Chris Matthews recently interviewed a McCain representative named Nancy Pfotenhauer. He followed up on her answers, and had statistics in hand. He called her out.
If journalism, especially television journalism, was simply meant to provide an outlet for the various sides of a campaign to get their messages out, without any additional probing or challenges–well, maybe campaigns ought to pay for that air-time, because that’s called advertising.
The Obama partisan does comes across better, if not quite as composed (usually we wait for the conversation to devolve a bit before deploying a “let me finish”), and walks away unscathed. Maybe this is bias on the part of Matthews, the possibility of which I wouldn’t discount, but he also seems to have simply run out of steam. After all, Pfotenhauer begins to pick a fight with Matthews when it turns out that he and his staff have done some research, and it must be exasperating for everyone. (When he asks who she voted for in 2004, her response is to ask who Matthews voted for.) I guess only Gene Simmons and Bill O’Reilly can get away with walking out, mid-interview.
I tend to think of Chris Matthews as behaving like a really smart 14-year-old political junkie who knows how smart he is and sticks tenaciously to his understanding of things, but whose attitude is leavened with flashes of earnesty and humility, and who still wants you to like him.* The sort of kid you remember later while shaking your head and grinning. And sometimes Pfotenhauer talks to him as if he were. Considering the reputation Matthews has gained over the years, especially in the months since the Times Magazine profile, he seemed to pull back a bit later in this interview. But he did jab in the last word.
It’s become a cliché to point out that some of the best journalism on television is done by The Daily Show. Exposing paradox or hypocrisy is something that many feel is missing in the news–most thoughtful reporting and interviewing in daily journalism is dwarfed by the more straightforward, reflexive play-by-play or horse-race style of political and business reporting. But I think Matthews manages to get at one of the core paradoxes of the current iteration of the McCain campaign. And so, famously, did the Daily Show about ten days ago, in a piece on McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, which I include here, in part, because it also features the now-familiar face of Nancy Pfotenhauer.
*I’m guessing this is actually how many grown-up politicians probably behave, too.