Roundtable Revelations

Reporters talking about themselves... and speaking volumes

It’s weird. Watching journalists shooting the breeze about, and making predictions about, a contest they’re helping to shape — and rarely acknowledging their role in that shaping.

Such is the experience of viewing programs like The Chris Matthews Show.

But witness how weird it also can be when one of these journalist-panelists actually does cop (sort of) to her role as an influencer of the process about which she is pontificating.

Here is The Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut yesterday on Chris Matthews, being prompted by Matthews to come up with a new “tag” for Hillary Clinton (Matthews having apparently tired of the label he and his peers pinned on candidate Clinton a couple of weeks ago):

MATTHEWS: “When does Hillary stop being flawless? Which was the tag we had on her two weeks ago, which was, `God, she’s running a perfect campaign. She makes no mistakes.’ When does she become slick? Is there a difference, or simply in perception?”

KORNBLUT: “…I mean, we’re already starting to see us—and even the voters…start to take [Hillary Clinton] down a little more…”

We’re already starting to see us…start to take [Hillary Clinton] down a little more”? (I’ve even seen me do it! Just last week I witnessed my own hands typing a less-than-flattering take on Hillary!) In other words: we’re navel-gazing here, talking about ourselves (and our own contributions to the pendulum swings that befall presidential candidates) but still in a strangely detached way that avoids accountability.

There was another weird moment on yesterday’s show — brought to us by panelist Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times.

“The Big Question” Matthews posed to his guests yesterday: which candidate will Al Gore endorse if Gore does not run himself? Bumiller’s answer: “Well, I would—I’m not allowed to predict, but I would—I wouldn’t be surprised if he endorsed Obama…” I’m not allowed to predict but here is my prediction. Why go on a prognostication-fest such as the The Chris Matthews Show if you’re “not allowed to predict”? And who, by the way, is forbidding Bumiller to make predictions? The New York Times? Bumiller’s conscience?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.