Guest: Debra Saunders, Amy Goodman, Cokie Roberts, Roy Moore, Evelyn Hutcheson, Tom Fenton
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Should the Ten Commandments be removed from government buildings? A battle of biblical proportions rises up to the Supreme Court.
As CBS News anchor Dan Rather prepares to step down next week, more bad news from the network from its former veteran correspondent Tom Fenton.
And 60 cities in 60 days, the Bush‘s administration great race into the homestretch to sell its Social Security plan.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
The Chicago federal judge whose husband and mother were gunned down in their own home says that if this was an attempt to intimidate her, it won‘t work. Judge Joan Lefkow told “The Chicago Sun-Times”—quote—“Nobody‘s going to intimidate me off my duty.”
Matt Hale is facing sentencing next month for soliciting an undercover FBI agent to kill Judge Lefkow. Today, Hale issued a statement from prison condemning the killing of Judge Lefkow husband and mother. Matthew Hale‘s mother, Evelyn Hutcheson, joins me on the phone right now from East Peoria, Illinois.
Ms. Hutcheson, thank you very much for being on the program, on
HARDBALL.When did you talk to Matt last?
EVELYN HUTCHESON, MOTHER OF MATT HALE: I talked to Matt this morning during a 15-minute phone conversation.
MATTHEWS: Did you tell him you were coming on this show today?
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about his feelings. What are his feelings about having his name referenced in the media concerning the death of the judge‘s husband and mother?
HUTCHESON: We didn‘t have that much time to talk, but I can tell you, he thinks it‘s absolutely horrible. He‘s concerned. And you have his statement, if you‘d like to read that. I mean, you have his statement, and he‘s saying that he hopes that they are sincere in trying to apprehend the animal that did this, instead of railroading the innocent, which is he.
He had nothing to do with it. He‘s under the SAMs. And the only conversations that he can have, he can have a 15-minute call to his father and I on Thursday mornings, and they do the telephoning. They get us on the line. And we listen to the SAMs. And then they put him on the phone for 15 minutes.
And anything—and there‘s somebody listening. There‘s FBI people listening to every word that he says. And then we see him twice a month on Tuesdays.
MATTHEWS: Why are they monitoring a conversation between son and mother?
HUTCHESON: Well, because he‘s under the SAMs. And for some damn reason—sorry—for some reason, they think he‘s a terrorist.
And this is what I‘m saying, and the reason that I‘ve agreed to go on. I want somebody, I want attorneys to read the trial transcript, and you will see how my son is not where—he does he not belong where he is right now. There was never any in evidence that courtroom. He should never have been convicted. Ben Smith was allowed in, when there was no evidence that Matt had anything to do—any connection with Ben Smith going out to kill anybody.
And during the closing argument—and the judge had ordered the prosecutor not to do this—the prosecutor said before the jury, during the closing argument, he said, the government had evidence that Matthew Hale ordered a member of his organization to go out and kill two people and injure many others. That was allowed. The judge didn‘t say a word. Then, Tom Durkin, who was Matt‘s attorney at the time, he didn‘t stand up and demand a mistrial, which he should have done.
So, this whole thing is a sham. He had nothing -- he was not angry with Judge Lefkow. He liked her. In fact, she ruled for him in his case before her. She ruled for him. What happened then is the 7th Circuit ordered her to reverse it. He was not angry—he was not angry with Judge Lefkow at all. And...
MATTHEWS: What was this conversation with Tony about? I mean, I looked at the transcript. I didn‘t hear him order any killing or anything.
MATTHEWS: Well, tell me, what part do you think they used against him? What part did they find condemnatory?
HUTCHESON: I—how do I think that he was found guilty, I believe it was because it was allowed that this—Smith‘s killings were allowed to be brought into his trial, which should never have been.
And then, the last thing that the jury heard from the prosecutor is that the government had evidence that Matthew Hale ordered Smith to go do this. And there was never any evidence to show that. And yet that was allowed in. And his attorney, Tom Durkin, was not doing his job. And he did not defend him. He did not present any defense.
HUTCHESON: You also remember that Tom Durkin bad-mouthed Matt all the way through the trial in front of the jury, which should never have been done.
MATTHEWS: Let me just ask you this. Your son Matt is completely innocent of any crime here?
HUTCHESON: Absolutely. He didn‘t order Tony—and, by the way, Tony, on the tapes, Tony came to Matt constantly, and he was wired because the government—the FBI had him wired. But he was the one that brought it up every time. Matt...
MATTHEWS: So—I know. Let‘s go through that, so people understand this. On the tape, in the transcript used in court, introduced in court as evidence against your son to say that he ordered to kill him...
MATTHEWS: Let me start the quote. You finish it. The agent said, so, you want the rat exterminated?
And your son said what?
HUTCHESON: Matt said, I—many times during his trial and on those tapes, you can hear Matt saying that, I will only do any—I‘m not interested, and I don‘t want anything to do with it.
