The suffering saint…Posted: April 18, 2008
Every time I tune into MSNBC between 7 and 8 on a weeknight I know at some point during that I hour I will feel like vomiting. (Honestly, though if you’re looking for news at 7pm you’re almost out of luck. What with only Matthews, Beck, or Dobbs to choose from)
Hardball with Chris Matthews is, of course, virtually everything that is wrong with the (non-Fox News) media. He’s loud, focused almost purely on the horse-race, and willing to swallow wingnutty tripe in a single bite.
Did I mention he’s sexist?
Of course, if one needs a reminder of just how horrid Matthews is the New York Times Magazine was more than willing to provide you with one:
“Did you get a load of Lou Rawls’s wife?” Matthews said as he left the spin room. Apparently the Rev. Jesse Jackson was introducing the widow of the R&B singer at the media center. “She was an absolute knockout,” Matthews declared. It’s a common Matthews designation. The actress Kerry Washington was also a “total knockout,” according to Matthews, who by 1 a.m. had repaired to the bar of the Cleveland Ritz-Carlton. He was sipping a Diet Coke and holding court for a cluster of network and political types, as well as for a procession of random glad-handers that included, wouldn’t you know it, Kerry Washington herself. Washington played Ray Charles’s wife in the movie “Ray” and Kay Amin in the “Last King of Scotland.” She is a big Obama supporter and was in town for the debate; more to the point, she said she likes “Hardball.” Matthews grabbed her hand, and Phil Griffin, the head of MSNBC who was seated across the table, vowed to get her on the show.
“I know why he wants you on,” Matthews said to Washington while looking at Griffin. At which point Matthews did something he rarely does. He paused. He seemed actually to be considering what he was about to say. He might even have been editing himself, which is anything but a natural act for him. He was grimacing. I imagined a little superego hamster racing against a speeding treadmill inside Matthews’s skull, until the superego hamster was overrun and the pause ended.
“He wants you on because you’re beautiful,” Matthews said. “And because you’re black.” He handed Washington a business card and told her to call anytime “if you ever want to hang out with Chris Matthews.”
Then, a young Irish-looking woman walked up shyly and asked if he was “Mr. Matthews.” “Ah, an Irish girl has come to my aid,” Matthews said, placing his hand gently on the woman’s shoulder. She was in law school and said her name was Margaret Sweeney. “I went out with a Sweeney once, a nurse,” Matthews said, taking her hand. This Sweeney attends law school at Cleveland State, “where Russert went,” Matthews told her, before starting again on the marlin thing.
There is a level of ubiquity about Chris Matthews today that can be exhausting, occasionally edifying and, for better or worse, central to what has become a very loud national conversation about politics. His soothing-like-a-blender voice feels unnervingly constant in a presidential campaign that has drawn big interest, ratings and voter turnout. 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.
As we approached the airport gate, Matthews mentioned that he and his wife, Kathleen, have been contemplating a trip to Damascus. It’s something they have wanted to do for a long time. But he worries that he might make an inviting target for a kidnapper. “I can imagine getting some big-name media figure would be a big propaganda catch for them,” Matthews said. “You can imagine what the neocons would say if I were kidnapped. They’d be like, ‘See, Matthews, terrorism isn’t so funny now, is it?’ ”
Tim — as in Russert, the inquisitive jackhammer host of “Meet the Press” — is a particular obsession of Matthews’s. Matthews craves Russert’s approval like that of an older brother. He is often solicitous. On the morning of the Cleveland debate, Matthews was standing in the lobby of the Ritz when Russert walked through, straight from a workout, wearing a sweat-drenched Buffalo Bills sweatshirt, long shorts and black rubber-soled shoes with tube socks. “Here he is; here he is, the man,” Matthews said to Russert, who smiled and chatted for a few minutes before returning to his room. (An MSNBC spokesman, Jeremy Gaines, tried, after the fact, to declare Russert’s outfit “off the record.”)
“Imagine bullfighting without Hemingway,” he says. “I can’t.”
Is Matthews comparing himself to Hemingway?
“No way,” he says. “Don’t you, don’t you [expletive] do that.”
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 wach
Reading this piece makes you really understand Matthews, in that he really is a sexist and has a strange fixation on Tim “Gotcha, Bitch!” Russert. And let’s not forget, a painfully massive ego.
Of course, I guess sexist egoism is what earns you a long profile in the New York Times Magazine.
Remember, though, all is forgiven: