Kucinich Declines 'Hardball' Interview

Turning down the opportunity to reach millions for the coziness of Kirkland House’s Junior Common Room, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, D-Ohio, has mystified political observers once again.

In a move that will likely further his reputation as an eccentric, the dark horse presidential hopeful has chosen to boycott “Hardball: Battle for the White House,” a Harvard-based series of candidate interviews, charging that the series is irreparably tainted by host Chris Matthews’ conservative agenda.

A parade of Democratic candidates will visit Kirkland this fall en route to the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean became the sixth Democratic candidate to confirm arrangements with the IOP on Wednesday, scheduling a Dec. 1 appearance on “Hardball,” according to IOP spokesperson Andy I. Solomon ’89.

Dean has tentatively confirmed plans to speak at Kirkland beforehand, according to Harvard College Democrats President R. Gerard McGeary Jr. ’04.

Declining an hour of free national TV exposure, Kucinich will skip the IOP’s main attraction but attend pre-game festivities.

The IOP is still working to bring two more candidates, retired General Wesley K. Clark and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., to the Forum this fall, Solomon said, noting that neither candidate has raised objections to Matthews’ journalistic integrity.

The series, which reaches millions of viewers nationwide on MSNBC, “is quite biased in the direction of right-wing and corporate interests,” said Kucinich spokesperson David Swanson. “The host of ‘Hardball’ has made false and biased statements about this campaign.”

“Matthews asserted that only former Vermont Governor Dean had opposed the Iraq war, which was clearly a problem from our point of view,” Swanson said, noting that Kucinich voted against the war resolution in the House of Representatives.

“It is not clear to us that it is in the public interest to dignify [Matthews’] show by treating it as a reasonable forum for discussion of the presidency,” Swanson said.

Paulette Song, MSNBC’s director of media relations, said that Matthews—once a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter—aims “to accurately and objectively reflect the opinions of the candidates.”

“It is clearly the congressman’s prerogative whether or not to make an appearance on ‘Hardball,’” Song said.

With its live telecasts from college campuses, “Hardball” helps candidates generate enthusiasm from younger voters, Song said.

Kucinich isn’t alone in accusing Matthews of bias in recent days, though other such criticisms have come from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

After Sen. John F. Kerry’s appearance Monday, The Boston Globe’s Eileen McNamara criticized Matthews for tossing softballs to the Massachusetts Democrat. Yesterday she wrote that Matthews is a “longtime Democratic Party aide who plays a journalist on TV,” adding that “his partisan feathers are in full fluff.”

Widespread interest in the candidate forums has forced the IOP to distribute coveted “Hardball” tickets via lottery.

According to Solomon, 1,595 students, faculty and community members entered the drawing for 450 tickets to Matthews’ interview with Kerry, up from the 1,270 who entered the pool to watch Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, on Oct. 13.

The flood of lottery entries slightly subsided for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s scheduled appearance at the IOP this coming Monday, with 1,038 registrants for the drawing.

An additional 350 tickets to each event were distributed via student political and community groups.

Dean’s decision to participate in the “Hardball” series means that Harvard students will have the chance to hear the frontrunner in the New Hampshire primary race.

Dean leads Kerry by 12 percentage points in the Granite State, according to a survey of likely Democratic voters published Wednesday by The Concord Monitor.

The survey carried a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

In Iowa, which opens the 2004 electoral season with Jan. 19 caucuses, polls show Dean in a dead heat with Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., who is slated to visit the IOP for a “Hardball” telecast on Nov. 10.

A recent nationwide poll sponsored by CNN, USA Today and Gallup showed Kucinich in dead last among the nine Democratic contenders, garnering support from three percent of the 388 Democratic voters surveyed.