Authentic Jackass

by digby

"You know he's saying exactly what he thinks -- that's the whole trick. You know it's coming straight from his gut. That's what his appeal has always been."

Can someone explain to me when this became a more admirable character trait than being a decent person? I hear it all the time. "Well, he may be a racist and a child molester, but you know where he stands," as if being a straight-talking asshole somehow negates the fact that you are ... an asshole.

People get no points for not hiding their prejudice and bigotry in my book, certainly not enough points to make them admirable. And yet this comes up frequently in discussions I have about John McCain, for instance, in which Democrats suggest that they can vote for him because "you know where he stands." When I inquire about whether or not it matters that he stands for a thousand year war in Iraq and more psychopathic supreme court judges, I'm told, "well, sure, but at least he really believes what he says." I guess the idea has fully taken hold that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you sincerely believe it.

That quote above, by the way, is about Chris Matthews, from this profile in yesterday's Washington Post from Howie Kurtz:

Last fall, as network executives, members of Congress and other hotshots gathered beneath a massive tent at Washington's Decatur House to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Hardball," Chris Matthews began to address the crowd.

Dispensing with the usual platitudes about his MSNBC show, Matthews vowed not to be silenced by Bush administration officials. And he let loose with this broadside: "They've finally been caught in their criminality."

The political community was soon abuzz: Did you hear what Chris said? What criminality was he talking about? Could he really be fair in moderating the following week's Republican presidential debate?

"I did it on purpose," Matthews says now. "I wanted to make a statement that we had a purpose on the show -- to tell the truth."

Gosh, what a profile in courage. Seven years into the Bush administration and Matthews decides that he's going to "tell the truth" about the Bush administration.

I wonder what truth he was telling with this, other than that he had a mancrush on Bush so overwhelming that he could hardly keep his pants on:

MATTHEWS: Let's go to this sub--what happened to this week, which was to me was astounding as a student of politics, like all of us. Lights, camera, action. This week the president landed the best photo op in a very long time. Other great visuals: Ronald Reagan at the D-Day cemetery in Normandy, Bill Clinton on horseback in Wyoming. Nothing compared to this, I've got to say.

Katty, for visual, the president of the United States arriving in an F-18, looking like he flew it in himself. The GIs, the women on--onboard that ship loved this guy.

Ms. KAY: He looked great. Look, I'm not a Bush man. I mean, he doesn't do it for me personally, especially not when he's in a suit, but he arrived there...

MATTHEWS: No one would call you a Bush man, by the way.

Ms. KAY: ...he arrived there in his flight suit, in a jumpsuit. He should wear that all the time. Why doesn't he do all his campaign speeches in that jumpsuit? He just looks so great.

MATTHEWS: I want him to wa--I want to see him debate somebody like John Kerry or Lieberman or somebody wearing that jumpsuit.

Mr. DOBBS: Well, it was just--I can't think of any, any stunt by the White House--and I'll call it a stunt--that has come close. I mean, this is not only a home run; the ball is still flying out beyond the park.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know what, it was like throwing that strike in Yankee Stadium a while back after 9/11. It's not a stunt if it works and it's real. And I felt the faces of those guys--I thought most of our guys were looking up like they were looking at Bob Hope and John Wayne combined on that ship.

Mr. GIGOT: The reason it works is because of--the reason it works is because Bush looks authentic and he felt that he--you could feel the connection with the troops. He looked like he was sincere. People trust him. That's what he has going for him.

MATTHEWS: ...--say you were over in the Middle East watching the president of the United States on this humongous aircraft carrier. It looks like it could take down Syria just one boat, right, and the president of the United States is pointing a finger and saying, `You people with the weapons of mass destruction, you people backing terrorism, look out. We're coming.' Do you think that picture mattered over there?

That was the level of discourse on Hardball for several years of the Bush administration. Let's just say that if he wasn't a supporter of the war in Iraq, he had a funny way of showing it.

Matthews says his job "is to be provocative and say things -- you know, 'That's crazy!' -- the way you might at a party."

In a Christmas video for the NBC staff, Brian Williams jokingly called him "Rain Man." Tom Brokaw cracked on "The Daily Show" that "when it comes to politics, Chris has a form of Tourette's syndrome." Matthews is the childlike genius with an uncanny command of political arcana who is sometimes oblivious to his own erratic behavior. In a world of scripted anchors, he fuses passionate punditry with a self-absorption so intense he likes being mocked on "Saturday Night Live." Love him or hate him, it's hard to avert your eyes.

Apparently, Matthews is some sort of circus grotesque they put on the TV for the masses to gawk at in anticipation of his next bizarre regurgitation. It explains why his election night coverage or interviews with politicians are so uncomfortable to watch. And it certainly raises the question as to why so-called real journalists and politicians spend valuable time subjecting themselves to a freak show.

Everybody knows that he's a clown. And yet they not only put up with it, they circle the wagons when people are offended by his schtick. That's fine, I suppose, if you are Comedy Central. But they let this nutcase participate in presidential elections by helping to shape the coverage and participate in debates and analysis that many people inside the beltway validate --- and those outside of it may just think is based on something other than the voices he hears in his head.

There's nothing wrong with being entertaining. Olbermann manages to do it without using his show as some sort of primal therapy reality show. Like Bill O'Reilly, Matthews is a "Howard Beale" character, given a platform to act out on the hopes that he might someday meltdown on the air and boost ratings.

Meanwhile our politics become a sewer.

Friends are quick to say that Matthews isn't afraid of strong women. They point to his wife, Kathleen, until recently a top anchor at WJLA-TV, and the hard-charging female producers around him.

Still, some high-profile women are now holding him up as a symbol of the insensitive male pundit.

He enjoys the towel-snapping banter of the locker room, praising women's looks on camera and off. For that matter, he also jokes about people's ethnicity, saying that the Irish hold grudges and teasing pals about being Jewish.


He routinely talks over his panelists, but some women feel especially trampled.

I see. It's just those sensitive feeling of yours getting in the way again, girls. This is just "locker room" banter. Lighten up.

Kurtz goes on to describe an occasion in which Matthews insulted Dee Dee Myers, but that isn't a particularly good example since many people will claim she's just another Clinton shill. This one from last November is a better example of how he treats women on his show:

Matthews: Let's go back to women with needs. Women with needs are Hillary's great strength. Women who don't have a college degree, women who don't have a lot of things going for them. May not have a husband, may have kids, have all kinds of needs with day care, education, minimum wage. Will Oprah help with them to move to Barack Obama?

Julie Mason, Houston Chronicle: Well, they're looking more for issues than they are for a celebrity endorsement. I don't think it's a celebrity endorsement from Oprah or from Bill Clinton, not that he's a celebrity, but you know what I'm saying. I don't think they move votes. I think they bring attention, I think they bring TV cameras, but those particular women are more concerned with health care and other issues than they are with what Oprah says ...

Matthews : (angry, nasty) OK let's get straight. Don't ever say Bill Clinton doesn't bring votes. If it weren't for Bill there wouldn't be a Hill. The idea that he doesn't give her star quality is INSANE

Julie Mason: (startled) I'm not saying he ...

Matthews: He IS her star quality.

Julie Mason: I'm not saying, he doesn't bring votes but if you were undecided...

Matthews:(abrupt) Ok. ... Thank you Matt.

Julie Mason:... I don't think Bill Clinton ...

Matthews: I know I caught you off guard there.

Julie Mason: ...would bring you in.

Matthews: I was too tough on you there, but I know I'm right. Anyway, Matt ... just like Hillary I know I'm going to win.
(Here's another one, where he gets nasty with Financial Times reporter Christia Freeland, also from last November.)

He was an complete jackass in that segment, angry out of the blue over an innocuous observation that women weren't necessarily going to vote for Hillary because of Bill. That statement incensed him, he turned red and snarled at this reporter in a most bizarre fashion. It's one of many incidents in which he gets irrationally angry at a female reporter, (particularly if she's saying something that touches on that deep reservoir of loathing he has for Bill and Hillary Clinton.) I don't think that's altogether uncommon among the village media, actually, but most of them aren't paid to expose their lizard brains in public the way Matthews is so it's usually a bit more subtle and kept to private conversation among themselves:

Others say that Matthews's smartest-guy-in-the-studio intensity is simply his style. "Chris asks a question, he often answers his question, and then he asks you to comment on his answer to his question," says Fineman. "Which I'm perfectly happy to do."

Fineman also enjoys laughing and chortling about "nappy headed hos" with his pal Imus so let's not pretend anymore that he, or any of the rest of the fey village press corps, don't get off on being around these "locker room" types who enjoy trash talking women and minorities. At worst they join in and at best they stay silent. The pattern is clear.

