Hardball Hints Hackett Sunk by Unsubstantiated Charges of W Drug Use

In recent days, Rush Limbaugh has called attention to the sharp-elbowed way in which the Democratic leadership forced former Marine major and Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett out of the race for U.S. senator from Ohio, installing Cong. Sherrod Brown in his place. On tonight's Hardball, Chris Matthews offered an interesting theory: that Hackett's controversial statements, particularly his unsubstantiated allegations of past cocaine use by President Bush, became too hard for the Dem leadership to defend.

In a set-up piece, MSNBC's David Shuster reported that "Hackett's style began creating waves. On [a past edition of] Hardball, he stood by his allegation that President Bush was once a cocaine user." Shuster rolled tape of Hackett on an earlier Hardball stating that he took such allegations "at face value" and assumed they were "quite factual." In that same earlier Hardball, Matthews was shown grilling Hackett hard: "you know for a fact that Pres. Bush, the Commander-in-Chief, because you're running for the US Senate, was a cocaine user? You know that for a fact?"

When Hackett claimed he had "read the reports," Matthews shot back "they're not reports - they're charges. I wouldn't say I read it in the Associated Press or the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. I may have heard the arguments made by people who don't have a firm grounding in journalism, but I've never heard a major or a quality newspaper make such a charge."

Shuster also underlined a statement Hackett had made that the GOP "has been hijacked by the religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren't a whole lot different from Osama Bin Laden and a lot of other religious nuts around the world." Hackett later refused to apologize, saying "I meant it."

Interviewing Hackett on this evening's show, Matthews observed "I've been watching politics for 30-something years, and I've never heard of a candidate being urged by party leaders to run, and then told not to run." Asked Matthews, "Why do you think [the Dem leadership] buckled? Did you make too many comments that were hard for them to defend?"

Hackett: "Not from my perspective, but I'm sure my outspokenness made them nervous."

That's when Matthews hit Hackett between the eyes: "Did you call Bush a coke-head before or after they endorsed you?"

Hackett: "That's a good question. I don't remember. Actually that was before, but it was published subsequently. But he hasn't denied it."

Matthews cut him off: "Don't get into that. I will not do that on this show. I have no evidence the president's ever used coke. He's admitted having an alcohol problem, I used to have one, I admit it. Don't get into this if you can't prove it."

Hackett closed by accusing Brown of "spreading rumors" about his service in Iraq. He called the allegations "absolutely preposterous," and made clear he "does believe the allegations came from [Brown's] campaign."

Finkelstein lives in Ithaca, NY, where he hosts the local TV show 'Right Angle.' Email him at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.