘s the author of a new book about her dad called “The Long Goodbye.”

Stay—stick around for this one.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Patti Davis is the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and she‘s the author of a new book, “The Long Goodbye,” about the final years of her father‘s life. 

Patti, it‘s great to have you on again. 

Let me ask you about your mom as a caregiver.  What was that like when your dad got Alzheimer‘s and she had to care for him every day of the week?  

PATTI DAVIS, DAUGHTER OF RONALD REAGAN:  I think you really—I really saw an example of love at its greatest heights, I would say. 

It‘s one thing to show your love for someone when everything is going fine and life is smooth.  But when the “in sickness and in health” part kicks in and sickness does enter your lives, you‘re tested.  Your resilience is tested.  And I think she was amazing.  And you really—we should all be so lucky as to have that kind of relationship in our lives. 

MATTHEWS:  I think people that haven‘t lived through it don‘t know how bad it is.  It‘s not just someone losing consciousness.  It‘s losing personality, right?  It‘s all those things.

DAVIS:  It is. 

It is a very cruel disease.  But I write in “The Long Goodbye” often my father‘s soul didn‘t have Alzheimer‘s.  And so communication takes on a different form.  You are deprived of the communication of language, that exchange of words.  But communication happens on a lot of different levels.  And I think if you just hold to the possibility that that person, that their soul can‘t be sick, then there is an exchange. 

There is a dialogue, sometimes in total silence.  But you feel it in your heart.  You know that it has happened.  And if you talk to people who have been at the bedsides of loved ones with Alzheimer‘s, they know this.  I have never met anyone who has not had that experience and doesn‘t know it. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, my mom had it.  And she died of it.  And there was a time where for years she didn‘t know my dad‘s name.  And then all of a sudden after a little accident she had, she remembered it. 

DAVIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think some of your experience with your dad, Ronald Reagan, was that they are a lot more aware of things than they can communicate over the course of their fall, their decline?  

DAVIS:  Yes, as I said, and I think that is—that is the measure of the soul inside that person. 

Look, the moments of—right before my father‘s death.  And I‘ve written about this in this book.  He opened his eyes.  He focused on my mother.  His eyes were blue again.  He hadn‘t opened his eyes in weeks.  They hadn‘t focused in many months.  They hadn‘t been blue in over a year. 

His eyes had been fading in color, as he faded due to Alzheimer‘s. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you amazed at your mom?  

DAVIS:  Amazed.

MATTHEWS:  At her strength, her loyalty, her love? 

DAVIS:  No, I wasn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  That was a long time.  That was a long time.  I know she was devoted all those years to him in his public life, in his career way back in the early ‘50s. 

DAVIS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But—well, talk about that.  Was there not an escalation in that love? 

DAVIS:  I don‘t know that there—I think their love always was at a pinnacle that many of us will probably never know in our lives.  I wasn‘t amazed, because that implies that I thought that she would behave in some other way. 


DAVIS:  I was—I was deeply impressed. 


MATTHEWS:  Yes, I didn‘t mean it as a trick question. 

DAVIS:  No, I know.

MATTHEWS:  I meant it as—as you said—as you first started tonight, you said you never know when times are good.  And times are tricky even when they are good, obviously, and things go up and down. 

DAVIS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a roller-coaster life.

DAVIS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But you never know what somebody is going to be like in the long haul when it‘s all bad. 

DAVIS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this disease.  What‘s your feeling of

·         did you learn anything about it?  Do you have any sense of—so many people watching right now, I can tell you, because I talk to people who watch this program who are caregivers right now.  And they‘re sitting next to a husband or a wife who have it at various stages.

And they‘re aware of the conversation, and their spouse may not be aware of this conversation.  So I‘m not hurting any feelings here.  Do you ever come across any sense, is this a new disease?  Do you think it‘s something that has gotten more prevalent or it was always just called getting old? 

