Chris Matthews and the Awesome Power of Cable Television

Here’s the video of MSNBC host Chris Matthews speaking at a cable industry conference this week. We noted here the odd notion that, as Matthews argues, 24-hour cable news would have stopped the Iraq War lies–despite the fact that 24-hour cable news had been around for more than 20 years at the time of the invasion. But watching the video is rather jarring:

Matthews’ passionate critique of embedded, what-officials-say-is-OK-with-me journalism sounds like Amy Goodman. It’s so fundamentally at odds with Matthews’ actual work that you have to wonder whether he believes any of it.

Of course, Matthews was speaking at an industry conference, so praising the business–“Thank God for cable!”– is precisely what he’s expected to do.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

Matthews can’t believe George W. Bush–“a president of limited rhetorical and intellectual skills”–was able to sell the Iraq War.  He was sure able to fool people like Chris “We’re-All-Neocons-Now” Matthews.

Matthews has had trouble keeping some of this straight. In 2010, he was adamant about Bush’s failure:

The incompetence became downright staggering when the commander in chief pranced on to an aircraft carrier with that “Mission Accomplished” banner flying overhead. The bozos couldn’t even get the PR right.

But that PR sure worked on Matthews at the time.

Nonetheless, Matthews is sure that things are different today: “We are a critical media today.” And that’s apparently because of cable television:

24/7 is good because not only its breadth, its depth and depth of argument.

This from the guy who’s hosted the show Hardball all these years. Has he ever seen his show?

Matthews also doesn’t seem to know much about U.S. history, because he believes the Iraq War was fundamentally different: “the United States has never been the aggressor before.” Uh, no.

It is striking to watch a journalist with so little awareness of the foreign policy history of his own country–or, for that matter, self-awareness. There is little to no reason to believe that cable news would perform differently in a time of war now than it did in 2002. All of the admirable qualities that Matthews suggests would be present now could have been present then–and were present in show’s like Phil Donahue’s.

Since Chris Matthews will never get a chance to re-report the Iraq War and challenge an incompetent administration–what about now? If you believe that the fear-mongering about Iran bears some resemblance to the run up to the Iraq War, then people like Matthews are devoting long stretches of their show to debunking pro-war propaganda, right? Well, there was this:

“As if Afghanistan were not enough, now there’s Iran’s move to get nuclear weapons,” declared NBC‘s Chris Matthews (10/4/09)

Of course, there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing such weapons; treating such allegations as fact was precisely the problem with Iraq coverage.

Or you can watch this 2009 interview with Reza Aslan.

Or consider a more recent comment from Matthews (2/6/12) :

Is there something worse than Iran having nuclear weapons? Think about that. And if there isn’t anything worse, strike ’em.

Thank God for cable news, where substantive discussions of war can challenge the official line.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.