On Chris Matthews, Kevin James and baby seal clubbing

Sure, it's fun to watch that video of the MSNBC host tearing an ignorant right-wing talk show host to bits, but why was James even on in the first place?

By Alex Koppelman
Published May 16, 2008 2:38PM (EDT)

So I've now rewatched (and rewatched, and rewatched -- what can I say, it's fun) the video that's circulating quite quickly around the Web that features MSNBC host Chris Matthews delivering a pretty righteous smackdown to conservative radio host Kevin James. (For your convenience, the video is below -- and you can read the earlier War Room post on the exchange that Andrew Leonard wrote, at my urging, here.)

And, yes, even after several viewings the video remains pretty entertaining. It's nice -- and so rare these days -- to see James get his comeuppance, and nice to see Matthews deftly take down the logically faulty argument that Democrats are akin to those who, like the infamous Neville Chamberlain, helped enable Adolf Hitler. But at some point, right around the time Matthews says to James, "Your problem, Kevin, is you don't know what you're talking about," I started thinking, "So then why did you have him on?"

Seriously. Even if you disagree with the argument James was making, and think there's no way anyone could ever prove the case, there still has to be someone who could at least make a knowledgeable defense for it. (I don't know -- a historian, maybe?) James, on the other hand, quite literally tried to scream his way out of admitting his ignorance. And with all due respect to Mark Green, New York City's former public advocate and the other guest on at the time, what reason was there to have Green on discussing this, either? Green's at least a step up from James, obviously, and certainly he has plenty of qualifications of his own -- he's currently the president of Air America Radio -- but those qualifications are not really related to knowledge of the Munich agreement.

I understand this is how the cable shout shows function. In a previous job, I went on a couple occasionally. Sometimes, I'd get a call three hours before they wanted me to be on and a producer would ask me if I had time to read a quick briefing about a subject I'd never heard of before and then come on. The answer, I'm now ashamed to say, was almost always yes. I was on one show where I sat and watched in astonishment as the other two guests (who were clearly friendly off-camera and who clearly had no relation to or real interest in the subject we were discussing) went from zero to screaming bloody murder at each other in just seconds. That's the way these shows work. But if Matthews wanted to have a real discussion of the history here -- and God knows he should, he clearly knows something about it and he made some really sharp points -- then he should have had guests qualified to be valuable participants. Maybe Matthews' takedown of James ultimately enlightened some people; it probably did, in fact, and he deserves some credit for that. But it was still cheap, and ultimately it said more about Matthews, his show and the whole universe of similar programming than it ever could have about James.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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