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« We've Got Mail! The RantsSkeptics' Circle #71 »

Note to Talking Heads
2007.10.03 (Wed) 14:23

Chris Matthews, have you learned nothing from Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire — where he correctly and effectively reproached Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for doing nothing more than adding to the meaningless and harmful political noise in the media?

Matthews appeared last night on The Daily Show to promote his new book, Life's a Campaign. Let's rephrase that: Matthews appeared last night on The Daily Show TO PROMOTE his new book, Life's a Campaign. That is, there is a substantial difference between what Matthews was doing there, and what someone who was there to discuss his book and its ideas would be doing there. It's quite pathetic that Matthews can't seem to understand that.

If you come on a talk show — even on Comedy Central — to be interviewed by a host who has a reputation for tearing down bullshit and is clearly not seduced by the "old chum" school of media relations, expect to fucking DEFEND your work. Don't just expect to come on and get the word out that your book is published. Be prepared for dissent; be prepared for debate; be prepared for the possibility that the host has read your book and disagrees with its premises.

Jon's basic argument was that the book endorsed approaching life with an eye toward winning at all costs (like a campaign, one might say). So while Matthews claimed to be supporting listening to people, caring about people, and doing what's right, Jon pointed out that politicians often just pretend to do all those things in order to win. It wasn't clear if Matthews acknowledged that politicians are just pretending, or if he endorsed pretending in everyday life (for our dime, we think that's exactly what he was saying), since he went back and forth on that answer. Jon's assertion was that approaching life with an agenda to win at all costs is "a recipe for sadness." Whether you agree or disagree with Jon's assertions (we agree), he clearly explained his argument. And what was Matthews' reply? After a bunch of waffling, it boiled down to "I wrote a book, I'm trying to promote it, and you won't let me. Stop asking me to defend my views."

Beyond being such an asshole that he couldn't grasp Jon's position, Matthews also had the whiny gall to complain about Jon Stewart dissecting the book in detail, and he declared that this Daily Show appearance was the worst interview he'd ever experienced. Gee, Chris — nice to know that all it takes to make for a bad interview is to call on you to support the assertions you yourself have fucking written in your publicized work. See, those of us who have confidence in our assertions would welcome an interviewer who demanded that we support them.

Instead of blind acceptance and vacuous endorsement of anything and everything that comes down the pike, we'd actually like it if the media did its fucking job and took the time to cull the weak arguments behind bold assertions, ferret out the facts, and expose the lies. You know, like Jon does on nearly every episode. The fact that Matthews (along with everyone from politicos to psychics) has come to expect nothing but fluff from the media is a primary part of the actual problem here, and the fact that Matthews was so shocked and appalled at his treatment speaks volumes about how ingrained this problem really is.

The media is continuing to spiral down that series of tubes, and folks like Stewart are proudly perched on top of the biggest lumps of shit, pointing them out despite vehement protests from floaters and dingleberries. What a bunch of fucking gladhanding whores.

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In answer to the two obvious questions, however: no, we're not necessarily back — still burdened with a huge number of real life responsibilities — and yes, we're aware that our comment preview function seems to be utterly screwed. We're working on both of these — promise.

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[  Filed under: % Media & Censorship  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/445

Comments (8)

euclidschild, 2007.10.04 (Thu) 10:43 [Link] »

Thanks for providing some evidence of my sanity. I've been ranting about the lack of actual news produced to anyone who will still listen. My coworkers start to head to the exit when I enter the break room. Britney's driving record is not news people. How about a little investigative reporting on the current adminestration. Maybe do a piece on how much money insurance companies donate to congress members every year. We might even get a health care bill passed. I won't even get started on Iraq. Anyway, thanks for the evidence that my tin foil hat is working.
"why is it that fools are so sure of their beliefs and wise people are so full of doubt"---B. Russell

Bronze Dog, 2007.10.04 (Thu) 11:14 [Link] »

It's pretty bad when shows intended as a joke or parody ends up doing a legitimate job of the shows it's supposed to parody. Don't ever change, Jon.

The Daily Show is about the only TV news I watch nowadays, when I can remember to keep up. Definitely need to catch the repeat of this.

SexySecularist, 2007.10.05 (Fri) 18:13 [Link] »

Chris Matthews doesn't just promote the book. He specifically answers a number of Jon's claims throughout and cites specific examples from his book—Clinton getting girls in college, HIllary's listening tour, for example—and engages Jon on the issue of the health care story (Jon claims that it's smear strategy, Chris argues that it's simultaneously doing the right thing AND advancing yourself in the field).

