I’ve been watching MSNBC’s Hardball this week, even though I swore off a couple of years ago. Truly, it’s better than Six Flags. There are thrill rides–Chris Matthews and guests go swooshing through the murky depths of rightie disinformation, shoot up to a brief moment of clarity, then tumble down again. Long-debunked lies and some startling actual facts are on display. Frank Rich and Amy Goodman have been recent guests, accompanied by the usual sideshow freaks–e.g., Stephen Hayes, Victoria Toensing, and the alleged “reporter” Andrea Mitchell.

What’s made Hardball worth watching is Chris Matthews’s glimmer of a clue. No, really. The owner of one of the thickest skulls on television, in Billmon’s words, “kinda sorta gets it.” From Matthews’s MSNBC “blog”:

That’s the environment in which this whole thing may have been hatched. If there was law-breaking, it came out of the vice president and his people’s determination to protect themselves against the charge that they led us into a corrupt war, a war based on false pretenses.

That’s how hot this thing is.

If there are indictments, they’re going to be probably in the vice president’s office, they’re probably going to come next week and they are going to blow this White House apart.

It’s going to be unbelievable.

I think the people watching right now who are voters better start paying attention to this issue. It’s not just about whether somebody’s name was leaked, it’s about whether we went to war under false pretenses or not, whether people knew about that or not, and what they did when they were charged against that kind of offense against the United States.

It’s serious business.

This is not to say Tweety is entirely reformed. He and his guests remain fact-challenged about many things. For example, here is Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday’s program:

MITCHELL: I don‘t know that to be the case, but what I think people need to focus on, is the overall background of what was going on back then. This was a fight—an internal fight—between the CIA and Dick Cheney. And you can‘t overstate the case of how brutal that fight over who had the right interpretation over Saddam‘s weapons was.

And in that context, when Joe Wilson went on television with us and in interviews and said he had been dispatched by the vice president, you could understand why Dick Cheney and his people probably said no, we didn‘t send him. We had nothing to do with that, because, you know, whether Wilson was told or was simply inflating his own importance, he led people to believe, he said publicly, that he had been dispatched by the vice president.

And that was clearly not the case by every bit of reporting that I have been able to do. The vice president did not know that Joe Wilson had been sent. And so when Wilson said that, that is what set into motion all of these other events because that‘s when the vice president and his staff, presumably, tried to put out the word. Joe Wilson was not our envoy.

At TPM Cafe, Larry Johnson corrects the errors:

Gee Andrea, don’t you know how to read? Here is what Joe Wilson wrote on July 6, 2003:

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990’s. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president’s office.

Got it! He did not write that Cheney sent him. Joe Wilson isn’t lying, Andrea Mitchell is. Moreover, when Wilson appeared on Meet the Press on July 6, 2003 with Andrea, he did not say what she claims he did. Here’s the relevant portion of the transcript:

MS. MITCHELL: But, in fact, many officials, including the president, the vice president, Donald Rumsfeld, were referring to the Niger issue as though it were fact, as though it were true and they were told by the CIA, this information was passed on in the national intelligence estimate, I’ve been told, with a caveat from the State Department that it was highly dubious based on your trip but that that caveat was buried in a footnote, in the appendix. So was the White House misled? Were they not properly briefed on the fact that you had the previous February been there and that it wasn’t true?

AMB. WILSON: No. No. In actual fact, in my judgment, I have not seen the estimate either, but there were reports based upon my trip that were submitted to the appropriate officials. The question was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president. The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there.

Shocking! Joe Wilson consistently said that the request originated with the Vice President and was passed to the CIA. Don’t stop there, that is also what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported in July 2004.

Be sure to read all of Larry Johnson’s post, which corrects a number of other oft-repeated falsehoods.

By the way, if you’ve got a second, please send an email to Chris Matthews with a link to the Larry Johnson article. Be polite.

Matthews’s program still suffers from a misguided attempt to create “balance” by pairing up rightes and lefties and giving both points of view equal time and equal weight even if one side is either ignorant of the facts or lying its butt off. (Most mismatched couple: Kate O’Beirne and Bob Herbert, Hardball, October 12.) As someone, I believe Eric Alterman, once said, television producers seem to think “balance” means that if someone on your program says the earth is round, you have to give the views of the Flat Earth Society equal time and respect. As if there were no such thing as objective fact. Yes, people can have diverse opinions–e.g., the potential effects of proposed tax legislation or who’s going to win the World Series. But when Andrea Mitchell misquotes Joe Wilson and calls him a liar because of something he didn’t say, and the “host” sits and lets the lie pass without correction, that’s not “balance.” And it sure as heck isn’t journalism.