Guest: Liz Smith, Bob Herbert, DeForest Soaries, Camille Paglia, Guy Womack
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: This week, a judge rejects Lynndie England‘s guilty plea and Army Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski is demoted in connection with the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. The big question remains, what were their orders?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.
The head of President Bush‘s commission to make sure every vote is counted has quit his post, saying the government didn‘t show enough commitment to making reforms.
And, later, the queen of gossip, Liz Smith dishes on first lady Laura Bush.
But, first, the U.S. government now says it will file new charges against Private Lynndie England, the woman that became the public face of the Abu Ghraib scandal after photographs emerged of her humiliating Iraqi detainees. Earlier this week, her guilty plea was thrown out and her court-martial canceled.
Meanwhile, in a separate investigation, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was once in charge of Abu Ghraib, has been demoted to the rank of colonel.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Army says Janis Karpinski, a former commander at Abu Ghraib prison, has been demoted from brigadier general to colonel.
Military officials said they substantiated allegations of dereliction of duty and, catch this, shoplifting. They said when Karpinski went through a background check last year, she failed to disclose an arrest two years earlier for shoplifting a $22 bottle of perfume. In a statement, military leaders said—quote—“Though General Karpinski‘s performance of duty was found to be seriously lacking, the investigation determined that no action or lack of action on her part contributed specifically to the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib.”
But, in the big picture, Karpinski is the only general connected to Abu Ghraib who has been punished. And last summer, she told HARDBALL that the president was turning her into a scapegoat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIG. GEN. JANIS KARPINSKI, COMMANDER, 800TH MILITARY POLICE BRIGADE:
This is a shared responsibility. There are a lot of parts that were broken, a lot of things that went wrong, ineffective policies, misunderstand policies, policies that were applied when they should not have been in Baghdad or anywhere in Iraq, quite frankly.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The Pentagon‘s demotion of Karpinski was required to be approved by President Bush. The White House was also told that a Pentagon investigation into Abu Ghraib was clearing three senior officers, including Lieutenant Ricardo Sanchez, who was in charge of all U.S. troops in Iraq.
But the Army says 27 other officers have received letters of reprimand. Still, seven low-ranking enlisted soldiers have been convicted of criminal acts and punished in some cases with jail time. And new charges are coming against Private Lynndie England. This week, a judge threw out her guilty plea after England‘s former boyfriend, Charles Graner, said England didn‘t know her actions last year were wrong.
Graner is serving 10 years in prison and has acknowledged being the ringleader of the abuse. He testified this week that England held a crawling prisoner by a leash because it was a necessary way of removing the prisoner from a cell and that her overall behavior was being done for training.
(on camera): The year-old prosecution of England now goes back to the beginning. Meanwhile, human rights groups are getting louder in their complaint that low-ranking soldiers like England are taking the blame, while officers, with the exception of Janis Karpinski, are escaping accountability.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Guy Womack is the attorney for Charles Graner, whose testimony prompted a military judge to throw out England‘s guilty plea and declare a mistrial. And retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst.
Guy, thanks for coming back again after all these months.
I‘ve got to ask you, when we look at these horrible pictures of prisoners being stacked in this kind of strange way like hot dogs, of being led around on leashes, the whole shebang, what are we looking at here? What was going on?
GUY WOMACK, ATTORNEY FOR SPECIALIST CHARLES GRANER: Well, we are looking at—we are looking at photographs of control measures that were used on these prisoners. When they were released to the public—clearly, they were never intended to be seen. And when they were released, it‘s a huge embarrassment to our country and to the Army.
MATTHEWS: Was this all part of the general orders to soften up the prisoners for interrogation?
WOMACK: Some of it was. The pictures of the dog leash, the pictures of the stacking, those were pictures of control measures that Specialist Graner and the others used on those occasions.
But the pictures in general, overall, the pictures of nude prisoners and all that, I think some of that was used to soften up prisoners, used to threaten them that, if they did not comply with the interrogators‘ demands, that it may be shown publicly to their families, their friends or the other prisoners.
MATTHEWS: Well, then again, I want to ask you one more time to really narrow it down. All this stuff we are seeing, all this embarrassment by us to the world, to us from the world, is this part of a general notion of a way to treat these prisoners? Or is there some creative, perverse thing thought up by these low-ranking soldiers?
WOMACK: No. This is part of an approach that was used by interrogators. We offered that into evidence at Graner‘s trial.
One of the techniques that General Sanchez had approved, which is always approved, is a good cop/bad cop. Mutt and Jeff, they call it. The interrogators come off as the good guys, while the M.P.s look like they are brutal or they‘re more sadistic. And the interrogators are your friends. You should talk to them, so the M.P.s would not take charge of you.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about what happened this week. The accounts we are getting is that Lynndie England was about to be sentenced. As part of her sentencing under Army law, under her sentencing, you have to basically admit the substance of what you did wrong.