MATTHEWS: No, he said, I want it to stay within the law.
HUTCHESON: He wanted to stay within the law and he wanted to change things legally. That‘s the way he went to law school and to be an attorney.
MATTHEWS: And then he said—and then he said, if you want to do something, that‘s fine with me.
HUTCHESON: He finally got tired of it. Tony, you have to realize, was mentally challenged. He had an I.Q. of about a 10-year-old.
MATTHEWS: No, no, I‘m talking about your son‘s quote. Didn‘t your son finally say something along the lines of, whatever you want to do is fine with me, if you want to do it; I‘m not telling you to do it?
MATTHEWS: I don‘t know whether that‘s incriminating or not, by the way, to me.
HUTCHESON: He didn‘t say, I‘m not telling you to do it.
What he said was, I have to follow the law. I have to do things, make
changes by legal means. Whatever you want to do is up to you. And he was
· this is because tony kept coming to him.
HUTCHESON: And you have to remember, Matt never mentioned it one time. He never brought it up one time. Tony kept coming back. Tony even, in fact, two times before, just before Matt was arrested, they had sent Tony to try to get Matt to offer him money, which he never did.
But many times on the tapes, if you listen to the whole thing, you would see Matt say, I‘m not interested. I don‘t want to do anything like that. I‘m not authorizing you to do anything. He did it repeatedly through that.
MATTHEWS: I read that. I know. In fact, that line didn‘t seem the strongest line in the world to tell somebody to go kill somebody. He said, if you‘re going to do something, do it. He didn‘t order him to do it.
MATTHEWS: But do you think—well, why do you think he was convicted then?
HUTCHESON: I think because they allowed the Ben Smith thing in. And I think these people in the Chicago area wanted somebody to pay the price for the terrible crimes that Smith committed. And there, they had somebody sitting in front of them.
And then they had a government prosecutor who said the government had evidence that Matt Hale ordered it.
HUTCHESON: You know.
MATTHEWS: You talked about Hale, who is your son, who is inside now awaiting sentencing. Does he want the people who did this to come forward? Does he want them tried?
HUTCHESON: Oh, you have his statement. You have his statement.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t have it right here, but I read it this morning.
HUTCHESON: OK. Well, do you want to read it to the people?
MATTHEWS: Pardon me?
HUTCHESON: There‘s simply—“There is simply no way that any supporter of mine would commit such a heinous—such a heinous crime. I totally condemn it and I want the perpetrator caught and prosecuted. I only hope they sincerely wish to apprehend the animal, instead of railroading the innocent. Only an idiot would think that I would do this. My sentencing date is April the 6th.”
Now, he‘s saying that because why on earth would he want someone to go out and commit a crime, so that his judge in his case can enhance his prison term, possibly sending him away for more years than we‘ll be alive, his parents?
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Evelyn, thank you very much, Ms.
HUTCHESON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: The mother of Matt Hale. Thank you very much for coming on the program by phone.
Joining us now is a judge who sparked a big fight over the Ten Commandments, Judge Roy Moore. Justice Moore was the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, but was forced to step down two years ago after he refused to remove a concrete—a granite, rather—monument of the Ten Commandments from the court‘s building. We all watched that story. He writes about that fight in his new book, “So Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny, and the Battle For Religious Freedom.”
Judge, let me ask you about this. Do you think we need to have these religious icons on courthouse steps?
ROY MOORE, FORMER ALABAMA CHIEF JUSTICE: Well, I don‘t think it‘s a religious icon. I think it‘s an acknowledgement of God, and I think it‘s altogether proper to be displayed in public spaces, yes.
MATTHEWS: Just Christian monuments or should there be other religious monuments?
MOORE: It‘s an acknowledgement of the God that the Christians worship and the Jewish worship. It‘s an acknowledgement of the very God upon which this nation was founded, the Judeo-Christian God.
MATTHEWS: Well, tell me about your philosophy, because the Supreme Court is now ruling on the case. Give us the status report on the ruling right now. Where are they at right now?
MOORE: My philosophy is that we ought to go by the law. The law is quite clear, “Congress shall make no laws respecting the establish of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” being the first part of the First Amendment.
We ought to go by the explicit terms of the law. That‘s what a judge is to do, is interpret the law. When a judge takes and doesn‘t rule by the law and rules by the way he feels, then of course he‘s not interpreting the law, and he enters unlawful orders.
MATTHEWS: But, you know, every time there‘s one of these cases, there‘s always some plaintiff that comes forward, maybe a person who is an atheist or maybe Jewish, maybe Buddhist, maybe something that isn‘t part of the mainstream Christian majority of this country.
MATTHEWS: Or maybe Christian in a secondary group doesn‘t like something. Why are they complaining?
MOORE: Well, they‘re complaining because they don‘t like to think that there‘s a higher authority, that there are standards that are immutable and nonchanging. And they want that out of their lives. And they‘ve been taught that God has no place in public life.
