Jon Stewart Dismantles Chris Matthews

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Considering what a repugnantly amoral opportunist Chris Matthews is, he got off easy with Jon Stewart, who remains a voice for serious morality camouflaged in comedy. Stewart is to be commended for not being afraid to tackle these systemic topics. But being, after all, a corporate media figure, his is indeed a highwire act and the men behind the curtain, the top corporadoes, could easily tire of his jabs at the system and suddenly pull the rug from under him.

BY GREG MITCHELL

If you have ever bemoaned the turn Matthews — a former newspaperman — has taken in recent years, you have to check out what happened on “The Daily Show” on Tuesday night. Matthews called it “the worst interview ever.”

(October 03, 2007) — You may find this hard to believe, but there was a time when TV gasbag Chris Matthews was a respectable hard news reporter. He worked in Washington, D.C. for the San Francisco Examiner from 1987 to around 2000, and also wrote columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and others. But if you have ever bemoaned the turn his career took as an interviewer/talk show host – or if you just hate the inside-the-beltway mentality of many of our leading press and TV pundits – then you would have loved Jon Stewart’s dismantling of Matthews on “The Daily Show” last night (Oct. 2, 2007).

I have no idea if there is a back story to this epic confrontation beyond Stewart’s known hatred of loudmouth TV bullying (remember his famous attack on “Crossfire” a few years back?). But what was on the screen right in front of our noses was shocking enough, not to mention long overdue. Matthews, growing angry, called it “the book interview from hell” and his “worst interview ever,” adding, “You are the worst.”

Matthews accused him of “trashing my book.” Stewart said he was actually “trashing your philosophy.”

The “Hardball” host was there, like so many others before him, simply to hype his new book, “Life’s a Campaign.” Stewart was after him right from the start. He described the book as claiming that “people can use what politicians do in political campaigns to help their lives. … That strikes me as fundamentally wrong.” Rather than a self-help book it is really a “self-hurt book, if you will,” he added. “Aren’t campaigns fundamentally contrivances?”

Matthews agreed, but said you could still learn from successful politicians – like them, you sometimes have to “sell yourself” to get a job or manipulate people to get ahead.

“But there has to be some core of soul in there,” Stewart replied. “There’s nothing in this book about, ‘Be good, be competent.'”

Matthews said THAT book had been written before – and it was the Bible. But Stewart, when he is on his game, can be quick and erudite, and now he pointed out that Matthews’ new book had also been written before – and it was Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” Matthews claimed his book was better than “The Prince.”

Stewart then twice called Matthews’ book “a recipe for sadness. … If you live this book, your life will be strategy, and … you’ll be unhappy.”

Matthews, finding himself on the receiving end for a change, invited Stewart to “Hardball,” and “we can play this both ways.” Stewart replied, “I don’t troll,” drawing gasps from the audience.

“You are unbelievable,” Matthews said. “This is a book interview from hell. This is the worst interview I’ve ever had in my life. This is the worst. You are the worst.” Matthews accused him of being another Zell Miller but Stewart said that, unlike the former senator, he would not challenge Matthew to a duel.

Sputtering for an explanation, Matthews charged that “you are afraid of me” and there must be something in his book “that you fear.”

“Like fascism, I fear fascism,” Stewart responded.

This was worth waiting a decade for. You can watch the interview here.

Perhaps we should close with a quote from Machiavelli: “Because how one ought to live is so far removed from how one lives….it is necessary for a prince, wanting to maintain himself, to learn how to be able to be not good and to use this and not use it according to necessity.” Now, that’s playing hardball.

Greg Mitchell (gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) is editor of E&P.

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