...the "Hardball" host has been particularly hard on the former first lady, to the point where some of her advisers have glared at him at parties. And there is a history here. In 1999, amid speculation that Clinton might seek a Senate seat in New York, Matthews told viewers: "No man would say, 'Make me a U.S. senator because my wife's been cheating on me.' "

The following year, he 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."

Kurtz goes on to lay out some more of the evidence and concludes with this:

It was against that backdrop that Matthews sparked a furor last month when he said: "I'll be brutal: The reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner, is her husband messed around." The counterattack was fierce.


"I've said a million times, I like her," Matthews says. "We kid around back and forth. She's very charming." But, he says, "the way that got portrayed was, I was somehow against women's aspirations."

This is where it shows that he's not just an unstable creep, he's also a sexist pig wallowing in his own righteousness. People were not upset because he was "against women's aspirations." Jesus H. Christ. People were upset because he was treating this woman like a punching bag on the national television with derisive, disgusting sexist comments night after night and all of his simpering little minions like Howard Fineman gleefully laughed along. And he did it right on the heels of an earlier controversy at the network where all the same little village boys stuck up for that other rank swine, Don Imus, for doing exactly the same thing.

This is not just a little slip of the tongue. There's something the matter with the atmosphere and the environment in that place (both MSNBC and The Village) that encourages these assholes to go on the air and talk about women like they are dirt.

People are not making this up in their heads. I watch CNN. I watch the networks. I even watch Fox (which is equally bad in a different way) and none of them behave with this sophomoric, disrespectful, locker room attitude.

The article goes on to outline even more examples of incoherent speech and public misbehavior, including one report that he got mad at a teleprompter mishap and yelled "I'm not like some rape victim who's gonna sit here and take it.

Think about that for a minute. And then think about this:

"Hardball" mixes interviews of politicians and journalists with Matthews's rapid-fire observations. Ratings are up slightly over a year ago -- averaging 422,000 viewers at 5 p.m. and 468,000 for the 7 p.m. repeat -- but the program finishes well behind Fox News and CNN. Matthews, who is said to earn more than $5 million a year, had long been top dog at MSNBC. But he has been overshadowed lately by Keith Olbermann, who averages 832,000 viewers on "Countdown" and has been co-anchoring with Matthews on primary nights.

They pay him five million dollars a year. Five million. That isn't chump change by any measure. What in the world makes him worth that kind of money?

Meanwhile Kurtz explains that Matthews is religious, moral and fair:

Matthews is a Roman Catholic with a strong moralistic streak, which became clear in his constant denunciations of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair.

"I spent a year going after Clinton because he just wasn't straight with the American people. He used the presidency to protect himself," Matthews says.

He brings that same fervor to chastising the Bush administration for launching an ill-advised war in Iraq. "If you ask me what gets me mad, it's the war issue, the sense that we're being lied to," he says now.

Yes, the two are certainly equivalent. (I won't go into the details of the horror show that Hardball was during the Lewinsky scandal, but I will direct you to the Daily Howler if you have any questions about it, particularly to the "Cody Shearer" story where Matthews himself dropped the name of a completely innocent person that resulted in getting him death threats.)

His strong Catholic moralistic streak must be what makes him treat women like garbage, too.

But I'm curious about his "anger" about the war. I don't remember hearing much about it from him until recently, when nearly the entire country held the same opinion. What I do remember is stuff like this:

MATTHEWS: I was hoping we could come on tonight with purple fingers.

FINEMAN: It's red this time.

MATTHEWS: Red, then.

KORNBLUT: Aren't you going to get a parade of members of Congress now for the next few days who've all gone over and seen it? It strikes me that this is going to be a fairly huge story for days and days to come.

MATTHEWS: Well, it's probably the greatest gamble since Roosevelt backed Britain before World War II. The president deserves credit, if this gamble comes through -- and it's not clear yet. If his gamble that he can create a democracy in the middle of the Arab world and he does it, he belongs on Mount Rushmore.


MATTHEWS: You know, I felt sensitive. I was with him last night, the president. We all went to see the president. You were there -- went to see the president for our Christmas. You get your picture taken with him. It's like Santa Claus, and he's always very generous and friendly.

FINEMAN: You don't get to sit on his lap.

KORNBLUT: What did you ask him for?

MATTHEWS: And I was wearing a red scarf. And I wanted to look a little bit festive for the occasion, look a little preppy. And he came up to me and said, "Matthews, I didn't know you were that preppy." This is the president of the United States after his biggest victory, and he goes, "I didn't know you were that preppy." And I said, "Well, you know, I went to Holy Cross, but you guys started with all this stuff -- the old guys started with all this stuff," and then he started kidding around. I felt like I was too towel-snappy with him. I felt he deserves a little -- I mean, he deserves a lot of respect for this bet he's making.

He and his crew were among the biggest Bush fan clubs out there.

Kurtz uses the Libby controversy as proof that Matthews is an equal opportunity assaulter (extra-marital sex and "some guys like me just can't stand her" is pretty much the same as illegal war and outing a CIA operative for political gain.)

Matthews, like so many others in the political establishment believes that establishes his objective bona fides:

Matthews is proud of his scars. He says he has learned to be more careful but that bloggers are taking some of his language out of context. And his bosses take the controversy in stride. "Chris puts himself out there, and some people are not going to like him," says Griffin, the MSNBC chief. "He wears his heart on his sleeve."

In the end, Matthews wants to keep swinging away with his racket, aiming for that chalk line.

"Once a show is over, "if you start saying what you shouldn't have said, you really lose it -- spontaneity. . . . I hate to use the word, but it is a show, it is television. It has to have an entertainment factor. It just does."

Again, he's paid five million dollars a year to "inform" the public. He's "authentically" insane, which is vastly entertaining, and authenticity is the single most important characteristic in human kind. And people wonder why our politics are so screwed up.

Update: Multi-millionaire Rush gave an interview to Time magazine this week as well, and he and Jay Carney discuss how positive talk radio and cable news are for our politics:

JAMES CARNEY: [It seems to me that] it's a positive to have people listening to radio, listening to issues, talking about politics and policy. That's about an informed public. That's what is annoying about the condescension — it's that anybody who is tuning into [talk radio], or watching cable, is more engaged than people who are watching game shows.

LIMBAUGH: You are absolutely right. I've been doing radio for 20 years, and there's still these gross and great misunderstandings of what I do, why I do it and how I do it, and I'll get calls from people who are new listeners, and some of them will be critical: "Why are you trying to just continually make people mad. Why can't you help people come together?" And I say, Look, what you do with your life and your thoughts is fine. All I'm interested in here is a more informed, educated, engaged, participatory public in matters of state. The more people that show up to vote informed, the more people that participate and get involved in these kinds of things who are informed and passionately engaged is better off for the country. So you nailed it. You're exactly right.

Matthews, Howard Kurtz of the WaPo, James Carney of TIME and Rush Limbaugh all agree that insane, inchoate ranting, whether driven by psychological problems, political strategy or greed for ratings is a terrific way to inform the public.

It's really working out great so far.

Update I: Today Matthews admits what I suspected last week when I was writing about the Shuster controversy. His network believes that these complaints are all a Clintonian plot and have circled the wagons:

Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe, the Hardball host went off on the Clinton press shop, calling them "knee cappers" who were "lousy" and delve in the business of "intimidation."

"What she has to do is get rid of the kneecapers that work for her, these press people whose main job seems to be punishing Obama or going after the press, to building a positive case for her," said Matthews. "Her campaign slogan right now is don't get your hopes up. That won't work in America. You can't diminish Obama and hope that you will rise from the ashes."

Asked why he believed Clinton had gone negative, Matthews again struck an antagonistic chord about the campaign's media operation.

"The kneecapping hasn't worked. Her press relations are lousy," he said. "If all you do is intimidate and punish and claim you'll get even relentlessly, people of all kinds of politicians -- and in all fairness, the press -- human reaction to intimidation is screw you. That's the human reaction. Don't tell me what to say, and that has been their whole policy. We're going to win this thing. Get out of the way."

Whoever wins or loses this election, I am grateful that Clinton fought against Matthews and his little posse of sycophants. There has never been any margin in trying to kiss his ring and any politician who thinks there is, is fooling himself. The history is clear. The village may believe this is all contrived campaign crap, but plenty of average, unaffiliated people have been railing about the sick Matthews sideshow for years before Hillary Clinton ever threw her hat into the ring. It probably won't help, but I appreciate the gesture.

Update III: Apparently, some of the most important liberal bloggers support Matthews' version of events. I disagree, as this tediously voluminous post more than amply demonstrates. I still believe that one of the main missions of the left blogosphere is fighting mainstream media lies and bias against Democrats and I know it when I see it --- have done for the five years I've been writing this thing. Matthews is not right about this. He is an asshole and has been for many years.

Update IV: I should note that Dan Abrams and Olbermann are not normally part of the MSNBC boys club.