Wednesday, April 9, 2008

NY Times Magazine on Chris Matthews

There's an article this weekend in the New York Times Magazine about Chris Matthews. Chris Matthews is one of those tv pundits who drives me crazy because he's not aware of his own prejudices, his own interpretive lens.

Matthews has been critiqued as sexist and unfair in his coverage of Hilary Clinton (a critique I agree with), but he doesn't seem to understand why he's getting flack for it.
The conversation moved to what Matthews calls “the sexist thing,” or what Media Matters calls Matthews’s “history of degrading comments about women, in which he focuses on the physical appearances of his female guests and of other women discussed on his program.” This would include Matthews loudly admiring the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham (“You’re great looking, obviously — one of God’s gifts to men in this country”), Elizabeth Edwards(“You’ve got a great face”), Jane Fonda (“You also dazzle us with your beauty and all the good things”), CNBC’s Margaret Brennan (“You’re gorgeous”) and Erin Burnett (“You’re beautiful. . . . You’re a knockout”), among others. The Burnett episode was especially remarked upon. In the video Matthews instructed Burnett to “get a little closer to the camera.” As Burnett became confused, Matthews persisted: “Come on in closer. No, come in — come in further — come in closer. Really close.” It was, at the minimum, uncomfortable to watch.

Matthews says the notion that he is sexist has been pushed unfairly by blogs, women’s groups and, to some degree, the Clinton campaign. His remark that Clinton benefitted because her husband “messed around” triggered much outrage from the Clinton team. Matthews eventually apologized in a rambling on-air explanation, but he hardly sounds contrite now. “I was tonally inaccurate but factually true,” he told me. I had asked him earlier if he was forced into the apology. “Oh, yeah, of course I was forced into that,” he said, laughing. “No, no, no . . . Phil [Griffin] asked me to do that.”

"Tonally inaccurate but factually true"? My parents taught me that if I apologize about something, I had better be damn sure that I meant it. Otherwise it's a moot point. Why apologize if you're not standing behind the apology?

Matthews can't seem to understand the sexism in inviting a person to share their opinions about something and then spending the entire time discussing how beautiful they are. The mere obliviousness is almost unbelieveable, and puts the rest of his opinions in jeopardy. If he can't see the sexism in his behavior, how can his viewers expect him to muddle through the day-to-day nuances of politics, or even life?

“I guess the bottom line is, What does it show?” [Matthew's wife] Kathleen said. “Is it disrespect for women? Objectifying women?”

“It’s a show,” Chris replied.

“Or does it show appreciation for a pretty woman?” Kathleen said. “I think that’s the question.”
Where's the line between objectification and appreciation? And, is Kathleen Matthews right in that the question is over objectification and appreciation?

While the issue of objectification and appreciation is one that won't be settled by Matthews (or even settled at all), I think what Matthews needs to realize is that his television show is not an appropriate place to gush over someone's looks. If you invite someone on your show to discuss politics or the economy, let their presence reflect that fact, as opposed to you babbling on about beauty.

via Shakesville.

And for good measure, Sweet Jesus, I Hate Chris Matthews.


Anonymous said...

"Why apologize if you're not standing behind the apology?"

Because it gets a ton of people off your back. Really. It just takes a little practice, that's all.

Amelia said...

Agh. Chris Matthews. Never fails to get my blood boiling...

Anyway, I agree completely with the idea that if Matthews invites women onto his show to discuss important issues, it is NOT the place for him to "show appreciation for a pretty woman." All that accomplishes is stripping these women of an opportunity to showcase their intelligence (and obviously beauty means more than intelligence to Chris Matthews when it comes to women).

I also find the appreciation idea to be offensive for that very reason. Matthews makes it out to sound like beauty is the most important quality that these women have, and that's just plain wrong.

Kathleen is masking the fact that Chris is perpetuating a false idea that being "pretty" is of the utmost importance by using the word "appreciation" to describe it.

That bothers me.

Anonymous said...

"Matthews makes it out to sound like beauty is the most important quality that these women have, and that's just plain wrong."

Yes, until you look up the statistics on what kind of women get hired faster. Pretty women get jobs, uggo's don't, at least until the lookers have had their shot. It's not what you got, it's how you use it.

