Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Our Man Chris Matthews: The Bam Bam of Broadcast Journalism

In the midst of the Scooter Libby trial, one already inundated with notes of scandal and gobs of gossip, a juicy tidbit surfaced during the prosecution's detailing of a conversation between Scooter and fellow Cheney Advisor Mary Matalin:

"[I]n the course of advising Libby on how to deal with the "Wilson issue," and in particular Matthew's attacks on the vice president, she advised Libby to call [Tim] Russert to complain and she told Libby that Russert would have an especially sympathetic ear: 'Call Tim. He hates Chris - he needs to know it all'."

So, in light of Russert's hatred for Chris Matthews, I thought Matthews could use some positive press. Rather than roast Russert with childish amusement, perhaps remarking on how he looks like the human embodiment of Fog Horn Leg Horn, I have chosen, instead to praise Matthews with childish amusement.

Amongst the endless talking heads of cable news, Chris Matthews has reserved a unique and niche for himself. Sure, I've dabbled in Olbermann, occasionally watch O'Reilly with transfixed disgust, and when I'm feeling global I take down a dose of Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria. Few of these broadcasters, however, offer their viewers the equal opportunity skepticism that Matthews brings five nights a week. Oh, but where is fancy bred?:

In the heart? At first sight, Matthews engenders a natural endearment in his viewers — the mop of Dennis the Menace blond hair, his opened-mouth, disarming laugh — an equal parts mixture of Albert Brooks and William Hurt from Broadcast News. Hell, I don't know whether to TiVo the guy or adopt him.

Or in the head? Behind Matthew's huggable man-child facade lies the mind of a former Presidential speech-writer to Carter and top aide to Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. Not to mention, Matthews is the recipient of numerous awards (listed on his MSNBC bio) and the author of four best-selling books, one of which, 1988's Hardball is "required reading in many college-level political science courses". Though my exhaustive search for this book at my local University bookstore failed, I am currently living in South Africa, and this should not deter you from the truth — this guy's got a brain big enough to fill that head.

So, where exactly might Russert's hatred arise? We can only assume Matthews, who is in fact human, has a weakness. We can only assume that in the over two-hundred nights on the air (which Matthews did in 2006) he faltered — perhaps claimed that "conservatives don't like sex" or seemingly sucked up to the administration by panning Stephen Colbert after last year's Correspondence Dinner (all of which Matthews did in 2006). None of these missteps, however, detracts from the journalist, who each night presses his guests until they fall out of talking-point lockstep and let a few kernels of honestly slip their lips.

Regardless of the points and faults listed above, what draws me to Matthews (As a journalist. Let's not get the wrong idea here. I mean I like the guy, sure, but, come on.) is his tendency to offer candid real-time appraisals of his guests and the issues at hand. These moments appear as genuine, deeply though-out critiques rather than the nightly lunacy and skewed propaganda that many of his fellow broadcasters offer (cough, O'Reilly). In a recent interview with a spokesman from Senator Obama's campaign, Matthews remarked that the Senator appeals to something youthful and pure in America today and that "maybe he appeals to the kid in me." It's difficult to imagine other broadcasters allowing for such a moment of commentary which serves only to expose his actual feelings and not a political agenda.

So, down with the Russerts and the other Matthews haters, because our man, Chris, is here to stay. Don't hate the guy; love him for the broadcaster he wants to be and love him for the man he almost is. While the kid in him is spouting his forthright opinions, the adult in him likes to ask the tough questions and speaks truth to power. What else could you ask from the lovable Bam Bam of broadcast journalism?

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