Guest: Al Franken, Robert MacNeil, Guy Womack
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: War grows ugly in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sends a top retired general to the battleground country for a review of military policy. Are these the new Pentagon Papers?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
The Pentagon is sending retired four-star General Gary Luck to Iraq next week to conduct an open-ended review of our military policy in that country. The unusual move underscores the Pentagon‘s deep concern over the growing insurgency in Iraq just weeks before its election. More on this later.
But, first, “The New York Times” reports a CIA internal investigation concludes that top officials should be held accountable for the failure of the agency—that‘s the CIA—to prevent the 9/11 teaks.
Andrea Mitchell is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent.
Andrea, is this a new charge against George Tenet and his agency?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is. It is very tough. It is a near final draft of this report.
It was only presented to Tenet himself yesterday, the sections regarding him. He will now have a chance to rebut it. This is an internal report that was commissioned by the joint inquiry that Congress held, which was also severely critical of the agency. At the same time, we should say in Tenet‘s defense, what his people would tell you is that he was the one among all of them that the 9/11 Commissioners said was running around—quote—“with his hair on fire” about al Qaeda and the looming threat before 2001, before 9/11.
He increased the Counterterrorist Center of funding by 50 percent during the periods from 1997 to 2001 and the staffing of the Counterterrorist Center by 60 percent. So he was trying to get more money. And this report accuses him of not doing enough on resources and his defenders say that‘s an unfair hit.
MATTHEWS: Well, the question is, did he not do his job with regard to the particular attack coming our way on 9/11? I remember that famous scene where Condoleezza Rice on the Hill showed a picture of—or announced the title of a memo that went to the president. Here it is, by the way. Here‘s Condoleezza Rice testifying before the 9/11 Commission where she talked about the title of that August 6 presidential briefing memo.
Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION: Isn‘t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country, and I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I believe the title was “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s “Saturday Night Live” material almost there, Andrea. There‘s the president‘s chief national security adviser saying that the United States was warned a month before we were attacked on 9/11 that that—by the CIA—that we were going to be, we were under—we were targeted by the al Qaeda organization. How can you blame Tenet if he is telling the president a month before attacks that they‘re out to get us?
MITCHELL: Well, perhaps the reason they blame Tenet is that he has left government. And so he is a more suitable target for attack. Some would people say he is being scapegoated, because he‘s no longer a member of the team, no longer a part of the Cabinet. Or—he wasn‘t in the Cabinet, but just below the Cabinet.
And he is not in the Oval Office every morning. So, this is a very damaging draft report. And it is obviously very painful to those at the CIA who still support Tenet. The decision as to whether to act on this once it is final would be up to Porter Goss, his successor. And it would be a real test of Goss‘ intentions as to whether he wants to—quote—
“punish” Tenet and James Pavitt, who is another former deputy of Tenet‘s who is now working with the Brent Scowcroft group as a foreign policy adviser.
MITCHELL: Because to punish them, what can you do to a former official if you‘re not still in the agency? There‘s nothing you can really do to them except to publicly excoriate them.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t this shooting pretty close to the president?
MITCHELL: Sure it is.
MATTHEWS: You know. You‘re the expert about the relationship between George Tenet, who served both President Bushes.
And to accuse him so nastily of dereliction of duty almost, at this point, after the president gave him the Medal of Freedom?
MITCHELL: Well, there‘s that. And in fact if you watched the Medal of Freedom ceremony, George Bush was close to all the people that he was rewarding on that day and awarding. But, in particular, that moment with George Tenet, you can see the facial expression on the president‘s face when he gave him that award. He really was feeling very connected to Tenet then and subsequently. So it is shooting close to the president.
The other thing about this, Chris, is that I cover all those hearings. Every February, George Tenet would go to the Senate and the joint Intelligence Committees and argue that al Qaeda and bin Laden were the biggest threats facing the United States. Now, there were a lot of mistakes. And he and the FBI did not properly coordinate. They let people slip in across the borders. People were not put on watch lists.
We‘ve all seen the 9/11 report and other investigations detail all things they didn‘t do.
MITCHELL: But they did create a bin Laden station in 1997. They were the first within the CIA to warn the rest of the world about bin Laden.
And it does seem to Tenet‘s defenders at least that this is pretty unfair.
MATTHEWS: OK. We just have a minute left, Andrea.
I want your thoughts about what this new paper that the general, Gary Luck, has been asked to write about what is going on in Iraq. It seems to me like another case of the Pentagon Papers, where we‘re asking to review totally our policy on a war front.
MITCHELL: Well, I think it really is a way to change strategy midstream.
