Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Matthews Offers Lame Defense for His Right-Tilting Panels: The Left "Don't Want To Get Out There And Debate"

Chris Matthews' interview with Bill Moyers on June 10 was fascinating -- but for all the wrong reasons.

It was billed as "Bill Moyers responds to accusations that Public Broadcasting is too liberal" -- the sort of teaser designed to draw in conservative viewers by offering them red meat. But the actual interview only briefly touched upon the politics surrounding PBS.

Instead, a good chunk of the interview was about the lack of liberal voices on the television talkfests, such as ones hosted by Matthews. It was a bizarre conversation, for one has to assume that Matthews either has the cache to pick and choose who he wants on his syndicated show and on MSNBC's Hardball, or knows that those decisions are made by his shows' producers. Where's the mystery?

Here's an exchange from the June 10 show:

MATTHEWS: Ok. I watch Sunday television. I never see a really good articulate labor leader on television. What happened to the George Meanys and the Walter Reuthers we grew up with? Where are the strong, articulate voices of the working person, the working family out there? That voice that you‘re talking about, who worries about trade policy, who worries about tax policy, who worries about being trained for the job, where are those voices on Sunday?

MOYERS: Well, where are they on public broadcasting? I mean, I made a speech recently in which I said, you won‘t hear the losers in the class war, even on public broadcasting, because we too represent the consensus of the corporate underwriters, the establish.

MATTHEWS: Yes. No, but they‘re not — they don‘t have speakers. I‘m telling you, I can‘t think right now of a labor leader that could match wits with a Dick Cheney on television. ... They don‘t want to get out there and debate, like they used to. People on the center or the political left, or center-left, you tell me who the great spokesmen are for labor right now. ... Who are the great spokesmen against this administration‘s trade policies or this administration‘s tax policies? Who are they?

MOYERS: There are some wonderful people at the grassroots level, activists taking place, people like Beth Shulman, who writes about working people. They are terrific. But they never get on television. We put celebrities on. We put elites on. We put established people on. But we never give working people a chance, by the way, to speak for themselves.

MATTHEWS: Well, they should get elected to Congress. Then we will put them on.


How lazy are Matthews and the cohorts for whom he tries to speak? Oh, woe is me, Matthews cries. He can't find any liberal spokesman. He can't find any labor leaders. "They don‘t want to get out there and debate, like they used to," he lamely offers. But why should anyone dare try to debate, when Matthews knows that they can't "match wits with a Dick Cheney on television."

What are the odds that Matthews or his producers will reach out to "people like Beth Shulman," a name Moyers drops right after Matthews offers an excuse that would get a lesser reporter (or one with a smaller ego than Matthews) scolded.

Shulman, by the way, is a lawyer and consultant focusing on work-related issues and author of The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans. You'll find her quoted in liberal magazines like The Nation, and you'll see her on PBS. But Matthews can't find her.

Sure, Matthews may have been joking when he suggested that the only way such people will get onto the talkfests is by getting elected to Congress. But think about who gets on to Hardball and the syndicated Chris Matthews Show -- a few established "oundits," a majority of whom are right of center, and a mix of elected officials.

The Matthews quip -- if that's what it was -- segued into another fascinating bit of conversation.

MOYERS: Do you know you have a better chance of being elected to the legislature in Russia if you‘re a member of the working class than you do being elected to Congress in this country? Look what happened in New Jersey this week. Two multimillionaires are going to be running against each other in—for the Democratic gubernatorial election in November. I mean, you can‘t do it as a working-class today person in this country. It is not just politics. It is a lot of other things. When I went to Washington, Chris, in 1960, the difference between rich and poor was 20-fold. It is 75-fold today. Money has drowned out the conversation of democracy.

MATTHEWS: And what are we going to do about it?

MOYERS: Well, we‘re going to have to start listening to those people I‘ve been listening to out there. You cannot travel this country, I repeat, without being impressed with the fact that some people are mad as hell and they are not going to take it anymore. They are organizing in L.A. Look at the new mayor of Los Angeles. I mean, he is not a leftist in the sense you think of a leftist. He has got some conservative values. He‘s trying to move beyond left and right. This is going to come not from Washington. It is too late. Washington is gone. The movement that speaks for regular people is coming from the grassroots, from organizers, from activists and people like that.

MATTHEWS: We‘ll come right back and talk to Bill Moyers. ...


Matthews doesn't listen to "those people I've been listening to out there." He didn't even listen to Moyers, instead cutting to a commercial.

The world Moyers discusses, whether you choose to agree with him or not, isn't represented on the Sunday talkfests or on shows like Hardball, with their "establishment" guests and rolodex of pundits.

Maybe it's too tough for hosts like Matthews, or their producers, to find guests who are in the trenches, doing the dirty work, up close and personal. Oh woe is me, Matthews says, as he or his producers look over the same batch of pundits who so freely talk about other peoples' business. Why work hard to find the Beth Shulmans of the world -- specialists in a given field, whether left-leaning or right-leaning -- when it's so much easier there are so many old friends in your rolodex, like Howard Fineman or Pat Buchanan?


Blogger Michael said...

I agree, Mark, that Matthews' line is a lame excuse, but it is only blog-worthy if you start with the asumption that Hardball (or any current affairs talk show) is actually, with apologies, "fair and balanced".

Personally, I always assumed the Fox tag-line was meant ironically. And I also assume that MSNBC is equally subject to slant and spin, whenever it might serve to inflate their ad revenues. I don't expect Matthews to be any more unbiased than Oprah. On the other hand I don't consider him to be any more of a journalist than Oprah either.

Am I just more cynical than the average viewer?

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

American Dissident said: "am I just more cynical than the average viewer?"

Unfortunately yes. According to an Annenberg poll, conducted from March 7 to May 2:

About 40 percent of Americans say they consider talk show host Bill O'Reilly a journalist.

And 27 percent of Americans would describe Rush Limbaugh as a journalist.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous joe said...

David likes to pick on Matthews, and while I don't always agree, it's kind of hard to argue when Chris sounds like such a moron.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's pretty brilliant.

Especially this statement: MATTHEWS: Well, they should get elected to Congress. Then we will put them on.

So, in other words, when someone else tells you that someone is important, then you'll pay attention to them. Isn't a journalist supposed to lead in terms of finding alternate viewpoints? Aren't they supposed to be the one who disseminates information gleaned from lots of sources? He's more or less just revealing his laziness, more than anything else. If Matthews had been around 40 years ago would he have recognized these "labor leaders" he's talking about? Or would he have simply been part of the establishment, wondering why there's no "other voice" or what not? I'm sure 15% of what is going on is a failure by some to have the right PR people to persuade the Matthews bookers to get them on. The rest of it can be chalked up to laziness, pure and simple.

What a tool.

5:05 PM  

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