Michael Crowley and Jeralyn Merritt, in the course of dissecting the Libby indictment, noted that Libby called Tim Russert on July 10 to complain about some coverage on MSNBC. But what provoked Libby's call? They nominated a July 8 broadcast of Hardball with Chris Matthews as having the sort of rhetoric that might well have drawn Libby's ire (and the Times signed up)
Well hey, three can play (and if you want to sign up for the very reasonable "Lexis a la Carte", you can play too). I am nominating this Chris Matthews vignette from July 9, 2003 - it's funny, it shows the pointlessness of actually confronting Chris Matthews with tedious stuff like, you know, evidence, it drags Nick Kristof back onstage, it lets me mock a lefty talking point - we love this game!
Here we go - Chris Matthews is discussing Joe Wilson's trip to Niger with Sen. Jay Rockefeller and David Gergen:
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to David Gergen on the question of who may be culpable here, because we do have a paper trail, thanks to Joe Wilson, the ambassador. He said he was sent to Niger, the government in Africa that is in question here. There we have a picture of him. He was on "MEET THE PRESS". He also wrote a letter, an op-ed piece for the "New York Times" this weekend.
He made it very clear he was sent down there at the behest of the vice president's office last year. Months, almost a year before the president's State of the Union Address, he came back with the information that there was, in fact, no deal. Isn't vice president's office responsible, right now, to come out and say why they didn't act on that information? Why the CIA, which also must sign off on presidential speeches, they didn't come out with the information and clear the president so that he wouldn't have to, in his own words, by the way, to use his words, revise history as he seems to be doing, saying that this was not a mistake.
GERGEN: Chris, it was my understanding that he went to the -- to Africa at the request of the CIA, not the vice president's office. Vice president's office was...
MATTHEWS: At the behest of the vice president's office, the CIA was tasked by the vice president's office to do it. Senator, isn't that right?
ROCKEFELLER: That is correct.
GERGEN: Well, I thought what he said in "The New York Times" was -- in his piece, was that he was asked by the intelligence agencies for whom he had worked, they paid his way. He went pro bono in terms of his...
MATTHEWS: At the request of the vice president's office. Right, Senator?
ROCKEFELLER: Absolutely correct.
GERGEN: Well, if that's the case, if there is a paper trail back to the vice president's office and if there were papers filed with the vice president's office, that's one thing. If it was filed with the CIA, that's quite another. And I think we should be -- I certainly accept Senator Rockefeller's characterization of the facts here, but I -- my understanding was that he was a former head - that he was a former state department person...
GERGEN: ... who had done CIA work...
MATTHEWS: ... he was a former (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
GERGEN: ... and he was reporting to...
MATTHEWS: That's technically how it happened. Let me ask you the big question, gentlemen. I want to get into a very important -- A lot of people watching right now may say, so what. A lot of people may say this is wild, especially the critics of the war. But, those who supported the war, what does it say to them? Senator?
Dont vex Matthews with facts! But Gergen is unrelenting, and re-emerges from his personal library a few moments later:
GERGEN: Chris, can I add one thing? I want to quote from the "New York Times" piece that Joe Wilson wrote. In February, 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions. It strikes me from that piece -- what I understood that piece to say, was the agency was the one who requested Wilson to go make this report, not the vice president's office directly. It came from the vice president's office to the agency then to Wilson.
MATTHEWS: The vice president went to the CIA to get some answers, and they used Mr. Wilson to get the facts.
MATTHEWS: I think that's the chain.
ROCKEFELLER: If I can interject...
MATTHEWS: Yes, Senator.
ROCKEFELLER: I don't think there is any question but the vice president asked the CIA to send him over. And this is a man who had served as an ambassador under Clinton as well as President Bush.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and David Gergen, an expert on the presidency.
Where to start? I understand that the proper lefty talking point is to insist that Wilson never said that Cheney's office sent him. But can we agree that somebody sure did get Matthews and Rockefeller confused?
Sen. Rockefeller was part of the Senate Intelligence Committee that unanimously reported a different story a year later; as of Oct 20, 2005, Matthews told us that "We apparently now are realizing that [Cheney] never knew about that trip". Waddya mean, "We"? Some of us got the clue on July 11, 2003, from the head of the CIA himself.
And let's do some ritualistic Kristof-bashing. The phrase "at the behest", recited so hypnotically by Chris Matthews, comes from his famous June 13, 2003 column, which relied in part on Joe Wilson's anonymous leaks. Let us not underestimate the impact of that column's power to cloud men's minds.
The last we heard from Mr. Kristof, he was still waiting for some public statement from the Administration contradicting his columns before he would deign to contemplate a correction. And we are still waiting for him to acknowledge the July 11, 2003 statemnt, which does just that. A standoff.
But Mr. Kristof, ever the ironist, delivers another Times Select classic, this time urging VP Dick Cheney to come clean with the American people, and tell the truth about what happened in the spring and summer of 2003. Leadership by example, Nicholas!