AP: MSNBC Boss Calls Chris Matthews a 'Statesman,' But Conservatives Think He's 'Really, Really Partisan'

The AP gets it right with this headline: “Chris Matthews now the broadcaster that conservatives love to hate.” AP reporter David Bauder begins: “To his boss, Chris Matthews has become a statesman. His critics probably have other words.”

MRC assistant research director Geoff Dickens had other words in this piece, but get a load of MSNBC president Phil Griffin on this “statesman” business:

"He's as good as he's ever been," said Phil Griffin, MSNBC president. "He's at a place in his life where he's really comfortable in his own skin. He's a statesman. He has so much knowledge and I think he understands it better. He's always been great, but I really think he's been at the peak of his game."...

"He is sort of the model figure for who we are," Griffin said. "He doesn't stick out loving politics and being passionate about politics. It comes across in everything we do ... And that's Chris."

...Matthews said "Hardball" has gotten a sharper focus. The editorial opinion has moved to the front of the show. Saying what he thinks isn't hard; Matthews' flirtation with running for the Senate ended in part because the need to adhere to party orthodoxy wouldn't mix with a man comfortable with voicing a dozen opinions per minute.

"I never want to do what everybody else is doing," he said. "I don't want to be part of the chorus."

In fact, TV Newser reminded readers as it summarized the AP article that Matthews said he would have been “one of the stars of the Democratic Party” if he’d run against Sen. Arlen Specter and won in Pennsylvania.

MRC’s Dickens – who began watching Matthews in the late 1990s – was awarded a paragraph while the other quotes came from within MSNBC:

With Keith Olbermann out of sight, Matthews essentially replaced him as the commentator that most annoyed conservative viewers.

"During the run-up to the Iraq War, he just became really, really partisan and became even more so when MSNBC decided to become the anti-Fox," said Geoff Dickens, who used to watch Matthews as a fan and now monitors him regularly as part of his job with the conservative Media Research Center.

So Dickens would agree Matthews is the “model figure” of MSNBC: really, really partisan loudmouths all through the day and night.

But a "statesman"? Bauder reprises how Matthews doesn’t regret slapping around RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in a very undiplomatic way:

"The number of African-Americans who have come up to me in the last three to six months has been unbelievable," Matthews said in a recent interview. "They come up, six inches from my face, and say 'thank you.' A lot of the times they say we can't do this like you do it. It's harder for them because it sounds like complaining." He's disappointed that more whites didn't express gratitude, too.

His repeated attention to the issue "irritates some people, because they can't stand being called bigoted. It drives them crazy. And I agree, it would drive me crazy."

The issue drove his confrontation with Priebus, which occurred on "Morning Joe" during the GOP convention. Matthews challenged Priebus about playing the "race card" during the campaign and for references to Obama's birth certificate. It devolved into a schoolyard insult match.

"He should have kept it together in terms of tone," Griffin said. "But in what was said, going back and forth, it was a legitimate point."

Priebus later called Matthews "the biggest jerk in the room." Matthews doesn't seem to have any regrets.

"I'd been talking like that for awhile," he said. "He didn't like it. I didn't expect he would. I felt that I had in my presence the guy who represented the party and it was an opportunity I shouldn't let pass. It's one of those moments in the campaign that's going to have endurance."

How Phil Griffin thinks that the word "statesman" defines this "enduring" exchange is a mystery. He's simply trying to keep his star happy by saying things he knows are not true

UPDATE: Noel Sheppard reminds me that just before the election, Griffin apologized to the Koch brothers  for Matthews’ "crass language" aimed at them -- he said "back in the 60s, we called these people pigs" -- and told their representative that the Hardball host has been "talked to about such behavior in the past and even disciplined.” Some "statesman" in action.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis