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Chris Matthews Plays Hardball with Zell Miller

The Georgia senator loses his cool on MSNBC in the face of a few tough questions.
 
 
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Probably the most incendiary moment in all of the television coverage of the Republican National Convention so far occurred shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday night, during a Chris Matthews interview with Senator Zell Miller on MSNBC, which started hot and then grew even hotter after a question about reporters and freedom the press.

"You're hopeless," Miller told Matthews, dead serious, speaking over a hook-up from Madison Square Garden, where he had earlier delivered the keynote address. "I wish I was over there with you where I could get in your face." He also said, "I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel."

Later Miller said, "I don't know why I came on this program" and "I think we ought to cancel this interview."

After the interview, off the air, Matthews called it "an incredible moment" and said that Miller must have come "loaded for bear." He said he hoped they could continue their debate on his show Thursday night.

Other Miller retorts: "Don't pull that kind of stuff on me....I don't have to stand here and listen to that kind of stuff...Do you know what a metaphor is?"

And: "You get in my face, and I'm going to get back in your face. And the only reason you're doing it is because you're standing way over there in Herald Square."

Matthews had gotten on Miller's case right from the start, asking him if he really believed what he had said in his speech about Senator John Kerry wanting to defend America with "spitballs." As Miller fudged his answer, and Matthews in his customary style cut him short or talked over him, they each started shouting. Miller told Matthews to "get out of my face."

Then Matthews asked him why he had said in his speech that "it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press." Matthews said it was such an obvious thing to say, wasn't he just looking for an easy "anti-media" applause line? Miller went ballistic again and nearly stalked off, with Matthews, not exactly backing down, struggling to calm him, which he did, after another few seconds of shouting.

The interview closed with Matthews saying that now Miller probably disliked him, but invited him back on the show Thursday night when he could talk with Joe Scarborough who, he said, would probably be kinder. Miller didn't answer yes or no.

Matthews later suggested that since Miller had said he wanted to get in his face he ought to appear with him in person Thursday night.

Greg Mitchell is editor of E & P.