Gary Luck is extremely well regarded. He was a leader over in Korea and the Pacific and then was in Qatar, does know the region. And I think that this is a way to give a blueprint from the military to the civilian command and perhaps give Don Rumsfeld a face-saving way of changing direction and perhaps adding troops or changing the strategy on the ground.
MATTHEWS: OK. Have a nice weekend.
MITCHELL: You, too.
MATTHEWS: Andrea Mitchell, great report once again.
The confirmation hearings for attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales brought the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib back into the spotlight. And today, the trial for one of the accused soldiers is under way. The lawyer for the soldier will be with us next coming up right now. We‘re going to hear the inside from the defendant‘s point of view.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, an exclusive interview with the lawyer for one of the accused soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal—when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
One day after the Senate Judiciary members forced attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales to address the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, a court-martial for one of the accused ringleaders of that scandal began today.
MATTHEWS (voice-over): The abuses that took place at the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison came to light one year ago when a U.S. military police officer, Specialist Joseph Darby, informed his superior officers of prisoner abuse, which sparked a series of internal investigations.
One of the investigations, led by General Anthony Taguba, found that U.S. soldiers committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law between October and December 2003, including a number of sadistic blatant and wanton criminal abuses. The one picture that symbolized the horrors at Abu Ghraib might be this one, Private Lynndie England holding on to a leash tied to the neck of an Iraqi prisoner lying naked on the prison floor.
England defended her actions last spring during a local television interview.
PRIVATE 1ST CLASS LYNNDIE ENGLAND, U.S. ARMY: To us, we were doing our job, which meant we were doing what we were told and the outcome was what they wanted.
MATTHEWS: A total of 17 soldiers and officers, including General Janis Karpinski, were removed from duty. Karpinski, who was in charge of the guards at Abu Ghraib, told me she cautioned her superiors about the abuses, but her warnings were ignored.
BRIG. GEN. JANIS KARPINSKI, COMMANDER, 800TH MILITARY POLICE BRIGADE:
People were pressuring the intel community on the ground in Iraq to give them more.
MATTHEWS: In May, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took the harshest criticism for what occurred at Abu Ghraib and was forced to accept responsibility and publicly apologize.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.
MATTHEWS: Twelve days after Rumsfeld‘s comments, Jeremy Sivits was the first to be sentenced. The specialist received a one-year confinement and was discharged from the Army after pleading guilty to prisoner abuse.
Ivan Chip Frederick has received the harshest penalty thus far, sentenced to eight years in prison and dishonorably discharged back in October.
MATTHEWS: Now Charles Graner, an Army Reservist, will argue his case at a court-martial. Graner is charge with dereliction of duty, maltreatment of prisoners, conspiracy, assault and indecent acts. If found guilty, Graner faces a sentence of 17 ½ years.
Guy Womack is his attorney and is with us for an exclusive interview.
Guy, thank you for coming to us this Friday before these hearings on Monday.
GUY WOMACK, ATTORNEY FOR SPECIALIST CHARLES GRANER: My pleasure.
MATTHEWS: Why were some of the charges against your client, Charles Graner, dropped?
WOMACK: Well, simply because there was no evidence of those offenses. They had previously charged him with adultery. There‘s no evidence of adultery. There‘s no evidence of him obstructing justice. And the other two assaults, they just had nothing to prove that, so they dropped it, as they should have done.
MATTHEWS: Well, isn‘t the evidence of adultery that he had a child through another woman besides his wife?
WOMACK: He doesn‘t have a wife. He hasn‘t been married for several years. The government was well aware that he had been divorced for many years.
MATTHEWS: So that covered him from the charge of adultery.
MATTHEWS: Why did they bring the charge in the first place if he‘s obviously not married and that‘s known to be the case with the Army?
WOMACK: I believe that they thought the other woman was married.
They found out that she herself is divorced and there was no adultery.
MATTHEWS: OK. A fact-finding led to that.
And the other charges dropped because of facts or just because they had weak cases or what?
WOMACK: Because of the facts.
Originally, they thought that Specialist Graner had threatened a witness. The witness, when he went under oath himself and testified at his own court-martial, Jeremy Sivits said that it was actually Staff Sergeant Frederick who threatened him, never Specialist Graner.
MATTHEWS: Does Charles Graner appear in any of the videotape that is likely to be available to the prosecution in the trial?
WOMACK: I think he appears in some of them. Certainly, it is the events that he witnessed, that he was near.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you deal with that?
WOMACK: Well, he was legally there. Our defense in this case is that he was following lawful orders or what he believed to be lawful orders. That is an absolute defense to all of these charges.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get to that absolute defense, as you describe it.
Do you have any written orders from any superior officer, captains or majors or colonels or whatever, telling your client, Charles Graner, to engage in this kind of behavior towards prisoners?
MATTHEWS: Do you have any word of mouth? Do you have any evidence of someone who heard someone give him an order to that effect?
WOMACK: Oh, certainly, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Well, tell us about it, if you can.
There‘s evidence of military intelligence officers, both commissioned and noncommissioned, who ordered Specialist Graner specifically to do certain acts. Also, there are witnesses who heard these people give orders implicitly, saying things like, make sure this prisoner has a rough night.
WOMACK: Make sure this prisoner doesn‘t sleep, that sort of thing.
MATTHEWS: Do you have the testimony of third parties or the second person in these cases that will back that up in court?
WOMACK: Yes, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Do these orders that were given by people orally, do they match up with the picture of his behavior, your client‘s actual behavior on these videos? In other words, is he shown doing something in line with what he was told to do?
WOMACK: Yes. Yes.
In virtually every instance, there‘s an order that matches or that caused the action that‘s depicted in the videos and in the photographs.
MATTHEWS: Will you bring any Iraqi prisoners in to testify for the defense of your client?
WOMACK: Yes. There will be two of them.
MATTHEWS: Do they speak English?
MATTHEWS: So you‘re going to have to have interpreters in the court to make the case. Are they credible witnesses?
WOMACK: They are credible. They have already testified by deposition. These are videotaped depositions.
MATTHEWS: I got you.
WOMACK: We have Iraqi interpreters. And we already have the tapes.
They were introduced yesterday.
MATTHEWS: Well, a smart lawyer like yourself knows what he is going to face in court. What will the prosecution claim in contradistinction to your claim and apparently your evidence, at least through witnesses, that your client was following orders?
WOMACK: They‘re going to say that the orders were not given or that they were clearly illegal and a reasonable man would not have followed them.
If a reasonable man would not have followed orders, would that reasonable man not be reasonable in assuming that what everyone else was doing was in fact consistent with the mission, everyone around him?
WOMACK: I think, if someone had disobeyed the order, they would have been court-martialed for that. Keep in mind that...
MATTHEWS: Can you prove that? Can you prove it was an order that had to be followed?
WOMACK: Chris, every order has to be followed, unless you know or reasonably should know that it is unlawful to follow the order. We don‘t want soldiers debating the legality of orders in combat.
WOMACK: These orders appeared to be lawful.
Keep in mind that we will have evidence that the unit that was preceding the 372nd had been following the identical orders.
MATTHEWS: OK. How high up the chain of command can you show that he got orders? In other words, did he get orders from captains or majors? What kind of officer, what level of officer or noncommissioned officer gave these orders to your client?
WOMACK: The highest ranking officer who gave a direct order to Special Graner was a lieutenant colonel.
MATTHEWS: Whoa. And that person is going to admit that or are they going to have to be proven to have said such a thing?
WOMACK: No, that‘s Lieutenant Colonel Jordan. He has invoked his right to remain silent. I‘ve asked the judge to give him a grant of immunity or to order the convening authorities to do that. They have refused.
MATTHEWS: Why? Why don‘t they want the truth? Why doesn‘t the judge want the truth by giving immunity?
WOMACK: Well, the judge says that the government can choose whether or not to give immunity. If they choose not to, he should not invade their....
MATTHEWS: Do they intend to prosecute that lieutenant colonel or not?
WOMACK: I don‘t think they do.
MATTHEWS: And if not, why are they giving him immunity?
WOMACK: I don‘t think they will give him immunity. Well, they won‘t give him immunity.
I don‘t think they will prosecute him, because that would prove that this is a much broader-scope problem than just seven M.P.s. The government doesn‘t want to admit that.
MATTHEWS: Yes, that would be a lot of people‘s reasonable assumption,
by the way, watching this whole thing.
Anyway, thank you. Good luck with your case on Monday with your client, Charles Graner, Specialist Graner.
WOMACK: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Guy Womack, for coming here with that exclusive.
WOMACK: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Longtime journalist Robert MacNeil coming up on the evolution of the American language. This is really fascinating stuff. It reflects American society, he says, how we talk, the accent we use. I‘m from Philly. Can‘t you tell? He joins us here next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: American English is constantly evolving. The way we speak is a unique window in fact into American society. Longtime PBS news anchor Robert MacNeil peers through that window in his new book, “Do You Speak American?”
Well, I think this is great stuff, Robert. I really love it. What got to you write about the way we talk?
MATTHEWS: Or I say talk.
ROBERT MACNEIL, AUTHOR, “DO YOU SPEAK AMERICAN?”: Talk, yes.
Well, I‘ve always been fascinated by this. Growing up in Canada, I heard so many different accents and then, coming here, so many more. And we did this series in the 1980s called “The Story of English” about the whole English language. And we always wanted to come back and do more on American English today. And that‘s what we‘ve done.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk about regional. When I went to Holy Cross, people talked about corn on the cob. And if you asked a fellow—I did it to a classmate—I said, what‘s the difference between C-O-N and C-O-R-N? And it was the same pronunciation.
MATTHEWS: How did that get started, the dropping of the R in New England?
MACNEIL: It got started in all the East Coast cities except Philadelphia because they were settled by people from England who didn‘t pronounce the final R‘s. Only Philadelphia was different because of the huge influx of Scots-Irish, people from Northern Ireland in the 18th century, before the revolution.
MATTHEWS: Good people, all of them.
Let me ask you about Southern English. When I went to Chapel Hill in grad school, I learned that you don‘t pronounce your I‘s so strongly. You have a softer I. It is fine weather. It‘s not fine weather.
MATTHEWS: Where did that come from?
MACNEIL: I can‘t tell you about that.
I can tell you that the Southern accent is changing a lot. The coastal plantation Southern with the soft R, the kind of Scarlett O‘Hara speech that Vivien Leigh gave us in “Gone with the Wind,” that is disappearing. And now more and more Southerners, especially in the cities, are pronouncing their R‘s. It‘s quite a revolution there.
MATTHEWS: Is that from television, Robert?
MACNEIL: I don‘t think it is from television. I think it is because of the people moving in from—a lot of people moving in from the North. You know, the South is really...
MATTHEWS: Sure, the research triangle especially around Chapel Hill, yes.
MACNEIL: Yes, but all over the South, there‘s been a big migration into the Sun Belt.
And partly, it‘s the influence of country music, which used to be a regional phenomenon, is now a national phenomenon. And more and more people are talking country.
MACNEIL: Talking country is the way you talk American informally nowadays.
MATTHEWS: Forty years ago, people like David Brinkley and Roger Mudd tried to lose their Southern accents when they went on national television.
MATTHEWS: Are we going the other way?
MACNEIL: I think...
MATTHEWS: Maybe they didn‘t try to lose it, but they seemed to be able to speak in this sort of national English as well.
MACNEIL: Yes, well, that‘s where broadcasting aimed for. But I think the networks and others are a lot more relaxed about regional accents now. Dan Rather is there. And Jim Lehrer has a bit of a regional accent. And it‘s...
MATTHEWS: Could a Jerry Orbach from New York City, who is a wonderful actor who just died a year ago, a real New York accent guy...
MATTHEWS: Could he ever make it in national television? People say the media is New York dominated. I don‘t know anybody in the national media who has a New York accent.
MACNEIL: Except on “Law & Order.”
MATTHEWS: Except on—but not in television news, it seems.
Jerry Orbach told us a very funny—a very funny story. Can I just look up in the index of this book?
MACNEIL: About how he was taught at Northwestern to remember the—that—now I can‘t find it in the index here—to remember the East Coast accents. And they would say, if you wanted to use the phrase stark naked, they would tell these actors to say stock naked, stack naked, stork naked, according to the different regions in the Northeast.
MATTHEWS: How did we get differences like Nevada and Nevada? Back East, we said Nevada, Nevada. And out West, I learned it was Nevada, or tournament and tournament. How did those start?
I don‘t know how those started. Most of the Western accents from the midland or Midwest westwards were reformed from the Midwest and they kind of fanned out to the west. So you would have a hard time telling the difference between, Ronald Reagan, who grew up in Illinois, and Richard Nixon, who grew up in California. Of course, Reagan was a long time in California.
It is that basic standard American that most people admire as the sort of—the correct way to speak American. And it is mostly from the Midwest.
MATTHEWS: Well, are you better off coming from the Canada or from the Midwest like Tom Brokaw or Dick Cavett or Johnny Carson?
MATTHEWS: They all speak that perfect non-accented American.
MACNEIL: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Is that the best bet if you want to make it in this business?
MACNEIL: Well, that‘s what everybody says.
When I came down from Canada, first came down, I was pronouncing O-U-T as oat, as you do in Nova Scotia.
MACNEIL: Oat and a-boat.
MACNEIL: And I‘ve tried to change that. But when I go back to Nova Scotia, sit up late having a drink with my brothers, I‘m back to oat and a-boat.
MATTHEWS: Do you still say eh?
MACNEIL: I don‘t say it so much. I used to say it more.
MATTHEWS: OK. You know what‘s funny? You talk—Canadians I‘ve known have talked—like people around Washington area, like John Warner, they say about the same way.
MACNEIL: In Southern Virginia, that is almost the same as the Canadian, yes.
MATTHEWS: Yes, interesting. Is it Elizabethan English or what is that?
MACNEIL: I don‘t think it‘s Elizabethan.
