Chris Matthews Defends Robert 'KKK' Byrd: The Guy's 90, 'Give Him a Break'

Late on Friday night's edition of MSNBC's "Hardball," former Bush administration aide Ron Christie, author of "Black in the White House," pressed host Chris Matthews on the suggestion that if Republican Sen. George Allen's alleged racial slurs in the 1970s are a character flaw, what about the Democrats re-electing Senator Robert Byrd, a former Klansman, this fall? Matthews protested in a lecturing tone that "everyone knows about it....It's been raised a thousand times on his record." After claiming he was not defending Byrd, he told Christie: "The guy's 90 years old. Give him a break." 

About 50 minutes into the show, Christie drew Matthews out on the double standard:

Ron Christie: "If we're making this a race about character, one question I have, and the Democrats have been miraculously quiet about this. Is that you have We have a former member of the Ku Klux Klan in West Virginia, who used the N-word, who was in the Klan, who had it on tape two years ago. [Is Christie referring to the "white nigger" quote?]  I don’t hear the outrage, I don’t hear the ‘oh my goodness. Why for goodness sakes, are we going to re-elect a man to the Senate if it’s about character?’ You don’t hear a word from the Democrats about Byrd."   

Matthews: "You want some advice?"

Christie: "Please give me some advice."

Matthews: "Get some town mayors in Virginia who have worked with this Senator, George Allen. Staff people like yourself, African-Americans especially, who’ve worked with this senator and come out and publicly testify he's got no big problems in this area.”

Christie: "No, but you just evaded my question, Chris. You’re good.”

Matthews: "I’ll do it now. Robert Byrd was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He was a Grand Kleagle back in his youth, and I believe he has dealt with that issue over the years, and [lecturing tone] everyone knows about it."

Christie: "Oh, but it’s –"

Matthews: "No one doesn’t know he was a Grand Kleagle –"

Christie: "But the question, I’m only posing your question back to you: You say it's a matter of character, why is it not a matter of character to look at someone – "

Matthews, frustrated: "You know why? It’s been raised a thousand times on his record –"

Christie: "It does not make it any less –"

Matthews: "And you know what, I’m not defending him. I’m just saying we’ve talked about it for so many years, it’s in every biography we ever look at of this guy.”

Christie, smiling: “I just had to bring it up.”

Matthews, after a pause: “The guy’s 90 years old. Give him a break.”

Christie, smiling: “No! No, I’m not going to give him a break!

Matthews, cutting him off, grinning: “Terry McAuliffe, Ron Christie. Up next: The latest accusation against in Virginia’s nasty Senate race, senior Webb aide Steve Jarding will respond to the latest accusations…."

Ron Christie definitely got the better of that battle. And for fact checkers, Robert Byrd is 88, and will be 90 in November of 2007.

Clay Waters reminded us that not every media outlet wants to dwell on Byrd's Klan days.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis