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In Defense Of Chris Matthews

Hendrick Hertzberg pens the Chris Matthews defense America wants and needs:

Chris was a mildly conservative Democrat when I met him, and he still is. His Lewinsky-era anti-Clintonism built ratings for “Hardball,” but I don’t believe for a moment that it was a calculated or cynical move. Chris was quite clearly against the Iraq War when that position was unpopular with Americans in general and cable blowhards in particular. Yes, he is prone to hyperbole. Yes, he is apt to tell a guest that he or she is a “great American” whose current collection of ill-researched columns is “a great book.” Yes, his obsession with cultural-populist tropes, especially the horseshit assumption that the ideal male, maybe even the default human being, is a fortyish white non-intellectual in a baseball cap holding a can of beer, is annoying at best. Yes, the internal censor that keeps most peoples’ ids in check functions rather intermittently in his case. But that reckless freedom of his yields at least as many brilliant connections and startling metaphors as it does howlers. And his “liberal” outbursts are at least as numerous as his “conservative” ones, and maybe more heartfelt.

Of course, Hertzberg admits his favorable opinion of Matthews probably has something to do with the fact that they've been friends since they worked as speechwriters for Jimmy Carter. I don't have that excuse. Indeed, not only am I not a friend of Matthews's, I may well be the only person at TNR never to have been a guest on his show. I guess I like Matthews purely on the merits.

I rarely watch the cable shows, but when I do, "Hardball" is the one I turn to. That's mostly for the pure entertainment value of Matthews's "reckless freedom" (not to mention his rampant insecurity)--which is likely to produce any number of jaw-dropping, forehead-slapping moments. But it's also because the guy has spent a life in politics and, a lot of the time, he actually knows what he's talking about--which is more than you can say for most of the cable news talking heads.

In some ways, Hertzberg's tribute to Matthews reads like a eulogy. Maybe there's some truth to the rumors bandied about in that NY Times Magazine profile that MSNBC is on the verge of showing Matthews the door. While it's hard to argue that the world would be worse off with one less cable chat show, I know I'd be sad to see Matthews go.

--Jason Zengerle