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Chris Matthews Humiliates Obama Spokesman in MSNBC Coverage

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Paul Levinson
Barack Obama and John McCain won the Wisconsin primaries handily tonight, with percentages in the high 50s, better than 15 percent over their rivals, at this late point in the vote count.

This set in motion a night of three speeches, and an unfortunately outburst from Chris Matthews:

1. John McCain has got to be one of the worst speakers in national politics today, let alone running for President, and all but sure to get the nomination of his Republican party. He has a flat, sing-song delivery, which deflates the few decent lines his speech writers give him, including his best phrase tonight about Democrats wanting to take a "holiday from history".

2. Hillary Clinton was in the process of giving a good speech in Ohio, avoiding any mention of or concession to Obama, when Obama took the stage in Houston to give his speech. MSNBC, CNN, and Fox all switched to Obama.

Later in the evening, some of the Hillary's people thought that was rude, Obama's campaign denied it was intentional, but Tim Russert on MSNBC probably had the best take: Obama's campaign was tired of waiting for Hillary to finish her non-concession speech - not the first lack of concession in the speech she has given after Obama won a primary. I'm inclined to sympathize with the Obama campaign on this one. Why should Obama wait if Hillary is just giving another stump speech on the night she has lost a primary?

3. Obama's speech was a pleasure to hear, as always. I admired his courage in bringing up the immigration issue to his Texas audience.

But to show you I don't blindly support everything Obama says: I disagreed with his use of "television" and "video games" as examples of what American kids should spend less time with - indeed, I certainly think television can be a good source of information and learning, and video games don't do any harm.

But that's ok. Neither I nor anyone has to agree with every single position of a candidate we support. It's more a question of where our candidate stands on the whole constellation of difficult issues facing our country and world.

And Obama's position on most of them suits me just fine (just as do Hillary's - I just think Obama's are a little better, and he would make the better, more inspiring, President).

Which brings me to Chris Matthews.

In a segment after the speeches, Matthews interviewed Kirk Watson, Texas State Senator and Obama supporter, and Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Clinton supporter. Matthews asked Watson to list Obama's accomplishments as U.S. Senator. Watson was rendered speechless. This triggered a classic Matthews in rude attack mode, in which he asked the same question, repeatedly, as if he were a prosecutor grilling a hostile witness on the stand.

My take on this: Matthews was entitled to ask the question, once, maybe twice, but not repeatedly badger his guest. Watson, for his part, put on an embarrassing (to Watson) display of his lack of knowledge. Obama's accomplishments as Senator are pretty well known, even to the general public, if only from watching his commercials. He worked on bills concerning lobbyist reform, energy, terrorism, and immigration - you can see the details on Obama's Wikipedia entry.

The Obama campaign can be held accountable for putting forth such a clueless or nervous or whatever-Watson's-problem-was spokesperson. But the American people deserve better than Matthews' uncivil badgering, too. Asking the question once or twice would have been enough.

Embarrassing your guest is unprofessional and not what we need in our media commentators.

Here's a link to Wonkette's page with a videoclip of the Matthews-Watson exchange.
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Paul Levinson's The Silk Code won the 2000 Locus Award for Best First Novel. He has since published Borrowed Tides (2001),The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), and The Plot To Save Socrates (2006). His science fiction and (more...)
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