She brought in a witness in the sentencing. That‘s Sergeant Graner, your client. And he said she really is not culpable, because what she did was helping to develop pictures to be used for training manuals. In fact, she was following the actual proper method in leashing that prisoner and walking him to the cell. In other words, she is innocent. Why did he help in the guilty plea if he believes she was innocent?
WOMACK: Private England‘s attorneys are responsible for that. They knew that she was pleading guilty. They knew that, if they introduced evidence inconsistent with her plea of guilty, Colonel Pohl, the military judge, would have to reject the plea.
They knew what—or should have known what Charles Graner was going to say. He had been debriefed by the government under a grant of immunity. An written statement had been taken identical to what he said in court. And yet they put him on the stand and they must have known he was going to invalidate her plea agreement. Yet, they put him on the stand.
MATTHEWS: Well, he—he swore that she was innocent, in effect, as part of a plea bargain that she was guilty. It doesn‘t make any sense to me.
WOMACK: Of course not.
If you‘re going to plead guilty and try to get the benefit of your guilty plea, under the armed forces rules, you can‘t come in and introduce evidence that you‘re not really guilty. But, yet, that‘s what she and her attorneys did. And it blew up in their face.
MATTHEWS: Were they trying to simply mitigate her guilt and found a guy who not only mitigated it, but exonerated her?
They went too far, because, keep in mind, now, if the government recharges and if she persists in a not guilty plea, she may have a hard time asserting the defense of obedience to orders, because she was not an M.P. who should have even been in tier One Alpha. She was trespassing, if you will, even being there.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you this. If you had to write a book on this—maybe you will—about the whole issue, what has always amazed me, you have General Karpinski being downgraded this week to colonel.
But, basically, where are the captains, where are the majors, where are the people who translate general orders and general commands and policy and mission down to the lower grades in the military? How come none of them took any of the heat for this?
WOMACK: Well, we‘ve been asking that.
MATTHEWS: None of them are going to jail. None of them are facing charges like your client, Graner, who is going away for 10 years. They are getting reprimands and this sort of wrist-slapping. Why aren‘t the guys in charge, in charge of the defense and taking the heat here?
WOMACK: Every one of them should be charged. There are at least two lieutenant colonels, a number of captains and a couple of lieutenants who gave orders either to do things or they overlooked having seen things were being done and overlooked complaints about what was being done.
All of them should be court-martialed. And keep in mind if the Army takes action against them, even letters of reprimand, they are admitting that what Specialist Graner said is true. He was ordered to do things. His chain of command was aware of it. And we ask for grants of immunity for awful those people to come in through his court-martial and testify. They could have saved his case. None of them would come in.
MATTHEWS: Bottom line, bottom line, and it‘s the toughest question. Just tell me if you don‘t know the answer. Do you believe, knowing everything you know about this case, that this rough treatment, this humiliating treatment of these Islamic prisoners, was part of an overall policy coming from the Pentagon, the civilians who set the policy at the top of the Pentagon, to humiliate and soften up prisoners so we could get intel out of them?
WOMACK: I have seen no evidence of it coming from the Pentagon. This is something that was done by the commanders on the scene, the officers in charge at the prisons and not just at Abu Ghraib, as we know. It was done at other places, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, at numerous camps around Iraq. It‘s widespread.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Guy Womack.
Coming up right now, let‘s talk to Colonel Jack Jacobs. He‘s MSNBC military analyst.
Explain, if you will, this decision by the judge this week, the judge advocate, to dismiss charges in what looked to be a pretty calm plea bargain here with Lynndie England.
RET. COL. JACK JACOBS, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. I think he had no choice, because I believe that the plea bargain was for her to plead guilty to conspiracy.
And when Sergeant Graner came in and said, well, she didn‘t know what she was doing and she had no idea what she was doing, that left nobody to have a conspiracy with. And it invalidated her plea and he had no—he had no choice but to send it back to the convening authored.
MATTHEWS: Is there any way to know what Sergeant Graner was up to in this matter?
JACOBS: Yes, sure. As his lawyer said, I think that the—his testimony is a matter of record. I would not put him on the stand until I will have spoken to him and I knew exactly what he was going to say. It had to be something of a surprise to the defense counsel.
And I saw accounts of defense counsel‘s reaction that said that he was quite surprised by both the testimony and the result. It did go too far. It didn‘t help Private England, I can tell you that, because it gets sent back to the convening authority. And he can convene and probably will convene a new Article 32 investigation, which is the military equivalent of a grand jury procedure, and she will be on trial again.
MATTHEWS: Is she in worse shape now than she would have been with a plea bargain?
JACOBS: I believe she is. I believe she is in much worse shape, because she stands now to be tried and perhaps ultimately convicted of all of the original charges.
But it remains to be seen what charges will now be preferred, recommended to the convening authority, and what charges he will then send forward to a court-martial.
MATTHEWS: I will bet she tries to plea again.
Anyway, thank you very much, Guy Womack.
And thank you, Colonel Jacobs.
Coming up, all the president‘s women. Camille Paglia joins us to talk about the powerful women in the Bush administration.
Plus, will a woman ever win the White House? That‘s coming close as a question in American politics.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, could Condoleezza Rice or Hillary Clinton win the White House in 2008? Camille Paglia joins us when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Camille Paglia is a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She lectures and writes extensively on the intersection of politics, pop culture and art. Paglia is the author of five books now. Her latest is titled “Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads 43 of the World‘s Best Poems,” just in time for Mother‘s Day.
Let me ask you about this. This afternoon, there‘s a new poll that asks people this afternoon asking whether, growing up, your mother reminded you more of Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush; 47 percent, not surprisingly, said Laura Bush, 21 percent Hillary Clinton.
What do you make of that breakout?
CAMILLE PAGLIA, AUTHOR, “BREAK, BLOW, BURN”: Well, it makes sense.
Laura Bush is a kind of calm, soothing, almost 1950s type Betty Crocker persona. She does it very well. But Hillary is really my generation, a bit more strident, abrasive, and on a track to be the commander in chief and not just the first lady.
MATTHEWS: So, you think that Hillary‘s ‘60s sensibility is more groomed, if you will, for the presidency?
PAGLIA: Well, I think that she‘s got a lot of rough edges and I‘m not sure she can win. But I do hope that Hillary will run. It‘s absolutely crucial that we have a serious national campaign by a woman for the top job.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about that, because I‘m fascinated with this question. My wife tells—has been telling me for years that women, when it comes to groups, when it comes to leadership and followship, if you will, that women accept a more horizontal notion, a collegial notion, getting together with consensus. They don‘t buy into the John Wayne, follow me, hierarchical notion of a sort of patriarchal kind of a system. Do you buy that women look at leadership differently then men do?
PAGLIA: Well, I think it may very well be true that women are more collaborative.
But, unfortunately, that may exclude women, therefore, from the top job and for us in the White House. So, I really want a woman who‘s highly ambitious, who is tough, who you can imagine as a credible commander in chief leading the troops. And that‘s not going to be a collaborative position.
MATTHEWS: Are women even more—I have known one thing in politics for 30-some years of hanging around them. You know what politicians never admit? And these are men, most of them. They never admit they are ambitious. Nobody I have ever met in politics has admitted the one true fact we know to be true about them. They are ambitious.
MATTHEWS: Apparently, they are embarrassed by it.
Why are people embarrassed by being ambitious politically?
PAGLIA: Well, they think it doesn‘t look good. It looks like they are lone rangers. They are mad egotists, etcetera. But I think that‘s absolutely wrong. Every capable politician should be aspiring to be—to the presidency.
MATTHEWS: Of course.
Let me ask you about—George Bush during the campaign—I have said this on HARDBALL many times and I still believe it—that, when he said during the campaign, of course, you know where I stand, it was a very powerful line. And people said, yes, we do. We like that, at least—you‘re basic, simple in many ways, but, God, we know where you stand on the war and a lot of things.
The other guy wasn‘t so clear, to put it lightly. Do you think a woman, like Hillary Clinton, could say to the American people, of course, you know where I stand, and they wouldn‘t be offended by it, that toughness?
PAGLIA: Yes. That‘s the problem.
I think that Hillary is too much guided by advice from one little group after another. And she is always—it‘s coming from her own husband‘s administration, both in Washington and in Arkansas, sort of making statements according to the polls, always edging this way and that way. I mean, up until now, I don‘t think, no, that Hillary has given a very clear sense of any core ideology.
MATTHEWS: I know. She is moving to the center on gay marriage, things like that. On the war, she is very hawkish.
But I was asking a more particular gender question. We like the John Wayne model among men. Will we accept the John Wayne motto among women, you know where I stand, follow me?
PAGLIA: Well, I have been saying 15 years as a feminist that our—that my party, the Democratic Party, has not been grooming women candidates to be commander in chief. Democratic women have been too preoccupied with domestic issues and child care, flex time, abortion rights, etcetera, etcetera.