It is only at the end of the interview that Chris makes a genuine appeal to courtesy rather than an appeal to logic.

Chris doesn't exactly win the debate, but he engages in it and only gives up at the end. Your evaluation comes across as spin.

HaveIGoneMental, 2007.10.06 (Sat) 18:02 [Link] »

I have to agree with SexySecularist. I don't think there was a clear winner in the debate, and at the same time watching the video you could obviously see them both smiling and laughing. Chris Matthews never seemed overly annoyed with Jon Stewart or the other way around. Blown out of proportion comes to mind when I read this particular rant.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.10.06 (Sat) 21:42 [Link] »

You know, we read an Amazon review of Chris' book in which the reviewer claimed that Matthews was the first person he ever saw "get the best of Jon." As we read that take on the interview, we couldn't help but wonder what alternate reality version of the show that reviewer had watched, since the version we watched was so incredibly different from what he described. We feel about the same after reading the two previous comments. Since we disagree with the woos that perception "creates" reality, we'll be glad to hash this out and figure out why our differing perceptions of the same real event are skewed so wildly.

First off, to anyone who might think we suggested that Jon kicked Chris Matthews' ass in a debate about Chris Matthews' book, we'd ask that you reread our post — that's not even close to what we were talking about. Whether or not Jon and Chris were amicable in their interactions is also wholly beside the point (though nothing about either man's "polite" behavior seemed anything more than "television-genuine" to us). Our point is that there was no debate, because Matthews never had any intention of discussing anything. He showed up with his talking points, and expected to be allowed to go through them to promote his book. Even that, in and of itself, isn't a huge problem, though. And the fact that Matthews was taken aback when Jon tried to engage him in a discussion about the issues in his book isn't really the problem, either.

The problem is that the reason Matthews was taken aback was because the mainstream media has, for some time, allowed "courtesy" and mutual cross-promotion to trump intelligent discourse and objective reality. That is the problem we wrote about. In fact, that was our whole point — and one that we've addressed on previous un-Chris-Matthews-related and un-Jon-Stewart-related occasions, lest anyone think we just have it in for Chris (or that we defend Jon at all costs, which is also untrue).

We'll go over what SexySecularist said, piece by piece:

Chris Matthews doesn't just promote the book. He specifically answers a number of Jon's claims throughout and cites specific examples from his bookClinton getting girls in college, HIllary's listening tour, for example...

Well, come now — you're wrong if you think that Chris was doing anything other than reciting his (or his publicist's) scripted promotion of his book. Do you know how we know that for certain? Because we also happened to catch his appearance on The View the day before. And guess what? Matthews went through the same exact spiel for Whoopi and the gang that he tried to throw at Jon (the Clinton example, the "drink beer and brag" line — all of it, a surprising amount word-for-word). And every time Jon tried to actually engage him in a discussion, Matthews did his damnedest to steer the conversation back to his original talking points. In what world does that constitute an actual debate? For some examples of his ignoble strategy, check out the transcript. Watch him squirm away from any questions, right back toward the comfort zone of his prepared script. Like this:

Jon Stewart: So you're suggesting that even if no one believes a word you say, you can be successful.

Chris Matthews: Yes.

Jon Stewart: Now that seems to me to be a book about sadness. Is it not?

Chris Matthews: No.

Jon Stewart: How? In what world?

Chris Matthews: Can I give you one example of the truth here? Bill Clinton, when he was in college, would get women, girls, in bed...

So Jon asks a question, and Chris' answer is "no." When Jon asks him to expand on that answer, what does Chris do? He tries to steer the conversation back to his preset talking points (which, if you're keeping track, don't really answer Jon's question even remotely). Matthews tried to trot out the same fucking script for Jon that he's using everywhere, and when Jon tried to engage him in an actual discussion on the concept behind the book and forced him to deviate from his script, he floundered and then got pissy. (Really pissy, as you might have noticed.) This seems to us about as clear cut as can be. We're not sure how you've perceived this sequence of events, but we'd be happy to hear how you interpret it as anything other than Matthews refusing to engage in a discussion.

Moving on...

...and engages Jon on the issue of the health care story (Jon claims that it's smear strategy, Chris argues that it's simultaneously doing the right thing AND advancing yourself in the field).

But at the end of that brief exchange (the only actual deviation from his script that Matthews engages in throughout the entire interview — which, unsurprisingly, refers to a specific passage from his book, so he thought he might be able to get something worthwhile in there), here's what we see:

Jon: ...it seems like what you're saying is "Do what you think will win," not "Do what you think is right."