MATTHEWS: But we had a—we had a situation not too many years ago, in our lifetimes, in the public schools of this country, started off the day by reading from the King James version of the Bible. Are you all for that?
MOORE: I‘m altogether for acknowledging God.
MATTHEWS: No, no, that particular thing, letting kids in school—or having the teachers lead them in a particular prayer from the Bible. Do you think it‘s OK?
MOORE: Not if it‘s forced upon them, no.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by forced upon them?
MOORE: If people are made to do that, no. But if they—they should be allowed to do that, yes.
MATTHEWS: How would that work in a school in the Bronx in New York, where you have South Asians, Indians, Pakistani of all different backgrounds religiously? You‘ve got people from all over Asia, Africa, all with different religions. And every time an Arab kid stood up and read something from the Koran, the Jewish kid would take it as an offense, because it may well be used in that way.
MOORE: Offensiveness is not a violation of the Constitution. I‘m simply saying it should be free to all to acknowledge their beliefs.
MATTHEWS: But if it‘s free to all in a diverse community, it would be a cacophony of prayers, some with strong political overtones.
MOORE: Well, I‘m sure that that would be worked out in a particular community.
MATTHEWS: Worked out?
MATTHEWS: Do you think that you could work that out in the Bronx, New York, or in Brooklyn, or in any big city where I come from, in Philadelphia? They‘d all agree on the same religious text being be used?
MOORE: No. I‘m simply saying that the acknowledgement of the God upon which this nation was founded cannot be prohibited by government. That‘s a contradiction of government.
MATTHEWS: So you‘re making an historic case rather than a case for religious expression.
MOORE: No. Religious expression, religious freedom comes because of an existence of this God. That was a Supreme Court decision. Here‘s a case from the United States Supreme Court called Macintosh.
MOORE: And it says that religious liberty comes from obedience to the will of God in 1931.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. Would you bother—would you mind it if the United States Congress opened up a session, instead of it being a Christian or a Jewish, a rabbi or a Christian minister or a priest reading a prayer, would you like it if some day it was an Arab prayer? It was a Koran reading in the U.S. Congress?
MOORE: What I would like—what I would like and what is constitutional are two different questions. Because I didn‘t like something wouldn‘t make it unconstitutional.
MATTHEWS: Would it be constitutional as far as you read it?
MOORE: If it‘s not an establishment of religion, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: It wouldn‘t be an establishment of religion to have a reading from a Buddhist prayer book?
MOORE: That‘s not an establishment of religion, no.
MATTHEWS: Well, what would be if it isn‘t reading from the Congress?
MOORE: Well, it‘s a reading of a Jewish prayer book, but...
MATTHEWS: Hiring—how about—do you like the fact that we pay the chaplains at the U.S. Congress the same amount that we pay senators and congressmen to represent their religious beliefs in the chamber of the Congress? Is that legal?
MOORE: The payment of chaplains and—chaplains in Congress has been litigated before in U.S. history, and Congress addressed these things earlier.
MATTHEWS: And you think that‘s OK? That‘s not establishing a religion?
MATTHEWS: Hiring a chaplain to express their religious belief?
MOORE: No. It‘s going on every day, isn‘t it?
MATTHEWS: It is.
MOORE: It is.
MATTHEWS: I‘m just wondering whether it‘s constitutional by your reading of it.
MOORE: It‘s not Congress making the law respecting an establishment of religion, no.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘ll be right back with Chief Justice Roy Moore. And his new book is called “So Help Me God.”
And, later, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the man known on Capitol Hill as the Hammer, is he losing his grip on power down in Texas?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, should the Ten Commandments be allowed to stand on government property?
Back with former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. And, of course, Justice Moore is known for having that 2.5 ton Ten Commandments on the property of the courthouse.
But I want to ask you about something that is so important to this show. We talk about the presidency all the time. We talk about the president violating his oath sometimes. We talk about the importance of that decision to put your hand in the air and take the oath. What does that mean under the law right now? Does that mean—so help me God, does that mean anything anymore?
MOORE: Well, to some, it does. To some, it doesn‘t. But it should.
It was the grand foundation of all judicial oaths. It was included in the oath in 1789, which is included in my book and an explanation that the first justices of the federal courts were required to say, so help me God. Even the president of the United States, although that oath is not included in the Constitution, in his oath, so help me God, which...
MATTHEWS: That started with Washington, didn‘t it?
MOORE: Well, it really started hundreds of years before with English kings.
MOORE: That was the format for an English monarch. He would kiss the Bible and say, so help me God, as did Washington.
MATTHEWS: Well, what does it mean under the Supreme Court, that now says it wants no establishment of religion? You can‘t have more of an establishment of religion than to say to become president of the United States, you have to swear to God, right?
MOORE: Well, religion and God were different. And now they say that God is religion. And so they‘re saying, you can say so help me God, one nation under God, and these things, but you can‘t say who God is. And that‘s hypocrisy.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, people who are not believers at all, atheists or agnostics, even, agnostics, they would find it offensive to say God. They wouldn‘t want to say the lord, perhaps, because that refers to Jesus. But aren‘t there a lot of people out there who go before the court and say, I don‘t want even God referenced?
