So I switched over to MSNBC just to try to get an update on the non-Carrie Prejean nude news -- just in time for "Hardball" with Chris Matthews.
He completely sucks, doesn't he? I remember for years how the liberal bloggers were always ranting about the wretched awfulness of "Tweetie" Matthews. I didn't get it, because I never watched his show. (I'm not a big TV watcher, period.)
I'd occasionally be switching channels, catch small doses of Matthews and not really think about it But . . . OMG!
To try to sit in a room where the TV is tuned to "Hardball" for a full freaking hour! Now I get what the liberal bloggers were complaining about. The man seems congenitally incapable of framing any argument except in the most superficially stereotypical terms.
Chris Matthews is to coherent discourse what Johnny Rotten is to fine jazz -- which is to say, he's never even attempted it. What is so annoying about Matthews is his utter lack of curiosity. He doesn't ask questions in search of information, and he routinely mischaracterizes the scope of any controversy.
Matthews begins an interview with an antagonist -- a guest who represents the "other side" -- by expressing the most ludicrously pejorative caricature of the antagonist's position. So, before the guest can begin to engage, he must first clear away this misleading distortion. Then, predictably, while the guest is attempting to clarify his own position, Matthews interrupts with some sarcastic idiocy.
He's a much worse TV interviewer than either Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly, and I'm not a great admirer of either of those guys. The whole point of having a guest do a TV interview is to hear what the guest has to say, but Matthews is infinitely more interested in hearing his own voice than in letting the audience hear his guests.
At least when Hannity starts the bully-boy routine on a liberal guest -- hectoring and interrupting -- it's entertaining in a pro-wrestling sort of way. O'Reilly has his own trademark brand of obnoxiousness, but it is arguably entertaining obnoxious.
What's the difference? Hannity comes out of a talk-radio background, and O'Reilly has been doing TV all his life. Both of them are professional broadcasters, who have some basic concept that they are on TV to attract and engage an audience.
Matthews, by contrast, is a lifelong Democratic Party hack, who got hired for TV as a "political analyst" and parlayed that (via the DC schmooze circuit) into his anchor role. But because he was hired for his politics, he didn't have to be any good at the audience-attraction part of the job, and never bothered to learn it.
Before anyone can yell "hypocrite" at me, I am well aware of my own bad rhetorical habits. But I do this in writing. The written word and broadcasting are very different media. You can skim through the written word and turn the page any time you want, so an article you disagree with doesn't have the intrusive feeling that you get being stuck in a room with Chris Matthews on your TV. (This old 13-inch portable TV doesn't have a remote.)
With TV, however, you can't "skim." There is a temporal linearity to the TV-viewing experience, from which the viewer can only escape by changing the channel. And the ability of Chris Matthews to inspire viewers to change the channel is the most obvious explanation for MSNBC's persistently low ratings over the years.
It's not about Matthews' politics. Ed Schultz comes on right after "Hardball," and Ed rivals Keith Olbermann for obnoxious liberalism. But Ed is entertaining. He's a good interviewer who brings on the guest, asks questions, and lets the guest answer.
Matthews has been on MSNBC forever and has never attracted an audience. There is no evidence that he even has the capacity to learn how to be good on TV. If the executives at MSNBC cared anything about building an audience, they'd cancel "Hardball" immediately and negotiate a buyout of Matthews' contract.
Somewhere out there in America is a good TV newsman -- liberal in his politics, but skilled at his craft -- who is being deprived of a career opportunity because the stupid suits at MSNBC can't see what anyone with two eyes and a brain can see: Chris Matthews sucks beyond hope of redemption, and he's clogging up a perfectly good hour of cable TV time.
UPDATE: A mystery has been cleared up.