Before the Republican convention took place, media reporter Peter Johnson of USA Today said that Chris Matthews, a Kerry Democrat and host of MSNBC’s Hardball show, was getting his “groove.” That “groove” consisted of out-shouting conservatives opposed to Kerry. It is unfortunate that MSNBC chief Rick Kaplan, a refugee from CNN, views this as a formula for success.
Matthews’ “groove” came to a screeching halt on Wednesday night of the convention when Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller, who had just finished his convention speech attacking Kerry and endorsing Bush, told Matthews during an “interview” to get out of his face and challenged him to a duel. Miller said he wasn’t going to be victimized by Matthews in the same way that the Hardball host had attacked conservative columnist Michelle Malkin when she appeared on his show. Malkin said she was almost hit by Matthews’spittle during the outburst, as Matthews tried desperately to defend Kerry against charges that he exaggerated his Vietnam war record.
During the convention, Don Kaplan of the New York Post had reported that, “All week, there had been word that Republican Party insiders had been quietly advising members not go on ‘Hardball’ because they feel that Matthews has gone over to the Kerry camp.” But Miller, a Democrat supporting Bush, obviously disregarded that advice. To his credit, he refused to be silenced or intimidated by Matthews. It made for good television, and MSNBC played parts of the exchange repeatedly the next day. They figured the controversy would generate some more viewers.
In fact, Matthews and Kaplan have been operating on the assumption forsome time that Matthews’ shouting will pull in viewers. Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, a regular guest on the show, was ostracized by MSNBC for publicly suggesting that Matthews talks too much. The exchange with Miller certainly attracted attention. But the ratings for the last night of the convention, Thursday night, showed that MSNBC was in last place among cable news and broadcasting networks, with only 1.7 million viewers. That compared to Fox News on top with 7.3 million, followed by NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC.
Matthews later described the exchange with Miller as an “incredible moment,” saying that, “I guess he came to the interview loaded for bear.” No, Matthews came loaded for bear and Miller brought his own shield and ammunition. He had obviously read or heard about how Matthews had treated Michelle Malkin, and Miller wasn’t going to let that happen to him. Matthews deserved to be put in his place, but that Republican advice about avoiding the show in the first place was also appropriate. If Matthews is denied targets to shout at, he may get the message and change his approach, becoming more fair and balanced in the process.
“Fair and balanced” is of, of course, the slogan of Fox News. And the ratings victory of Fox News over the liberal broadcasting networks and CNN and MSNBC demonstrates that the approach used by Chris Matthews and Rick Kaplan is not working. There was no need for Miller to stage a shoot-out with Matthews, because Matthews is shooting himself in the foot almost every day.