MOORE: Sure. And they‘re not made to—they‘re not made to take an oath, so help me God. They can affirm.
And that‘s done in courts all across the land. And, in 1961, there was a case in Maryland that said you didn‘t have to take an oath to God to hold public office.
MOORE: But the problem is, we should be able to acknowledge God.
MATTHEWS: How does the military explain giving commissions, high commissions, to chaplains, who are there to express a religious belief?
MOORE: Well, that was protested in 1853 and 1854 before the United States Congress. The United States Congress wrote two reports, one—I have both these reports here—discussing what an establishment of religion was, and they said this was not an establishment, because establishment meant to establish a church like the English Church, or to have a form of worship with defined qualifications for ministers and so forth.
They said, this was an establishment. But acknowledging God is not the establishment of religion. And the cases that are before the United States Supreme Court now are—could be a real problem to Christians in this country.
Your belief is that original intent of the Constitution by the founding fathers was to simply say we‘re not going to be like England or like Spain. In England, it‘s the Anglican Church.
MOORE: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: That the king is in fact defender of the faith. That‘s one of his titles. We wouldn‘t have a system like that. We wouldn‘t have a system like in some Catholic countries in Europe, where they actually have the Catholic faith as its official religion.
MOORE: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that‘s the intent of...
MOORE: That‘s right.
The intent of separation of church and state, the intent of our forefathers was not to allow the state to control the church. And the First Amendment stands for the proposition that the federal government can‘t tell the states how to worship God. And when a federal judge says you cannot worship God or you cannot acknowledge God, he contradicts the First Amendment altogether.
MATTHEWS: So you believe that putting the Ten Commandments in granite, 2.5 ton configuration of this—of the representation of the Ten Commandments, is consistent with not establishing a religion?
MOORE: Absolutely. A monument has never become a law. A monument is not made by a legislature.
MATTHEWS: Congress will pass no law establishing a religion.
MOORE: That‘s right. A monument is not a law. It‘s not an establishment. And religion was specifically defined by the United States Supreme Court in 1878 and 1890. It was defined as the duties we owe to the creator and the manner of discharging it.
Because that definition recognizes God, the federal courts don‘t want to address the textual meaning of the First Amendment. And they rely on their feelings.
MATTHEWS: Good luck with your book, “So Help Me God.”
MATTHEWS: It raises a lot of questions in this country. Judge—
Chief Justice Roy Moore. The book‘s called, “So Help Me God.” Great title.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay wields a lot of power in Congress. He is called the Hammer. But could his seat back in Texas be in trouble? We‘ll talk about that when we come back on HARDBALL.
You‘re watching it on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Here in Washington, when you talk about the most powerful and feared member of the U.S. House of Representatives, almost everybody knows you‘re talking about Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. But now the man known around the Capitol as the Hammer may be facing a challenge at home.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Majority leader is recognized.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is a major force on every issue in Congress.
REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: But in order to protect some of the world‘s most vulnerable people, consider it and pass it, we must.
SHUSTER: And he is just as ruthless as ever with Republicans who cross him, and all Democrats.
DELAY: It is a shame that Democrat anger at their loss of power has manifested itself in contemptible behavior.
SHUSTER: But back home in Sugar Land, Texas, the loss of power seems to be Tom DeLay‘s. Last November, against a relatively unknown Democrat, DeLay received just 55 percent of the vote.
CHARLIE COOK, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, “THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT”: You can‘t carve up a state to get five new districts for your party without giving up some margins.
SHUSTER: And for DeLay, there are other issues. Last year, three Texas associates of DeLay were indicted on charges of illegal fund-raising, and DeLay ran into trouble with the House Ethics Committee.
He was admonished for inviting energy lobbyists to a fund-raiser just before the energy bill was brought to the House floor. He was admonished for muscling a fellow Republican during a Medicare debate by promising to help the lawmaker‘s son, and DeLay was admonished for using the Federal Aviation Administration to round up missing Democrats in the Texas legislature. The legislature need a quorum, so it could pass a controversial redistricting plan that helped Republicans.
DELAY: It‘s really unfortunate it got so nasty. But after getting everything that they threw at us, we knew we had to push back.
SHUSTER: And DeLay‘s allies pushed back late last year by trying to gut House ethics rules for any lawmaker who gets indicted. A few key Republicans, though, balked. And DeLay, the ultimate vote counter, reversed course.
COOK: Is he a hard-charging, true-blue conservative? Yes. But Tom DeLay is a very pragmatic guy. And I think he saw that there are limits to even what he can do.
SHUSTER: Democrats, though, now smell blood, and they are raising money fast to keep ads like this one running in DeLay‘s home district.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Republicans should stand up and demand Tom DeLay‘s resignation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: But DeLay is hitting back, and not just against the Democrats. Republican Joel Hefley, after daring to stand up to the House majority leader, has been removed as chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
(on camera): Tom DeLay, the Hammer, didn‘t get that nickname by accident. And Republicans who stand in his way, and all Democrats, are in for a brutal fight, even if DeLay, for the first time in years, now seems vulnerable.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Still ahead, an insider‘s critique of television news from longtime CBS foreign correspondent Tom Fenton.
Plus, veteran Washington newswoman Cokie Roberts is going to be here.
And tomorrow, Martha Stewart‘s expected to walk out of prison. Tonight, at 9:00 Eastern time, join Lester Holt for an MSNBC special on Martha Stewart‘s rise to celebrity and then very public fall. That‘s tonight at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: For 38 years, former CBS foreign correspondent Tom Fenton reported from every corner of the globe. Yet, now in retirement, he feels the media has let down its audience. In his new book, “Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All,” Fenton argues that the news media missed the biggest story out there, the rise of global terrorism, by falling down on the job.
Tom Fenton joins me now this evening from New York.
Mr. Fenton, let me ask you to begin tonight by telling the story of Mohamed Atta speaking with that agricultural agent down in Florida.
TOM FENTON, AUTHOR, “BAD NEWS”: Well, even now, it seems unbelievable. And it‘s one of the most alarming examples of what can happen when the news don‘t do their job.
Mohamed Atta went to see a Department of Agricultural loan officer in Florida. He wanted a loan to buy a plane, a small plane, which he said he would reequip with a great, big tank and use it as a crop duster. Well, the plan that he presented didn‘t make sense, and the loan officer turned him down. So Atta then started talking to her. First, he saw a picture on the wall of—it was a photograph of Washington.
And he said, do you know—can you point out to me where the White House is? Can you point out to me where the Pentagon is? And then he started to talk to her about an organization that he said was called al Qaeda, which was there to fight for the oppressed people. And he mentioned the name of Osama bin Laden. He said this is someone who will be a very great man in the future.
Now, of course, none of this rang a bell with this loan officer, because there had been so little talk about either Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda on the news. After 9/11 -- this was some months before 9/11 -- but after 9/11, she realized who she‘d been talking to and she went to see the FBI. And it turns out that one of the plans that the terrorists had been thinking about before they decided on using airliners was to use small planes.
Just imagine what could have happened, what we might have possibly averted if we had been a little more alert. Remember what the media were talking about, the broadcast television, especially, ABC, NBC, CBS, were talking about in the months leading up to 9/11? The big story that summer, sharks, shark Attacks.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, let me ask you...
FENTON: Not one—not one mention of al Qaeda in the last three months leading up to the attack.
MATTHEWS: I know from reading the book that you really believe we are doing very little in terms of foreign coverage. And that‘s true of every news organization in the world. There‘s very few newspapers, apart from “The New York Times” and maybe “The Baltimore Sun” and “The Washington Post” and “The L.A. Times,” that even have foreign bureaus anymore.
But let‘s talk about the big networks and why they don‘t have coverage. What has been your experience in terms of dropping coverage of the world?
FENTON: Well, of course, the big turning point was the end of the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall fell and communism collapsed, then the bosses of the big news organizations just turned their backs on the world and started closing foreign bureaus, started getting rid of foreign correspondents.
Let me give you some examples right now. We used to have a worldwide network of bureaus, all three networks. CBS right now, do you know how many full-time correspondents it has permanently assigned to the Muslim world?
FENTON: None. Zip.
MATTHEWS: None is the answer. OK.
FENTON: That‘s right.
OK. Let‘s take the big three networks, NBC, CBS, ABC. Do you know how many correspondents they have to cover Asia, critical third of the world. One each.
MATTHEWS: Well, I assume—one each. I assume we have someone in Beijing or Tokyo.
FENTON: That‘s right. One each.
And it gets worse. You go to Africa, zip, absolutely no one there. And there are things going on in all these places, things that actually concern us. I‘ll tell you what happened during the 1990s. And this, it really was scary if you were out there in the field, and you could see what was going on.
There were attacks, as you remember, on American servicemen at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s. Then, later in the 1990s, two American embassies were blown up in Africa. And then, after that, there was an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Once again, American servicemen died. In each case, we reported the attacks, but never connected the dots for the American public. We didn‘t explain to the public who was behind these attacks.
We didn‘t explain why they wanted to blow Americans to bits. And so, of course, when 9/11 came along, people said, why do they hate us?
FENTON: That was the most damning indictment of what we had failed to do.
MATTHEWS: Tom, I want to ask you—I‘ve been argumentative on this. And I know you‘re a straight reporter, not a commentator, but I want to ask you about the preparation for the war in Iraq in terms of how we analyzed it.
You know, the president was able to drum up tremendous support for going to war with Iraq by basically conflating it with what happened to us on 9/11.
FENTON: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: In fact, the polling showed people believed that those were Iraqis, those 19 men who killed our people on 9/11. There was no sense of, wait a minute, there‘s an al Qaeda, which is this criminal terrorist organization centered all around the world. It‘s coming out of hamburg in this case.
And then there‘s this country of Baathist nationalists who may not like Israel, may not like us, but they‘re not connected. So, the president says, let‘s go to war with Iraq because we‘ve got to hit somebody. The news media, it seemed to me, did very little to clarify what was an issue there.
FENTON: That was another thing that really concerned me, because you could hear—you could hear the drumbeats. You could hear the trumpets. You could hear the sounds coming from Washington, and yet there was no discussion as to what we were actually going in to.
It almost seemed to me as if it were—it was a plan conceived in a vacuum. I‘d covered the Middle East for three decades now. And if you know the history of the Middle East you know what a huge gamble this is. We all hope that President Bush will succeed in this huge gamble. But there was so little discussion beforehand. We went in willy-nilly. And, of course, in the absence of reporting, in the absence of fact, spin proliferates. And the business of conflating the war on terror with getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a masterstroke on the part of the White House.
MATTHEWS: Tom, you‘re a pro, a legend to some extent. I have to measure all these words, because we‘re all competing in this business with NBC and CBS.
But let me ask you this. Where would you most like to be right now if you were a young reporter? Where is the story today that—whether it‘s been covered or not? Where is it? Where is the heat?
FENTON: In the Middle East. In the Middle East. I‘d probably be in Baghdad, if I could, but somewhere in the Middle East, because that‘s our future right now.
And, incidentally, there‘s something in the air right now. There‘s actually something happening, following the—you know, following the first elections ever in Afghanistan, and then this year the first free elections in 50 years in Iraq, and then President Mubarak of Egypt a few days ago announcing they were going to have multiple candidacies in the future, a remarkable thing. And now we have people out on the streets in Beirut who have brought down a government that was imposed by Syria.
FENTON: There‘s something really big happening there now. That‘s where I‘d like to be.
MATTHEWS: Boy, when I was in the Middle East covering just a bit of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, I was in Budapest and later in Berlin. I met a guy who said, freedom is contagious. Do you believe that?
FENTON: Look, I was as skeptical as anybody else, but I have to give credit to the president. I think he‘s taken a huge gamble.
For the moment, these are baby steps, first steps on the rocky road to democracy. But things have been going fairly well for the last couple of months. Let‘s give it the benefit of the doubt. Let‘s all hope things work out.
MATTHEWS: And let‘s read your book, “Bad News,” because I think it‘s got more news in the book and in its writing than a lot of what you get on the nightly or any of these networks today, fabulous foreign coverage, fabulous history of this guy.
Tom Fenton, you‘ve been all over the world. You‘re like Lowell Thomas. Come alive. And thank you very much for bringing us this book, “Bad News.” It‘s about what we‘re not getting today, foreign coverage. And, by the way, we‘re also not getting congressional coverage.
When we return, veteran ABC newswoman Cokie Roberts is going to join us.
And don‘t forget, keep up with the show by signing up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, veteran Washington newswoman Cokie Roberts joins us to talk about the pope, Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton‘s chances in 2008. HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Veteran newswoman Cokie Roberts highlighted the little-known, but critical role women played in the birth of our country in her best-selling book “Founding Mothers,” now out in paperback. And this Sunday, the History Channel will broadcast “Founding Mothers With Cokie Roberts.”
But, first, let‘s talk about some topics, Cokie.
I have got to talk about you about the pope, because, you know, a couple days ago, it seems now, we‘re all worried about his health. And he had a tracheotomy and he‘s back in shape again. He‘s out—he‘s probably going to be there at the Easter mass. Your mom was ambassador to the Vatican. What do you think about this guy?
COKIE ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: He‘s as tough as they come.
And, you know, before my mother went to the Vatican, I had covered him a good bit, both here and in Rome. And he‘s indefatigable. And I think that he‘s going as keep going as long as he can humanly, and maybe not even humanly, spiritually can.
MATTHEWS: Did you ever take that trip down into this excavation, where you can way down like four floors down into the Vatican.
MATTHEWS: Where they think maybe Peter‘s tomb is, because it‘s under the circus of Graecas (ph) and Nero, where he was crucified upside down.
MATTHEWS: And then you come up into Saint Peter‘s...
ROBERTS: Well, it‘s very—it‘s very moving. It‘s a wonderful thing to do.
But it also gives you the sense of this having been a holy place long before Christianity, that this was...
MATTHEWS: And the nerve of these guys, like Peter, to go into Rome, the capital of the world, and start preaching this alien religion.
ROBERTS: I‘m here. Pay attention to me.
MATTHEWS: The guts of these guys.
ROBERTS: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: In fact, that young seminarian your mom hooked us up with who took us on the trip, he said, I‘m into all this pomp and this big church and everything. I‘m into the guts of these first Christians.
ROBERTS: Well, starting with the first Christian, Jesus, and the teachings.
I think the pope right now is trying to exemplify the teachings of Jesus, talking—showing the world that an elderly, ailing person is a person of value. And I do think that that is a wonderful thing that he is doing. He has to be careful, because, if he does it for too long and he‘s not well enough and seems not to be with it, then he gives the other message. And—but as long as he‘s with it, I think he‘s giving a very good message.
MATTHEWS: Speaking of Christian kindness and hiring ex-cons, Martha Stewart is coming out of jail.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? Now, this is a woman that nobody counted on pulling a second act.
ROBERTS: This is beyond Christian kindness.
MATTHEWS: I know. She‘s pulling a second act. Not since G. Gordon Liddy has someone come out of jail to such acclaim.
ROBERTS: Well, she‘s—and she has also lost 20 pounds. This is not a bad deal.
MATTHEWS: This is the Sing Sing diet?
ROBERTS: The Sing Sing diet and stock promotion plan.
MATTHEWS: I know it was.
Let me ask you about Laura Bush. Do you like her?
ROBERTS: I do. I like her a lot.
ROBERTS: Because she is smart and funny, and that‘s generally the reason I like somebody. That‘s the reason I like you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: How about a new look? I‘m no clotheshorse, as you can see.
But I do, because of Kathy, pay attention somewhat.
MATTHEWS: She‘s getting zippier.
ROBERTS: She does—she looks great, but she‘s also just as smart as they come.
She had these fascinating sessions in the White House about American authors, where she brought in highly controversial scholars to talk about the authors. And then they started using it to also beat up on the president, so that became less fun. But she...
MATTHEWS: And unlike the president, she seems to be a literary sort.
ROBERTS: She is a—she is very interested in literature.
MATTHEWS: I know the knock.
MATTHEWS: Fair enough.
ROBERTS: And she—she is funny.
MATTHEWS: Over 60 percent of the American people in every category, Cokie, in every category, men, women, left, right, center, believe—are convinced now that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate for president.
ROBERTS: And she‘s clearly the person to beat on the Democratic side. And I have noticed in the last couple of weeks, Chris, a new kind of Hillary popular wisdom going around here in Washington, which is that suddenly it‘s not that she‘s going to be bad for the party. She‘s the obvious person for the party. And she‘s moved to the center. And she‘s tough. And she‘s...
MATTHEWS: Witchcraft. There‘s witchcraft going on.
MATTHEWS: Everybody‘s brain is being turned in a matter of two weeks from, I hate that woman to wonderful woman. Is this witchcraft, do you think?
ROBERTS: No, I don‘t think it‘s witchcraft.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think is changing in two weeks?
ROBERTS: I think that the Democrats are sort of looking around and saying, well, this is the way—this is the way the party is now. The world is polarized. She‘s no more polarizing than anybody else.
MATTHEWS: Could it be that, standing next to Gore and Kerry, she looks delightful?
ROBERTS: It‘s—and members of the Senate are saying nice things about her.
I wonder if the Republicans are going to feel they have to match her.
ROBERTS: Of course, members of the Senate are saying much nicer things about her on the Republican side than they are about the president‘s Social Security plan, for instance.
MATTHEWS: That‘s true. She might be the easier sell.
Let me ask you about Condi Rice.
ROBERTS: Well, you know...
MATTHEWS: As a leading woman, probably the most important woman in many ways.
ROBERTS: Well, you know, you and I years ago had this conversation, and I thought, in 2002, that President Bush would have been wise to put Condi Rice on the ticket and tell Vice President Cheney that, you know, he‘d served well and he could stay in the senior statesman position. And I think that would have just completely reshaped the political parties.
MATTHEWS: As a child of the South, do you think—where there—
always the history of slavery and all that Jim Crow stuff still there
somewhere, do you think
ROBERTS: ... somewhere. It‘s still there.
MATTHEWS: Right. Do you think the South, the so-called red states, would vote Republican if Condi were on the ticket?
ROBERTS: Because I think that she is—in some ways, it would make them proud to vote Republican, since that that is all behind us.
MATTHEWS: To prove you‘re not.
ROBERTS: And, also, that she‘s a very tough hard-liner in terms of foreign policy and no simp in terms of domestic policy, as far as we know.
MATTHEWS: Doesn‘t she reek of Catholic school?
ROBERTS: She didn‘t go to Catholic school.
MATTHEWS: But she seems like it. She‘s so proper.
Well, that makes me like her, of course.
MATTHEWS: That‘s exactly the very person to like.
Anyway, Cokie Roberts, good luck with the book, “Founding Mothers.” And everybody‘s reading. It‘s at every airport. Go out and get an airplane ride and buy the book on the way.
When we return, talk show radio host Amy Goodman and “San Francisco Chronicle” columnist Debra Saunders tackle the day‘s top political stories from right and left, including Senator Robert Byrd‘s comments that likened Republicans to Nazis. It‘s getting rough.
