Watchdog Blog

Carolyn Lewis: Chris Matthews and How to Interview Yourself

Posted at 10:36 am, December 5th, 2008
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The once-gentle art of interviewing has been savagely mutilated on some of the cable news/entertainment programs, and nobody is more guilty of the offense than Chris Matthews at MSNBC.

When The Washington Post reported on December 5 that Matthews is eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate, my first thought was I hope that augured his departure from his “Hardball” program.

Matthews has the irritating habit of inviting a guest, asking a question, and before the guest can reply, answering the question himself. When a guest does manage to get a word in edgewise, Matthews fails to even pretend that he is listening, but rather talks (loudly) over the reply, interjecting whatever he himself planned to say in the first place. Sadly, what he says usually is neither wise nor insightful, but that doesn’t stop him for a moment.

Absent is a sense of two people conversing, of two minds meeting. Most maddening from the viewer’s viewpoint is that Matthews fails to shed meaningful light on issues. Instead he pontificates as though all possible knowledge is vested in himself. And since he fails to learn from his invited guests, the substance of his program is the same night after night, without much evidence that his ideas are evolving. (A for-instance: Here is a YouTube of Matthews at work with New York Times columnist and Nobel prize economist Paul Krugman.)

Keith Olbermann, whose program follows “Hardball,” is prone to the same kind of thing. He invites guests with whom he already agrees and then finishes their statements before they have their say. So pleased with himself is he, that he sings his own praises over and over again, having never learned that it’s impolite to do so. As his hour wears on, you can almost see his head swelling to outrageous proportions.

The folks at NBC may imagine that this constitutes entertainment, but in fact it’s downright annoying. Surely they can see that these overlarge egos aren’t interesting enough to sustain hour-long monologues. Maybe somebody could give to Matthews and Olbermann Christmas gifts in the shape of tapes and books by a true interviewing master, the late Studs Terkel. Terkel knew how to draw out the thoughts of others without aggrandizing himself, and he stayed in the broadcasting business for a long, long time.

P.S. It occurs to me that the United States Senate may be an appropriate place for Matthews to land. Bloviating is even encouraged there.

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