Earlier: Forthcoming? NYT Mag Piece on Matthews.
Earlier: Leibovich Dishes On Matthews
Earlier: NYT Mag On Matthews: NBC Forced Chris To Apologize.
We’ve got an advanced copy of Mark Leibovich’s piece on Chris Matthews, entitled “Chris Matthews, Seriously. (O.K., Not That Seriously),” which will appear in this Sunday’s NYT magazine.
Not only is it a great read (typical for Leibovich), but if you’re into media gossip…man. This has got good stuff on Matthews rivalries with David Gregory, Keith Olbermann, Tim Russert…and that’s just scratching the surface of the gems this piece unearths.
Get started after the jump…
“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 “Hard-ball.” Matthews grabbed her hand, and Phil Griffin, the head of MSNBC who was seated across the table, vowed to get her on the show.
The juicy bits:
“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 youâ€™re black.” He handed Washington a business card and told her to call anytime “if you ever want to hang out with Chris Matthews.”
“People are a little impressed with themselves,” Griffin went on to say, continuing his commentary about the scene. “It’s a bit of an echo chamber.” Matthews is central to that echo chamber — at the Ritz, as in the 2008 presidential campaign. He is, in a sense, the carnival barker at the center of it, spewing tiny pellets of chewed nuts across the table while comparing Obama to Mozart and Clinton to Salieri. At one point, Mat-thews suddenly became hypnotized by a TV over the bar set to a rebroadcast of “Hardball.” “Hey, there I am — it’s me,” he said, staring at himself on the screen. “It’s me.”
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 cam-paign 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. And he has provided a running bounty of material for Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog, which has devoted an entire section of its Web site (“The Matthews Monitor”) to cataloging Matthews’s alleged offenses, especially against Hillary Clinton and women generally.
Yet for as basic as he has become to the political and media furniture, Matthews is anything but secure. He is of the moment, but, at 62, also something of a throwback — to an era of politics set in the ethnic Democratic wards of the ’60s and the O’Neill-Reagan battles of the ’80s. And he is a product of an aging era of cable news, the late-’90s, when “Hardball” started and Matthews made his name as a battering critic of Bill Clinton during the Monica saga.
Cable political coverage has changed, however, and so has the sensibility that viewers — particularly young ones — expect from it. Mat-thews’s bombast is radically at odds with the wry, antipolitical style fashioned by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert or the cutting and finely tuned cynicism of Matthews’s MSNBC co-worker Keith Olbermann. These hosts betray none of the reverence for politics or the rituals of Washington that Matthews does. On the contrary, they appeal to the eye-rolling tendencies of a cooler, highly educated urban cohort of the electorate that mostly dismisses an exuberant political animal like Matthews as annoyingly antiquated, like the ranting uncle at the Thanksgiving table whom the kids have learned to tune out.
Matthews’s contract expires next year, and NBC officials clearly would like to renew it for considerably less than the $5 million a year he is making now. Whether it’s a formal talking point or not, NBC officials seem bent on conveying the message that they could get the same ratings, or better ones, for considerably less money.
“I like the fact that people don’t think of me as famous, but that they know me,” Matthews said. “They come up to me and say, ‘Chris, what do you think?’ There’s no aura. It’s a different kind of celebrity. People assume they have a right to talk to me. They want to know my take.”
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 get-ting 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?’”
“By the way, have you figured me out yet?” Matthews said at the end of another phone conversation the following day. “You gotta under-stand, it’s all complicated. It’s not like Tim.” 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.
In an interview with Playboy a few years ago, he volunteered that he had made the list of the Top 50 journalists in D.C. in The Washingtonian magazine. “I’m like 36th, and Tim Russert is No. 1,” Matthews told Playboy. “I would argue for a higher position for myself.”
Friends say Matthews is wary of another up-and-comer, David Gregory, who last month was given a show at 6 o’clock, between airings of “Hardball.” It is a common view around NBC that Gregory is trying out as a possible replacement for Matthews.
According to people at NBC, Matthews has not been shy in voicing his resentment of Olbermann. Nor, according to network sources, has Olbermann bothered to hide his low regard for Matthews, although when I spoke to him, Olbermann denied any personal animosity toward Matthews and told me that he appreciates his “John Madden-like enthusiasm for politics.”
Later, I talked to Matthews about his TV franchise. He’s clearly proud of it, but he also seems restless. Friends who have known him a long time say he worries that “the suits” at NBC want him out. He has been openly contemplating “the second act” in a career that has already featured several.
“I have a lot of options,” Matthews told me. “I’m a free man starting next June.” There has been long-running speculation that Matthews could be a candidate to replace Bob Schieffer, whenever he retires, as the host of CBS’s Sunday morning show “Face the Nation.”