Man, Novak is certainly getting his revenge -- and probably a big check -- for throwing that little unsourced pile of used kitty litter into the Democratic primary. Congratulations, Bob, for a job well done.
It just doesn't get any better for the Village Ladies press Club and Circle Jerk Society than this afternoon's Hardball. David Shuster ran down the story straight, pointing out that Novak has subsequently said that he allegedly heard his little nugget of defamation about both Clinton and Obama from some Democrat who isn't part of the Clinton campaign, but who knows someone or has heard from somebody who says it's true. That's apparently good enough for Chris Matthews anyway, and he's running with it as fast as his little legs can carry him.
This is what ensued:
CM: Thank you David.
Roger Simon of the Politico web site and Jim Warren of the Chicago Tribune.
You know both you fellas ... I've been thinking for a while that the one way Obama can beat Hillary is if he can trap her into an attack on him. And here he is accusing her of slime politics. Is that the game here? To call a foul and make Hillary look bad, Roger.
RS: I think it is. I think it's also designed to change the conversation away from a pretty poor debate performance in Las Vegas. Get reporters off that storyline, get reporters not writing about immigration and driver's licenses, get them writing about Hillary Clinton being a mud thrower and a hypocrite.
CM: The word "slime" politics, Jim, is pretty strong.
JW: Yeah, but I'm not sure the motive is so much tied as Roger suggests to a not a sterling debate performance. I think there really is the shadow of the Kerry campaign looming all over this and the belief, at least the conventional wisdom that in this internet age, you must react instantly to any stuff like this. Now that said, obviously, up to now, Obama's benefited from what's been a bit of a choir boy image. If you look at a biography by my colleague David Mendell, and you look at his state legislature days, there's a very interesting tale about a regular poker game he had and one night a lobbyist showed up with a drunk woman not his wife and Obama was actually very, very upset. And with all the investigating we've done into him here in Chicago, both the Tribune and the Sun Times, what one has is really only one very unsavory connection, one bad business deal involving his south side mansion and that involves his relationship to a guy who gave him a fair amount of money and who was a patron of sorts and now who is an indicted businessman named Tony Resco.
CM: Well you with ... as a competitor to Bob Novak, who is at a different paper, he's at the Sun Times. I've watched the guy over the years, you don't have to love the guy to know that he's a journalist and he does rely on sources and they do exist, whether it's Richard Armitage, whoever it is, they turn out to be true. And he has a prominent Democrat who told him that somebody in the Clinton campaign is pushing slime.
Now let's go there from that fact. One, doesn't that tell you that that's a strategy on the part of the Clinton people or that somebody's out there had a few belts at some bar and starts talking out of school?
JW: It's hard to believe necessarily that's a conscious strategy, although I have to quote a prominent American political analyst, named Roger Simon, who once remembered telling me there was a University of Illinois fellow alum, was a partner in a column that some cynics called" Evans and NoFacts." There was a belief that...
CM: I know that ... Errors and No-Facts, it was called.
JW: Yeah, Bob at times was a little thin on the attributions, certainly this attribution was one that a lot of us in moth eaten mainstream journalism would stay away from. But that said, your point about Valerie Plame was a good one, and now that we know the relationship of Novak and Richard Armitage, so of course, sure, I don't doubt that there is some guy who told him that and some guy who heard something from the Clinton campaign. But were they thinking of this like some great billiard player and thinking a couple of shots ahead and this would play out this way? I'm not sure because I think in the sort term this rebounds to Obama's favor.
CM: It's quite a bank shot. Let me ask you Roger... you know what it reminds me of, we all remember a peculiar thing we all remember back from 88. The rumor that Mike Dukakis had gotten psychological counseling. I remember the Washington Times jumped on that, a conservative paper, not an especially responsible paper, put at the top of the front page and then all of a sudden Ronald Reagan comes out and says, "I don't want to talk about a man who's sick." You know, they really played that baby.
RS: Sure. But the danger in responding to everything ... this reminds me of WWI and the guns of August. You go to war not because there's a need to go to war but because you're prepared to go to war. Both staffs have huge operations research arms, both have huge rapid response teams, and the tendency is to always use them. To always put them into battle. But there's a danger here. This item might have been dismissed as just another Robert Novak item about Democrats. But Obama ratcheted it up instantly by announcing it himself. He didn't use a staffer. He released the response under his own name. A certain number of people are always gonna say, "where there's smoke there's fire." A certain number of people are going to say, "he protests too much." And then you get another problem. It leads to ripples in the pond. Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic Monthly has a story in the issue in the stand now that he was in Iowa --- Ambinder is a highly respected journalist --- an Obama aid sat down next to him and said, "when are you gonna start investigating Bill Clinton's post presidential sex life?" Now how is that different than the Novak thing. In fact it's worse. It mentions sex life.