Chris: Well, it's both.

Jon: [referring to Chris' book] This seems to emphasize the former.

Chris: It does!

And that's exactly what Jon has been arguing the entire time, much to Matthews' chagrin.

It is only at the end of the interview that Chris makes a genuine appeal to courtesy rather than an appeal to logic.

Chris doesn't exactly win the debate, but he engages in it and only gives up at the end.

We must have missed Matthews' appeals to logic — feel free to point out the moments you thought qualified. We saw him trying to claw his way back to his script quite a bit, but that seems less "logical" and more "desperate."

But you really lose us when you refer to his "appeal to courtesy." What, exactly, are you referring to? His "this book scares you" line? (Which was merely a sad and futile attempt to pretend that Jon's arguments were a response to Chris' "intimidating" intellectual prowess — sorry, Chris, that's not what's going on here on planet Earth.) Or maybe his "I thought you were so big" taunt? Come on — courtesy? Really? "Courteous" is just about the last word we'd use to describe Chris' behavior. Of course, in our opinion, discourtesy — in and of itself — isn't the problem here. In fact, what we're arguing for is tossing blind courtesy aside in favor of getting to the facts, and in favor of an actual intelligent discussion. Did you honestly miss one of our own most important tenets — and one of our biggest beefs with the bullshit media today — so completely? Sheesh — not to be harsh here, but have you ever read our site? We harp on that all the time.

But no: it isn't at the end that he makes an appeal to courtesy; it's at the end that he descends into whiny madness. But up to that point, he's just trying to steamroll over Jon and get his talking points in. That is what annoyed us, and that is part of the bullshit media game we're complaining about.

And it isn't about "winning" the debate — we're not sure how you even get to the point of determining whether Matthews "won" or "lost." Matthews is clearly not even interested in having a debate in the first place (and, luckily for him, no debate actually takes place, since he won't engage). So what was his fucking point in coming on the show? To promote his book. Period.

Your evaluation comes across as spin.

Hm. Those are some interesting waters you're wading into, SexySecularist. We have to say that your assessment of our writing as "spin" comes across as exceedingly vacuous.

See, spin entails having an agenda and twisting the facts to advance that agenda. What are we, "pro-Jon"? Sorry, no. Because if Jon pulled this same (or any) fatuous bullshit, we'd be coming down on him just as hard. Actually, we'd be coming down on him even harder because we expect far more of him (based on prior experience). Want an example of that? How about our post in which we criticized The Daily Show's treatment of the creationism debacle? Or our mention of the fact that we don't care for Jon's frequent dismissal of science as "uncool"? We mentioned the same problem in another post that was mostly about Bill Maher's shortcomings.

Or perhaps you're saying that we're anti-Matthews? That would be even sillier since, until now, we've never even mentioned the guy in almost three years of writing on this site. In fact, we'd rarely even seen his shows (except for clips here and there, usually focusing on someone other than Matthews), and we had no idea what kind of talking head he even was before looking into him recently. Our opinion of his appearance on The Daily Show was based entirely on that appearance alone, since we had no preconceived notions about him before that.

Or are you just saying that we're against the mainstream media? That's a more complicated answer, sure, but it's still a big NO. What we're against are the current practices and general attitude of many folks in the mainstream media today. Among many other transgressions, most "news" shows seem intent upon "being nice" and "being fair" at the expense of getting to the facts. (If you want your appeal to courtesy....) This is just one more in a long line of examples of that kind of behavior (or, at least, Matthews expecting that behavior, as most talking heads have come to do). However, we have no problem applauding members of the media when they do their job correctly. For instance, in a post touching on the media's role during Hurricane Katrina, you can find one example of us taking that stance. We're also quite capable of putting things in perspective when it comes to media shenanigans — as one example, we recognize that deception in the media does not amount to the same unforgivable sin that deception from our government does.

What does Chris Matthews' point really boil down to? His book quite definitively says (it's suggested by the title, and echoed by Matthews when Jon pushes him) that we should "play to win at all costs" — in life in general just as much as in some form of competition (like an election campaign). Jon Stewart says that this a pathetic message, and simply "doing the right thing" as often as possible would be a better approach to life (and the people in it), instead of just putting on an act of listening and caring and helping — an act designed to make you "win." Matthews claims that you can "do the right thing" and "play to win" simultaneously — but, despite his lame foray into a story of one politician possibly maybe perhaps doing so (no, not really), Matthews never addresses how it's even possible to do both if the two might directly contradict in a particular scenario. In fact, when Jon pushes him on how to behave when the two approaches are in direct contradiction to one another, Matthews eventually admits that he thinks that playing to win is the way to go. Which is Jon's point. Matthews, according to his book, would play to win in that conflicting scenario; Jon, on the other hand, seems to opt for doing the right thing.

We know people who live their lives in the way that Matthews suggests — as if they were running for office. And you know what? No one likes them. They are viewed as smarmy assholes, and they are mocked and avoided. And well they should be for treating life like a campaign and the people around them as potential voters and contributors. That's what Jon was getting at, and what Matthews simply refused to discuss.

But the "argument," such as it was, is beside the point; that's why we barely addressed it in our Rant. The point is that Matthews was very clearly not at all interested in actually discussing the book and the issues it addresses (or reactions it elicits)...only in promoting it. Really, we're trying to figure out where you're coming from — but in what way did he "engage" with Jon on any particular point that Jon brought up? We just don't see it.

Charlene Dewbre, 2007.10.08 (Mon) 21:03 [Link] »

I saw the 'interview', if you can call it that. I'm getting tired of expecting media players to do anything but self-promote. It's all about your 15 minutes, spouting a shtick, selling a book or two. Hell, check out Stephen Colbert. The man's making a fortune being what he's parodying. (Is parodying a word? Oh well, you get the point.)

The real problem, the sad problem, is that we're a comfy-couch audience. We don't ask for more. We could watch Jim Lehrer for decent news coverage, but we don't watch PBS. Instead we'll suck up OJ and Britney at the top of the hour, a quasi-investigative report on the high cost of your bad contractor, and a happy weatherman who explains it'll rain tomorrow but don't be sad, because flowers will bloom out your ass next week.

Jon spelled out something clearly in his much-publicized appearance on Crossfire. He's an entertainer. Not a newsman. So poking at Chris was supposed to do what it did - make people laugh. Just like making fun of science, or his 'coverage' of elections. It would be nice if our newspeople actually held themselves to a higher standard than that. We certainly don't.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.10.09 (Tue) 10:37 [Link] »

Careful with that "we," Charlene! We (here at the Two Percent Company) are asking for more, and we're guessing from your comment that you are, too — by "we," you probably meant the general American consumer base, and you're absolutely right on that one.

The media mavens seem to be lazy on two counts: for one thing, Americans in general (not all, but in general) are growing intellectually lazy, or at least complacent, and the media folks are Americans — so a lot of them are those people. But doubly so, the media guys know that complacent America isn't going to demand anything more of them, so they can just sit back and throw taurine feces at the camera lens. As you said, the public is content to just suck minced OJ and pureed Britney through a straw, rather than do a little mental chewing on the tougher meat of real news.

You (and Jon) are right — Jon is an entertainer rather than a newsman. But by making that appearance on Crossfire, and in many of his reports since, Jon has become something of a true newsman...a snarky, ironic, playful one, certainly no Cronkite or Murrow, but still a valuable source of information and informed opinion. By that token, Bronze Dog's words ring true: Jon Stewart has become even more effective than the people he was parodying (a word we'll happily validate, no worries). And sure, Jon was going for some laughs in his encounter with Chris Matthews — but watch again. He was clearly stating his opinions, and trying to engage Matthews in a discussion of the book, and, when you get right down to it, giving a shit. That is what is so sorely missing from the typical media frontmen these days, and a large part of the reason why so many people are actually getting their news from a silly Comedy Central show!

We — that is, the typical American consumers — don't hold ourselves to a very high standard, exactly right. And the newspeople are playing down to that level. We — that is, those of us who give a shit — need to help throw this game into high gear, and make both the media and the consumers actually care about what's going on. That's the goal, we believe. The method, of course, is up for debate.

Jason Spicer, 2007.10.10 (Wed) 01:59 [Link] »

I thought Matthews came across as very stiff and forced, obviously trying to stick to his points, and it does seem as though Stewart knocked him off balance. Still, it's always kind of difficult to tell how scripted some of these interviews are. And since Matthews' show is called Hardball, maybe The Daily Show thought it would be funny to throw some hardballs at him, when he was just expecting a book promotion interview.

Scripted or not, Matthews sure looked like he hasn't given up beer and bragging. Saying his book is like The Prince but better is both boastful and off-kilter. Who would want to outdo Machiavelli? I gotta side with Stewart on that one.

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