The thing is, we have got to start at the bottom and train young women in military history and military strategy. And that‘s the way, OK, to make women start to think about the responsibility they may have to bear if any one of them occupies the White House.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Hillary getting on Armed Services Committee in the Senate was a first step?
PAGLIA: It was totally. But it‘s just too late in the game. We need to prepare women at the ground level.
I mean, I think Condoleezza Rice, because she is an athlete and because she holds herself with a very—in a very steely way, actually looks more like a commander in chief than Hillary does.
MATTHEWS: That is fascinating.
We will come back and talk about those two, because they may well be the contestants come 2008. More with Camilla Paglia. Her book is called “Break, Blow, Burn.”
And still ahead, why did the man in charge of making sure every vote counts quit? I‘ll ask former Elections Commissioner DeForest Soaries later.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We are back with writer Camille Paglia, author of “Break, Blow, Burn.”
You have sized me up and you have set me up for the great question. I want you to play count now, track towel. Two contestants in a race for president in 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat, Condoleezza Rice, Republican, talk to me about their strengths as candidates.
PAGLIA: Well, I think that Hillary really needs to improve her ability to give a speech. She tends to go strident, way too quick. And I really wonder she has the stamina for the long haul, for those bruising kind of primary battles coast to coast.
I feel that Condoleezza Rice seems a bit inflexible. She has not had any invisible personal relationships, the kind of give and take that you learn from them. But I think she probably is going to be the stronger candidate because of the aura that she gives of being a military-minded woman.
MATTHEWS: Why do women have problems? And I shouldn‘t say this because I yell so much. But, oftentimes, women get behind a microphone—and you see this on television among talk shows, to—and to get the attention of the men, they raise an octave or two. And I think that gives away some of their leadership authority. What do you think that is about? We are talking turkey here.
PAGLIA: It‘s always been a problem for women. Women in general are smaller. Their voices are higher. Their shoulders are narrower. Men just look more robust. They look like kind of father figures. So, that‘s why.
We have to start training women, not in women studies programs complaining about men as oppressors and women as victims. But we should be putting them into real military preparedness programs in college if we are ever going to get a real woman president.
MATTHEWS: You know who‘s really good at this already—I wish her time had not passed probably—is Dianne Feinstein of California.
MATTHEWS: She seems like a leader to me.
PAGLIA: She is my candidate. She is my candidate. She‘s so knowledgeable. I have been saying this for years. I have contributed, in fact, to her campaigns, even from afar.
And I think that she has the kind of stability, the gravitas, the deep knowledge. She should have been president. Why didn‘t she run?
MATTHEWS: She is the genuine article. We both agree.
Camille Paglia, your book is called “Break, Blow, Burn.” In Philly, my hometown, thank you for coming on tonight.
PAGLIA: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, he was in charge of President Bush‘s commission to make sure every vote was counted. So, why did he quit? My exclusive interview with former Elections Commission DeForest Soaries is next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: President Bush‘s pick to ensure equal access to all citizens, the Voting Rights Act of 2000, has quit. Reverend DeForest Soaries says he didn‘t get the support he needed to prevent discrimination. He was the first chairman of the Election Assistance Commission created to help ensure voting debacles like Florida in 2000 don‘t happen again.
Thank you for joining us.
REV. DEFOREST SOARIES, FORMER CHAIRMAN, ELECTION ASSISTANCE
COMMISSION: Thanks for having me.
MATTHEWS: Why did you quit the commission?
SOARIES: Well, in the first instance, my family needs—having two 15-year-olds at home required that I spent a lot of time commuting between Washington and New Jersey. I missed the opportunity to move my family to Washington because our confirmation by the Senate was delayed in 2003.
And so, as a result, I had to work in Washington and New Jersey. But the larger issue was that I had to work with a $1.2 million budget. I mean, it‘s hard to commute, but it‘s harder to work with no money.
MATTHEWS: Did you get—you didn‘t get enough money to do the job of preventing more debacles like we had in Florida?
SOARIES: No, we were formed in 2003. We started in 2004. And we didn‘t get a budget passed until December of 2004, which...
MATTHEWS: Who was the one who was ramrodding this money through the Congress to get you guys enough money—a few people enough to do the job of cleaning up elections and avoiding mess-ups like we had in Florida?
SOARIES: Well, the Help America Vote Act was sponsored by Congressmen Ney and Hoyer.
SOARIES: And they were passionate about election reform. The bill passed in 2002. The commission was formed in ‘03. And they supported our efforts in a tremendous way.
But I have to say that election reform is not a matter of great urgency in Congress among Democrats or Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Was that a P.R. move by Congress that they didn‘t deliver on or what?
SOARIES: Well, in one sense, I think they were sincere, after the Carter-Ford Commission, in doing something to prevent another Florida.
