Fifteen Questions for Chris Matthews

As one of the nation’s foremost political pundits, Chris Matthews argues for a living, engaging in fiery debates with prominent
By Adam P. Schneider

As one of the nation’s foremost political pundits, Chris Matthews argues for a living, engaging in fiery debates with prominent politicians and Washington insiders on a daily basis. Over his course of his career, Matthews has been a journalist, speechwriter, congressional staffer, bureau chief and best-selling author. He currently hosts MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” as well as CNBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show.” As a part of “The Hardball College Tour,” Matthews has filmed six shows at the Kennedy School of Government with the Democratic presidential candidates. FM sat down with Matthews at Au Bon Pain, before his face-off with former Vermont governor Howard Dean, to discuss his career and other political hodgepodge.

1.After Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game was published in 1988, what inspired you to become a political talk show host?

I was introduced to Fox News chairman] Roger Ailes. I was thinking that Roger Ailes was sort of a demon, because he was the guy doing really important stuff. But we hit it off and I kept up with him. We kept talking about doing a once a week show that was really going to be a short half-hour show about the country, really fast-paced. Then he hired me in 1994, when he took over CNBC.

2. What techniques do you employ to exploit the weak points of your guests while still maintaining a conversational style?

I listen. And I sometimes spot inconsistencies, pandering. You can’t do much about pandering because if that’s what they’re gonna do, that’s what they do.

3. Do you think that John Kerry could go shot for shot with Ted Kennedy?

I don’t think either of these gentlemen drinks as you described. I would expect that both of these gentlemen have a glass of wine on occasion with dinner.

4. What do you think of Darrell Hammond’s impression of you on Saturday Night Live?

Dead on. Very good. He is a virtuoso performer. He has picked up on my Warren Beatty craziness in my eyes when I see that the other person has said something that is completely nutty and I can pounce on it. He knows that sort of dreamy eyed look that you get when you are really into it.

5. Who do you think would win a celebrity boxing match: Katie Couric or Ann Coulter?

Kickboxing? Would you allow kicking? Um, you know that would remind some of the great old heavyweight battles between Marciano and the Mongoose, Archie Moore. I see Katie as Archie Moore. She could take a punch better. I would say a draw though. Maybe, Katie though.

6. As the anchor of MSNBC’s Election coverage until 2006, what contentious issues do you feel will emerge as deciding factors in the Democratic primary?

The war is the issue.

7. Do you have any special rituals you perform routinely before your shows?

I try to establish a certain nonchalance, a breeziness that I don’t hold for very long. But I try though.

8. What impact do you think the Jayson Blair scandal has had on the public’s view of the media?

I think it shows that editors are incredibly important, especially for news magazine. I think we are going to miss them online. You need that editor there to say, “How do you know that?” or “Talk to this other person.”

9. Is the media becoming too entertainment based?

It’s not entertainment enough because people aren’t watching it..

10.What do you think the state of the Bush Administration is right now?

I think their policies are worthy of being criticized.

11. How do feel about California’s new “Governator?”

I think he did well. Certainly if I was a Californian, I certainly would have voted for him. I think there is a tremendous anger about the establishment out there. I think Gray Davis personified it, in the sense that taxes and the economy are out of control. You need someone to come in from the outside and challenge the system.

12. Do you think the Democrats stand a chance in the next election? What do they need to focus on to beat Bush?

Yes they do...Events are probably more important than rhetoric right now. The events will influence whether this becomes a close election or not. By events, I mean a second dip in the economy. Secondly, if the casualties persist. Another year of this. We had a worse month now than we did during the war. Some issues have to neutralize as well for the Democrats to win. If gay marriage becomes a salient issue, they can’t win, because you can’t win with arguments like that in the middle part of the country.

13. Which Democratic candidates do you feel have the strongest chance at being on the democratic ticket as either a Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate?

This week I would say Dean, based upon everything I have seen, looks very strong. I think Edwards looks good as a candidate who will stay in there until the end.

14. Who was the first president that you voted for?

I don’t know if I ever voted for a president. I always voted for the losers. First winner, Jimmy Carter.

15. First loser?