Matthews, Clinton & Colbert: Retributive Justice In The Modern Mediascape (Guest Voice)


This Guest Voice is by video and web producer Joe Windish, who wrote a well received column earlier this week. He takes another look at the dynamics between politics and cable political and comedy talk shows.

Matthews, Clinton & Colbert: Retributive Jusice In The Modern Mediascape

by Joe Windish

Stephen Colbert ends his Philadelphia run tonight with a guest appearance by Hillary Clinton. There’s nothing saying that appearance will be an interview and it’s too bad, too, after last night’s debate.

The story-line this morning is her relentless pounding of Obama on Rev. Wright and the Weather Underground and the like, as he uses tea and cookies as a means to diffuse such issues rather than attack. He refused even to pile on when given the opportunity with her Bosnia gaffe and (unlike Andrew) I admire him all the more for it.

The bigger debate take away, of course, is her “Yes! Yes! Yes!” belief that Obama could win the presidency.

All of this is the stuff of a great Colbert interview!

A Clinton on the Colbert set the day after a debate that some say could have been scripted for her by a sycophant press caught up in all of the non-issues of the day is all of the license Colbert needs to go for comedy of epic Correspondents Association Dinner proportions.

I’ll be watching closely tonight.

Colbert’s performance has been fine in Philadelphia, still he’s yet to really soar. Maybe it’s the road, or the size of the theater (nine times that of his NY home), but I have to wonder if he wasn’t thrown off his stride that very first night interviewing Philadelphia native Chris Matthews…

STEPHEN COLBERT: Your show’s called Hardball.


STEPHEN COLBERT: Well I think I have a harder ball than you and let me tell you why.


STEPHEN COLBERT: Because Barack Obama did an hour with you, how hard could your ball be? He won’t come on my show. I clearly swing a harder ball.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let me put you another case… you’ve got Hillary Clinton coming on, right?

STEPHEN COLBERT: Uh… [pregnant pause]… There’s a possibility of that Chris… We like to surprise people with certain guests.

You’ll recall that in my world, Colbert was more worthy of the 8,000 word profile that the New York Times devoted on Sunday to Matthews. Here’s the only passage in which Colbert is mentioned in that story:

Matthews’s bombast is radically at odds with the wry, antipolitical style fashioned by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert or the cutting and finely tuned cynicism of Matthews’s MSNBC co-worker Keith Olbermann. These hosts betray none of the reverence for politics or the rituals of Washington that Matthews does. On the contrary, they appeal to the eye-rolling tendencies of a cooler, highly educated urban cohort of the electorate that mostly dismisses an exuberant political animal like Matthews as annoyingly antiquated, like the ranting uncle at the Thanksgiving table whom the kids have learned to tune out.

Nothing illustrated Matthews’s discordance with the new cable ethos better than an eviscerating interview he suffered through last fall at the hands of Stewart himself. Matthews went on the “The Daily Show” to promote his book “Life’s a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation and Success.” [video] The book essentially advertises itself as a guidebook for readers wishing to apply the lessons of winning politicians to succeeding in life. “People don’t mind being used; they mind being discarded” is the title of one chapter. “A self-hurt book” and “a recipe for sadness” Stewart called it, and the interview was all squirms from there. “This strikes me as artifice,” Stewart said. “If you live by this book, your life will be strategy, and if your life is strategy, you will be unhappy.”

Matthews accused Stewart of “trashing my book.”

So did Matthews foil Colbert’s Clinton surprise in some small way to get back at the fake news guys for trashing his book? Maybe even subliminally?

Colbert went on to wrangle from Matthews a kinda, sorta, admission, that yes, maybe, he’ll challenge Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter when he runs for re-election in 2010.

“I want to be a senator,” Matthews said. “I think it’s more important to serve the people.”

I used to think Hillary believed that, too, that she’d be happy to go back to the Senate. Not so much anymore.

It’s worth remembering that as caught up as we all are in the media story of this race, it’s been all but a mathematical certainty for a good long time now that she cannot win. She will not be the Democratic nominee. We are all just waiting for her to understand that.

Maybe Colbert can help tonight.

Meanwhile, on The Chris Matthews Show last weekend, David Brooks said “Hillary Clinton’s next job is going to be governor of New York, and there are important Democrats trying to maneuver that already.”

At this point I’d say sending Clinton up the river to Albany sounds about as good a place as any for her to wind up in to me!

Joe Windish is an accomplished video and web producer. His work has been seen on local and national television, and on one of the earliest commercial webcast channels. In 2003, after 28 years of living and working in New York City, Joe moved to rural Georgia so his life-partner could take a job as professor at a public liberal arts college. He blogs on politics, media, technology, gay life, and southern living at

  • vwcat

    The media became the embarrassment it is today from the Clinton era of slash and burn politics. The problem is that the media does not see the embarrassment they have become. They see the 90s, with the OJ trial through the frenzy of Clinton’s affair and impeachment as the beginning of a golden age of journalism. They hang on to this thinking even though to the rest of the country, it is as far from a golden age as possible.
    They are not able to see the connection of the rise of people like Olberman and the fake news of Stewart and Colbert to the rush to the blogs as a sign that the press is out of touch and stuck back in the 90s.
    They harp on created controversies that to us are nonsense, they present us with debates like last night and leaving the public to pine away for the league of Woman Voters. They are totally tone deaf.
    This may be why they have declared Obama’s campaign dead a dozen times and whine that he does not do knife fights with Hillary. They are appalled that he keeps defying the conventional wisdom they so prize. And they are pissed off and confused because the voters respond to his style of politics and reject Hillarys, who in their eyes plays the silly cw game correctly.