Chris Matthews Gazes to the Right

Photo credit: Sally Hosta

Blogger and Q & A Cafe Host  Carol Joynt has interviewed MSNBC’s Chris Matthews four times, and each time she pleads with him to let go a little more.

But he never does.

Before Thursday’s interview at the swanky Ritz in Georgetown, she again chided him to let go of the steering wheel. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He didn’t.”He just didn’t want to give me the wheel,” Joynt said after the 45-minute interview over a lunch of steak, potatoes and coconut cupcakes. “I know, sweetheart,” she said soothingly in the last 30 seconds of the interview when he refused to let her get a word in edgewise, which happened with some frequency throughout the interview but pointedly at the end. It was like a mother purring to a 5-year-old while she dabbed at a scrape with alcohol. Letting go is hard – we all know that. But for Matthews? It’s torture.

Matthews’ body language spoke volumes. Not once did he look Joynt in the eye even though she looked straight at him. Strangely, he positioned his body facing slightly to the right of Joynt and fixated his gaze there as well. Not only was Matthews in control of this interview, but his gaze and body were proof of it. “I love Chris, but he’s a ride,” Joynt said later.

A prickly moment arose post interview when Matthews learned FishbowlDC was in the dining room. Though the event was being live-streamed on WMAL and would air on D.C.’s Channel 16 Friday night at 8 p.m., Matthews was irate. When I posed the biggest softball question in the history of the free world, you’d think I’d asked him if he ever tried Ecstasy. “What does it feel like being on the other end of an interview?” I asked, feeling embarrassed for going so easy on a guy who makes a living going on the attack. For several moments he shot me an irritated stare. Then he snapped, “What, what, what do you want me to say?” I replied, “Say whatever you want to say.” We eyed each other. He rolled his eyes and walked away.

A few minutes later I felt a tap on my shoulder…

As it was explained to me later, Irish guilt had set in and Matthews felt badly for giving me the brush off. I wasn’t offended. If you’re a reporter and you haven’t had a door shut in your face or a phone slammed down in your ear, you haven’t lived. “Come on, come on, let’s go talk,” he said, still grouchy but less so. This was Matthews trying not to be annoyed and that in itself was entertaining. How many softball questions could I lob at him? (We were going to find out.)

We convened at a quiet table away from everyone else. He looked at me like, okay, whaddaya want?

During Joynt’s interview, Matthews made it clear that media talking about media was among the lowest lifeforms he knew. Politico‘s Patrick Gavin points out a discrepancy about that, counting insulting WaPo‘s Style section talking about other media. I asked, “Why is it not okay for media to talk about media?” He replied, “I never talk about anybody else. It’s just not decent.” What did he think of colleagues Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough being suspended for donating to campaigns? Matthews shook his head and let out a noise that sounded something close to a horse snort. “I don’t talk about it,” he said. Does he read his own press? “I don’t Google myself,” he says. “It’s not interesting.”

During her interview, Joynt insinuated boldly that Matthews is more politician than journalist — she meant it as a compliment, but he bristled and unleashed a resume style list of his journalism experience that spans some 15 years. “I’m a fact-checking fanatic,” he tells me. “We have to have our facts right every night – you can’t fix it later. I argue with my producers.”

What does he argue about? (Again the near laugh and eye roll.) “You said you argue with your producers, I just want to know what you argue about,” I said. He looked annoyed. Were we playing Hardball? “We argue about getting the facts right,” he said finally.

Next topic: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). On election night when she wouldn’t answer his questions he asked, “Has someone hypnotized you?” He didn’t mind talking Bachmann. “She’s amazing,” he said. “It was the craziest look in the world.”

He said getting Republicans on his show every night is his bread and butter. “I need them because I’m an arguer,” he said. As with Joynt, never once does he look me in the eye, and again his body is facing right. He yammered on about how much he likes to argue, when I asked, “What’s the most remarkable thing anyone has ever said to make you stop interrupting them?” He stopped and smiled. “Oh, I still do that, huh?” he lamented. He said the other complaint he gets is that he talks too loud. “Do I talk too loudly?” he asked. I didn’t think so. As for interrupting, he reasoned, “I can’t let them go on like an infomercial. That just doesn’t work. A lot of people come on television and get nervous and you end up having a show that is not your show.”

If Matthews’ body language spoke volumes, his facial expressions were a close second. Before the interview with Joynt, he walked into the fancy dining room and just looked annoyed from the get-go. Blond-white hair slightly askew. Dapper dark pinstripe suit, red tie. His attitude was, why me? Oh right, Joynt’s an old friend. But let’s get this over was the look. While oozing grouch from his pores, he managed quasi-pleasant greetings to his eager mostly graying audience — for them he’s a star and they were there to see Matthews be Matthews.

In that sense, he didn’t disappoint. He interrupted. He argued. He shocked. He did his “HA’s.” He even made a fat joke. That one was about the more than plump New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie not being able to balance a budget because what was he going to start with – supper?

Joynt began by asking Matthews something personal. “Oh we’re going there” he groused when asked about his diabetes. If she was trying to ease him into this interview, this wasn’t ideal, but it was in terms of aggravating him if you know what I mean. True to Matthews form, he made it interesting even if he was getting more deeply in touch with his inner-grouch. He said he didn’t always take the diagnosis seriously — not until he had to start shooting himself up above the knee. “I’m not that good with it, I take my medicine, I exercise in the morning,” he said. “When you start putting a needle in yourself a day, you start dealing with it better,” he said.

Joynt asked him about being an empty nester. He said he likes it. He said his daughter recently got a job with Google — “which is like getting a Rhodes Scholar[ship] these days,” he said.

At the end of my private interview with Matthews, three gray-haired men approached to shake his hand. One told him he had been in the hospital, but told the doctors to hurry up and fix him enough so that he could come see Matthews. The newsman looked genuinely touched and broke into a gigantic smile.

As Matthews shook his hand, the man’s face lit up as he said, “I just hope I’m not contagious.”

Go to audio stream here.