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Speaking of misogynists,
(New Yorkers – don’t forget the protest outside NBC this Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., West 48th Street and Rockefeller Plaza)
the Sunday, April 13, 2008 New York Times Magazine has a profile of festering weed Chris Matthews. Not much is learned from watching Matthews or the networks he is on. There is only frustration and deception to be retrieved from NBC/MSNBC’s fetid waters
He is, in a sense, the carnival barker at the center of it, spewing tiny pellets of chewed nuts across the table while comparing Obama to Mozart and Clinton to Salieri. At one point, Matthews suddenly became hypnotized by a TV over the bar set to a rebroadcast of “Hardball.” “Hey, there I am — it’s me,” he said, staring at himself on the screen. “It’s me.” [snip]
He gets in trouble sometimes and has to apologize — as he did after suggesting that Hillary Clinton owed her election to the Senate to the fact that her husband “messed around.” He is also something of a YouTube sensation: see Chris getting challenged to a duel by the former Georgia governor, Zell Miller; describing the “thrill going up my leg” after an Obama speech; dancing with (and accidentally groping) Ellen DeGeneres on her show; shouting down the conservative commentator Michelle Malkin; ogling CNBC’s Erin Burnett. And he has provided a running bounty of material for Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog, which has devoted an entire section of its Web site (“The Matthews Monitor”) to cataloging Matthews’s alleged offenses, especially against Hillary Clinton and women generally.
Matthews the dinosaur:
Yet for as basic as he has become to the political and media furniture, Matthews is anything but secure. He is of the moment, but, at 62, also something of a throwback — to an era of politics set in the ethnic Democratic wards of the ’60s and the O’Neill-Reagan battles of the ’80s. And he is a product of an aging era of cable news, the late-’90s, when “Hardball” started and Matthews made his name as a battering critic of Bill Clinton during the Monica saga.
Cable political coverage has changed, however, and so has the sensibility that viewers — particularly young ones — expect from it. Matthews’s bombast is radically at odds with the wry, antipolitical style fashioned by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert or the cutting and finely tuned cynicism of Matthews’s MSNBC co-worker Keith Olbermann. These hosts betray none of the reverence for politics or the rituals of Washington that Matthews does. On the contrary, they appeal to the eye-rolling tendencies of a cooler, highly educated urban cohort of the electorate that mostly dismisses an exuberant political animal like Matthews as annoyingly antiquated, like the ranting uncle at the Thanksgiving table whom the kids have learned to tune out.
Nothing illustrated Matthews’s discordance with the new cable ethos better than an eviscerating interview he suffered through last fall at the hands of Stewart himself. Matthews went on the “The Daily Show” to promote his book “Life’s a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation and Success.” The book essentially advertises itself as a guidebook for readers wishing to apply the lessons of winning politicians to succeeding in life. “People don’t mind being used; they mind being discarded” is the title of one chapter. “A self-hurt book” and “a recipe for sadness” Stewart called it, and the interview was all squirms from there. “This strikes me as artifice,” Stewart said. “If you live by this book, your life will be strategy, and if your life is strategy, you will be unhappy.”
Clean the house, wash the windows, gas up the car, shop for groceries, just don’t watch NBC/MSNBC:
Part of this can be viewed purely through a bottom-line lens. Matthews’s contract expires next year, and NBC officials clearly would like to renew it for considerably less than the $5 million a year he is making now. Whether it’s a formal talking point or not, NBC officials seem bent on conveying the message that they could get the same ratings, or better ones, for considerably less money.
But the broader issue involves whether Matthews is a man trapped in a tired caricature. And it touches on the future of his archetype in general — in other words, whither the cable blowhard? The “What happens to Chris” question — a hot topic at NBC these days — infuses the Matthews story with a kind of “lion in winter” urgency, if not poignancy. It also goes to the core of how Matthews sees himself, how cable news is changing and how Americans perceive of and consume their politics.
Who knew? Buffoons have standards:
A number of people I spoke with at NBC said that Russert can be disdainful of Matthews, whose act he often sees as clownish. They also told me that Russert believes Matthews is something of a loose cannon who brings him undue headaches in his capacity as NBC’s Washington bureau chief. This friction was immortalized in notes revealed during the trial of Scooter Libby. Mary Matalin, an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, was quoted as having suggested that Libby call Russert to complain about Matthews’s rants against the White House’s Iraq policy. “Call Tim — he hates Chris,” Matalin supposedly told Libby. [snip]
Friends say Matthews is wary of another up-and-comer, David Gregory, who last month was given a show at 6 o’clock, between airings of “Hardball.” It is a common view around NBC that Gregory is trying out as a possible replacement for Matthews. [snip]
Matthews seems less than thrilled with “co-anchoring” MSNBC’s election coverage with him, as he has done on many nights during this campaign. When Olbermann is on the same set, Matthews appears different — restrained, even shrinking at times. According to people at NBC, Matthews has not been shy in voicing his resentment of Olbermann. Nor, according to network sources, has Olbermann bothered to hide his low regard for Matthews, although when I spoke to him, Olbermann denied any personal animosity toward Matthews and told me that he appreciates his “John Madden-like enthusiasm for politics.”