SOARIES: Two thousand and one had September 11. And I think all eyes shifted from election reform to terrorism. And by 2002, it just wasn‘t on the radar anymore.
MATTHEWS: Did President Bush care about this program? Could you tell as an appointee? Did he care about avoiding what happened—well, he shouldn‘t be too angry about what happened in Florida. He came out all right because of the Supreme Court involvement there.
SOARIES: Well, but he didn‘t like the process. I mean, he didn‘t like the fact the Supreme Court had to be involved. He didn‘t like the fact...
MATTHEWS: How do you know this?
SOARIES: Because I talked to the White House about their position on our work.
MATTHEWS: All right.
SOARIES: Plus, he signed the bill. The bill required that provisional voters—provisional votes be in place, so that if someone has a name purged from the list incorrectly, like they did in Florida, they still have the right to vote.
A million voters in November of 2004 had their votes counted because of the provisional ballot created by the Help America Vote Act. And so that‘s a good thing. The problem is, after 2001, it seems that all eyes shifted. It was no longer on the radar. And even when we got to Washington and told Congress about our needs, it often fell on deaf ears. And we find ourselves making brick without straw.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the 2004 election. Where were the problems?
SOARIES: Problems in Ohio as it related to provisional ballots and long lines.
The problems were, even prior to the election, millions of new voter registrations being delivered almost the day before the deadline and the elections officials having to scurry to get the names on the list in time for Election Day, the problem, which is a recurring problem, with elections being underfunded on every level. They‘re underfunded on the state level. They‘re underfunded on the county level and the municipal level. And, as a result, we have to include volunteers at the rate of two million to run an election.
MATTHEWS: Could you have improved the way that Ohio handled its election if your operation had been up to speed?
SOARIES: Well, we actually did. Ohio had $45 million. We intervened when Ohio was dealing with the definition of provisional ballots.
And, frankly, Ohio listened to our guidance, and, as a result, spared the country a tremendous lawsuit that could have been sued had Ohio not changed the way they were going to handle provisional ballots.
MATTHEWS: Did we get an honest election count in 2004? Did the president really carry Ohio?
SOARIES: The problem, Chris, is we don‘t know what we don‘t know. The fact is, electronic voting is still under a cloud right now. We still don‘t have voting technology that has been proven to have accuracy. We still have people‘s confidence lower than it should be.
And I think the Election Assistance Commission is beginning now to answer some of those questions. We‘re still gathering data. We‘ve never counted how many people vote in a presidential election.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that Ohio truly went for the president, or it‘s a doubtful question?
SOARIES: No, I think Ohio definitely went for the president. The problem is, we don‘t know how many people didn‘t vote because of long lines. The problem is, we just don‘t know what we don‘t know nationally.
And so I think the administration of elections now proves to actually choose administrations. How elections are run really determines the outcome.
MATTHEWS: John Fund says that you want to nationalize elections, federalize them. Is that true?
SOARIES: He knows that‘s not true. No, the states run elections. But we do need a national consensus on how elections are run. We‘re a more mobile country than we were in 1795.
People move from state to state. And people have a right to know what the rules are before they to go to vote in an election.
MATTHEWS: If some state wants to go to some system that doesn‘t really work, that has been described and, as we have learned, it doesn‘t work very well, should the federal government be able to say, that system won‘t work; you can‘t use punchcards; you can‘t use the sort of ballot we had in Palm Beach, that sort of thing?
SOARIES: Well, the federal government, through the EAC, has the right to say it. It just doesn‘t have the right to stop it.
And so it‘s legal for states to use outmoded equipment, but it‘s not logical. Almost every state in this country has said, we will only use equipment that is certified by the federal government. The problem is, the federal government is just now getting involved in the certification of voting systems.
MATTHEWS: Do you think—have you ever seen a case where an administration official of any level in the government has used inadequate voting machines to repress the vote, in other words, make the machines difficult to use, hard to read for a purpose, which is to depress a majority vote?
SOARIES: Well, the problem is, repression implies motivation and that it was done intentionally. I think...
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I meant. I‘m asking if you‘ve ever seen a case of that.
SOARIES: I‘ve never seen that. I‘ve seen voter fraud that was intentional. It‘s not systemic.
I‘ve seen different shenanigans that are applied by politicians.
SOARIES: But, in the main, elections officials in this country are very honest people. They‘re not trained. They depend on volunteers to run an election. They are not trying to steal elections. They‘re trying to get through Election Day without making headlines.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much.
SOARIES: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Reverend DeForest Soaries, thank you very much for joining us.
