Chris Matthews Knew How to Hit Hard

Listen to this episode

S1: Following recording may or may not include instances of words being said that the FCC would find me for if their long arm could ever reach.

S2: It’s Tuesday, March 3rd, 20/20 from Slate’s The Gist. I’m Mike PESCA. Recent events have brought me to a realization it’s not a puffiness, but it is revolutionary. I’ve been navigating through life, pursuing a great passion. Which one? I didn’t even realize I had. That’s right.

Advertisement

S3: Like Grandma Moses took a painting at 76 or Julia Child published her first cookbook at 39 or counter. Reeve’s first decided to try being an actor at age 50. I mean, he’s been acting since he was 17, but he just really started trying a couple of years ago. So like all these auteurs, I have a deep and abiding interest and I’m gonna say a skill at something that I didn’t even realize that I had until recent events made me aware of it. I love touching my face. I love it. Whether it’s the slope of the cheeks or a quick D. Crusting or perceived D. Crusting of the eye. I am compelled to pet poor handle and at times even fondle my own face. If expertise comes with 10000 hours of experience, I must be a black belt with an oak leaf cluster of face touching. It is my passion. It is my hobby. It is my right as an American. And now. Now I’m being told I must stop. Not only for my sake, but for yours.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Don’t touch your face, because that’s how the virus is going to get it.

S4: That’s right. Face feeling is now being faulted. And up until this moment, I didn’t even realize how often I felt my face. How much I felt my face. How many feelings I have about feeling my face. I can feel my face. And I like it. Yes, I like it. Not only that, I’m good at it. And now that I can’t do it. I’m a little lost. It seems easy to tell a person, well, just don’t feel your face. I mean, that’s four syllable phrase. You don’t need to feel your face. Just stop. So simple. Really? What if I told you, hey, when eating? Always make sure the number of chews is a prime number that shouldn’t get in your head too much, should it? Or when breathing luck. Carry on as usual. Just every 14th breath. Do a double inhale. Not so hard. Why is that so hard? Except it’s impossible. Not touching your face is impossible when it comes to the task of resisting this thing. There’s one thing I love. It is so unfair. I literally, literally will never ask you to feel your face. I swear, I just want to feel mine. I’ve been everywhere. Still, I’m standing tall. I’ve seen a million faces and I’ve touched none of them. This is my point. Just leave me to my face. My face, C.D.C. My face. Nigerian version of the CDC.

Advertisement

S5: It is loosely. Then we should avoid touching our faces.

S6: My face Singapore version of the CDC and avoid touching your face with our heads. You win this round science people. But I swear, when this particular plague has passed, if we all survive it. I’m gonna set aside an afternoon and sit down in a comfortable chair. I’m gonna crack open a pumpkin mousse. Lancry kind of put on some smooth jazz and I am gonna go to town on my face.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Oh, I’m gonna get these meat hooks all up in my own business. Just me. My hands go into town probe and all my head holes. It will be glorious and no expert will be there to get in the way of me and my one true love my face on the show today.

Advertisement

S6: Little bit of an about face.

S3: Let’s play dodge ball. Chris Matthews gone. You say what? But first in nineteen eighty one, People magazine wrote this about our guests today.

S1: The young thirty thousand dollar a year lawyer. That was a lot back then on Watergate. Special prosecutor Leon Jaworski staff who became known as much for her mini skirts as her courtroom grilling of Richard Nixon. Secretary Rosemary Woods about the 18 minute gap in a critical Oval Office tape. We get to all of that minus maybe a discussion of hemlines with Jill Wine Banks. She has that $30000 a year lawyer. That was a lot. I’m telling you.

S7: And now she is the author of The Watergate Girl My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President.

Advertisement

S8: Jill, Why Banks is an esteemed MSNBC legal analyst whose past serves as prologue to our moment because Jill Wayne Banks is as per the title of her memoir, The Watergate Girl. It’s subtitled My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President. A criminal president that has come up recently, has it not? Hello, Joe. Thanks for joining me.

S9: Hi. Thank you for having me on.

S8: This is a great book. I’ve read a few Watergate memoirs. This fills in a lot of the blanks. And I have to say, I was pretty blinkered and reading all the rest of them through what the feminist would call a male gaze. I never really thought of the specifics of being a woman, the only woman among that team of prosecutors with Watergate. Is that one of the reasons that you wanted to write it? Not just my story, but a story that could be read as a woman navigating these waters.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S10: It definitely was a part of my motivation. The timing was extremely opportune because I’m seeing history repeat itself. So this book combines the presidential scandal that’s repeating, but it is also a different take on it because it is through my eyes. It’s a very different thing. My editor said this combines all the president’s men and hidden figures yahoo!’s of the hurdles and obstacles.

S8: It’s so interesting. So the listeners should remember, and I’m sure many of them do either remember or they’ve listen to slow burn or they know the story. But the Watergate, it is revealed that Nixon had a taping system and there a court fight over the tapes. But then it is further revealed that there’s this 18 and a half minute gap on the tapes. So originally all Rosemary Woods was was someone who had handled the tapes, chain of custody, like everyone who ever had a finger on the tapes. And then she becomes at the center of it. And Team Nixon just cut her loose. She was still loyal to them, but they had, in fact, thrown her under the bus a little and she was courageous. And so and she comes up with this explanation about how the erasure could have happened. That, I guess, depends on her having the wingspan of decant mutumbo. But can you explain what she said?

Advertisement

S9: That’s a very good description. She described. And it’s I would say anyone listening to this should now go online and look up Rosemary Stretch and see the photograph or the cartoons of her supposedly doing the following.

S8: Or if you Google just Rosemary Woods, the three of the first four photos are of this iconic stretch.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: OK, that’s fair enough. But she said that she hit the wrong button on the tape player that she was listening to to transcribe as best she could. The conversations that had been subpoenaed and agreed to be turned over to us. She said the phone rang. She took off her headphones. She reached for the phone about five or six feet away from her. And she’s a very petite woman. She kept her foot on a foot pedal, which is why the tape machine kept rotating. And that’s what caused the ratio she meant to hit stop, but she hit record instead of stop. And so they had raced 18 and a half minutes, although she said she was only on the phone for four or five minutes. So it seemed incredible. She tried to demonstrate in the courtroom. It failed the press, which was watching this. Fled the room to call the story in. And I said, well, maybe you should do this in your office and let us see how you did it there. Yeah. And for some reason, the courts allowed us to do it. And the defense team allowed us to do it. And that’s what led to the photographs of her in her office trying to do the stretch. And if you see her position, you know, she did not stay in that position for more than a second. Yeah. It just isn’t possible.

Advertisement

S3: Is there evidence that she is implicated in any of the illegalities surrounding Watergate?

S8: Did she know of them? We don’t even know for sure how much Nixon knew. But what do we know beyond this? Areyouthere what she knew?

S10: Well, one, we do know how much Nixon knew. We know that days after the break. And he was saying, let’s use the CIA to stop the FBI from following the money trail. And the reason he did that was because he knew that the hundred dollar bills that was on the burglars when they were arrested at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate were the result of them cashing a campaign check. They had deposited and gotten cash for a campaign check and the money would have been traceable. It was sequential numbers. And that’s how they would have known for sure. That creep as the Committee to Re-Elect is known that creep had paid for the burglary. That would have been the end of claiming that it was a third rate random burglary. It wasn’t. It was a political crime. So we do know how much he knew.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: How much do we know about Rosemary Woods knowing about Watergate?

S10: Right. So. Rosemary had cash in a safe in her office and in her home and use that for hush money. So we know that she knew about hush money. We knew she we didn’t know that then. But I know that now. And one of the the taped conversations that’s in the book does reveal this. So as I say, she wasn’t innocent. I think she might have actually believed that she erased the tape the way she said. And I think that Richard Nixon let her believe that, which is shame on him, because there’s no way it happened that way. And I believe that he knows or knew who actually did it and that it may have been him who he raised.

Advertisement

S8: And we know forensically that this was not just a one time a ratio. This was a concentrated effort where they took eight or nine passes out of racing that tape.

S10: Exactly. And so what must have happened? It was the first tape on our subpoena. So if you, the president want to know what’s on the tapes before you agree to reveal them, you would listen to the first in order. You would listen. That’s terrible. Oh, my gosh. I sound guilty. And you say your race that then you listen a little more in your race, that there were at least seven to nine erasures. It was not one. I hit the button and it erased 18 minutes. That didn’t happen in a race. A few minutes, a few minutes, a few minutes. And if we can go back to Bob Woodward, because he did give me a lead to a witness that I ended up interviewing. It was someone who would not go public during Watergate. And so for him, it was old news. But he shared it with me. And I interviewed someone who had been told by someone else that Alexander Haig had gone around the White House looking for someone to take the blame for the 18 and a half minute gap. And I then realized that was hearsay. So I tracked down the person who supposedly had told the other source that Bob Woodward had, and he confirmed it, but modified it slightly. But it is in the book. So you’ll have to read the book to find out who that is and what he said.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: It’s interesting. Alexander Haig, a great lesson in both credit taking when undeserved and blame given when undeserved. Were you surprised that Mark Felt was Deep Throat?

