Hardball Contrast: Clintons = 'Good Leakers,' Dick Cheney = 'Ruthless'

Hey NBC your double-standards are showing! On last night's Hardball, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was in awe of the Clinton spin machine as he called them "pros" and "good leakers" but MSNBC correspondent David Shuster labeled Dick Cheney's behavior in the Scooter Libby leak case as "ruthless," and "obsessed."

First up Hardball host, Chris Matthews, asked Williams for his take on Hillary Clinton's rapid defense in her David Geffen-fueled spat with Barack Obama. Williams, seemed to admire the Clinton machine's prowess in both past and current crises, as he admitted: "They were pros politically. They were good leakers. They were good attackers, and they were good defenders. Hillary Rodham Clinton has some pros working for her. We've had some experience with them, all of us in this business have."

In contrast, Shuster reported the Lewis Libby leak trial revealed sinister behavior on Cheney's part: "The Vice President was rather ruthless in how he handled classified information, essentially releasing it to punish an opponent." Shuster then went on to depict an administration obsessed with Joe Wilson and yes, even, Chris Matthews himself: "Chris, I mean, clearly, as the evidence has come out, they were obsessed by this. They were obsessed over your reporting. They were obsessed over what Joe Wilson was saying. They were obsessed about somehow trying to undercut him. And, as Fitzgerald argued, they used Valerie Wilson as an argument. Why did they go into overdrive? Why were they so obsessed?"

The following are the full quotes from Williams and Shuster, respectively, as they occurred on the February 22 edition of Hardball:

First, the exchange between Matthews and Williams:

Chris Matthews: "Brian, I was amazed at the morning newspapers, especially the tabs up in New York, where you are. And I am looking at them. Here's the New York Post, often bombastic, but look at it this week: ‘The Big Chill,' with a picture of Hillary Clinton on the left, called ‘The Wronged Woman,' David Geffen, the record mogul, called ‘The Double-Crosser.' And there is Barack Obama, ‘The New Kid on the Block.' This fight is hot, and it's early. What do you make of it?"

Brian Williams: "It is hot and it is early, Chris, but I harbor this theory that about a dozen Democrats, all of them already in politics, really care about this fight. My theory goes further. As you know, I don't do opinions, but I read a whole lot of people's opinions every day on both sides. One of them I consumed today is that Hillary Clinton was so hurt at not being the cool kid at Malibu High School, in effect, that they could not believe -- put another way, a funny thing happened on their way to the presumptive Democratic nomination. Here comes Barack Obama, who, for set of reasons and a set of new beliefs about Hillary Rodham Clinton and her electability, comes in and sweeps in. And these stars, who they could always count on, fell head over heels in love with him. And this is what we are watching happen. You combine that with the pros working for this Clinton campaign, and this is what we are looking at on page one of the tabloids."

Matthews: "Were you surprised at the swift reaction from Howard Wolfson for Hillary Clinton, to come out on this show last night and basically accuse the other candidate, Barack Obama, himself, of putting Geffen up to this attack on Hillary and her husband?"

Williams: "It was out of The Godfather: ‘Michael, do you renounce Satan?' I am not surprised, Chris, only because the Clinton team, say what you will, and people will anyway, politically about them in the White House, in the prime of their years, what did we know about them? They were pros politically. They were good leakers. They were good attackers, and they were good defenders. Hillary Rodham Clinton has some pros working for her. We've had some experience with them, all of us in this business have. And, so, I was not surprised. They are going to try to give rapid reaction an entirely new name."

...

Then later in the hour Shuster delivered the following report from the Libby trial:

Matthews: "Welcome back to Hardball. Washington and the country is anxiously awaiting a verdict in the Scooter Libby trial. Hardball correspondent David Shuster is at the courthouse right now. David, this is the first full day of deliberations."

David Shuster: "Yeah, Chris, that's right. They went seven hours today and, of course, did not return a verdict. They will come back tomorrow; 11-and-a-half hours, they've been deliberating Scooter Libby's fate so far. There have been two notes that the jury has sent to the judge. There was one asking for masking tape, post-it notes, and a flip chart. And there was another note asking for photos of the witnesses. The idea, of course, is that, perhaps, they are trying to go back and place what the witnesses said about the timeline, and map it out. There is a schoolteacher, a retired math teacher, that is on this jury. There is also an MIT economist. So, it sounds like they are essentially sort of going in a linear fashion. But who really knows? But this has given us an opportunity, Chris, to go back and check a couple of things that have come up in this trial, chief among them the testimony about who really sent Joe Wilson. And we've gone back through all the witnesses and the evidence, and we've found that it was never in dispute. There was never an argument that, even by Joe Wilson himself, that Vice President Cheney said, ‘You, Joe Wilson, go to Niger.' But there was plenty of testimony, Chris, we counted from three different witnesses, one from the State Department, two from the CIA, who all testified that, because of an inquiry by Vice President Cheney in 2002 about a piece of raw intelligence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa, because of that inquiry, that got the CIA thinking about it. And because of questions also coming to them from the State Department and the Department of Defense, the CIA then decided the go ahead and send Joe Wilson to investigate. And Wilson, of course, came back and said there was no basis to the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. The other part about this, Chris, that we have been able to do today is, we went back and looked at the number of times that Vice President Cheney was mentioned in the closing days of this trial. We found the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, in his closing argument, the last 20 minutes, mentioned Vice President Cheney repeatedly. He talked about the cloud that had been cast over the Vice President. And Fitzgerald made reference to the Vice President cutting out Joe Wilson's column, writing on that column, having meetings with Scooter Libby, dispatching Libby to meet with a reporter, where it's alleged that Libby leaked information about Joe Wilson. And the prosecutor said, ‘The cloud remains over the Vice President, because Libby obstructed justice and lied about what happened that week,' the week before Valerie Wilson was outed. So, clearly, implications have been made about the Vice President. That was one of the last things the jury heard before they got the instructions and then went into deliberate. And, again, that has added to the intrigue and added to sort of the mystery, the idea that the Vice President was rather ruthless in how he handled classified information, essentially releasing it to punish an opponent. And that also gives an insight, Chris, into perhaps how the Vice President handled intelligence before the war, when they were trying to sell the war to the American people, Chris."

Matthews: "Well, David, Fitzgerald, in closing up, said, ‘What was all the hullabaloo about? The question of who sent Wilson was hugely important. And they wanted everybody to know it wasn't the Vice President.' Why did the Vice President and Scooter try so hard to separate the Vice President from the reason for that trip to Africa?"

Shuster: "And that is the big mystery, Chris. I mean, clearly, as the evidence has come out, they were obsessed by this. They were obsessed over your reporting. They were obsessed over what Joe Wilson was saying,. They were obsessed about somehow trying to undercut him. And, as Fitzgerald argued, they used Valerie Wilson as an argument. Why did they go into overdrive? Why were they so obsessed? That is one of the things that the prosecutors, perhaps, don't even know, in part because Scooter Libby, when he testified to the grand jury, kept saying he could not recall crucial conversations with Vice President Cheney during this crucial time period. And those unanswered questions are one of the reasons why prosecutors are so eager to convict Libby and see if that somehow refreshes his memory about what really happened during those crucial weeks, Chris."

Matthews: "Well, journalistically, I still want to know the answer to that. What was the Vice President's role in that trip? And if he had a role, why didn't he get a report? And if he got a report, why didn't he warn the President there was no African deal to buy uranium? Anyway, thank you very much, David Shuster."

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