Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Political Consultant Mary Matalin Plays Not My Job

Mary Matalin and James Carville i i
George Long Photography
Mary Matalin and James Carville
George Long Photography

In September we played the Not My Job game with James Carville, a laconic, Cajun from Louisiana and lifelong Democrat. And now we play the game with his exact opposite — a high-intensity Chicagoan and lifelong Republican named Mary Matalin. The best part is: they're married. Matalin, a political consultant, has just co-authored a memoir with her husband called Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home.

Matalin's quiz is called "If I ever made an error, I would regret it." It's a new year, which is always a good time to look back on the mistakes made in the prior year. We're going to ask her about the best media errors of 2013, as collected by Poynter Institute.

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PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now, the game where we let smart people speak their mind, though not about what they are smart about. So a few months ago, we hosted James Carville, a laconic Cajun from Louisiana and a lifelong, passionate Democrat.

Today, we're proud to welcome his exact opposite: a high intensity Chicagoan and lifelong, passionate Republican. The trick is, it's his wife. Mary Matalin is the co-author, with her husband, of the new book "Love and War." We're delighted to have her with us today. Mary Matalin, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

MARY MATALIN: Well, thank you for having me...

SAGAL: It's a great pleasure.

MATALIN: ...and thank you for teaching me a lot. We've been married 20 years, and I would like to ask you a question before we begin.

SAGAL: Please, please.

MATALIN: I believe it was Paula who said there's such a thing as an Orgasmatron. And after 20 years of marriage, where can I get one of those, Paula?

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So we interviewed your husband a few months ago, and we want to get your story. You got involved in politics at a fairly young age, right?

MATALIN: In Chicago, as a matter of fact. And I grew up with Democrats, and when I went to college, a campus of 17,000 people, there were 11 college Republicans. So...

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Wait a minute, do you remember those other Republicans, Mary? Were you involved in like, a Republican college group, then, with those?

MATALIN: Well, my first political job - this is absolutely true - was to be the butt end of an elephant; the elephant being, for reasons I still don't understand, the symbol of the Republican Party. And I got to be the elephant's ass, and I was hooked.

POUNDSTONE: And you were hooked. That's all it took.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Who was the front of the elephant?

MATALIN: Thank God, it was somebody with good hygiene.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We were all hoping you were going to say: And that's how I met Dick Cheney. But now you went on from that august beginning to serve in a senior position in two different Republican White Houses; first for George H.W. Bush, who you refer to in your book as Poppy.

MATALIN: You've read the book, great.

SAGAL: I did, yeah, and then of course, you served in the George W. Bush White House. But what was interesting, I thought, was that you had known George W. Bush before he was president.

MATALIN: He was my office mate in - I guess in the first campaign in...

POUNDSTONE: In the elephant suit?

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: No - many, many years later, during the tobacco-chawin'days.

SAGAL: You had a former relationship with him. And what did you call him?

MATALIN: Um - I'm not allowed to say. That would be classified.

SAGAL: But you wrote it in your book, Mary. It's on bookshelves now.

MATALIN: Oh (BLEEP) I forgot about that.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So you called him Junior, and you tell this great story - when you showed up at the White House after Mr. Bush Jr. had been elected in his own right. And how many times were you allowed to get away with referring to the new president as Junior?

MATALIN: Never.

SAGAL: Really?

MATALIN: No, even though he had many nicknames for all of us.

SAGAL: Did you have a presidential nickname?

MATALIN: I didn't have one of the cleverest ones. Karl Rove's nickname was Turdblossom. Mine was M&M. Oh gee, that was clever.

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: I guess it beats Turdblossom, though.

POUNDSTONE: Yeah, I don't think - in terms of clever, I think Turdblossom is fairly low.

(LAUGHTER)

ADAM FELBER: Yeah M&M's better both as a nickname and the name of a candy.

SAGAL: It's true. So as we mentioned, you're married to James Carville, of course. It must be weird to hate each other for different reasons than most married couples hate each other, right?

MATALIN: No, we hate each other for kind of the same reasons.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I am amazed because not ony - obviously - are you a Republican and he a Democrat, but you've been married for 20 years during some of the most tumultuous, divisive times in our modern politics. The 2000 recount, you talk about as being a very difficult period for you guys.

MATALIN: As it was for the whole country. But more difficult in our family is - all right, I am the big fan of the animal kingdom; and my husband is from a place in Louisiana where animals are not allowed inside the house. So when he finds cat fur on the butter, he doesn't like that.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: What an unreasonable man.

MATALIN: Or I did think that was reasonable. And I also had pet rats, which I liked to wear on my shoulders while I cooked pesto pasta. He didn't like that. So we fight about that.