This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As members of the Bush administration embark on a 60-day campaign tour to try to win support for the president‘s Social Security reform plan, new poll numbers show just how little headway the president has made on the issue. According to the latest “New York Times”/CBS News poll, 69 percent of the people say private accounts are a bad idea when they‘re told that would mean a reduction in guaranteed benefits. Has Bush lost the battle over public opinion for his Social Security plan?
Debra Saunders is a columnist at “The San Francisco Chronicle.” And Amy Goodman is host of Pacifica Radio‘s “Democracy Now.”
Let me go—let me go to Debra Saunders.
Deb, it seems to me these latest numbers are devastating. Almost 70 percent of people say, I want my guaranteed benefit. I don‘t want this new idea.
DEBRA SAUNDERS, “THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”: Well, I don‘t think the numbers are ever going to be good until George Bush tells us exactly what he plans on doing.
I think one of the reasons you don‘t see more support for his idea is that we still don‘t know how much it would cost. We still don‘t know what it would mean. But let me say one other thing. I wouldn‘t count this president out on anything. He‘s had bad numbers before and somehow he seems to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
MATTHEWS: What do you make, what do you make, Amy, of the fact that the secretary of the treasury, the chief salesperson, after the president, for this proposal, said he really isn‘t going to fight that hard; he might sign a bill that doesn‘t include a diversion of money from the trust fund to these personal accounts?
AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”: Well, I think it is very important, because Social Security is a safety net that is absolutely critical to save. And the American people understand that. The Social Security trustee says it‘s not in any danger. It will last until at least 2042.
The Congressional Budget Office says 2052. I think that the American people see through what is taking place here. And it‘s not about helping the American people. It‘s about taking this money. And George Bush has lost on this, unless they come up with a very well-funded P.R. campaign to lie to the American people that it‘s taking this money and...
GOODMAN: And funding those that contributed to the Bush campaign.
It‘s funding Wall Street.
MATTHEWS: Well, if we don‘t—if we don‘t fix the system now—and everyone knows that, eventually, the demographics, you‘re just going to have so many more people retired than working or the ratio will shift dramatically, that you have to do something. If not now, when, Amy, are we going to fix the system?
GOODMAN: If President Bush was so concerned about...
MATTHEWS: No, you. When do you want it fixed?
GOODMAN: Just let me just say something.
MATTHEWS: No. I want you to tell me when you think it should be fixed.
GOODMAN: Oh, I don‘t think it‘s broken. I think it‘s of the...
MATTHEWS: You said it‘s going broke.
GOODMAN: It is—no, I didn‘t say it‘s going broke. There‘s some tinkering that will have to take place in decades to come. I don‘t buy into this being a crisis at all.
I think Social Security is one of the few programs in this country that is working extremely well. And the American people believe that as well. That‘s what they‘re telling George Bush.
SAUNDERS: Well, I think it is working very well at giving a lot of elderly people income that young people are paying into. So, I think this is generational politics. And right now, it‘s been generational politics to help seniors. And it hurts young people.
So, at some point in time, if President Bush can explain why this is in the interest of everyone in this country, he could sell it.
SAUNDERS: This does not hurt young people. It doesn‘t hurt young people to understand that we have a system in this country where older people are not out on the streets. Young people will become old someday.
SAUNDERS: All I can think about is Gandhi‘s saying when asked what does he think about Western civilization, he says, I think it would be a good idea. I‘m very surprised you would think that it hurts young people that old people should be taken care of.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask—let me ask Debra, do you think Senator Bobby Byrd is going to get in trouble for comparing a move to get rid of the filibuster as Hitlerian?
SAUNDERS: Well, Senator Byrd never gets in trouble for what he says. It will be a one-week story and people will talk about it in talk shows, but his constituents forgive him. He had the N-word flap a while ago.
I think it‘s—I understand that Republicans see this as a good opportunity to hit Byrd. I also understand that people who—groups like the ADL don‘t want to see use of Hitler become so overused that nobody pays attention anymore when they hear it.
SAUNDERS: But he gets away this sort of thing. He should have instead compared Republicans to Catiline, because he always likes to go back to Roman stuff, too, and then nobody would have paid any attention.
MATTHEWS: The old classical stuff.
What do you think of this, Amy?
GOODMAN: Well, what did Huey Long say? That fascism will come to America wrapped in an American flag.
I think it‘s very important we look at the concentration of power and be very vigilant about it. But I don‘t want any debate and hubbub over the particular quote. What I think is most important is what President Bush is trying to do in renominating these judges who are so far out of the mainstream.
MATTHEWS: By the way, Huey Long said, when fascism comes to America, it will be called anti-fascism.
I want to thank Amy Goodman for that idea.
And thank you, Debra Saunders.
Tomorrow on HARDBALL, I‘ll be joined by actor and activist Ron Silver. And then, on Monday, reality TV mogul Mark Burnett talks about his friend Martha Stewart and previews his new show, “The Contender.”
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann.
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