When we come back, two years after the end of major combat operations in Iraq, “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert says the troops are not getting the protection they need. He‘s coming here when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert, and, later, gossip queen Liz Smith—when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
For 12 years, columnist Bob Herbert has chronicled the plight of the less fortunate on the op-ed page of “The New York Times.” Now some of his best work is in a new book, “Promises Betrayed: Waking Up From the American Dream.”
Bob Herbert joins us right now.
Bob, one of the things that you and I grew up watching was the Emile Griffith-Benny Paret fight, where a man died. Paret was killed in the ring. What have you—I thought your column was great on this a couple weeks ago. Tell us about that fight and what you know about it now.
BOB HERBERT, COLUMNIST, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, there‘s a new movie out by Dan Klores. It‘s a documentary that sort of takes a look at this fight. It‘s called “Ring of Fire.” It takes a look at this fight and then follows Emile Griffith‘s life subsequently.
And the thing that was not well known at the time was that there was bad blood between Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret, Emile Griffith, who the rumors at the time were that he was gay, had been the object of a slur about his sexuality by Benny Paret. This was not in the newspapers. And when Paret got in trouble in one of the later rounds in this fight, Emile Griffith just really opened up on him. And the referee did not stop the fight quickly. And it was a brutal beating.
Paret got hung up on the ropes, so that he couldn‘t—even when he was unconscious, he couldn‘t fall to the floor. And 10 days after the fight, he died. And what has since happened and what this movie takes a look at has been sort of the tormented life of Emile Griffith since then. He has had to live both with this death in the ring, which has haunted him, and with his sexuality, which he‘s never been able to come to grips with.
I interviewed him a couple weeks ago. And he finally did admit, perhaps for the first time, I think, that he has had sexual relations with men, but he would—in the same interview, he said that he was not gay. And he is still a very troubled guy here. And I...
MATTHEWS: What I liked about your column, Bob, and I think is great about your book, is—this collection of columns—is that you really do, unlike a lot of other people from the elite “New York Times,” manage to get behind the scenes, behind the lines and meet people like Emile Griffith and get him to talk.
MATTHEWS: I mean, I thought it was amazing you got him to actually talk about his orientation, about the motivation of the fight.
And I guess what hit me when I was reading your column—and this is a book of columns—is the way you described how this guy, who was battered to hell, killed basically in the ring, mortally wounded in a prize fight, his body slid down the ropes. It wasn‘t even alive anymore hardly.
HERBERT: It was really—it was horrifying to watch. Even when I when I was watching it on television, you knew this guy was in desperate trouble.
I didn‘t know he was going to die, but I knew that there was a possibility that we were just witnessing a killing in the ring. You knew that at the time. But one of the things I try to do in the book is, you look at sort of the larger issues and then, in the columns, try and show how they affect ordinary people.
I think one of the themes in this book is that, in my view, government and the corporate community broken faith with ordinary working Americans here, which is why the subtitle of the book is “Waking Up From the American Dream.” And I just wish a little more attention was paid to these issues of fairness and expanding opportunities, which are the cornerstones of the American dream.
HERBERT: And we are kind of getting away from that.
MATTHEWS: Well, again, let‘s make the point. You make your point on chapter 11. You talked about the—in the book, you talked about—you know, we always talk about how great it is to cut government spending, because it sounds good. It‘s good for the taxpayer. It‘s good for the budget.
But when you cut something like Medicaid—and you talked about the experience of some people down Mississippi. Talk about that. What happens when these programs get cut?
HERBERT: When these programs get cut, I mean, Medicaid is the medical program that provides government insurance for the poor.
And when these programs get cut, these people just get flat left out.
People don‘t get treated for illnesses very often until it‘s too late. Their family doctor becomes the emergency room. And what we really don‘t see when you‘re watching the political debate is the real-life consequences of some of these issues. So, if you get out there and you look at families who are worried about whether they can get medical care for their children, for example, it can become really pretty heart-wrenching.
MATTHEWS: You were in the...
HERBERT: I mean, I have talked to women out in Oregon who, because of Medicaid cuts, have been unable to get medication for life-threatening illnesses, like diabetes on the one hand and people who need psychotic medication. And they are just in terrible, terrible shape.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the military. You talk about—in your book, you talk about how President Bush always wanted to take us to war in Iraq. How do you know that he had a motivation prior to 9/11 even to take us into Iraq?
HERBERT: Well, I think that the evidence has been out there. I‘m not sure that‘s even a matter of dispute now.
But if you—you can get beyond that. We had the argument over whether this was a good idea to go to war in Iraq or not, but we are—we are at war there now. The thing that bothers me at the moment is the way this war has been conducted. And I think it‘s disgraceful. We didn‘t have enough troops. They were not properly trained. We had a lot of reservists and National Guard people who were not combat ready. They were under-equipped. I mean, you didn‘t have the proper protection for the vehicles. We‘re losing all these people with these roadside bombs.
