It Was Train-wreck Television - But It Didn’t Have To Be

By now, I suspect most have either seen or heard about Texas State Senator Kirk Watson (D), who appeared on “Hardball” the other night as a Barack Obama surrogate, and who had a very rough time. The long and the short of it is straightforward: Chris Matthews pressed Watson to name some of Obama’s legislative accomplishments, and Watson froze up on the air. It wasn’t pretty.

But, in all likelihood, it wasn’t supposed to be. Matthews almost certainly asked the question hoping for a blank stare. That Watson, sadly, embarrassed himself on national television was unfortunate, but it was also the intended result.

Answering the question Watson struggled with, hilzoy put together a fairly lengthy list of Obama’s accomplishments and used the list to raise a very good point: isn’t that Chris Matthews’ job?

I did this because I had heard one too many people like Chris Matthews talking about Obama’s alleged lack of substance, and I thought: I know that’s not true, since I have read about Obama’s work on non-proliferation, avian flu, and a few other issues. And if people are saying he lacks substance, then surely I, as a citizen, should try to find out whether I just hallucinated all this interesting legislation, or whether this talking point was, in fact, completely wrong. So I sat down with Google and Thomas and tried to find out.

But I’m just an amateur. I have a full-time job doing something else. Chris Matthews, by contrast, is paid large sums of money to provide political commentary and insight. I assume he has research assistants at his disposal. He could have done this work a lot more easily than I did. But he didn’t. He was more interested in gotcha moments than in actually enlightening the American people.

So here’s a challenge for Chris Matthews, or anyone else in the media who wants to take it up. Go over Clinton and Obama’s actual legislative records. Find the genuine legislative accomplishments that each has to his or her name. Report to the American people on what you find. Until you do, don’t accept statements from either side about who has substance and who does not, or who traffics in “speeches” and who offers “solutions”. That’s lazy, unprofessional, and a disservice to your audience.


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