Whoops: Moviemaker Won't Stick to Matthews's Saudis-Hate-Americans Script

Of all people, you'd think a movie director would understand the importance of sticking to the script. But no . . .

There was a delicious moment on this afternoon's "Hardball." Host Chris Matthews had billed a new movie as standing for the proposition that Saudis hate Americans [note the screen graphic]. But when the movie's director came on, he declined to buy into Matthews's sweeping generalization, pitched capitalism as the answer to the region's problems, and even speculated that Iraq war has helped America's relations in the Middle East.

In his opening tease, Matthews proclaimed "Let's talk about why the Saudis hate us . . . in our second story tonight, why do Saudis hate Americans?"

Then, after an interview about Iran with Mario Cuomo [yes, he's still around], Matthews, teasing the next segment:

In the new movie, "The Kingdom," an FBI team trying to find a terrorist is stonewalled by Saudi Arabians. Coming up: we're going to talk to the man who made that movie, Peter Berg, and why is America -- he's going to answer this question because it's all through the movie -- why do these Saudi Arabians hate us so much? Hate us!"

Finally, it was time for the interview, and yet again Matthews portrayed it as standing for the proposition that America is hated in Saudi Arabia.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball." In the new movie just coming out, "The Kingdom," FBI agents head to Saudi Arabia on a secret mission to investigate a terrorist bombing of a U.S. compound there. The movie opens with a narration of the American history with Saudi Arabia over the years and explains why the Saudis don't like us at all [cut to clips from movie].

. . .

Peter Berg directed the film and joins us now from Los Angeles. Peter, thank you for joining us. If you had an election in Saudi Arabia today, I know that's unimaginable, but if you had a real election, who would win: George Bush or Bin Laden?

PETER BERG: Wow, that would probably come down to hanging chads in Florida. It would be close.

MATTHEWS [disappointed]: Really?

BERG: You know, I think that certainly within members of the royal family and certainly the folks who are controlling the petroleum in that country, George Bush is quite popular. And there's clearly a large more fundamental group in Saudi Arabia who are not as enamored with us as the royal family who would probably cast their vote for Osama.

Chris tried to make his Saudis-hate-America case.

MATTHEWS: I hear it's worse than that from a U.S. diplomat I met a few weeks ago. He's very familiar with the situation over there, as familiar as you can get. He said once you get below the crust of the royal family and its retainers and those who benefit from the spoils of the oil industry, everybody hates us in Saudi Arabia. Is that too rough or is that about right?

BERG: I think that's probably a bit too rough . . . I have to admit that I was treated with nothing other than kindness and respect by every -- every Arab that I met while I was in Saudi Arabia. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It never did. So it's an interesting place right now. And it clearly is a country that is potentially on the brink of some sort of disaster from within.

MATTHEWS: They like to call us, our enemies over there, the Crusaders and they lump us in with what they call the Zionists, the Israelis and say the Zionist crusaders are the enemy. If it weren't for the state of Israel, would they still hate us? I mean that as an open question. I think they would, but tell me [some "open question"!]

Berg acknowledged that our country's policies towards Israel are intensely unpopular.'

BERG: I have to say that you know not only did we spend time in Saudi Arabia, we filmed in the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai and Dubai's sister city Abu Dhabi. I was impressed and surprised by the level of rage and this isn't sort of unarticulated, uneducated rage. These are the level of intelligent well-articulated rage expressed to me at our country's policies towards Israel. We don't quite get it living in the U.S. I'm not -- I'm not an expert to the point where I can truly understand the complexity of the emotion, but it's very real. I think that my experience was that what's driving the anti--American anger is our relationship with Israel, and by the way, not anti-Jewish feeling. It's quite clearly anti-Israeli.

MATTHEWS: Do they want to get rid of Israel or do they just want Israel to to be nicer, or pull back from the Palestinian war or is it just their existence they want it erase?

BERG: I can't answer that. I've never met that level of intense consistent rage. So I'm not quite sure what the end goal is.

Chris might have been feeling his oats, having scored a point. But he was about to run into his rudest reversal of the night.

MATTHEWS: Has our invasion and occupation of Iraq helped our relations with that part of the world or hurt them?

BERG: As far as I can tell, it's helped them. I mean, I've met very few Saudis that have anything nice to say about any Iraqis, I haven't met anyone -- there's so much competition in the Middle East, the Kuwaitis don't like the Iraqis, the Saudis don't like the Iraqis, the UAE doesn't like anyone. Everyone hates Iran. It was hard to find any sort of common alliance.

MATTHEWS: So even though we're in there pushing the Shia majority to win because we obviously support democracy, the group with the most people wins all the time, we have supported the Shia overthrow of the Sunnis basically since 2003. The Shias are not too popular among the royal family in Saudi. I just wonder why they would be happy to have a Shia-ruled Iraq next to a Shia-ruled Iran now threatening them.

BERG: I don't know. I mean, I really don't know. People ask me coming back from the Middle East what I observed and what my take away is in terms of what can help. And the only thing that I consistently go back to is, by far the country in the Middle East that seems to be functioning as peacefully as possible is the UAE. Its cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi where capitalism has taken ahold. There's such investment and growth going on in those cities, that they police themselves. I had dinner with Sheik Mohammed of Dubai and asked him why there had been no attacks in his country, a country which has alcohol, a country were women are allowed to wear bikinis, and where there's a much more western lifestyle. He pointed to the Britsh hotel and said we just won't let it happen. And I think that the bottom line for me unless some sort of capitalistic growth occurs, you're going to continue to see this chaos.

Wha-t-t? Not only don't all Saudis hate us, but the Iraq war has helped our relations in the region and the answer to peace in the Middle East is capitalism?

Chris closed by thanking Berg for "being so candid." Somehow I doubt he meant it. Will some poor producer be on the hot seat? And if Matthews wants to find America-haters, there's no need to go prospecting in Saudi Arabia. Just have some of our home grown far-leftists in, Chris.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.