Let’s Play “Hardball”

Posted May 21, 2003 at 6:22pm

Even as Chris Matthews is scoring big ratings with his new Sunday morning TV show, he’s coming under assault from the likes of Roger Ailes, Al Hunt and Sidney Blumenthal.

But the former Congressional staffer — who kind of, sort of again closed the door on a Senate run in an interview Wednesday — has a simple message for his critics: Bring it on.

“I think it’s great to be a target — it comes with the territory,” Matthews told HOH. “It’s one of the advantages of being me. People know who I am. It’s just fun.”

When asked about the state of MSNBC, which takes ever more hits in a

lengthy New Yorker piece this week, Matthews demurred by saying he hasn’t had time to read the whole story.

“I don’t have three hours to read Ken Auletta right now,” he cracked.

But the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” did manage to see the part where Ailes, the head of Fox News Channel, knocked him. Ailes charged that his former pupil from the days of America’s Talking network talks too much.

“At some point, he’s got to let the guest answer,” Ailes told the New Yorker. “I’d say, ‘Chris, if you don’t shut the [expletive] up, I’m going to fire you!”

Matthews said he has no problem with Ailes and that his old boss could have just been suggesting that MSNBC isn’t “producing” him right on the show. “You can read that a couple of ways,” he said. “I love the guy.”

In a Wall Street Journal column about the Jayson Blair controversy at The New York Times, Hunt took Matthews to task for suggesting the reporter was “coddled” because of his race. Hunt referred to him as “the same Chris Matthews who has made so many wild and false allegations” on cable.

“I had a nice talk with Al Hunt the other day,” Matthews told HOH. “I almost understand [what Hunt meant]. You know what? This is a competitive world.”

He didn’t want to address the claim in Sidney Blumenthal’s new book that Matthews angled to replace Dee Dee Myers as White House press secretary.

“You have to talk to Leon Panetta about that,” he said of the former White House chief of staff, who insists Matthews never sought the job. “I’m not getting involved in that.”

Matthews was thrilled to discuss the fact that for the week ending May 11, “The Chris Matthews Show” topped ABC’s “This Week,” CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Fox News Channel’s “Fox News Sunday.”

This means that NBC has two Sunday morning shows (with top dog “Meet the Press”) beating all the others. “People say, ‘I got the news and I got depth, a lot of context,’” he said of the two shows together.

“The theory I had for the show is a lot of reporters have a lot of stuff in their notebooks that they can’t use,” he added. “There’s a wealth of ‘tick-tock’ that you don’t get in the paper.”

As for the on-again, off-again buzz that the Philadelphia native may challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Matthews proceeded to do a pretty good impersonation of the Senator over the telephone.

“I’m not running,” Matthews said. “Although I love Pennsylvania and I’d love to run. When I was young, my dream was to be a Senator. I’m not going to say I’ve quashed the dream.”

Then again, Matthews said he had just chatted with a former Member who marvelled at the fact that many lawmakers seem to spend a good chunk of their time trying to get on television. “Why would I want to give up what I’m doing?” asked Matthews.

“I fought a long time to get here and I love it. All those slingshots you mentioned? I’ll give you one line: It comes with the territory.”

Beating Up on Rummy. Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.) took a verbal shot at Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld at Wednesday morning’s private Democratic Caucus meeting.

The Caucus chairman announced that Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, would be conducting a top-secret, Members-only national security briefing later in the day.

When a colleague asked whether Rumsfeld would also brief, Menendez cracked, “He only comes to the Hill to talk about invasions, not national security.”

Menendez spokesman Andrew Kauders confirmed that the boss, who received a cheer, was hot about the fact that Rummy has not been too forthcoming in his trips to the Hill.

“During the Iraq crisis, Rumsfeld would brief Members about invasions or events that Members already knew about,” Kauders told HOH. “In fact, any alert CNN viewer had as much information as was provided during those so-called classified briefings.”