MACNEIL: There‘s a kind of myth that Elizabethan or Shakespeare in English is alive and well in the Appalachians or South Carolina.
MACNEIL: It really isn‘t. It‘s...
MATTHEWS: I feel like Colonel Pickering talking to Henry Higgins with you.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, we‘ll be back with his Robert MacNeil about his new book, “Do You Speak American?” also what‘s happening in network news this weekend.
On Sunday, by the way, on January 16, at 9:00 Eastern, join Tom Brokaw and myself for a look back at over four decades of inaugurations in a special program, “Picking our Presidents: Leaders and Legacies.” We‘ll see how the promise of a new administration has been matched or missed by the reality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.
TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: What was so electrifying about the appearance of John F. Kennedy that day is that we would have president who didn‘t seem to be anything other than our grandparents.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, he promised youth. He gave youth. Youth brought with it perhaps naivete.
BROKAW: Well, I don‘t think it was entirely youth. I think that they were all products of a can-do World War II era in which they had served. They believed in reaching.
MATTHEWS: That‘s Tom Brokaw back on MSNBC with me for “Picking our Presidents: Leaders and Legacies” Sunday January 16 at 9:00 Eastern time.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Robert MacNeil, author of a new book which I‘m fascinated by, “Do You Speak American?”
Let me try something by you. This is HARDBALL, Robert. Let me ask you this. Do you think that I‘m right that, when people speak with an accent, they‘re really giving away something besides of the fact of where they grew up? They‘re speaking in a way that tells you whether they‘re high pressure type A‘s, when they talk in a quick-pace Philadelphia accent like me, or they‘re speaking in a more calm accent coming out of the South. Do you think accents tell us about our lifestyle?
MACNEIL: I think it may. It‘s probably more where you come from, where you went to school, because when kids change schools, as so many Americans do every year, the kids start speaking like the kids they‘re with in school, not so much like their parents. The other thing is...
MATTHEWS: Did you say the word like?
MACNEIL: Like, yes.
MATTHEWS: The word like populates every sentence of my daughter.
MACNEIL: Yes, well, it does in my daughter, too.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that word?
MACNEIL: Well, it‘s become—one usage of it is, it‘s become like people in my generation used to say um or er, you know?
MACNEIL: Also, it has come to be used what the linguists call a quotative. It‘s used—instead of saying he said, they say, I was like, what are you doing? And he was like, well, I‘m just standing here, you know, like. And we have—may I just read you a short thing in the book?
MATTHEWS: Sure, I would love to hear it. I know what you‘re talking about. Please do it.
MACNEIL: There‘s a guy we ran into who was a snowboarder in California. His name was Jake (ph).
And he used the word like 13 times in a sentence of 69 words. “Yes, I like do, I like what I say like sometimes people just don‘t understand like I—my terminology for certain things, which is like, who am I, my clique, my group, like my friends, like nobody understands it. So I go someplace new and they‘re like, they don‘t know what it is. So like, they‘re like, they‘re like, and they‘re like, what are you talking about, like what did you say?
MATTHEWS: You know, Mike Nichols one referred to the phenomenon called the Los Angelization of America. Is this all from the San Fernando Valley, this language?
MACNEIL: Well, it‘s not only from that.
It is from surfer dude talk, which has kind of elided into snowboarder and skateboarder talk, plus, valley girl and the San Fernando Valley.
MATTHEWS: Where did dude come from? This righteous far-out dude told me the other day. I mean, where did that come from?
MACNEIL: Well, dude is...
MATTHEWS: From cowboy movies?
MACNEIL: No. Dude starts way back in the 19th century. And it was an English expression for people who put on a lot of airs and fancy closing and everything.
And then that evolved into dude ranch. Remember the dude ranch, where people who weren‘t real cowboys, but sort of rich people who could go there. And then recently, it has become to be just a kind of funny way of addressing people, including women now. Women can be dudes.
MACNEIL: Yes. Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: So they used to say, and Matt Dillon in the old days of “Gunsmoke,” marshal, there‘s a dude in town. And then you see this guy that looked like Jeff Goldblum walking down the streets with a long overcoat on and a fancy tie.
MACNEIL: And the other thing that‘s funny about forms of address nowadays, I noticed this living in the Upper West Side in Manhattan. A young waitress will come to my wife and me in a restaurant. We‘re old enough to be her grandparents. She says, how are you guys? You guys has become the generic form of address, because it is gender neutral, age neutral, class neutral, everything. You guys.
MATTHEWS: Can you tell Al Pacino and Mario Cuomo? And I was in New York this weekend and I was trying to think if I really had been able to figure out Queens. Can you do it by burro?
MACNEIL: I can‘t. I can‘t, no. I‘ve only lived here for 40 years.
