Friday, March 13, 2009


I know it's not the cable interview everyone's talking about from last night, but I stupidly went to David Corn's blog and watched his appearance on Hardball last night with Chris Matthews and Frank Gaffney -- and, well, that's fourteen minutes of my life I'll never get back. (The clip is below.) Corn and Gaffney were booked in order to respond to Ari Fleischer's statement on the show the previous night:

After September 11th, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam might strike again?

It's nice that Matthews felt the need to take on the sheer outrageousness of that statement -- but the first problem is that he did so twenty-four hours too late. The Fleischer clip is also below -- note that in real time Matthews merely interpreted the remark as defensive bluster, not as the devious bit of deceit it was.

Yes, last night Matthews responded -- but he let Fleischer "clarify" what he said and he let Gaffney second Fleischer's "clarification." From the transcript:

MATTHEWS: ...Ari told me this afternoon that this is not what he meant last night on HARDBALL. He didn't mean that Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11 but instead that Saddam had attacked other countries before and could attack us.

... FRANK GAFFNEY, FMR ASST. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I think it's important that you read it back, Chris, because he didn‘t say attack us again, so I think Ari was right in his characterization of it as Saddam Hussein could not be allowed to attack again wherever, including, as he had repeatedly promised to do in exacting revenge against the United States for the humiliation that we inflicted upon him in Desert Storm....

The correct response to this is that Fleischer, by omitting "us," makes Bill Clinton look like a piker for his use of "sexual relations" to mean "intercourse only" -- and, moreover, Fleischer's I'm-hinting-at-Saddam's-involvement-but-giving-myself-deniability routine is exactly the sort of outrageous rhetorical dishonesty we got from the Bush White House for years.

But Matthews didn't make that point to Fleischer or Gaffney. He played the usual clips of Bush and Cheney warning us of Saddam the boogeyman -- but Gaffney took over the show, arguing (in an echo of the Laurie Mylroie/James Woolsey line) that Saddam might have been involved in not only 9/11 but Oklahoma City:

GAFFNEY: Well, as I said, he kept saying that he was going to try to get even against us for Desert Storm, so it wouldn't be unreasonable for people to conclude maybe that that‘s what he was doing. There's also circumstantial evidence, not proven by any means, but nonetheless some pretty compelling circumstantial evidence of Saddam Hussein's Iraq being involved with the people who perpetrated both the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and even the Oklahoma City bombing.

Matthews didn't challenge this. But why should he? When he decided to book Gaffney in the first place, he validated this lunatic theory. Booking Gaffney for any reason other than to tear into his conspiracy theory is no more defensible than uncritically booking a flat earther, a Holocaust denier, a 9/11 truther, or an Obama birther. And pitting him against David Corn implies that Gaffney's arguments are just as valid as Corn's.

In fact, Matthews gave Gaffney more time to hold forth than he gave Corn -- he called on Gaffney repeatedly and, after the first couple of minutes, virtually ignored Corn, never demanding that Corn get uninterrupted time to rebut Gaffney. (To give Matthews his due, Corn himself didn't fight hard enough against Gaffney's bloviation and crosstalk.) By my count of the transcript, Gaffney got in 1126 words, Corn only 768.

Yes, Matthews challenged Gaffney in a very general way on the Bush administration's claims regarding Saddam and al-Qaeda -- but it seemed clear that he didn't have any detailed counterarguments; all he had to offer was that the 9/11 Commission disagreed with Gaffney. To which Gaffney sneeringly replied,

I believe that there is evidence that they were collaborating on all kinds of things. Whether we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt or to the satisfaction of that partisan -- or bipartisan, as you wish -- commission, I believe is an open question.

Matthews let that slide, too.


One more point about Wednesday's Fleischer interview. Matthews walked away from an opportunity to respond to Fleischer's self-righteous pseudo-shock at Matthews's statement that 9/11 happened on Bush's watch:

MATTHEWS: Yes, but we were attacked on your watch. If you start getting into who was attacked when, we suffered the worst domestic calamity in history on your watch. If you get into this whose watch was good, you guys blew it.

FLEISCHER: Chris, I...

MATTHEWS: I don't know if you can do it that way.

FLEISCHER: Chris, how dare you?

MATTHEWS: But how can you say...


FLEISCHER: Chris, if we get attacked again -- if we get attacked again, are you going to say we got attacked on Barack Obama‘s watch?

Here's the right answer to that:

If we're attacked during the Obama presidency, the immediate priority is for the country to work together and mount an appropriate response. In time, though, it would be absolutely appropriate to address the question of how the attack happened and determine whether the administration made significant mistakes. Pearl Harbor was investigated while World War II was still going on; the 9/11 Commission conducted its investigation while the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued. It's fine. Presidents bear responsibility for their actions and inactions. "How dare you?" is not an appropriate response.

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