“Hardball” had its debut in 1997, on CNBC, and was catapulted by the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Matthews built an instant following, and loathing. In his book about the media’s conduct during the Monica saga, Bill Kovach, the founding chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, anointed Matthews as part of a “new class of chatterers who emerged in this scandal . . . a group of loosely credentialed, self-interested performers whose primary job is remaining on TV.” [snip]
If Matthews has an overriding professional insecurity, it is being confined to the pigeonhole of cable blowhard. The insecurity is well founded, since this is how many people view him. “The shorthand for Chris in the gossip columns is always ‘blabbermouth’ or ‘cable yakker’ or something,” said Nancy Nathan, the executive producer of “The Chris Matthews Show.” [snip]
As I began researching this article, Jeremy Gaines, an MSNBC spokesman, gave me the names of about a dozen people that Matthews recommended I speak to, all famous — everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Marvin Hamlisch. But gatekeepers for more than one of these people expressed confusion as to why Matthews would refer me to them. “Please keep us out of this,” pleaded a spokesperson for one prominent politician whom Matthews had recommended via Gaines.
Matthews loves Obama but says he does not:
He has been attacked, repeatedly, for his perceived pro-Obama/anti-Clinton perspective — a bias he disputes. He notes that he and the former first lady like to “kid around” when they see each other and that he did a memorably tough interview with an Obama surrogate, State Senator Kirk Watson of Texas, who failed — despite Matthews’s grilling — to identify a single legislative accomplishment by Obama. “That was an iconic moment,” Matthews said of the Watson interview.
Still, it’s hard to watch Matthews and conclude that he has been anything less than enthralled by Obama and, at the very least, is sick of Clinton. The antipathy dates back some time. Just before the start of Clinton’s first campaign for the Senate in 2000, Matthews said: “Hillary Clinton bugs a lot of guys, I mean, really bugs people — like maybe me on occasion. . . . She drives some of us absolutely nuts.” During this campaign he has repeatedly referred to her sense of entitlement and arrogance. Meanwhile, David Shuster, a correspondent for MSNBC who appears frequently on “Hardball,” was suspended for two weeks earlier this year for asking whether the Clinton campaign had “pimped out” Chelsea Clinton by enlisting her to court celebrities and superdelegates.
By contrast, Matthews has called Obama “bigger than Kennedy” and compared the success of his campaign to “the New Testament.” His reviews of Obama’s speeches have been comically effusive at times, as when he described “this thrill going up my leg” after an Obama victory speech. (“Steady,” Olbermann cautioned him on the air.)
“I love Chris, but he definitely drank the Obama Kool-Aid,” Ed Rendell, the Pennsylvania governor and a Clinton supporter, told me.
In a recent interview on “Morning Joe” with Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who had just endorsed Obama, Matthews described the “stunning picture” of a Latino governor (Richardson) standing with an African-American candidate and how inspiring it was for so many voters. “That is where we should be putting our focus, not on the feelings of the Clintons, about what people owe them and their sense of entitlement,” Matthews said.
Richardson tried to say something, but Matthews just kept going. “We’ve got to stop talking about this as if this were a sitcom,” Matthews continued. “We had eight years of the sitcom. . . . It’s a sitcom, and it’s gotta end.” He lamented that 4,000 people are dead in Iraq “because of decisions made by politicians like the Clintons.”
Mika Brzezinski, a co-host of “Morning Joe,” then asked Matthews whether he was endorsing Obama.
“Why would you say that?” Matthews said, looking dumbfounded.
Wife and daughter love Obama too:
So Kathleen made lattes in the kitchen while Caroline — home on a break from Penn — sat at an island-table spread with Sunday newspapers. She is finishing her freshman year and active in the Obama campaign. Kathleen, meanwhile, contributed $2,200 to the Clinton campaign. [snip]
“We all talk about the Clintons,” Matthews said at the conclusion of a diatribe about the national obsession with Bill and Hillary. “I have never been at a party where it doesn’t become a topic. Who are we gonna talk about? Bob Dole? John Kerry? Al Gore?”
Kathleen added, “Also, we’ve had so much time with them. We’ve watched them in this fishbowl.”
Chris: “I find it very hard to do.”
Kathleen: “With the Obamas, we can’t even speculate.”
The “sexist thing”:
The conversation moved to what Matthews calls “the sexist thing,” or what Media Matters calls Matthews’s “history of degrading comments about women, in which he focuses on the physical appearances of his female guests and of other women discussed on his program.” This would include Matthews loudly admiring the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham (“You’re great looking, obviously — one of God’s gifts to men in this country”), Elizabeth Edwards (“You’ve got a great face”), Jane Fonda (“You also dazzle us with your beauty and all the good things”), CNBC’s Margaret Brennan (“You’re gorgeous”) and Erin Burnett (“You’re beautiful. . . . You’re a knockout”), among others. The Burnett episode was especially remarked upon. In the video Matthews instructed Burnett to “get a little closer to the camera.” As Burnett became confused, Matthews persisted: “Come on in closer. No, come in — come in further — come in closer. Really close.” It was, at the minimum, uncomfortable to watch.
Matthews says the notion that he is sexist has been pushed unfairly by blogs, women’s groups and, to some degree, the Clinton campaign. His remark that Clinton benefitted because her husband “messed around” triggered much outrage from the Clinton team. Matthews eventually apologized in a rambling on-air explanation, but he hardly sounds contrite now. “I was tonally inaccurate but factually true,” he told me. I had asked him earlier if he was forced into the apology. “Oh, yeah, of course I was forced into that,” he said, laughing. “No, no, no . . . Phil [Griffin] asked me to do that.”
Matthews vigorously denies the broader charge that he demeans women on the air. “I don’t think there’s any evidence of that at all,” he said at brunch. “I’ve gone back and looked. Give me the evidence. No one can give it to me. I went through all my stuff. I can’t find it.” I mentioned Erin Burnett, and the name landed like a brick on the dining-room table.
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The rest of Your Song. Thank you Elton John: