Accuracy in Media

Chris Matthews lashed out at Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici when the columnist dared to ask the pugnacious host of Hardball whether or not he used a ghostwriter for his newest book on Jack Kennedy:

Matthews’ genial, boyish face darkens. “Forget you,” he says.

(Only he doesn’t say “forget you.” Both Matthews and my editor asked me not to print what he actually said, so I rely here on my readers’ familiarity with both the original and radio versions of a certain Cee-Lo Green song.)

“Forget you,” he repeats. “Where’d you get that? Is that what you think? You think I don’t write my books?”

I try to explain that I hadn’t meant the question to be insulting. After all, plenty of people in Matthews’ orbit of politicians and media talking heads use ghostwriters, or at least lean on interns to do most of their research.

Not Matthews. “I would never let anybody write something for me,” he says. “Why do you think I’m like that? It’s amazing to me that you think I’m some lightweight, glib bullshit artist that has somebody do his work for him. The writing is the hard part, the composition.”

Such a potty mouth, and in public no less.

Matthews told Bercovici that he was hurt by the question, considering the enormous amount of time he had put into writing and researching the book.

But Bercovici wasn’t trying to get Matthews with a “gotcha” question or imply that Matthews was incapable of writing his own book. As Bercovici pointed out in his column Kennedy farmed out much of his work to Ted Sorensen and it’s very common for authors to have a ghostwriter or uncredited co-author. Ghostwriting is a cottage industry, and with Matthews busy schedule it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that he would have needed some extra help with the book.

As an ardent supporter of President Obama, maybe Matthews should practice a little of that civility that the President has talked so much about.

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