Matthews Sees Racism in Anti-Obama Ads, Liberal Panel Disagrees

On Wednesday night's "Hardball," Chris Matthews thought he saw racism in two ads targeted against Barack Obama, but when his media panel full of liberal journalists disagreed he back-pedaled a bit.

First up Matthews ran a clip of what he called a "nasty," ad by the North Carolina Republican Party. The Politico's Roger Simon agreed with Matthews that it was "nasty" but said, he wasn’t sure it was "unfair."

Then Matthews ran an ad hitting Obama for opposing the death penalty in Chicago for gang members and claimed:

"It's a giant permission slip to somebody who doesn't want to vote for him to begin with. And it’s also a permission slip for the Republican Party to use him as a target throughout the general election."

However Simon disagreed with Matthews’ implication that it had a racial tinge as he pointed out:

"I'm not sure you can say this ad is racially motivated. This is a attack on Barack Obama for a specific vote, not extending the death penalty to gang members or whatever the heck it’s about. But it’s not, I mean you can’t say that every time someone uses Barack Obama’s picture in an ad it’s racism. I mean the guy is what the guy is."

The "Washington Post's" Jonathan Capehart agreed with Simon on the point as he cheered: "Correct! Bravo Roger!" and later observed:

"Just because you criticize Barack Obama doesn't mean that it's racially motivated or should be viewed through a racial lens."

For her part Salon.com's Joan Walsh thought she spotted "a little bit of racial coding," in the ad but ultimately agreed with Simon as she declared: "I think Roger makes an otherwise good point. I think you know we can go too far in saying anything, any kind of attack on him [Obama]," was racially motivated.

Matthews tried to make his case but seemed to relent to the rest of his panel as he concluded the show this way:

MATTHEWS: You know I get criticized, I get criticized for being over-sensitive to these ads but, you know I just know the country I grew up in and this is an easy target. I'm sorry Jonathan. You don't agree. Go ahead. Disagree with me.

CAPEHART: No, no, I, I, no I agree with Roger and I agree with Joan agreeing with Roger. I think Roger is absolutely right. Just because you criticize Barack Obama doesn't mean that it's racially motivated or should be viewed through a racial lens.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Okay, you guys may be right. I may be right. Anyway Roger Si-, I like being right, rather than wrong. Anyway thank your Roger, thank you Joan, thank you Jonathan. Join us again tomorrow night at 5pm and 7pm Eastern for more "Hardball."

Last month, as documented in a NewsBusters posting by Brad Wilmouth, Matthews saw racism in anti-Obama ad from Hillary Clinton.

The following is a full transcript of the discussion as it occurred on the April 23 edition of "Hardball":

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well one reason he's been high-flying is to avoid the flak that's coming at him. Here's some more. The North Carolina Republican Party is rolling out this nasty new ad that attacks Barack Obama over Jeremiah Wright. Let's listen and look.

[BEGIN AD CLIP]

NARRATOR: For 20 years Barack Obama sat in his pew listening to his pastor.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: And then wants us to sing "God Bless America?" No, no, no. Not God bless America, God [bleep] damn America!

NARRATOR: Now Beth Perdue and Richard Moore endorse Barack Obama. They should know better. He's just too extreme for North Carolina.

LINDA DAVES, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: The North Carolina Republican Party sponsored this ad opposing Beth Perdue and Richard Moore for North Carolina governor.

[END CLIP]

MATTHEWS: [audio problem]...that ad, he's asked them to drop it. What do you think of that ad?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: Well it's certainly nasty, I'm not sure it's unfair though. The media having run that clip a million more times than the North Carolina party ever could run that clip. Who's more guilty? What is unfair about the ad is the implication that Barack Obama sat in that pew and heard Jeremiah Wright say those statements. Barack Obama says he never heard it. Blah, blah, blah. But as Jonathan indicated Barack Obama is not past this incident and Jeremiah Wright is gonna come up in the general election, it just is. Just like people clinging to their guns and religion. He better get used to it.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, John McCain says in a letter to them today, he thinks they ought to pull the ad but they are clearly going their on way on this. They say it's a local issue and they're gonna stick with it.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST: You know I find it very interesting in this, in this regard. He's able to have it both ways in terms of, there's an attack ad on, on Senator Obama. He gets to denounce it. He gets to say, "Take it off the air," and then they get to say, "Well no. We're not going to do it." And by the way every cable network is gonna show it every half-hour on the half-hour--

MATTHEWS: Right.

