Tea Party documentary: When was the last time Chris Matthews did anything worthwhile? 

I caught most of Chris Matthews' “documentary” — I think that term applies very loosely here — on “The Rise of the New Right.” I do not exactly know what America Chris Matthews is living in, but it’s one where hyperbole, misdirection and a flimsy grasp of history seem to rule the day.

There are so many problems with Matthews’ shoddy journalism that I hardly know where to begin, but I’ll dive into the muck and note just a few of the problems.

1) The program is plagued by horrendously biased and politicized sourcing.

I about did a spit-take that would make Danny Kaye envious when I heard this:

MATTHEWS (voice-over): Eric Burns is the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal group that promises the national media [sic] for what it cites as conservative misinformation. Burns says that rightist media, particularly Fox News host, Glenn Beck, plays an active role the motivating and riling up the angry right.

He’s going to talk about misinformation in the conservative media, by citing…Media Matters? Really. If there is a more petty, partisan and dishonest organization in Washington, D.C., I’m unaware of it. At least Matthews is covered on “expert commentary” from Democratic media shills. Matthews also leans heavily on the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was once respectable but has become so politicized as of late as to strain credulity. Lately, the SPLC has been needlessly sounding the alarm about the “Rage on the Right” with Tea Partiers and pro-immigration enforcement groups, rather than the actual hate groups SPLC used to monitor.

2) The doumentary contains a number of tenuous or outright false comparisons.

Take this bit from the documentary:

MICHELE BACHMANN: I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America.

MATTHEWS (voice-over): Congresswoman Bachmann echoes the wild charges that were flung in the early 1950s by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

SEN. JOSEPH MCCARTHY: Even if there is only one Communist in the state department, that would still be one Communist too many. Our job as Americans and as republicans is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they have been sent to do their treacherous work.

See what he did there? Michelle Bachmann is like Joseph McCarthy! But Rep. Bachmann’s suggestion that some people on Capitol Hill may hold points of view that are “anti-American” is a far cry from McCarthy’s suggestion that some people in government are engaged in a seditious conspiracy at the behest of the Soviet government. To say these statements are even in the same ballpark is ludicrous.

Further, of all abuses of power McCarthy engaged in, and of all the wild claims McCarthy made (about Communists in the Army, etc.), Matthews used this statement: “Even if there is only one Communist in the state department, that would still be one Communist too many.” But there was at least one very high-level communist in the State Department. His name was Alger Hiss, and he sought to explicitly undermine the U.S. government. This is a historical fact. Does Matthews think McCarthy was wrong to condemn this? Oy.

“The Rise of the New Right” also contains this great moment in juxtaposition:

MATTHEWS (voice-over): Beck isn’t the first broadcaster to capture the imagination of conservatives. Long before him or Rush Limbaugh, there was the charismatic and hugely popular 1930s radio priest called Father Coughlin.

FATHER COUGHLIN: What will become of the old party? How often have I told you? Is there nothing more than Mr. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb?

MATTHEWS (voice-over): Father Coughlin struck a chord with many Americans suffering through The Depression when he resorted to age-old scapegoating.

Liberals always trot out Coughlin in the context of right-wing extremism. But Coughlin was actually a man of the Left, who initially was a big booster of FDR. Beck himself has persuasively addressed the comparison:

Yes, Father Coughlin was against communism. Yes, he was on the radio, like me. Yes, he was against the sitting president, FDR.

But it’s weird, because that’s where it ends — because he was initially a supporter of FDR. He was also wildly anti-Semitic — not me. He was for big unions. You know how I much I love the unions. And he’s also for — and this is my favorite this is his magazine, an original copy from the day — he’s also for “Social Justice,” the union man. Yes. That’s me in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Actually, he was not a fan of FDR after he got in office because he thought FDR’s policies didn’t go far enough — again, not me.

To compare Beck to Coughlin without mentioning that he was a fervent anti-capitalist who supported Democrats is misleading and dishonest. If you want to find a  better comparison for Coughlin — a left-wing demagogue who criticizes a sitting U.S. president for not going far enough — you should stick around after Matthews’ program ends and watch Keith Olbermann.

3. Matthews arbitrarily decides that any fringe character that seems frightening, must be on the political Right, regardless of evidence.

Incredibly, The Rise of New Right ends by interviewing conspiracy nut Alex Jones. Among many other theories Jones embraces, he’s a leader in the “Truther” movement which posits that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by the U.S. government under George W. Bush. What percentage of conservatives do you suppose believe that? A Poll in 2007 found that 35 percent of Democrats believed Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but I doubt you’ll find any substantial number of conservatives who endorse that view. Matthews tries to qualify this, but again elides past the truth:

MATTHEWS (voice-over): Jones is also one of the leading figures in the 9/11 truther movement, claiming the U.S. government, not Al Qaeda, was behind the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He maintains that he`s neither far right nor far left — equally contemptuous of both sides of the political spectrum. But his appeal to the anti- government new right is palpable.

Jones’ appeal to the right is “palpable”? What does that even mean? Matthews provides no evidence that Jones is relevant to the “New Right,” only foolish conjecture. Just because Chris Matthews says so, that does not make it true.

4. Matthews is hypocritical and petty.

Our venerable host even said in his closing remarks:

What’s scary today is the language being thrown about. Words have consequences. You can not call a president`s policies un- American as Sarah Palin has done, or refer to the elected government as a “regime” as Rush Limbaugh persists in doing, or the president as a foreign usurper as the birthers do, without giving license on some day to real trouble.

Matthews is really going to double down on this “regime” nonsense? Matthews, who had no qualms whatsoever about referring to “the Bush regime?” (Perhaps we can find a few phrases Matthews has uttered that resemble remarks of Joseph McCarthy and do a documentary on him?)

Matthews concluded:

This April was the 15th anniversary of Oklahoma City. It is well to consider what happens when people act on what they hear, when the hatred of our own elected government becomes explosive. I’m Chris Matthews. Thank you for watching.

The Oklahoma City bombing does qualify as anti-government violence committed by people nominally on the Right. But how far does this “guilt by association” get you? The current President of the United States spent years working with a man who led a terrorist organization that bombed the Pentagon and killed at least one person. (Matthews probably thinks I’m an anti-government extremist for even pointing out this inconvenient fact.) Would it be appropriate characterize “the rise of Obama” with decades-old acts of political violence by his ideological and personal comrades?

Matthews’ work is garbage. It is not a serious contribution to the political discourse, except in one sense: It confirms the futility of having any conversation with anyone who believes that political violence is the exclusive domain of his political enemies.

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Mark Hemingway

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