SAGAL: So you're telling me that like, say during the 2000 recount, he feels the election was stolen; you're working for the guy he thinks stole the election; and the thing that really peeves him off is the cat hair in the butter?

MATALIN: Well, in those days, I got up one day, and the whiskers of one of my cats were all burnt off, and...

SAGAL: What?

MATALIN: ...he tried to deny that he lit my cat on fire.

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: So those are the kinds of things you fight about. When it comes to politics - and I'm sure we're not the only people in the world that have divergent political views - why talk about it? We're not - we haven't persuaded each other of anything in 20 years. And we get married at 40 and 49. I'm not going to change his mind; he's not going to change my mind. I'm very, very right and he's very, very wrong. And that's just what it is.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: One last question - in your book you're talking about your relation with the press, and you make a very quick allusion. You say, well, I had lots of screaming matches with the press, and one regrettable slapping incident. Who did you slap, and why?

MATALIN: I just want to remind everybody, I am from Chicago.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah, you're tough.

MATALIN: Slapping somebody is nothing compared to cutting off one of their fingers. So I did not think it was pretty tragic, at the time. And I'm not going to say who, but he knows who he is, and he knows he deserved it.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well Mary Matalin, we're delighted to have you with us, and today we've asked you here to play a game we're calling...

CARL KASELL: "If I Ever Made An Error, I Would Regret It."

SAGAL: It's a new year. It's always a good time to look back on the mistakes made in the prior year. We're going to ask you about the best media errors of 2013, as collected by the Poynter Institute. Answer two of these questions right, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners: Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Mary Matalin playing for?

KASELL: She is playing for Sheila Bennett of Old Greenwich, Conn.

SAGAL: All right, here we go. First up, a sincere apology from the Sun tabloid in the U.K. They ran an article saying that, quote, "two flat silver discs were seen flying over the headquarters of the Church of Scientology."

To whom did they apologize: A, the flying silver discs, for misspelling disc in the most phallic way possible - think about it; B, the Scientologists, for suggesting they consort with aliens; or C, the aliens, for suggesting they consort with Scientologists.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MATALIN: I'm going to take the phallic option of - whichever one that was.

SAGAL: That would be the first one, that they misspelled disc with another four-letter word starting with D.

MATALIN: Yeah, I'll take that one.

SAGAL: No, it was actually three. They said, quote, "we apologize to any alien life forms for linking them to Scientologists."

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Also from the U.K., the gossip newspaper Sunday People ran an interview with Sir Roger Moore - the actor - in which, among other things, he said he had had more women than James Bond.

The paper had to issue an apology saying what? A, they didn't talk to Roger Moore the actor. They mistakenly spoke by phone to one Roger Moore, a tailor in Birmingham, England; B, he didn't say he had slept with so many women, he said he had talked to them; or C, the reporter never spoke to Roger Moore and just made the whole thing up.

MATALIN: I would say C.

SAGAL: You would be correct.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The newspaper said - they said, quote, "we now accept that Sir Roger did not give an interview to our reporter. We have agreed to pay him damages and legal costs." All right, that's very good. You have one correct, one to go.

The Washington Post made a correction as well - your hometown paper. It was an article about one Navy Capt. Robert Durand, based at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The Post let its readers know what? A, quote, "Capt. Durand reads his poetry to prisoners not as torture but because he believes they like it"; B, we, quote, "incorrectly referred to Capt. Durand as thickset. He should have been described as muscular"; or C, quote, "we apologize for referring to the facility not as Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp but as Guantanamo Bay Sleepaway Camp.

MATALIN: A.

SAGAL: You're going to go for A, that he reads his poetry to prisoners not as torture but because he believes they like it?

MATALIN: I'm going to say not that - I don't care if it's true or it's not true. That's what I want to believe. And at my age, I get to believe what I want to believe.

SAGAL: All right, you're going to go for Capt. Durand reading his poetry to prisoners. I'm afraid the answer was, in fact, B; that apparently, Capt. Durand objected to being referred to as thickset; wanted the world to know that he was muscular.

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: That's kind of sad, isn't it?

SAGAL: It is but, you know, we all have our vanity. Carl, how did Mary Matalin do on our quiz?

KASELL: She had one correct answer. She needed two to win for Sheila Bennett.

SAGAL: Oh, I'm sorry. Mary Matalin's new book, co-authored with her husband, James Carville, is "Love and War." It is fascinating. If you think you have issues in your marriage, check this out. Mary Matalin, thank you so much for joining us.

POUNDSTONE: Thanks, Mary.

SAGAL: On WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! A pleasure to talk to you. Take care.

(APPLAUSE)

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