Chris Matthews' Opinion of Sherrod's Breitbart Suit Changes in Two Hours

July 30th, 2010 1:44 PM

Chris Matthews in the course of less than two hours Thursday appeared to radically change his opinion about Shirley Sherrod's pending lawsuit against Andrew Breitbart.

As NewsBusters previously reported, Matthews during the 5 p.m. installment of "Hardball" got into a heated argument with former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean about the contents of the controversial video Breitbart posted at on July 19.

For some reason, rather than air that segment as part of the normal 7 p.m. rerun, MSNBC did a live broadcast bringing Politico's Ken Vogel in to discuss the matter with Matthews and original guest Salon's Joan Walsh.

What resulted was a completely different presentation than what aired just two hours prior with Matthews far more critical of Breitbart than he previously was and far more supportive of the merits of Sherrod's case.

Let's look at the videos to see the glaring difference in these segments (partial transcripts also follow with commentary):

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Well, that`s Shirley Sherrod saying she`s going to bring a suit against Andrew Breitbart, the blogger who put out that original story. By the way, just in fairness, here`s Breitbart`s defense. He says now that he was going after the NAACP, not after this government official. Here he is telling his story to NBC last week. Let`s listen.


ANDREW BREITBART, BIGGOVERNMENT.COM: So my motivation was to say, I have evidence that shows, based upon your standard, of people in the audience behaving racist. We have an NAACP-sanctioned event in which the speaker is talking in a racist narrative, in which the audience, when she refers to a white farmer -- when she refers a white farmer to a white lawyer to send it to one of your own kind, and when she talks about not giving him the full weight of what she could do with her position, the audience cheers.


MATTHEWS: Well, you can`t sue everybody. She`s suing the blogger that started this, Andrew Breitbart. He makes the defense that it wasn`t her that he was after, it was the NAACP, which had been charging the tea party people with being racist. And here he thought he was showing, he says, an example of where they have racial attitudes which are negative towards whites. That`s his defense.

Your reaction, Governor?

HOWARD DEAN, FMR. DNC CHAIR, FMR. VERMONT GOV.: I`m not a lawyer, but the fact -- there`s two things about this. First of all, he cut off the tape. He didn`t show the whole story.

MATTHEWS: He didn`t? What did he cut out?

DEAN: No. He cut off the stuff about -- the redemption part of all that.

MATTHEWS: I thought that was in there.

DEAN: No, not on the tape -- not on the tape that was aired...

MATTHEWS: Yes, it is.

DEAN: Not on the tape that was aired on Fox News.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it is.

DEAN: Not on the Fox News stuff. It was not on what Fox News reported on their blog. He cut the tape off...

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Or on Breitbart.

DEAN: So it shows...

WALSH: It was not on Breitbart.

DEAN: ... the supposed...

MATTHEWS: Yes, it was on Breitbart. It was -- it was in there, yes. He didn`t edit it. Not that I know about.

WALSH: No. Chris? Chris? He did.

DEAN: He did.

WALSH: He says he didn`t edit it.

DEAN: He absolutely edited it.

WALSH: He -- he...

MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t edit it. There`s no evidence he edited it.


MATTHEWS: What did he edit.

WALSH: It`s a 43-minute tape. I`m sorry, Governor Dean. You can do this.

DEAN: Go ahead. No, go ahead, Joan.

WALSH: It`s a 43-minute tape, Chris. It walks through her whole racial history. He clipped about two minutes where she seems to be saying, I didn`t do the best for this white farmer because he was white. And that`s where it ends. And then later, Chris, she goes on to tell this amazing...

MATTHEWS: Oh, I thought that in the tape that he did put out that it did include that part in it.


MATTHEWS: What he did to mischaracterize it was to suggest it was in current time in her role as a federal official.



WALSH: ... he did two things.

MATTHEWS: ... was with the cooperative.

DEAN: He did that, too.

WALSH: He did that, too. There were two lies. But he absolutely clipped or someone clipped the tape before she could say the powerful message of redemption that Democrats, at least, believe in.

MATTHEWS: I am right. You`re wrong!


MATTHEWS: Let -- do we have the tape here, we could show this? Because I believe...

DEAN: Yes, show the tape that was on Fox.

MATTHEWS: ... his mischaracterization is the problem, where he said - - no, where he said that this was something because he said this is what goes on in this administration and then suggested heavily that this was her point of view as a government official, an appointee of this administration.

DEAN: He did that, but he also clipped the tape, so...

MATTHEWS: No, it includes the tape that she understood...


MATTHEWS: ... that she changed.


WALSH: No, it doesn`t. Chris, really, you got to trust me and the governor on this. He really didn`t because she goes on at the end to say, I`ve learned that it`s about poor people. It`s not about black versus white always...

MATTHEWS: I think that`s in the tape!

WALSH: It`s in...

MATTHEWS: That`s in the tape!

WALSH: It`s not the tape Breitbart put out. It`s not.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it is! Yes, it is!

DEAN: No. It`s not. We promise.

WALSH: We promise.


DEAN: Check Drudge. Check the Fox blog.

MATTHEWS: I don`t watch Drudge. I mean, I don`t know -- you check Drudge.

DEAN: Never.


MATTHEWS: But let me go on here, this question here. Let`s look at the situation as it goes now. Is she going to win this suit, Joan? Is it possible you can win this suit?

WALSH: You know, what? I don`t know...

MATTHEWS: You`re going -- you`re a public official. You`re working for an administration. You give a speech at a public event, and then you make a statement and then that`s used against you, whatever way it`s used against you. Can she be successful in this suit?

WALSH: I have no idea. I`m not a lawyer. I think the real issue here is that she is a person who has been wronged, horribly wronged. And she`s looking for -- she`s looking for some kind of judgment. I`m not going to get into a debate about the merits of her suit because I think, Chris, we get distracted. I -- you know, this happened to me over the weekend, and Governor Dean knows this, where you get -- you get distracted over, Is Shirley Sherrod doing the right thing, as opposed to, Why did Andrew Breitbart do this to this woman? Why did Fox then run with it, at least on their Web site? And Bill O`Reilly was all ready to go with it before she resigned. Why are we fighting over this -- this Fox-driven narrative of racial division, where you`ve got...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s get back to that...


MATTHEWS: How do you -- how do you argue that -- I know this came out from Andrew Breitbart`s Web site. I know he put it out. I know that Fox Nation put it out on their Web site. How do you say it`s a Fox-driven article -- a Fox-driven story? Tell me that.

WALSH: I think...

MATTHEWS: Because apparently, the administration moved to fire her, to push her out, long before this was on the air. What do you...

DEAN: But not before it was on the Web site.

MATTHEWS: It was on the Web site?

WALSH: It was on

DEAN: It was on -- they put it up on the Web site long before...

MATTHEWS: Right, that Monday morning, yes.

DEAN: Right. That`s right. So Fox...

MATTHEWS: So you think by putting it up on their Web site...

DEAN: Yell, yes.

MATTHEWS: ... they`re responsible for her being pushed out.

DEAN: Well, they didn`t pull the trigger. She was fired by the administration. So they`re -- but it was their story, which turned out to be false...

WALSH: And which Bill...

DEAN: ... that led the administration to do this.

MATTHEWS: But they hadn`t put it on the air.

DEAN: They put it up on their Web site.

WALSH: Bill O`Reilly had taped it.

DEAN: The Web site -- not only did Bill O`Reilly tape it...

MATTHEWS: No, they didn`t. Bill O`Reilly -- Bill O`Reilly`s story didn`t even run until that night at 8:00 o`clock, which obviously...


DEAN: It was their intention to show it, whether they -- but here`s...

MATTHEWS: I understand...

DEAN: The point is, Chris...


DEAN: The Fox Web site is a major Web site that people read...

WALSH: A major news...

DEAN: ... just as the MSNBC...

WALSH: They call it a news Web site.

DEAN: Right. Well, we don`t...


MATTHEWS: Fox Nation.

DEAN: But look, let`s get back to the lawsuit thing because I think it`s a very...

MATTHEWS: I heard the story went that her boss told her, This is going to be on Glenn Beck tonight, therefore, we have to push you out the door. They didn`t even have evidence for sure that it was going to be on Glenn Beck. I don`t even know if it was on Glenn Beck at 5:00 o`clock.

WALSH: It wasn`t. No, it wasn`t.

MATTHEWS: So she was fired because somebody heard a whisper that it might be on. Whose fault is this again? You say Fox`s.

DEAN: I think...

WALSH: No, I...

DEAN: When people put stuff up on their Web site that`s not true, then...

MATTHEWS: How many -- how many organizations now just are receptacles? This is my problem with the blogosphere. Somebody blogs something without an editor, like Breitbart, who has a point of view, obviously, to nail the left. He puts it up. Fox grabs it. They put it up. Do other organizations check out every...

DEAN: They ought to.

MATTHEWS: ... blog they put on?

DEAN: They`re not doing their job, if they don`t.

MATTHEWS: They edit them.

DEAN: Left, right or center...

WALSH: It wasn`t just...

DEAN: ... you`ve got to do that.

WALSH: It wasn`t just Fox. And let`s be honest here. It wasn`t just Fox. I think MSNBC ran it, corrected it quickly. CNN ran it, corrected it quickly. You did a great show about it the day -- the day the true story...

MATTHEWS: Well, we were straight on it.

WALSH: ... came out.

MATTHEWS: We didn`t make any mistakes on this show.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s a fact. And I`m not part of this. I don`t believe this, We`re all guilty, crap that goes on around here.

DEAN: Do you want to go back to...

WALSH: No...

MATTHEWS: I want to know who does this stuff.

DEAN: You want to go back to the public stuff for a second...


DEAN: ... because I think it`s an interesting legal question. If she is deemed to be a public figure, she doesn`t have a case because you can say anything you damn well please about a public figure.

MATTHEWS: How about a -- how about a speech in a public -- a public arena like she did? 

As you can see, Matthews during the 5PM segment was adamant about Breitbart having included the portion of Sherrod's redemptive revelation in his video. More importantly, the "Hardball" host expressed skepticism about the merits of Sherrod's case.

As the segment continued, Matthews played Breitbart's full video for Dean and Walsh, and then proceeded to get into a fight with the former DNC chairman about its contents (transcript available here):

At some point after the 5PM installment concluded, a decision was made to bring Walsh back at 7PM, and invite Politico's Ken Vogel as well. Whether Dean had a scheduling conflict or wasn't asked back as a result of what happened previously is unknown.

Regardless, the tenor of the 7PM discussion on this same issue was COMPLETELY different, with Matthews almost immediately claiming that Sherrod had a strong case:

MATTHEWS: It seems to me that is the hard news story tonight, that she's going to take this to court and she's going to put the heat on this guy that's been causing so much heat for others over the last couple of years. Your thoughts about the case politically, we don't know how it's going to settle in court, but what's her main case that this guy did to hurt her? [...]

MATTHEWS: Who knows what the law is about public officials and whether she's a public figure or not. That's all going to have to be settled from here to court. Let me, before I show the, I want to start tonight by getting this behind us, showing what Breitbart, Andrew Breitbart, put out on his website from the beginning, the way he characterized what she said and what part of her speech he actually showed and how he said it was said in time. Very important facts that will be very important in this case. Let me go right now to Ken Vogel of Politico. Ken, your sense about where this takes this whole thing as a big issue in this country. This horrible story about how a woman was slimed basically here by a website. Then of course, all the net, Fox, et cetera went over it and embellished it. And here we go, where is this going now?

Stop the tape. Compare that to the question Matthews asked Dean in the 5PM segment: "Why do you think if this was a complete slime job, why do you think Breitbart kept that in there?"

This would come up later in the 7PM segment, but much more matter of fact.