S9: We never could figure out who Deep Throat was because we would say when the first thing that would come out that was attributed to Deep Throat. Well, here’s five people who knew that fact. And then the next one would come out. We’d say none of those five knew the second fact. Totally, totally unrelated, unrelated group of people. So we could never figure out who could have been. And we thought that Deep Throat was just a name for a multiple series of sources. And of course, in retrospect, yes, someone at the FBI who saw everything could have been the source. But honestly, never occurred to me that it could have been Mark Felt right.

S8: Or the garbage man outside your office.

S9: It could have been, yes. Yes. And you know that the garbage man actually did deliver some documents from our office to The Washington Post.

S8: Yes. So that’s why your special counsel leaked a little. Even though Mueller’s did it because of the garbage, that was the only time.

S9: It wasn’t a significant thing. But. Right. And as soon as we found out about it. We bought a shredder and started shredding things because we had been putting our garbage out, you know, including in those days. You had to retype whatever your draft was, if you made a mistake, it got retyped. There was no more. You know, it’s just in the computer until the final version. And so drafts were being put in the garbage can and put outside of our offices in clear plastic bags. It was very easy to pick up what was Watergate office trash. And one of the garbage men did actually go over to The Washington Post with some documents that were draft documents. And that’s how we found out about it and started shredding our documents.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S11: So as you speak, it seems to me that one major contrast between your era of prosecution and what we’ve been going through is just that even if the public didn’t start off on the side of Nixon should be removed from office, even if the public, you know, he won by re-election in a landslide. You were operating against a backdrop where the rules of gravity applied, where sanity was sanity and truth was truth. And not everyone would agree with you or see all the implications. And there will be people excusing his behavior and running interference. But for the most part, you have said, you know, when the public saw pictures of Rosemary Woods contorting, they thought it was ridiculous. Full stop when there was a firing of the special prosecutor, there was a public outcry. There was no opportunity to engage in this sort of disinformation where you could redefine reality to suit your purposes and it would work or it would work sufficiently to skate. Did that strike you, as you’ve been called, to be an expert and give your analysis of the Trump era? The contrast between your era and the Trump you’re in terms of reality?

S10: I can’t say it any better than you did. It is absolutely 100 percent correct. We had three networks and all three had the same facts. Everybody agreed on the facts, including the Republicans in the House and in the Senate. There was no disputing the facts. And in the end, it was the three top Republicans who went to Richard Nixon and said, we just heard the smoking gun tape. You do not have enough support in the Senate. You will be convicted if you do not resign. So it was a time of bipartisanship. We didn’t have gerrymandered districts that have led to the kind of I don’t have to compromise at all because my base is my base and they don’t care about compromise. So we had sources of information that led facts to be believed by the American people. And we didn’t have the social media with all the fake news. We didn’t have Fox. If Fox had existed, I think Richard Nixon probably would have survived.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S12: I want to ask you about the Mueller report. Do you think that he is choosing not to charge or more for forcefully recommend the charge? Do you think that he aired? Was it an excess of caution?

S10: If I had been Mueller, I believe I would have done differently. But let me first say, I believe that there is nothing in the Constitution that justifies the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that you cannot indict a sitting president. So the first thing is I still think the president can and should have been indicted for the same crimes that other people are being charged with. Michael Cohen is in jail for doing something with and at the direction of Donald Trump, who is named as individual number one in the indictment. And yet he’s held scot free. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is, if you decide that you want to go with the opinion that you can’t indict a sitting president, but you can impeach him. I wouldn’t have left the language vague. It’s clear to me and I think it’s clear to almost everyone who reads the actual report that that was the intention was that this should be handled by Congress through impeachment. But doing that in this era, unlike during Nixon, where we turned over evidence to the House Judiciary Committee for them to conduct impeachment, which they did in a fair and open and honest way in this situation, it was clear from the beginning that the Senate would not do anything other than defend and protect the president, that they would acquit him no matter what the evidence that they wouldn’t pay attention. And in fact, of course, they did not allow witnesses or testimony to be put forth. They had summaries of it. That’s not the same thing as hearing witnesses live. Many of them in this situation said, yes, the president is guilty. Yes, he’s proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the things he’s accused of, he did. And then they had to say in answer to Justice Roberts after the supposed trial, which wasn’t a trial, they had to say not guilty. So how do you have a sentence that says, of course, he’s guilty, he did everything he’s charged with? It’s not impeachable, in my opinion, they said. And then you have to actually say the words not guilty. That was a painful loss of democracy to me when people said not guilty. Who knew he was.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: So last question. I believe you’re a lawyer. But as a close observer of the Trump presidency, have you come to a new appreciation of not laws, but the norms that Mackenzie governs around the office?

