What’s Going On? Matthews, Thrush Urge Calm in Gold Star Family Controversy, Avoid Rush to Judgement

As the saying goes, a broken clock is right twice a day but, in this case, twice in two days. On Wednesday and Thursday, MSNBC’s Hardball host Chris Matthews encouraged and exhibited the need for caution in the story of the late Sgt. La David Johnson while praising John Kelly’s heart-breaking remarks during Thursday’s White House daily briefing.

Making this even more staggering, New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush shared the same sentiment, criticizing the “tremendous rush to judgment” based on each person’s political views.

 

 

Matthews set the tone on Wednesday, telling Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) that he’s “holding my powder dry on this one because I just don’t know what happened on that phone call and I don’t know the full context.” 

“I think it’s very hard when we don’t hear the conversation with him and the congresswoman and the aunt of the person who was killed...and of course, his widow. We don’t know what the wording was, what Trump — maybe he mishandled it. But to say that he knew what he was getting into could — to me, it covers a whole lot of bases, the possibility of how you could say something like that,” Matthews added later to The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan.

Moving almost exactly 24 hours ahead, Matthews stated that he was “overwhelmed” by Kelly’s words and complimented him for both looking and talking “like a president.” He continued:

[H]e talked like a guy who had lost a son in combat and knew what that meant and tried to best way he could do as chief of staff to this President who is unfamiliar with this whole world of combat and loss and maybe human existence sometimes, I wonder about Trump, but he did his best to advise him on what words to use. He used those words and he was crushed politically for doing so.

Speaking to The Root’s Jason Johnson, Matthews praised Kelly’s authenticity, soberness, and “style.” Randomly, he added that he enjoys how Kelly “doesn’t flap his arms around” like Trump does. But Johnson went elsewhere, arguing that Kelly was being “a good soldier” in the Trump White House before criticizing Kelly for “attack[ing] a member of Congress.”

Matthews brushed that aside, telling Thrush that there have been many people and some within the media that were, in his book, way too fast in judging what happened between the Johnson family and the President:

The fact that it took us until this afternoon, a story that I think some in the press was running pretty far ahead and I would, around here, I think that we were restrained last night but people were racing pretty far ahead in one of the papers today — not yours — was jumping on this as if one side was right and the other side was wrong when this was one of those murky case of tremendous emotions. The loss of a husband in this case. The loss of a son, is so horrible, especially in murky circumstances in a war we didn't know we were in....Lots of reasons for anger, not just grief and then the President walked into it, of course he had to. This is an area that's so fraught with trouble, especially in an environment we're in right now where everybody is on one side of the other. They’re for or against this President. That’s clear.

Matthews later asked two crucial questions: “Well, could be — how about giving the edge to the President. Could it be it fell on ears that weren't particularly receptive to the mouth of President Trump?” 

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Thrush replied by stating that he agreed on both counts, declaring: 

I thought there was been a tremendous, I still think, there has been a tremendous rush to judgment on this. We’ve not gotten a clear sense of what exactly happened and Trump didn't help himself by saying he had proof in terms of the tape of the call. I think, Kelly, talking about that was exactly right.

If you’re still not convinced this is The Twilight Zone, Matthews continued, citing Winston Churchill:

When Churchill talked to Harry Hopkins, who was Roosevelt’s top guy and a really good American, he had lost a son in combat so Churchill quoted from Shakespeare about your son has paid a soldier's debt. It sounds rough but it is, in fact, what it is. It’s the horror of war. The young man or young woman walks into harm's way knowing that could happen and that’s, for whatever good great reason they had to go there, they did. It isn't like they stumbled into something. I know what he was trying to say but it is rough. 

Matthews even went as far as to criticize a fellow liberal, calling out the woman behind this in Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (Fla.):

The whole situation is rough and I don't know if there's a nice way to say it, especially to your political enemy as the congresswoman’s clearly — she has already accused him of being mentally unstable. She said she should be impeached. She's clearly at the other end of the spectrum. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of my friends are, but that wasn't going to be a great conversation. 

Even Johnson conceded that Trump’s alleged words to the soldier’s widow wouldn’t have been seen as “strange” “if George Bush or Barack Obama had said this.”

USA Today’s Susan Page offered a fitting end to the show’s A-block with this suggestion:

Maybe we could we all agree that the issue of Gold Star families, can't we get it out of this political debate? We’ve got a partisan debate about every single thing in this world and maybe this is an area where both sides, the congresswoman and the President could take a step back. 

Here’s the relevant transcript from MSNBC’s Hardball on October 19:

MSNBC’s Hardball
October 19, 2017
7:04 p.m. Eastern

CHRIS MATTHEWS: And, to me, I was overwhelmed by the General today. I think he looked like a president, he talked like a president, he talked like a guy who had lost a son in combat and knew what that meant and tried to best way he could do as chief of staff to this President who is unfamiliar with this whole world of combat and loss and maybe human existence sometimes, I wonder about Trump, but he did his best to advise him on what words to use. He used those words and he was crushed politically for doing so.

(....)

MATTHEWS: You know, Jason, I like the man's style because I was never in the military but I will say this. He doesn't flap his arms about. He doesn’t use these gesticulations that like Trump does like Jesus and all those crazy gesticulations Trump does. He doesn’t show off. He's very calm and he has a commanding presence like Colin Powell did or does and I thought what he said was authentic. He said these are the words I recommended the President use. He used them. Now, when he goes on to characterize the behavior of the congresswoman, that's politics. I accept that. He has a right to make that shot, but up until that point, I said, God, he was true to form. 

JASON JOHNSON: Well, he's a good soldier and it's his job to protect his boss like a good soldier does. But the problem is he could have stopped there. I do think it was a problem that he attacked a member of Congress. It’s not just that there was a member of Congress there, but she knew La David. She had mentored this guy since he was a kid, so she had a right to be there. I really think that weakened the beginning of his statement.

MATTHEWS: Sure. Okay. I think about it — and, Glenn, let's get to this news story — the news aspect of this. The fact that it took us until this afternoon, a story that I think some in the press was running pretty far ahead and I would, around here, I think that we were restrained last night but people were racing pretty far ahead in one of the papers today — not yours — was jumping on this as if one side was right and the other side was wrong when this was one of those murky case of tremendous emotions. The loss of a husband in this case. The loss of a son, is so horrible, especially in murky circumstances in a war we didn't know we were in. What are we doing in Niger? You know, when he gets knocked off in some sort of ambush, we go, my God, who was looking out for him? Lots of reasons for anger, not just grief and then the President walked into it, of course he had to. This is an area that's so fraught with trouble, especially in an environment we're in right now where everybody is on one side of the other. They’re for or against this President. That’s clear.

(....)

GLENN THRUSH: But in the that Kelly described talking to Trump, really putting Dunford's words into his own mouth so that Trump could understand the predicate, essentially what he's saying is you signed up to do this at a time when many in the country aren't, this was your job, you're surrounded by the greatest people on Earth and this is the potential price when you put yourself in that position. Trump, it appears, if we're just going by what the family said and what the congresswoman said, did a shorthand version of that that fell flat. That is not that — that is not, by the way, an outlier. We've seen that a ton of times before. Donald Trump —

MATTHEWS: Well, could be — how about giving the edge to the President. Could it be it fell on ears that weren't particularly receptive to the mouth of President Trump. 

THRUSH: All of those things. I thought — I thought there was been a tremendous, I still think, there has been a tremendous rush to judgment on this. We’ve not gotten a clear —

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

THRUSH: — sense of what exactly happened and Trump didn't help himself by saying he had proof in terms of the tape of the call. I think, Kelly, talking about that was exactly right.

MATTHEWS: You know, Glenn and everybody, I think I remember — I immediately thought when I heard this the other because I'm Churchill buff. When Churchill talked to Harry Hopkins, who was Roosevelt’s top guy and a really good American, he had lost a son in combat so Churchill quoted from Shakespeare about your son has paid a soldier's debt. It sounds rough but it is, in fact, what it is. It’s the horror of war. The young man or young woman walks into harm's way knowing that could happen and that’s, for whatever good great reason they had to go there, they did. It isn't like they stumbled into something. I know what he was trying to say but it is rough. The whole situation is rough and I don't know if there's a nice way to say it, especially to your political enemy as the congresswoman’s clearly — she has already accused him of being mentally unstable. She said she should be impeached. She's clearly at the other end of the spectrum. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of my friends are, but that wasn't going to be a great conversation. 

JOHNSON: I’m going to be honest with you, Chris, like if you sep — and I thought this myself — if you separate the actual words from the President, if George Bush or Barack Obama had said this, we wouldn't think it was strange, but remember this is a President known for his tone. This is a President known for occasionally shooting off the hip, so it's highly possible that he came off with a lack of empathy on a regular basis. So, that’s — it's perfectly reasonable for people to see it that way.


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