Additionally, I don't feel much sympathy for these women. What happened to standing up for yourself? If he's REALLY that offensive, if it's that big of a problem, why don't they change the subject to something they feel is a bit more relevant? Might be a little sexist, a little irrelevant to say this, but get a pair and take control!

Amelia said...

Why should pretty women get jobs faster than "ugly" women? Who's to judge who is "pretty?" If physical "beauty" is not in the job description, then why does it matter at all?

Lindsay said...

"Additionally, I don't feel much sympathy for these women. What happened to standing up for yourself? If he's REALLY that offensive, if it's that big of a problem, why don't they change the subject to something they feel is a bit more relevant?"

They usually do. It's not like Matthews spends the whole time fawning over a woman's looks. However, if Matthews introduces a man by saying, "This is Joe Smith who is a lawyer," and a woman by saying, "This is Jane Smith... Man you're a knockout," there's a BIG difference. It simplifies a woman to her beauty, which is not why she's there.

And it's not her job to rein Matthews in. She's there to give her educated opinion, not to "pretty" up the set. There's a similar undertone in the article, about how Matthews is very blunt and doesn't seem to think before he speaks - some of the parts about his election coverage with Keith Olbermann seem to make reference to Matthews being not very good at self-restraining or that he doesn't think to edit his own comments. What goes through his mind comes right out of his mouth - not a good trait for a tv anchor.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, thought I was done here. But this needed saying...

"Why should pretty women get jobs faster than "ugly" women? Who's to judge who is "pretty?" If physical "beauty" is not in the job description, then why does it matter at all?"

They shouldn't. But they do. These are the facts of life, at least in this time and place. You might as well stand up, grab them by their horns, and twist those facts into something you want them to.

For the record, tall men get better jobs than shorter men, fat people get paid less, and if you're blind, lame, gay, or shy, you get discriminated against. Fact is, people aren't perfect. I'm just surprised you failed to draw that distinction, you know, the one between how things are and how they should be. I know you'll do better in the future though.

Amelia said...

Excuse me, Anonymous, I do not necessarily disagree with what you said, but the problem is that those things are probably true. I do not think I have ever failed to make a distinction between the way things are and the way things should be. But I see the way things are, and I think they should be changed.

My questions were meant to provoke thought. If we better understand the REASONS behind the way things are, we will be better equipped to try to change those things.

judgesnineteen said...

"What happened to standing up for yourself?"

Here's what happened to standing up for yourself: it got coded as masculine, as you so helpfully pointed out by saying

"get a pair and take control!"

Thanks for not saying "of balls", but we all know that's where the saying came from. When women stand up for themselves, they're called "bitches" because it doesn't fit with the feminine gender role. Chris Matthews is the one with the problem, not women who are caught between a rock and a hard place.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Women are changing the world from what it is into what it should be, often by pointing out the disparities and prompting others to recognize sexism for what it is, instead of making excuses for it. Some brave women write about the inequities still prevalent in our society on the internet, or have radio shows to discuss these issues, for example.

The problem with Chris Matthews' language is that it is belittling. He isn't on a date with these women, he is running a show that pretends to discuss news and policy. By focusing on a female guest's looks rather than her credentials, he is (consciously, I think) trying to put her in the passive role of 'object of admiration' rather than the active roll of 'thinker and commentator.'

So how might a woman in this position respond? Matthews is trying to fluster her and will publicly call her a bitch later if she seems too aggressive. But I think that after the second 'appreciative statement,' an "Oh, were you waiting for me to return the compliment?" followed by silence could be in order. Or is that just feeding a live condescending troglodyte troll?

lindabeth said...

Since beauty is irrelevant to intelligence and expertise on political matters, his comments on appearance are out of line.

Objectification is most definitely happening when you are seen as an object of desire when the context is not appropriate. Telling a model she is beautiful (or not) is fine-she gets paid based on her looks and I think it's fine to judge her professional success based on them. The appearance of, for example, an economist, however,
is 1) irrelevant to her economic expertise, 2) was never asked to be commented on, and 3) is none of his damn business.

And as far as women "standing up for themselves," exposure is imperative to a successful career, and sometimes we (women) are forced into the position of putting up with this crap or not getting the airtime or media exposure we need to grow professionally. And while that is the state of affairs at the present, that is a compromise no woman ought to have to or be expected to make. We should always be advocating for eradicating this kind of behavior even if we have to deal with it in the process.