DAVIS:  I think it‘s a little of both.  I think people are living longer.  It also—it does seem to me that more people are getting it.  I don‘t know...


MATTHEWS:  A friend of mine has gotten it in his early ‘50s.  Early 50s, he‘s got it. 

DAVIS:  Yes.  There is a version of Alzheimer‘s which is early onset Alzheimer‘s.  And it‘s—it‘s horrible, because people do get it in their 50s and 60s.  And it‘s terrible. 

MATTHEWS:  My dad went around the house looking for every piece of aluminum pan in the house he could find because there was the discovery that these plaques on your brain that people were discovering...


DAVIS:  Oh, they have aluminum in them, yes.

MATTHEWS:  They had aluminum.  So he‘s thinking maybe aluminum, some new product that people have been—some new environmental factor, that you try to figure out that came along in the last 50 years.  What is new in our life that would cause a greater prevalence of it?  That‘s what I think.  People are so desperate to try to figure it out. 

DAVIS:  Well, we definitely live in a toxic environment.  There is no there‘s no disputing that. 

But I think, you know, what you said about someone sitting beside someone who can‘t understand what is being said, see, I think that, deep inside them, they can.  We never said anything around my father that didn‘t, you know, take into account our belief that he that—that deep inside him he could understand everything. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  That‘s what we were saying. 

DAVIS:  We never would have done that.  We never would have—in fact, I write in this book about an episode many years ago with a doctor who was not his doctor for very long, talking to me about my father in front of my father in third person. 

And I said to this doctor, you shouldn‘t be doing this.  My father was sitting there watching us.  And he‘s—I mean, this was early on.  My father was still mobile and walking around. 


DAVIS:  And this man is talking about him in third person.  And I said

·         I was saying, don‘t do that.  And this doctor was saying to me again right in front of my father, he doesn‘t understand.  And he is explaining to me about plaque on the brain and the neural pathways and all that.

And I was going, well, his soul understands.  This doctor was looking at me like I had lost my mind, like I belonged in a rubber room in a straitjacket. 


DAVIS:  And I thought, Patti, you must never again discuss your father‘s condition with this man.  And I didn‘t have to because he was not his doctor for too much longer. 


Boy, I got to say that how—were you impressed by the outpouring of public affection for your mom and your family and your dad when he passed away? 

DAVIS:  We—I‘ve said many times that we week us as a family above the waterline.  It was so—it kept—it lifted up us above the grief that was waiting for us. 

I mean, it was—it was just magical.  It was surreal, but it was magical.  It was just—it was a towering experience for us.  And we were so grateful and so moved by people‘s love for my father.  But you know what?  They came out because of the man, not because of politics.  And I think that was there was a huge lesson in that. 

All those people weren‘t Republicans.  Some of them weren‘t even born when he was president. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

DAVIS:  They responded to the man.  They responded to his heart and his authenticity and his earnestness as a human being. 

And that‘s what I think, I hope I have portrayed in this book.  Yes, he was the leader of the free world.  But, as a man, he touched other people‘s hearts.  And I think that‘s the most you can ask of anybody‘s life.  That is your legacy on this Earth when you leave this Earth, how many hearts you touched. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Even in Washington, a city that lives on argument, it was an unquestioned...

DAVIS:  Even in Washington, where people think that they don‘t have hearts. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, it found its heart that week. 

DAVIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Patti Davis, thanks for coming on. 

DAVIS:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  The name of your book is “The Long Goodbye.”  It‘s the picture of Ronald Reagan on the horse.  There it is.  Great book. 

Thank you, Patti. 

DAVIS:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for a HARDBALL/”Newsweek” special on the birth of Jesus. 

Next week is a big one on HARDBALL.  It‘s heads of state week with his Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan to talk about the future of the Arab world and what needs to be done to achieve peace in the Middle East.  And then on Friday, former President Jimmy Carter will be right here at this desk. 

Have a great weekend.



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