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Matthews and Miller: Spitballs at 10 Paces

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 3, 2004; Page C07

After mauling Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in his keynote speech at the Republican convention Wednesday night, Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) was roaming Madison Square Garden like a rabid dog looking for someone else to bite when MSNBC's Chris Matthews got in his way.

But because Matthews wasn't physically in the Garden -- the "Hardball" host is anchoring MSNBC's prime-time coverage from nearby Herald Square -- the wild-eyed Dixiecrat wound up snarling at him via remote hookup, and reminiscing wistfully about the good old days when he might have challenged a cur like Matthews to a duel.

It all started around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday when Matthews was interviewing Miller, as previously arranged, about his keynote speech, otherwise known as 20 minutes of tossing raw meat to piranhas.

Specifically, Matthews was trying to discuss Miller's charge that Kerry had tried to shut down so many weapons systems as a senator that had he prevailed, U.S. forces would be armed with only "spitballs."

"When Democrats come out, as they often do," Matthews began, "liberal Democrats, and attack conservatives, and say [conservatives] want to starve little kids, they want to get rid of education, they want to kill the old people . . ."

"I am not saying that. Wait a minute!" Miller roared.

"Now, this is your program. And I am a guest on your program," the senator continued, outraged.

"Yes, sir," responded Matthews. He is definitely in kinder-gentler mode since his new executive producer Tammy Haddad came on board in January. While mostly that's good and has gained Matthews respect and ratings, sometimes it seems a pity.

"I wish I was over there, where I could get a little closer up into your face!" Miller continued.

"But I don't have to stand here and listen to that kind of stuff. I didn't say anything about not feeding poor kids. What are you doing?"

"I'm not saying that," Matthews answered, while, we're just guessing, restraining the urge to rip off the monitor on which he was seeing Miller and stomp on it. "When you said tonight -- I just want you to . . ."

"Well, you are saying a bunch of baloney that didn't have anything to do with what I said up there on the [stage]," Miller growled.

Matthews, trying to get the interview back on track, asked Miller if, as he said during his speech, he really believes Kerry intends to defend the country with "spitballs" rather than bombers and such.

"That was a metaphor, wasn't it?" Miller sneered, adding, "Do you know what a metaphor is?"

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