Moving forward, after Vogel and Walsh offered their opinions, Matthews again did something completely different than what was done at 5:00. In fact, he almost acted as Sherrod's attorney presenting the case for the plaintiff:

MATTHEWS: Let's do the journalistic piece. Let's get for everybody watching now on this second edition the full look at what went out on the website that Andrew Breitbart put out. Here's the chunk of Shirley Sherrod's speech that Breitbart himself posted last week including the text, and this is very important that he added before the video of the speech to advertise it and shape it. Here's what you're going to see, or what you would have seen if you just heard about this from Breitbart.

Some of the text of Breitbart's July 19 blog posting was scrolled on the screen followed by the actual video. At the conclusion, Matthews once again made the plaintiff's case:

MATTHEWS: Well, there's two points in that. That was the original. We're showing that to show how this whole thing started. That led eventually to her being sacked, forced out of her position by the Department of Agriculture and only later after a lot of humiliation and pain offered back a better job perhaps at the Agriculture Department. I want to read you to right now so we all see this exactly, because we wanted to show this, here's what Breitbart put out, and I think this is the most damning thing he did. At the top of that clip that he picked out or was given or whatever that he put out at his website from what was said in March, here's what he said.

Matthews then presented the previous text scroll AGAIN and read it for his viewers to REALLY drive home the point.

MATTHEWS: "On MARCH 27th, 2010, while speaking at the NAACP Freedom Banquet, Ms. Sherrod admits in her federal appointed position over seeing billions of dollars she discriminates against people due to race." Present tense, Joan. Present tense, accusation that as a federal appointee in the Obama administration this African-American woman discriminates against white Americans systematically abusing her authority. He says something that just is not proven at all by that tape. In fact that tape includes at the end of it some redemptive language about how she's learned that the problems of people of small farmers has to do with class, not so much race. She admits the redemptive part but he screws her basically by saying she's abusing her authority as a black racist. An amazing charge he says up front. I think she has a case.

After some additional discussion, Matthews continued to hammer the point:

MATTHEWS: I think whatever went out on this guy's blog got this woman fired. So the impression left by both the prelude where it said here's a federal official abusing her authority racially, and even with that little bit of redemptive part at the end, the overall impact was it scared the Bejesus out of the Obama administration, somewhere in the Ag department confirmed by somebody in the White House, "Get her out of here." So, this was a devilish plot to screw this administration.

Wow. Two hours earlier, Matthews was far more skeptical about the merits of this case, and far more interested in what that Breitbart video included, so much so that he fought with Dean and Walsh about its contents.

(As an interesting sidebar, Walsh admitted at her blog yesterday that even the liberal shills at Media Matters determined that "Matthews was right about the first video posted by Breitbart. It did include Sherrod alluding to the epiphany she describes in detail later, about the fact that many issues aren't about black and white, they're about the haves and have nots.")  

Yet, two hours later, without Dean on the set, Matthews acted as prosecution, judge, and jury claiming definitively that whatever happened on Breitbart's blog got Sherrod fired, and that the conservative publisher was involved in a devilish plot to screw the Obama administration.

Makes you wonder what happened at MSNBC after the 5PM installment concluded to warrant such a dramatic change in opinion in less than 120 minutes. Maybe the way Matthews ended the 7PM segment offers a clue:

MATTHEWS: That's what we've been doing here in our second edition tonight: trying to clarify. It's a better story tonight. We had a good narrative tonight. I think everybody heard what happened. It's a tricky one. A few rough edges. We got it tonight.

Yeah, you got it tonight, Chris.

After having demonstrated some sanity at 5PM by taking on the lying Howard Dean, you decided to "correct" the record and make sure everyone really knew where you stood on this issue.

If only you could completely scrub what happened two hours earlier, no one would know that something radically changed your view of this matter.

Speaking of scrubbing, the MSNBC website presents a confusing picture of this segment.

At the "Hardball" page, the written teaser for this video says Howard Dean was Matthews' guest.


The transcript attached to the video is actually the 5PM segment with Dean. Unfortunately, the video posted is the 7PM segment with Vogel. 

I guess the webmaster wasn't informed to scrub all references to that prior segment from the site.

It seems a lot of folks at MSNBC were having a hard time getting their stories straight yesterday.

Now THAT'S entertainment.