S9: Yes, I can even go back further when I started practicing law.

S10: I was an organized crime prosecutor and I marveled at how creative organized crime was in evading laws or getting around them or finding the loophole. So laws are never fully developed in a way that can stop bad actions. Norms and expectations do so. I recognized early on that that was important. And now when you see not just laws being tossed aside, but you see every norm that governs how people govern, it is a serious thing and that we need to go back to a time when there is respect for the precedent of the office. And that’s something that the Trump administration absolutely does not follow. No other administration would refuse to have their staff come in to testify about appropriate congressional oversight matters. And how can you have government? How can you have separation of powers? How can you have three co-equal branches if they don’t work together?

S13: The Watergate girl is the name of the book, The Watergate Girl My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President. Joe Windbags was that girl. Thank you so much, Joe. Thank you, Mike.

S12: And now the spiel. When Bernie Sanders rose in the polls, it was apparent that MSNBC had plenty of centrist pundits to pooh pooh the ascendance, but it lacked Sanders fellow travelers, so they literally contracted with actual members of the Democratic Socialists and like minded folks. And that was, you know, what a smart way to flesh out their coverage. It made sense as the network that positions itself as left of center. They have Rachel Maddow to obsess over with the Mueller investigation, say they have Chris Hayes to focus on pressing social issues. They have Joy Reid and Al Sharpton to represent black Americans. They have Joe and Mika to represent one Democratic Party loyalist, the other a never trumper recent. I guess you could say Democratic convert.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: They have all of that. But now they’re jettisoning Chris Matthews and they have a whole because this time right now, in this moment, they have no one to speak for the SEPTA Janiero, since that’s my Matthews impersonation.

S4: Everyone there is so young and pretty. But the actual candidates are not. You need a voice for the old, the antiquated, the outmoded. Chris Matthews was that voice. All right. I’m mostly kidding.

S12: Chris Matthews was best described as an interviewer who asked good questions and didn’t wait for the answers. For years, his rapid fire style served him until his own self goals, plus an atmosphere that grew sick of some of his more atavistic behavior rose up to get him. I’m not here to bury Chris Matthews nor to really praise him. I am allergic to mob mentalities, however, in snap decisions. So I just want to pause and assess. That’s all I want to do. Chris Matthews has lately been under fire for making, shall we say, an infelicitous analogy between Bernie Sanders win and the fall of Paris to the Nazis. And then he interviewed Elizabeth Warren after this month’s debate in which Matthews asked Warren three times if she disbelieved Michael Bloomberg’s claim that he never told the pregnant woman to abort her baby. Here is The Daily Beast article reporting on that specific interview. Women’s advocacy group Ultraviolet on Wednesday called upon MSNBC to fire a longtime host, Chris Matthews, after he repeatedly confronted Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren on why she believed a former accuser of Michael Bloomberg over the ex-mayor himself. An interviewer’s job, by the way, is to question candidates even with follow ups. So that would be the repeatedly part. I guess an activist job is to label such questioning as confrontation and to call for the questioners firing. Here is the third and is the most egregious set of Matthews follow up questions. He has already asked Warren twice, why don’t you believe Bloomberg? And then he asked her again.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S14: I’m sure I agree with everybody deserves incredible response when they make a charge like that. My question about him, you believe he’s lying? I believe the woman you believe he is. He’s not telling the truth. And why would he lie? Because just to protect himself. Yeah. And why would she? I think that’s the question, Krafts.

S3: That is the question. But that is not a confrontation. I do not really like calls for firings over bad questions. But it wasn’t just that.