And I think that that‘s just a major scandal. And, you know, if you had—this is one of the problems with one-party rule. Maybe if you had Democrats in control of one of the houses of Congress, you could have a full-scale investigation of the way this war is being conducted, because no matter how you felt about the war to begin with, I think you—if the United States is going to be at war, want them to win. And you don‘t want to put troops in harm‘s way unnecessarily. You have to protect the troops.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about minorities.
You know, when you go into inner-city neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, if you will, you see a lot of big posters, billboards for cigarettes, Newports, Kools, lots of adds for cigarettes. And it‘s notorious, if you ask me. Do you think that recruiting for the military is following the same path?
HERBERT: Oh, there‘s no...
MATTHEWS: If you look at—go ahead.
HERBERT: Oh, there‘s no question about it.
I mean, if you go into affluent neighborhoods and walk into the high schools and talk to the principals, teachers, and the students, they will tell you that the military—that the military recruiters are not in this school trying to sign up kids to go into the military, go into the Army, the Marines or whatever.
If you go into less affluent neighborhoods, especially minority neighborhoods, you will—the kids will tell you, oh, yes, they are here all the time. I mean, we just recently had a story in “The Times” saying that the Army is not meeting its recruiting goals. They are lowering standards and, in some cases, illegally so.
I mean, they are taking kids who did not really qualify for the Army or for the Marines and they‘re saying, well, you know what? We are going to overlook this. Or this is how we can overcome that. We have got to sign you up. They are desperate for warm bodies now because people are not anxious to go into the military.
MATTHEWS: Bob, this is HARDBALL. Yes or no, do we need a draft?
HERBERT: Oh, I have always thought that we needed a draft, long before September 11, long before the Iraq war. The defense of the United States should be a shared burden. It should not fall to one small section of the population.
Will the privileged still skip, because of good doctors, Madison Avenue doctors or Park Avenue doctors that say, the kid has got high blood pressure, the kid has got this or that? Will they still...
HERBERT: Well, I mean, I‘m not naive. I don‘t think there‘s any public sentiment for the draft. So, I don‘t think that we are going to have the draft.
But if we did have a draft, we should try and plug those loopholes. The wealthy would try to skip out. But you should make an effort to try and make that difficult to do. But I don‘t think we are going to have a draft.
MATTHEWS: You served in the military during Vietnam. You were in Korea, right?
HERBERT: I was in Korea. I didn‘t go to Vietnam, but I had a lot of friends who went to Vietnam. And I lost some of them.
HERBERT: I mean, it was—it was a pretty harrowing period.
MATTHEWS: It sure was. Thank you very much, Bob Herbert.
The book is called “Promises Betrayed: Waking Up From the American Dream.” He‘s in “The New York Times” every couple days, a great columnist, Bob Herbert.
Thanks, Bob, for coming on HARDBALL.
HERBERT: Thanks, Chris. I appreciate it.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, gossip queen Liz Smith dishes on first lady Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Michael Jackson.
And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The name Liz Smith is practically synonymous with gossip column. She has covered the gossip beat for nearly 30 years and has hobnobbed with all the bold-faced names, as they‘re called, from the worlds of movies, book, politics, whatever. Her latest book is called “Dishing.”
I‘ve got to start with a political story in your book, Liz. I was smoking a cigar last night out on the porch last night reading it. And I came across this delightful little story about Nelson Rockefeller, the longtime governor of New York, two hours in with these tough labor guys at some restaurant. I guess it‘s Elaine‘s? The great Elaine‘s.
LIZ SMITH, AUTHOR, “DISHING”: Right.
MATTHEWS: And after the two hours, he comes out. And what does he say?
SMITH: He is standing waiting for a man to put his coat on his shoulders. And he says, hey, hey, what do they mean when they say take-home pay?
SMITH: He didn‘t have a clue.
MATTHEWS: This wealthy billionaire politician didn‘t know what take-home pay—it‘s like the time I read another story like that—not in your book, but elsewhere—where he comes out of a phone booth after 20 minutes of trying to make a phone call. And he says, I put a nickel in and nothing happened.
MATTHEWS: These guys are so cut off from reality.
SMITH: Well, I‘m surprised he ever had a nickel in his hand.
MATTHEWS: That‘s—probably didn‘t need one, if he had people.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Liz Smith, talk about—we‘re going to get to politics in two seconds. But like everybody else watching, I was obsessed during those years with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. What were they like to hang out with? You were with them a lot.