In the end, however, Rummy did show up to talk to Democrats, no doubt pleasing Menendez.

Smoking Man. It was like a scene in a really bad spy movie: Two guys who are supposed to be schooled in intelligence matters had a hard time finding the “Tank” — the secure briefing room on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

As Hutchinson was about to begin his super-secret briefing Wednesday, two shadowy figures in dark suits showed up in the Speaker’s Lobby just off the House chamber on the second floor of the Capitol.

The alert doorkeepers demanded to see some identification from the two men.

“I’m with the CIA,” said one of the men. “I’m here for the briefing.”

One of the doorkeepers helpfully told the pair from the agency that found out about the collapse of the Berlin Wall on CNN that they had landed in the wrong room. They were eventually pointed in the right direction, and the future of the Republic was assured.

Earl-vis Is Alive and Well. Veteran lawmakers like Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) are always trying to find ways to make the drab old game of fundraising a little bit more interesting.

Hence the fundraiser earlier this week in which the Congressman donned a flashy jacket and bizarre sunglasses and introduced himself as “Earl-vis Presley” to the crowd at the National Democratic Club.

The female lobbyists who attended were also jokingly calling it the “Girls for Earl” breakfast.

“This is a place where you ought to take your work seriously but yourself not too seriously,” Pomeroy told HOH. “So we had a laugh. You can call it the ‘Revenge of the Nerds.’”

According to witnesses, he sung a few bars of “Viva North Dakota” at the fundraiser and was implored to stop.

Getting His Filner. Even though he has the highest concentration of Filipino-Americans in his district, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) wasn’t invited to the State Dinner that President Bush threw for Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Filner circumvented the White House planners by accepting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) invitation to come along to the dinner as her guest.

“In the receiving line I could see the president looking at me thinking, ‘What’s that liberal Democrat doing here?’” Filner told HOH.

So the Congressman decided to put POTUS at ease, comparing the situation to a wedding where the friends of the bride and the friends of the groom may not be too familiar with each other.

“Don’t worry Mr. President, I’m with the bride,” he joked.

Radio Free Sanders. Rather than just griping about what he believes to be a corporate-dominated media and conservative-dominated talk radio, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has decided to launch his very own radio show.

The only (admitted) Socialist in Congress, who says he’s tired of liberals conceding the airwaves to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Oliver North et al, believes he has the conservatives on the run.

“I hear Hannity’s quitting,” he quipped to HOH.

The one-hour show — which will run Mondays on locally owned WDEV in Waterbury, Vt. — had liberal author Eric Alterman and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) as its first guests this week.

“In a nation that is pretty much divided right down the middle, talk radio is dominated by right-wing hosts,” said Sanders. “If freedom means anything, the American people have got to hear both sides of the story.”

On the issue of corporate domination, Sanders couldn’t help asking HOH brusquely, “Who owns you?”

And as for the format of his show, he said, “It’s a work in progress.”

Honoring Matsui. Colleagues hosted a fundraiser for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui’s (Calif.) celebrating the 25th anniversary of his election to Congress.

The dinner featured a tribute video with everyone from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to conservative columnist Bob Novak singing the praises of Matsui.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who was elected to the House in the class of 1978 with Matsui, quipped, “We’re about the same height, so we saw eye to eye on everything.”

Beat the Press. Senate Democratic Policy Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) is also not too pleased with the media these days.

Dorgan got pretty upset during Wednesday night’s floor debate over whether the defense authorization bill should open the door to developing “new” nuclear weapons.

“It’s about as important a debate as we’ll have in this Senate for some while,” he said. “The press gallery is empty because this is not some sex scandal. You know, it doesn’t have sensational aspects to it. It’s not a murder investigation. It’s about whether this country ought to decide now to begin procuring additional nuclear weapons.”

She’s Back. Former Attorney General Janet Reno was spotted outside the Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday night, all by herself.

“Just visiting some old friends,” she told HOH.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.