S12: It wasn’t just this interview or that comment. It was, in fact, serious breaches of workplace decorum, which Matthews acknowledged. In fact, it was reported that in 2017, MSNBC paid a settlement to a former female employee after Chris Matthews commented on her appearance. Maybe more than that. We don’t know all the details. He said similar things to journalist Laura Bassett, who wrote of the time in the makeup room before appearing on Hardball. I’ll quote from that GQ article. Matthews looked me over in the makeup chair next to him and said, Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet? When I laughed nervously and said nothing. He followed up to the makeup artist. Keep putting makeup on her. I’ll fall in love with her. Another time he stood between me in the mirror and complimented the red dress I was wearing for the segment. You’re going out tonight? He asked. I said I didn’t know. And he said again to the makeup artist, Make sure you wipe this off her face after the show. We don’t make her up. So some guy at a bar can look at her like this. You can see why that would make a guest. Remember a guest, but talk about a guest. You can see why that would make such a guest feel uncomfortable. You could see why 74 year old Chris Matthews said in his short segment saying goodbye to Hardball that it was not okay to talk to women that way. So I’m doing nothing to minimize that or to say that that was anything but wrong. But there was a conflation of those inappropriate comments with his questioning of Warren, which seems like a poorly handled line of legitimate questioning. Ultra Violet wanted him gone because they didn’t like his tone of disbelief. So what? Warren handled it well. It’s not the first time a candidate got the better of an anchor sometimes. Let’s not forget an anchor. Get the better of a politician. Like back in 2012 when the politician was Newt Gingrich and the anchor was. Yes, Chris Matthews. They were talking about Mitt Romney making light of birtherism.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S15: I think that it is bizarre that people think that it is a challenge to be able to say I was mine. Here’s my version of What’s the big deal? Because it hasn’t stopped because we got members of your caucus, Republican caucus, like Louie Gohmert and these people to keep talking it up.

S12: Matthews was tough, unflinching, hard charging, hard ball. And he was right. He kept after Gingrich again and again.

S15: It’s not a game you’re playing.

S16: Said we’re not allowed to leave food stamps because your sensibility tells us that 35 years ago you got a brain dead diabolic smile. I know you think you’re winning here, but everybody out there who’s black or white.

S3: So that was a case where Matthews skewered the deserving and he stayed in the good graces of his critics. It was complimented for that, rightly so. When he seems to take Michael Bloomberg side over Elizabeth Warren’s in what is to be totally accurate, an unknowable disagreement about a statement made allegedly 30 years ago. Some people want his head. Obviously, it’s not that simple. That’s why I provided the context of documenting some of the allegations and admissions of harassment. That said, some of the bill of particulars against Matthews seem a little out of place. Here was The New York Times write up of his firing or his ouster. The Matthew style was increasingly out of step with the Times in 2017. MSNBC acknowledge that the anchor had been reprimanded in 1999 after making inappropriate remarks to a female colleague, prompting a settlement in 2008. He was quoted in a magazine profile declaring the actress Kerry Washington, quote, a total knockout. That is a combination of the serious and the anodyne. Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, wrote One of the most prominent and well-paid hosts in the cable news game, didn’t listen, didn’t do his homework and treated politics as a game in which noisy confrontation was a necessity. Yes, but that second part, noisy, confrontational, a game. That is exactly what made the first part so very well. What made that possible? Chris Matthews had excellent ratings. He grew the audience. You can even argue that politics as a game, that way of looking at it has its place, like Steve Kolonaki so movingly said in his send off of Matthews. He and I and maybe you are, in fact, interested in political content. And it’s not because it’s unexciting and it’s not because it needs to be a slog. I have never appeared on the Chris Matthews show. I’ve appeared on many, many other MSNBC shows, dozens of others over the years. I think Matthews ratatat style often obscured deeper contemplation, but it also forced respondents to beyond their games and steered them towards concision. So when I read The New Republic’s headline, Chris Matthews was everything wrong with cable news? Easy. They’re young WOKV crats, in-house magazine of N plus 1. Everything that was wrong with cable news. Have you have you checked out this network called Fox? It’s like two clicks over from MSNBC depending on your cable provider. They get twice the viewers of Chris Matthews with 10 times the bullshit as Chris Matthews leaves. He takes something with him. Part of what he takes is his attitude out of step with the times, admittedly. And he did and said things that caused women legitimate discomfort despite being repeatedly told not to do so. So now that he’s gone, some of that has gone to good. But some of the other things that are gone with him. Maybe we should think about. My point is not to excuse, rehabilitate or defend a career which earned him fame, influence and millions of dollars. To only want to point out that Chris Matthews had his moments, some moments of sparkle to go along with the well picked over moments of cringe.

S12: And that’s it for today’s show. The gist is produced by Priscila, a lobby. She’s the associate producer. She prefers wine banks to wine caves. Remember that wine cave? So two months, one week ago, Daniel Shrader is the producer of The Gist. He called Tyson Fury a total knockout. Get the gist. If we ever asked to face time, you you may want to ask a follow up or to compare desperate to Peru. And thanks for listening.