Simon: Novak just says this "unnamed scandal." There's a problem with riding a high horse down the low road. If you're going to accuse Hillary Clinton of doing this, you'd better be sure your campaign isn't doing it.
CM: yeah... But of course, the question is .. let's be honest about facts here. Does the Clinton campaign have something on Obama? Is there something out there on Bill Clinton if you're Obama's guy? Speculation, but is it accusation as well? You're saying that Obama, according to this reporrter from the Atlantic Monthly, accused Bill Clinton of messing around.
Simon: An Obama aide said to a reporter "when are you gonna start investigating Bill Clinton's post presidential sex life?"
CM: An Obama aide...
Simon: But how is that any different than just scandal mongering?
Jim Warren: it's funny, Roger and Chris. I've been at a dinner table in Chicago a couple of months ago with some prominent pols and who just threw out the same notion. Did they have any facts? "Oh you better check into Bill Clinton in London and that woman?" And I mean, that was out there. But there's a difference between dinner table chat and then sticking something in the Chicago Tribune or on Politico.com [Can you believe it? He said this right after he shared his "dinner table chat" on national television! --- ed] And when one speaks of ripples in the pond as Roger did, there's also the possibility that even if it's something inadvertently emanating from the Clinton camp, conceivably play and enlarge a notion among some Democrats on the fence about ruthless expedience of the Clinton camp in a negative way.
CM: I've got a news bulletin here on the Iowa's vote. We've long been told that the Iowa voters are very averse to any kind of slime campaigning, and here it is, a new ABC Washington post poll just out this moment shows Barack Obama leading in Iowa now 30% for him among likely caucus voters, Hillary down to 26 and Edwards at 22. And so you've got a jump of 4 points for Obama since July, Jim Warren, your thoughts. Obama is ahead in Iowa...
He wound up with, "It sure looks like Obama had a good week-end."
This exchange is one of the most perfect examples of everything that's wrong with journalism today. What information did we learn?
First, we learned about the Bob Novak blind item that accuses Hillary Clinton of "slime" politics and Barack Obama of having some skeletons in his closet that nobody knows about. We then learned that even though his nickname has long been "No-facts" for his lack of attribution in his columns, Bob Novak must be telling the truth now because he proved that he had a real source in Richard Armitage when he outed a CIA agent. Therefore, we can fully trust that the Clinton campaign was behind the story. We also learned about some guy who supported Obama financially who turned out to be a crook and we learned that "it's out there" that Bill Clinton has been schtupping other women, perhaps in London, and that Obama's staff is pimping that around.
Is any of that considered professional journalism? Is any of it remotely necessary for voters to know? Because it reminds me of a boozy lunch with a bunch of bored rich divorcees only less interesting and far more consequential.
Chris Matthews is an imbecile and a scumbag with an obscure personal agenda. Everything he says in that exchange should disqualify him from having a news show. He obviously gets titillated at the notion that Bill Clinton is playing around. We already know he loathes Hillary on a visceral level. Therefore, he finds Nofacts credible when he accuses the Clinton campaign of engaging in "slime politics" but is only interested in whether the alleged gossip planted by the Obama staffer might be true.
The other two, while making some excellent points about the campaigns' hair trigger on their rapid response teams and overuse of their oppo teams, piously lecture about how wrong it is to scandal monger, and repeat all the Village gossip on television as a way of proving it!
Matthews didn't stop at just that one interminable segment. There was more. He asked Chuck Todd and Michael Crowley and they all essentially agreed that this is very, very good for Obama. Whether any of it is true, wasn't even brought up.
Crowley made the point that the rapid responses of the two campaigns are speaking to the Democratic voters who are traumatized by what they see as a media circus that killed off Al Gore and John Kerry in the last two election and want their candidates to show they can fight back hard.
Matthews replies angrily:
Michael, Michael, there's a big difference between what happened to Al Gore and John Kerry. john Kerry got hit unfairly by the Swift Boats attacking his service to his country. They conflated his opposition to the war when he came back which we can all argue about, and his service to his country which is not really arguable. They trashed him.
But in terms of Al Gore, he's the one who said he created the internet, he's the one who put out the word that he's the subject or the role model for Love Story, that he pointed the country's attention to Love Canal. He stuck himself into that story.