SMITH: Well, after I wrote about them eight times, I just ran out of soap. I didn‘t have anything else to say about them. So, the ninth time that I went back to be with them in Paris, I started writing down all the things they said.
And they would always talk about food. So, it gave me the basis for a great article and for this book, “Dishing.” And the thing was that they were obsessed with what they had eaten, what they were going to eat and their fantasy ideas. If they can only get back to the United States and get an ice cream sundae. And when they were in the United States, they wanted to get back to Paris and get something.
MATTHEWS: So, Liz and Richard, who everyone thought was horny all the time, were really hungry all the time?
SMITH: They were. And they ate off of each other‘s plates. And there was a lot of kind of—I think they had a certain amount of sexual tension about food that they used it as an excuse, you know, to diffuse their feelings.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the most famous desperate housewife of our time right now. And that‘s the first lady, who self-described herself as a desperate housewife.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this public figure, this madam librarian who seems to be coming out now as a far more richer personality, let me put it?
SMITH: Well, I think it‘s the greatest thing that the Bush administration has done yet, was to unleash Laura Bush and let her be a stand-up comic.
Mrs. Bush was just brilliant, and what we and exactly what the nation needs. We need a laughs. You know, I mean, there‘s no humor in religion. There‘s no humor in war. There‘s no humor in politics. And she just made everybody laugh and feel good. I mean, I always thought maybe Mrs. Bush was one of those Stepford wives, but she isn‘t. She was great.
MATTHEWS: No, I think that‘s—Pat Nixon wasn‘t either. She was secretly like Jackie, smoking all the time. And her life was a far more—maybe not exotic, but far more interesting than she let on.
Let me ask you about press coverage. I mean the real press coverage in “The New York Times” and the tabs, but also the coverage by the supermarket tabloids, of Hillary Clinton. I get a sense everybody is basting up this turkey for some big Thanksgiving to come, like everybody is being nice to Hillary now, so they can get her out front, have her the nominated, and then go after her.
SMITH: Well, I think they may be fixing her up like a turkey, as you say, because they‘re sure going to roast her if they ever get the chance.
And everybody is just laying off right now, because it doesn‘t mean anything right now. We have three more years of not Hillary Clinton. So, you know, I think it‘s really premature. I agree that we have no idea what will happen even tomorrow, so...
MATTHEWS: Do you think that Bill and Hillary, the former president and perhaps the future president, in the Clintons, are aware that they‘re getting sort of a time out these last couple years and that the real ferocious press coverage, the close-in coverage is going to come back and haunt them again, as it did before?
SMITH: I don‘t think anybody could put anything over on Senator Clinton. I think she knows exactly what she‘s in for.
And I don‘t know, frankly, whether she could win. In current circumstances, I‘m beginning to doubt it.
MATTHEWS: Why is gossip dying in Washington? We have “The Washington Post.” We have a column called “Reliable Source.” It‘s really a bulletin board for people who like to have stories written about them, items in the paper. There‘s really no dishing, like you‘ve done over the years. What‘s going on with the fun gossip, the slightly embarrassing stuff, or deeply embarrassing? It doesn‘t hurt anybody for more than a day or two. Why don‘t we have that anymore?
SMITH: Well, I think that “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times” are both—they both just resist having gossip columns, because their publishers don‘t want the trouble. They don‘t want what happens, the kickback from important people, who then start complaining.
People complain more about a gossip item than they do about a revelation in fortune or “TIME” magazine.
MATTHEWS: Congratulations, by the way.
SMITH: They never have had any.
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry.
Congratulations, Liz Smith, not only on your book “Dishing,” which is a great read and fun if you know more about food than I do, by the way.
MATTHEWS: But also your great line of the month, which is: I wonder what creeps Michael Jackson out?
SMITH: Well, I do wonder, I mean, the poor thing. What a terrible story.
MATTHEWS: It gets worse.
And what‘s your hunch? Is this going to end up somewhere with a hung jury and more nonsense to come?
SMITH: I—no. I‘m afraid I think they‘re going to convict him.
But, then, I thought they were going to convict O.J. Simpson, too. So what do I know?
MATTHEWS: I thought they were going to do that, too. We were both on that one. Maybe we‘re—maybe we‘ll be lucky this time and something clear will happen.
Anyway, thank you very much, Liz Smith.
SMITH: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Your book is called “Dishing.” It‘s about food. It‘s about us. It‘s about celebrities and what they‘re up to, a lot of nice stories and exotic stories.
Coming up Monday, a HARDBALL special report on military recruiting. It‘s dropping off and some recruiters are bending the rules to accept unqualified recruits. Is the military‘s recruiting effort out of order, out of line? That‘s Monday on HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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