The easily derided MSNBC host scores the best hit of primary night coverage -- then quickly returns to hackdom
The derisive, duck-snort “Ha!” that announces the Sideshow segment on “Hardball” might be Chris Matthews’ actual laugh, or a sample of the Darrell Hammond “Saturday Night Live” impression. That’s apt, because with Matthews, it is always hard to find the line between reality and parody.
If there are a half-dozen Brian Williams laughs, there are more Chris Matthews personalities — and they were all on display during MSNBC’s coverage of the New Hampshire primary last night. It was an enraged and often electrifying performance — the over-the-top outraged citizen, the partisan happy warrior, the loony carnival barker who yearns to be taken seriously, the entertainer trying to convince us Chuck Todd or Michael Steele has an original insight, the Washington insider happy to scrape before the likes of Eugene Robinson and Jonathan Alter — all at once.
Matthews’ unhinged passion and needy insecurity, of course, is what makes him subject to satire in the first place. Good Chris is the former Tip O’Neill aide with a strong sense of right and wrong. Bad Chris is the blowhard relentlessly pushing his book — you know, the one he wrote all by himself. But in a devastating exchange with Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, Matthews cut through the pious baloney in Mitt Romney’s victory speech — the meaningless but endlessly repeated red meat about European socialism and Democratic envy of rich people — with a wicked acuity.
“I just want to ask a question of Steve Schmidt. I’m trying to put all this together, the rhetoric and the position of the candidate,” Matthews said, according to the MSNBC transcript. “He used phrases tonight like politics of envy against the Democrats. And I assume against some of his own party people there, like Newt Gingrich, the resentment of success. Is this why he won’t release his tax returns?
Schmidt, stuck in the role of Alan Colmes, demurred that he didn’t have an answer for that. “You do know why,” Matthews charged, and Schmidt finally agreed that he did, only to have Matthews steamroll on in such a way that Rachel Maddow had to jump in and remind him that they were colleagues, that Schmidt was not on the show representing Romney.
Matthews just got angrier. Here’s the transcript:
MATTHEWS: What about a European welfare state? What do you make of that phrase tonight? That seemed pretty over the top for a guy who didn’t support a public option, didn’t go with the Canadian style health care plan, simply went with the Heritage Foundation health care plan. Is that a European style welfare proposal, the Heritage Foundation? Are they in league together, those two, Obama and the Heritage Foundation and people like, well, Richard Nixon, who was for an employer mandate? Which is the closest to the European model?
SCHMIDT: I think this is rhetoric that works well in the Republican primary. When you look at the Republican vote –
MATTHEWS: So it’s not true.
Exactly. It’s not true. What a different place cable news would be if only people said that more often.
Matthews — whose outrage over the Romney Super PAC ads in Iowa was so over-the-top that he compared them, repeatedly, to the firebombing of Dresden during World War II — finally channeled his anger and smarts into a direct hit, and injected some energy into a chummy MSNBC set where, on most nights, the only fun comes from imagining how much everyone else despises Ed Schultz. (It doesn’t tax the imagination.)
Still, it didn’t take long for the cringeworthy hack to reemerge. And it sure is uncomfortable TV when the pundits sit around praising, yes, each other. “Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Alter, great guy, great historian, as well as a great journalist. And Eugene Robinson, I don’t have to brag, son of the South, overcame that and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist — one of the best ever.”
The shock on Alter’s face was priceless — someone give that late-night cable-news director a raise — as even a longtime “Hardball” regular rolled his eyes at the return of this sad spectacle of shtick.
David Daley is the executive editor of Salon. More David Daley.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11