MATTHEWS: Well, good luck with this book. Henry Higgins would be proud of you, as would Colonel Pickering and everyone from the cast of “Pygmalion.”
“Do You Speak American?” Robert MacNeil. Thank you very much for joining us on HARDBALL. Good luck with the book.
MACNEIL: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, radio talk show host Al Franken recently returned from a USO tour of Iraq. And he‘ll be here to tell us about what it was like to meet with those brave troops over there.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, radio talk show host Al Franken is just back from Iraq and will tell us about his visit with America‘s brave men and women over there—when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Al Franken recently returned from his second USO tour of Iraq. And his radio network, Air America, is launching this month here in Washington, D.C., the nation‘s capital.
Al Franken, welcome back from Iraq.
AL FRANKEN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Your feelings on meeting with the troops and entertaining them?
FRANKEN: Well, it‘s always very gratifying.
This trip, this is my fifth USO, the second, you‘re right, in Iraq. And it is always a lot of joy, a lot of fun, a lot of things that are moving and sad and disturbing. I admire our troops tremendously. And it always just makes me angry at our administration at how badly we bungled the war. But my job isn‘t—when I go there isn‘t to tell the troops, your president lied to you and you‘re dying for no reason.
My job is to entertain, just—you know, I never served in the military. So I feel this is my way of giving back by going there, telling a few jokes and leaving as quickly as possible.
MATTHEWS: What did it feel like to wear Saddam Hussein‘s uniform and to come out as his person?
FRANKEN: Well, what‘s funny about it is, is that, you know, it is a sketch and sort of—when I‘m there, I think to myself sort of as Bob Hope. Like, my first joke is, you know, this Navy or this Army grub doesn‘t agree with me so far. I‘ve had five MREs and none of them seem to have an exit strategy, that sort of joke.
And I come out as Saddam. And what‘s interesting is that, at a certain opponent, they kind of like feel like I‘m Saddam. So I get abused by the troops. But it is meant to do that. It is meant to...
MATTHEWS: You play the heavy pretty well, huh?
FRANKEN: Yes. And I‘m handcuffed and I have a couple M.P.s behind me. And I do I say a F-you, F-you, you know, except I say the word. And you, too. And it is—they actually—yes, it is a lot of fun. It is a funny piece. I‘ve done it a couple years in a row.
MATTHEWS: What do they—what do they—did you get anybody over there? I‘m now digging for trouble here, as journalists must do. Anybody come up to you and say, you lefty bastard, what are you doing over here?
FRANKEN: You know, I get asked that. And no, not at all.
In fact, oddly enough—now, I went over there. One of the reasons that the trip is so much fun for me is, I go with a lot of guys who are actually quite right-wing and rednecks, really.
FRANKEN: Darryl Worley, the country singer who did “Have You Forgotten?” Mark Wills, Bradshaw the wrestler, Karri Turner from “JAG.”
And I had this happen a few times, which—guys would come up to me and say, look, I‘m completely opposite of you politically. But the fact that you came over here, I respect you more than I respect Darryl Worley.
And I would go, like, no, no, no, they‘re over here, too.
No, I respect you more because you‘re against the war.
And, actually, I‘m not—like, I think we made a mistake going into the war and I think we bungled it, how we‘ve done it. But I‘m like Kerry was, which is, we‘re here now. We have to do this. But it would be—and I would say no, no, no. There are millions of people in the United States who support the war who aren‘t here. Darryl is. Mark is. Bradshaw is here.
FRANKEN: No, I respect you more. So...
MATTHEWS: It‘s interesting, because, according to the latest poll that was taken by the military, within the military, incredible poll showed that about a third of the people over there, men and women, disagree with the war policy, don‘t like the war. But two-thirds do. Did that sort of come through when you were talking to people? Or didn‘t they get that specific about their opinions?
FRANKEN: They didn‘t—you know what I got the sense of is that they‘re very proud of the work they do, whether or not they‘re for the war or feel like that the war has been fought properly.
I think most of them do support the mission. But I think there are a lot who are agnostic on it or who feel pride being in the military. I think their loyalty is to their fellow troops, the guys in their unit. And the higher I went, when I spoke to officers, the more frank they would tend to be about a lot of the mistakes that were made.
I actually had an officer who—I obviously won‘t say who he was—who said to me, listen, George W. Bush is my commander in chief. I have to respect him. But if I got Rumsfeld in my sights, I would not hesitate to squeeze off a couple rounds.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Darryl Worley, because he‘s the guy who sings remember have you felt, right?
FRANKEN: Have you forgotten.
MATTHEWS: Have you forgotten how you felt, that‘s the wording, yes.
That‘s the lyrics.
FRANKEN: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: But a lot of that has been misplayed. He apparently wrote that, those lyrics, during the time of the fight in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS: And then people turned that into an argument for the war in Iraq.
FRANKEN: Right. He went to Afghanistan.
And a lot of people don‘t know how show business works. He went. It takes a while to write a song, record it and get it out. So, he came out in the lead-up to the war in Iraq and people—but mentions bin Laden in the song more times than Bush has since like 2002.
FRANKEN: And so it was really about Afghanistan.
Now, Darryl is very much in favor of the war in Iraq and is more unquestioning about it I would say than I am. But, no, that was misunderstood and I think, in many cases, deliberately so, by people like Sean Hannity.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re right, in general terms. I‘ll say that.
Let me ask you this about feeling like Bob Hope over there. I read it
· you probably read that wonderful piece in “The New York Times” a week ago about the Robin Williams tour over there.
MATTHEWS: Was it just like that? Were they just—it was nonpolitical and the guys just loved it, the show?
FRANKEN: Yes. Yes. Yes. There‘s nothing—my job is just to have fun, entertain the troops. The show is tremendous fun. There‘s tremendous joy. There‘s laughter. There‘s cheering. Best audience in the world.
They so appreciate your just being there.
FRANKEN: Last year, I was in the same hangar that Bush did his—who came with the Thanksgiving turkey, the plastic turkey.
FRANKEN: And a soldier went up to the manager of one of the girl groups who was singing with us. And he said, sir, it is an honor to meet you. And the manager said, no, no, you don‘t understand. I‘m manager of the girl group.
And he goes, no, you don‘t understand. I‘m a soldier. I have to be here. I met President Bush three weeks ago. He is the commander in chief. He really had to come. It‘s more of an honor to meet you, sir, than it was to meet President Bush because you‘re here and you don‘t have to be here. You came because you care.
MATTHEWS: That‘s important.
FRANKEN: And you get that all the time from these guys. And these guys, our soldiers are magnificent.
MATTHEWS: What babes did you bring with you?
FRANKEN: What base?
FRANKEN: Babes. You know what?
MATTHEWS: Who was your Joey Heatherton?
FRANKEN: We did not have the—well, Karri Turner from “JAG,” who is very attractive, came with us. We did not have the pulchritude that we normally had. We didn‘t have—we had cheerleaders.
MATTHEWS: You were much more wholesome than the usual stuff in the past from Bob Hope‘s days.
FRANKEN: Yes. And we were angry. We had cheerleaders last year from the Washington Redskins.
MATTHEWS: Right. Oh, they‘re great.
FRANKEN: And when Darryl and Mark found out about it and I found out about it, we were livid, because we—the guys love the cheerleaders. And it actually makes it more pleasant for to us travel, too.
Well, I love the cheerleaders. I watch the Washington Redskins cheerleaders every Sunday. And that‘s what the binoculars are for.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, we‘ll be right back with Al Franken.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Al Franken.
The question that always come up is, why have conservatives done so well on talk radio? And you weren‘t given much of a chance when you got started with Air America. But you‘re doing well. You‘re coming into Washington, D.C. You‘re on right up against Rush Limbaugh 12:00 to 3:00 Eastern time. And you‘re coming into D.C.
How is it surviving? How come you‘ve proven the rule that conservatives own talk radio not to be true?
FRANKEN: Well, when we started, when we were starting, Rush said, liberals are not going to listen to talk radio. There‘s too much nuance. Liberal like nuance or—and I think I do a nuanced show, actually.
And then, like the first period, ratings period out, we beat him in Portland, Oregon. I beat him. And it was like, well, of course, Portland is liberal.
MATTHEWS: Portland, Oregon, is the most left-wing city in the country. What are you talking about?
FRANKEN: No, no, but then—but this is my point. He said, well, Portland is liberal. And I go, like, well, wait a minute. Didn‘t you say liberals aren‘t going to listen to talk radio?
MATTHEWS: I see.
FRANKEN: Fifty percent of the country is liberal. So—and the answer is, there is—we have tapped into a market that wants, desperately wants to hear another side.
And so we are—I‘ll give you another city, San Diego, San Diego, a very conservative town, right?
MATTHEWS: A military town, too.
FRANKEN: No. 1.
FRANKEN: We were No. 1 the first month we were there. Our station, the No. 1 station on radio, not talk radio, just the No. 1 station on radio in San Diego the first month. That‘s what saved us.
MATTHEWS: How do you beat—Limbaugh once told me—he‘s a friend of mine. He once told me that his success was that he stopped putting guests on the show, because guests are always on to sell books or push something and the show loses its sense of direction and purpose. It is better for him just to dominate the show.
Can you go head to head for three hours with Rush Limbaugh? Do you have enough gas to do it for three hours without guests?
FRANKEN: I do a very different show than Rush.
Rush I think—he didn‘t have guests because he was in Sacramento.
MATTHEWS: I know.
FRANKEN: He kept getting fired down—and there weren‘t a lot of guests coming to Sacramento. Also, he is not a good interviewer. Also, he‘s a bit reclusive and is not good with people.
FRANKEN: I‘m very different than he—I‘ll give you an example.
MATTHEWS: You‘re good with people. You‘re not reclusive. You like guests. You like to help people sell books.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
FRANKEN: I also do something that is even more important in the way I‘m different.
He lies. He lies. And I‘ll give you an example. A couple months ago, he was talking on a show about the minimum wage. And you know what the right wing says about the minimum wage, is that you need it to be low to create entry-level jobs.
FRANKEN: And he said, 75 percent of people on the minimum wage, my friends, are teenagers in their first job.
Now, I heard that and I went to my staff and I said, OK, we know that‘s not true. Look it up. So one of the researchers, one of my researchers went to something called the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
MATTHEWS: Right, BLS.
FRANKEN: OK, 60.1 percent of people on the minimum wage are adults in this country.
MATTHEWS: What is the definition of an adult? Is it 18 or 21?
FRANKEN: Twenty and above.
MATTHEWS: All right, 20 and above, OK.
FRANKEN: OK? But not—a teenager is someone 19 and below.
MATTHEWS: Got you.
FRANKEN: OK, also not—and he said in their first job, 75 percent.
Now, he obviously pulled this statistic directly from his butt, OK?
FRANKEN: And it went right from his butt out his mouth over through the air.
MATTHEWS: But that doesn‘t make you a liar, though. I hate that word, liar. You use it, but you call somebody a liar, the debate is over, because you‘re questioning their motives. You‘re saying they‘re a bad person.
FRANKEN: He does it all the time.
Because, when you do it consistently and when you do it all the time, you‘re a liar, you know? I mean, if you don‘t care at all about accuracy, you‘re not—in our business, Chris, you‘re either serving your listeners or your viewers or you are manipulating them. And he is manipulating them. And I‘m serving them. And that‘s the difference.
MATTHEWS: And could you stand before God and win that case?
FRANKEN: Absolutely, no question. After the Wellstone memorial, he lied and lied and lied.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you this. If he were confronted, Rush Limbaugh, with your research, from the BLS, Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is nonpartisan and it‘s the best numbers in the country.
MATTHEWS: What do you think his response would be? Or did he have a response to your fact-check?
FRANKEN: I‘m on three hours a day. I make mistakes.
FRANKEN: That‘s what he would say.
But we monitor him. And he does this every day, all the time. He said today—I believe it was today—that, yes, because we just had a meeting. I just came from a meeting at our show. He said today that the United States gives more foreign aid per capita than any country in the world, which is just not true.
And we‘re at the bottom of developed countries. And we just are. Now, you can make nuanced arguments about the size of our country and what our military does and all these kinds of things. But he just made a bald-faced statement.
MATTHEWS: What is the secret to Rush Limbaugh‘s success, though?
There is a secret that you haven‘t—it isn‘t lying. What is it?
FRANKEN: It is—I think he creates a world view. And he has an intimacy.
I think there is a success to being able to bloviate yourself for three hours without having to have guests. And I think he creates a world view that a lot of angry especially men, but not exclusive to them.
FRANKEN: Sort of buy into and want to believe, want to believe they‘re victimized.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think there‘s something to that.
MATTHEWS: But I‘ll tell you, you go into a barber shop, you go into a dinette in America, he‘s your competition, isn‘t he?
FRANKEN: Yes. But you know what?
I am really happy to take him on. It seems like every market I have gone into—and I‘m talking—you‘re right. San Diego is a military town. And I beat him there in my first month. Now, I don‘t...
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s see how do you in D.C. You‘re coming into WRC in Washington. It is a station I listen to. You‘re on with a lot of other talk shows. We‘ll see how do you and we‘ll report back when the time is appropriate. We‘ll give you a decent run and see you in three months if you‘re beating Rush Limbaugh in D.C., in the nation‘s capital.
You will be here. By the way, you‘re coming here as baseball is coming here.
Al Franken, thanks for coming on.
FRANKEN: I look forward to the Nationals.
MATTHEWS: Monday night, “Newsweek”‘s managing editor, Jon Meacham, joins me for a HARDBALL/”Newsweek” special report, “The Real Civil War,” the cautious warriors in uniform against hawkish Pentagon civilians. And, on Wednesday, Senator Ted Kennedy on the future of the Democratic Party. That‘s Wednesday night only on HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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