Friday, January 16, 2009

Chris Matthews Is The Shifted Landscape

Somewhere up there on anybody's list of Problems With The Media has to be the way many journalists see themselves not as individuals responsible for providing correct information on important topics, but rather as producers of content who are supposed to operate by a set of easily manipulable rules. Maintain the prevailing narrative. Present both sides, but don't bother digging for information on which one is right. After all, if you presented the truth of the matter, and it supported one side, you'd be biased.

If you keep looking at media figures as the people they're supposed to be, this can be infuriating. But the more you can keep your distance and regard them like hills and trees and rivers -- as mere features of the media landscape -- the easier it is to deal with them. (I think it helps to be taking in more of your media in text form if you're trying to do this.) See them the way they're comfortable being seen, as inanimate objects who act or do not act according to well-defined laws of nature, and you'll be able to predict their motions at least as well as you could otherwise. And when they do something bad you'll be displeased that things went badly, but not enraged at their viciousness.

This is how I've always regarded Chris Matthews. I never could get my head around the idea of him running for Senate in Pennsylvania back when those rumors were going around. What was he going to do? Absorb the dominant media narrative about himself and reinforce it? I mean, I'm sure he would've acted like a fairly conventional centrist candidate, but it was hard for me to get out of my old way of seeing him.

Publius posted Matthews' response to Bush's speech, and I found it kind of neat to watch.

He goes on a nice little tear about the empty-headed president who came into office and the neoconservative intellectuals who filled him up with all sorts of exciting nonsense that got lots of people killed in war. I could imagine him being a person who had come to fully appreciate the folly of neoconservatism.

In the comments at Obsidian Wings, Ben Alpers quoted Matthews six years ago:
Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?...

He looks for real. What is it about the commander in chief role, the hat that he does wear, that makes him -- I mean, he seems like -- he didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does....

We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple.
The point isn't that Matthews is being inconsistent or anything like that. Norms of consistency apply to people, not to hills or trees or rivers. The point is just that the landscape has shifted dramatically, and things aren't where they were before. Victory exerts a powerful gravitational pull, and I'm sure that if McCain had won, Matthews would still be pretty close to where he used to be. But instead we got a president who opposed the war from the beginning, and huge victories for Democrats at all levels as they came out more forcefully against the war.

In the laws governing the motions of the pundits, electoral victory is multiplied by a large constant. Today, it is pleasant to watch things move.
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