CAPEHART: –because it's a big story. You know, heck I saw on MSNBC that this ad was out there. I went to the Web site and I, and I watched it. And I told other people and they watched it. It's sort of like–

MATTHEWS: To make your point Jonathan we're gonna show you a worse one of these ads when we come back after the break. All for free. This is one put out by Floyd Brown the inimitable guy who did the Willie Horton ads. We'll be back with that ad when we come back.

...

MATTHEWS: We're back with "The Politics Fix." Let's take a look at this ad now. It's produced by Floyd Brown, he's, of course, the guy who produced the Willie Horton ad back in that ‘88 campaign. This is for North Carolina. It's an attack ad against, guess who? Barack Obama.

[BEGIN AD CLIP]

NARRATOR: Mike Boyd killed at 15, beaten with bricks after a gang member crashed into his car. Severo Enriquez, just 14-years-old, when he refused to flash a gang sign he was shot five times in the back. They all died in 2001 in Chicago. The "Sun Times," called it "urban terrorism," and demanded action on gang violence. But that same year a Chicago state senator named Barack Obama voted against expanding the death penalty for gang-related murders. Can a man so week in the war on gangs be trusted in the war on terror?

[END CLIP]

MATTHEWS: There you have it Jonathan.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Wow!

MATTHEWS: The first shot.

CAPEHART: All I can, all I can say is he's gonna look back on the, the "cling-bitter," controversy with, you know with fondness. That's a really hard ad. A really hard ad and he's gonna have to have an answer for it whether he likes it or not.

MATTHEWS: Well it's a giant permission slip to somebody who doesn't want to vote for him to begin with. And it's also a permission slip for the Republican Party to use him as a target throughout the general election. Right Joan?

JOAN WALSH, SALON: Yes I mean I think this definitely proves, as Jonathan says, that nothing Hillary has done, to date, is really even a tenth of what's gonna happen to him in the general election. It's not a, it's not a reason not to nominate him because she will have, you know, I can, we can all sit around and write the attack ads on her. It's gonna be a nasty race. The one thing she has is she's faced it before and she's fought back.

MATTHEWS: Well Roger this guy hides under a rock every couple of generations, shows up again with another, another ad against a black candidate–

ROGER SIMON: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: –or using a black person as the, as the bad guy.

SIMON: Although, I gotta say although I'm not a great fan of Brown and, and you know I wrote extensively about the Willie Horton ad when it was used in, in a negative way. I'm not sure you can say this ad is racially motivated.

CAPEHART: Right.

SIMON: This is a attack on Barack Obama for a specific vote, not extending the death penalty to gang members or whatever the heck it's about. But it's not, I mean you can't say that every time someone uses Barack Obama's picture in an ad–

CAPEHART: Correct.

SIMON: –it's racism. I mean the guy is what the guy is.

CAPEHART: Bravo Roger!

SIMON: And he is, you know, and, and there are some unfair ads that are gonna run, you know, not by McCain but by the 527s and others–

WALSH: Right.

SIMON: –but I'm not sure this is one of them.

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: Well you wonder whether the, the, the sound and the fury of the urban, the urban theme here doesn't sort of capture him as one of the criminals?

WALSH: Yeah it's got, it's a little racially-coded.

MATTHEWS: Joan that's the way I saw it. It sort of put him on the street corner. It put him on the street corner with the killers.

WALSH: With the gang members, right.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

WALSH: He's, he's soft on gangs, he's soft and you know gangs equal black in this ad. So I thought there was a little bit, a little bit of racial coding but I think Roger makes an otherwise good point. I think, you know we can too far in saying anything–

CAPEHART: Right.

WALSH: --any kind of attack on him is ra--

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: You know I get criticized, I get criticized for being over-sensitive to these ads but, you know I just know the country I grew up in and this is an easy target. I'm sorry Jonathan. You don't agree. Go ahead. Disagree with me.

CAPEHART: No, no, I, I, no I agree with Roger and I agree with Joan agreeing with Roger. I think Roger is absolutely right. Just because you criticize Barack Obama doesn't mean that it's racially motivated or should be viewed through a racial lens.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Okay, you guys may be right. I may be right. Anyway Roger Si-, I like being right, rather than wrong. Anyway thank your Roger, thank you Joan, thank you Jonathan. Join us again tomorrow night at 5pm and 7pm Eastern for more "Hardball."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.