MSNBC Needs to Shut Chris Matthews Up

The Philly native is on the loose at the Democratic National Convention.

As the Democrats open their national convention, it’s time for MSNBC to play Hardball with Chris Matthews. Judging by last week’s performance with the GOP, this son of Philadelphia desperately needs an intervention.

It’s not just Matthews’s compulsive interrupting, enraging as it is. That’s old news. As Hardball host since 1997, he has made a mockery of civil discourse by not allowing guests—particularly those with whom he disagrees—to utter a complete sentence. Literally.

In fairness, Matthews is not the only listening-impaired anchor. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, to name two, also act as if their every utterance holds more importance than those of any guest. Like Matthews, they treat opposing visitors like crash dummies.

With Matthews, what pushed me over the edge last week was his high-decibel vitriol. Combined with his constant interruptions, it made for a lethal listeners’ cocktail. Every vein-popping display by Matthews was embarrassing to him, to MSNBC and, most important, to NBC News.

On Morning Joe, Matthews verbally waterboarded Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. It was so uncomfortable that co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski both jumped in to admonish Matthews to back off. He didn’t.

On CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday, two guests who were just discussing Matthews’s loutish behavior began yelling and interrupting each other. Sadly, they failed to grasp the irony.

Ever the peacemaker, I have a modest proposal for MSNBC. Beginning today, every time Matthews opens his mouth except to breathe, kill the audio and run closed-captioning. Viewers of all political stripes will thank you for it.

Seriously, how could it hurt? As it is, NBC stars like Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw make themselves scarce when Matthews occupies center stage. In ’08, MSNBC was forced to remove Matthews and Keith Olbermann as co-anchors of election coverage because of their obvious liberal slant during the conventions.

Now that MSNBC’s ratings are up and it has dropped any pretense of objectivity, Matthews is back in the anchor seat, at least for the conventions. Still, don’t look for too many NBC News regulars to stop by. NBC is not eager for that kind of association with its cable cousin.

The good news for MSNBC is that Rachel Maddow is a far more calming influence on Matthews than was Olbermann, who despised his co-anchor.

Regardless, Matthews, who turns 67 in December, needs a stronger hand than he’s apparently getting from MSNBC. Most of his “interviews” quickly devolve into shouting matches. Whoever screams the loudest, wins. Matthews, all id, is like a child throwing a tantrum. If he can’t be the loudest, he’ll be the meanest.

Ted Koppel, in his prime, proved that you didn’t have to be a bully to call out a liar. During countless Nightline interviews, he dissected politicians like a surgeon, rarely raising his voice. When he needed to cut off a bloviating guest, he calmly prefaced it with “Forgive me for interrupting, Mr. Chairman, but … ”

It was classy, and it worked.

In a 2005 interview, Matthews told me that his producers had ordered him to stop interrupting guests. “I have to learn to withhold,” he said. Seven years later, he still hasn’t learned. He labeled his volume as a reflection of passion, and acknowledged it was not for the faint of ear.

“To some people, I think it’s shattering to the harmony of the discourse,” he said. “It’s kind of hard for older people or Southerners to listen to. To somebody in a bar, it’s perfect.”

Translation: Get drunk and Matthews is easy to watch. Check, please. MSNBC, the next round is on you. Lean forward, indeed.