Chris Matthews Sees Racism in Hillary's Anti-Obama Ad

On Tuesday's Hardball, MSNBC host Chris Matthews voiced agreement with New York Times columnist Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociology professor, as he read a passage from Patterson's latest column during which the Harvard professor declared that, in watching Hillary Clinton's recent campaign ad questioning Barack Obama's qualifications for handling a 3:00 a.m. emergency, he "couldn't help but think of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the racist movie epic that helped revive the Klu Klux Klan with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society." Declaring that the ad reminded him more of "a 911 call than 9/11" with "a mother protecting her kids from a prowler outside," Matthews declared such an ad "would be racist." (Transcript follows)

Matthews brought up the column during a discussion with Independent Women's Forum leader Michelle Bernard and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, both of whom are black but neither of whom agreed with Matthews on Patterson's column, while discussing Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro's recent charge that Barack Obama's race was a factor in his electoral popularity. Matthews: "I want to throw some more wood on the fire here, because I agree with this guy. Orlando Patterson is a sociology professor at Harvard."

The MSNBC host then quoted Patterson:

"I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, ... and when I saw the Clinton ads, the central image" -- this is the 30, the middle-of-the-night, 3:00-in-the-morning ad -- "the central image, innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger, it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn't help but think of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad, as I see it, is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat."

After Matthews charged that he believed the ad "had more to do with 911 than 9/11," and that "I think it was a mother protecting her kids from a prowler outside," MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan asked: "Suppose that's true, Chris. What would be wrong with it?" Matthews responded: "It would be racist."

But Page argued that, while he was "normally a big fan of Orlando Patterson," that his charge of racism is "a bit of a stretch." Bernard similarly contended, "I did not see racism in the ad. I really don't."

Matthews later brought up the ad during his interview with Obama shortly after 10:00 p.m., and the Illinois Senator similarly denied a racial implication by the ad:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: In the New York Times today, Harvard Professor Orlando Patterson said that the Clinton ad, the one that's about 3:00 in the morning and what we're going to do and who to trust, is directed at you and that it's racist. Your view of that?

BARACK OBAMA began: You know, I'm not buying into the notion that race played a factor there.

A transcript of the relevant portion of the segment from the 5:00 p.m. edition of the Tuesday March 11 Hardball on MSNBC, which was repeated at 7:00 p.m., follows:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I want to throw some more wood on the fire here, because I agree with this guy. Orlando Patterson is a sociology professor at Harvard. He wrote a New York Times op-ed piece, which they put in the lead box today. He said, quote:

"I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, ... and when I saw the Clinton ads, the central image" -- this is the 30, the middle-of-the-night, 3:00-in-the-morning ad -- "the central image, innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger, it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn't help but think of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad, as I see it, is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat."

Clarence, your view of what the professor says in that ad?

CLARENCE PAGE, Chicago Tribune: Well, I normally am a big fan of Orlando Patterson. I don't agree with him in this instance, maybe because I've been in politics too long. And you and I have both seen the Mondale ad that he had back in '84.

MATTHEWS: But it didn't have sleeping children. It just had the-

PAGE: So what? I mean, it was the same essence of the ad. I mean, you know, I think it's a bit of a stretch, okay?
I've seen Birth of a Nation, too. Pat's seen Birth of a Nation. Pat, you were there, weren't you?

PAT BUCHANAN: It was 100 years ago, 100 years ago, for heaven, who is this guy from Harvard? This is ridiculous. The phone call is about foreign policy, for heaven's sakes.

MATTHEWS: It is?

BUCHANAN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. I think the phone call had more to do with 911 than 9/11.

BUCHANAN: Well, that's foreign policy, isn't it?

MATTHEWS: I think it was a mother protecting her kids from a prowler outside.

MICHELLE BERNARD, Independent Women's Forum: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I wonder why we're seeing an ad like that. That's how it struck me, a mother tucking the kids in because she heard a noise outside, not that she got a call. It was a 911 message, not a 9/11 message.

BUCHANAN: Suppose that's true, Chris. What would be wrong with it? What would be wrong with it, if that were true?

MATTHEWS: It would be racist. Go ahead.

BUCHANAN: Why would it be racist?

MATTHEWS: Can we have somebody from another perspective answer the question, besides you and me, tribalist Irish guys answering the question. Go ahead.

BERNARD: I did not see racism in the ad. I really don't. I've read the professor's quote. I disagree with him. When I saw the ad, I really thought that this was Hillary Clinton's -- I didn't say Rodham -- but this was Hillary Clinton's chance to go out and really appeal to women voters. Any woman voter, black or white, who took a look at that ad is thinking about her children, and she's wondering is Hillary Clinton saying, I will push the button, I will take care of somebody who's trying to take out your children and ask questions last.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really, so saw it as a foreign policy?

BERNARD: I did. I did.

MATTHEWS: And you did, Clarence?

PAGE: Yeah, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: And, Pat, you said it's a foreign policy issue. It's not a 911 call. It's a 9/11 call?

BUCHANAN: I agree halfway with you, Chris. I did see it as something, somebody's breaking into the house first, because it looked like that kind of ad. But clearly it was also aimed at the idea of who can pick up that phone in a time of crisis. And so I saw it as both. What's wrong with it?

MATTHEWS: It looked to me like one of those ads for the alarm system you pay for that goes to the police station.

BUCHANAN, laughing: Exactly. What's wrong with that?

MATTHEWS: And by the way, it's not about phoning and taking a call. It's about phoning for help. I'm telling you, the geniuses behind this ad -- and they are bad, mad geniuses, I'll bet, know everything we're talking about. Because it is dog whistle time.