And when Marty Peretz's daughter wrote that story in Vanity Fair a couple of months ago, I'm sorry, she didn't make the case. Gore got himself in those problem areas by vanity and showing off an trying to make himself cool. But John Kerry got unfair treatment. I think it's a big difference guys.
Crowley: that may be so, but it's not how many Democrats feel.
CM: Well, why would expect a partisan to think anything more than partisan? That's what partisans think? Of course they think they were rooked. Everyone who loses an election thinks they were rooked and they blame it on the umpire.
Crowley: That's the audience they're speaking to.
CM: Yeah, well how about getting into the land of truth and understanding?
Yes, he actually said that, and with a smug self-satisfied grin on his face too.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you all that the three specific stories that Matthews relayed about Gore are lies and have been debunked over and over again. I'll leave it to the Daily Howler to provide chapter and verse on that. Matthews made Novak look like a responsible journalist with that little tirade. And he made an utter fool of himself to people who know the facts. It was embarrassing. (not that anyone bothered to correct him.)
As far as Kerry is concerned, the Swift Boaters spent very little money in the great scheme of things. They just appeared over and over again, for free, on shows like Hardball, where Matthews gave them a respectful hearing and validated their premise.
Now if anyone thinks after reading that drivel that it is a good idea to validate Robert Novak's gossip in this cycle, please raise your hands. I guarantee that if all the story lines of this nature aren't being written by Republicans they are certainly going to be exploited by them. Before anyone sets their oppo or rapid response teams on anything they need to stop and ask one simple question: Cui bono --- who benefits?
As friendly as Chris Matthews may be right now toward Obama or Edwards, he'll be right in there helping the Republicans do it, along with all his fellow members of the Ladies Circle Jerk society who seem to have some problems differentiating between facts, gossip and dirty tricks and so just blurt it all out while daintily dabbing at the drool on their chins and decrying "slime politics."
This was a reprehensible and shameful show this afternoon and it's only the first of many to come. I'm very worried about the campaigns at this point. This looks like the worst circular firing squad I've seen in years and it's the worst time to do it. We desperately need to win this one.
Update: Ryan Lizza was on the later edition of the show and said that Obama has decided to use the Clinton War Room tactics of going nuclear to prove he is tough enough. I don't remember the Clintons using them against other Democrats, but I could be wrong. In any case, it's a very dicey tactic this time out.
If Whether or not the Republicans planted this story they will still use "those rumors" against him in a Chicago minute. (After all, it's "out there.")
After all, Matthews proved with his comments about the Gore campaign that if they come up with some bogus scandal about Obama, he will have no compunction about using them and believing them. He is not alone. It will come back to bite any Democrat in the ass.
Update II: Marc Ambinder points to John Fund identifying the supposedly horrible smear the Clinton campaign is supposedly holding back (it's nothing) and wonders why these Republican columnists all have such better sources among Democrats. That's an excellent question.
He adds something very important to consider, however:
For the record, the Obama and Clinton campaigns try to plant negative stories about each other all the time. Felonious fundraisers, issue positions, legislative records, the occasional guilt-by-association catches -- those are fair game.
Other stuff seems to be off-limits.
Earlier this year, Obama donor David Geffen mouthed off to Maureen Dowd about the verbotten subject of the Clintons' private life, triggering an intense bout of jockeying between the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Then -- silence.
Except for the isolated occurrance -- an Obama aide plopped down next to me at a campaign event and wondered when reporters would begin to look into Clinton's postpresidential sex life - not a single rumor about the subject has eminated from the Obama world.
Some aides been gotten dressed down for talking about the subject, even in private, with other campaign staffers.
Likewise, no one in the Clinton universe has ever tried to convince me to look into something scandalous about Obama's past -- all the bad stuff -- cocaine use, hard-knuckle Chicago political tactics -- is out there already.
So if campaigns don't traffic in these rumors, who does?
Supporters do -- it's true that reporters in Iowa and New Hampshire are accosted by Democrats who don't like Hillary Clinton and wonder why the press doesn't ask her about her husband's fidelity.
Donors do -- think of Gossip Girl set in a Georgetown salon.
Opposition parties do -- everyone tends to assume that negative stuff against Hillary Clinton is being sent around by her Democratic opponents. Not always true.
And reporters do -- we can't help it.
Right, you can't help it. But at the very least can we agree that "reporters" shouldn't put these rumors in their newspapers or go on Chris Matthews to dish all the dirt they've heard on the campaign trail?
It's not like any of the candidates are CIA agents who deserve to be publicly outed or anything.
slightly revised for clarity