The Anti-Chris Matthews Vote

And how it sparked some media soul-searching (though not from Matthews)

As my colleague Gal Beckerman observed earlier today, with last night’s New Hampshire victory, Hillary beat the press.

Meanwhile, the press spent some time last night beating itself.

Here is a sampling of the sort of mild self-flagellation on display last night on MBSNC (the channel I happened to be watching) where many of the network’s familiar faces-with the exception of Chris Matthews-seemed to be doing some form of soul-searching for having, as Tom Brokaw put it, prematurely and sometimes excitedly “end[ed] the Clinton era,” for having been so sure of New Hampshire’s outcome hours or even days before the polls closed. (Sounds familiar, no?) Often, it seemed to be Brokaw gently apologizing for his onetime peers. (Maybe that’s what gravitas means).

At 10:30pm:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: …Yes a lot of people have a lot of explaining to do…[New Hampshire voters] have almost en masse decided this goes on from here. And this is how we feel. Perhaps predicated on the media coverage they have seen…

Minutes later:

TOM BROKAW: Let me read the headlines of the last twenty-four hours here. So yesterday, a picture of Hillary on the front page of the Boston Herald. “Panic” in the New York Post with Hillary. The end of the Clinton era-a lot of pundits saying that on this channel and all the other channels as well… all of that conventional wisdom was turned on its head. This is one of the great triumphs in recent years in American presidential politics. Hillary Clinton is back. And the rest of us who were saying out loud that this is not going to happen, you know, we’ve got a lot of explaining to do.

KEITH OLBERMAN: Of course, one lesson from headline succeeding headline succeeding headline is that we should wait for all the headlines rather than just pick the one that has happened the most recently…

And later still:

BROKAW: We don’t have to get in the business of making judgments before the polls have closed and trying to stampede, in effect, the process. Look, I’m not just picking on us, it’s part of the culture in which we live these days. I think that the people out there are going to begin to make judgments about us, if they haven’t already, if we don’t begin to temper that temptation to constantly try to get ahead of what the voters are deciding…

CHRIS MATTHEWS: You know, Tom, there are whole universities that depend almost entirely for their identity, their brand on their polling operations, and it seems like so many people depend on getting out an early estimate of what is about to come…

There are also whole cable television shows, whole cable news personalities, even, “that depend almost entirely for their identity, their brand… on getting out an early estimate of” - that is, speculating and pontificating on - “what is about to come.”

Here is the closest Matthews came to contrition last night:

MATTHEWS: If [Hillary] wins tonight, she has got a leg up on the predictors, on the pundits, the people like me. Who were reading the polls for three days now and believing them. She’s able to say, not only am I the Comeback Kid, I’m the victor. That’s better than the Comeback Kid. And Barack Obama, I will still say, has given the most inspiring speeches I have heard…Surpises, surprises. You know, politics is, as they say, phenomenal. It is not predictable.

MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Herald: Well, politics is incredible and the emotion of politics is incredible. It proves once again you have to play the games, you have to have the elections…

Yes, you do have to “have the elections.”

By far the most dramatic self-flagellatory exchange of the night was the following:

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC analyst: This is an astonishing development. Look, the pollsters were dead wrong. They were predicting 7-8 to a dozen points for Obama. The press was dead wrong. We had virtually canonized Obama and said he had been born in Bethlehem and now you’ve got a race where Hillary Clinton is running three or four points ahead of this fella. Something has happened. There is a hidden vote here somewhere, or my guess is this: The New Hampshire voters said, look, the press has been telling us Obama’s the second coming. We don’t think so. The press has been telling us she’s gone, and the women came out and said, no, she’s not. What New Hampshire did was stand up and body slam the national establishment, the press corp., the pollsters, the whole bunch that came in here as well as Barack Obama’s folks who must be in a state of shock tonight.

RACHEL MADDOW, Air America: Pat, I will tell you that on the influential -perhaps influential on the left — Web site, talking points memo today, do you want to know who they’re blaming for women voters breaking for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama? Who they’re blaming for this late showing for Hillary Clinton? They’re blaming Chris Matthews. People are citing specifically Chris not only for his own views but also as a symbol for what the mainstream media…

MATTHEWS: What Web site?

MADDOW: It’s cited anecdotally…

MATTHEWS: My influence over American politics looms over the people! I’m overwhelmed myself.

MADDOW: People feel that the media is piling on Hillary Clinton. They’re coming to her defense with their votes…

So was there, in fact, what amounts to an anti-Chris Matthews vote that emerged in New Hampshire? And if so, why might Hillary Clinton have been the beneficiary?

Here are a couple of thoughts on those questions. And Matthews himself provided some clues last night as to why an anti-Matthews voter might be motivated to pull the lever for Clinton.

After telling a story about how Nixon once planned to make his voice crack during a speech to look more sympathetic, Matthews continued: “I know Hillary Clinton was completely spontaneous the other day but let’s bring in the panel on that point. It could be that big girls don’t cry,.. but it could be that if they do they win.”

And later:

MATTHEWS: This is a basketball game tonight. Meaning it will be decided in the last couple of seconds before the buzzer… I wouldn’t put it past the Clintons if it looked like it was moving toward a victory for Barack to pull a quick press conference while it’s still vague and say it’s too early to tell. Then go to bed with some vague victory statement. I’ll know throughout this evening what their game plan will be because I’ll be there. There’s a good chance they will try to move pre-emptively claim some sort of tie — if this thing’s moving, as the Hanover vote comes in, towards Obama. It will be interesting to watch the gamesmanship tonight. They have pulled this before. Declaring comebacks when they’ve lost by eight - having been ahead by 20. They’re quite able to try to create a new confected reality. I’m watching this.

And Matthews seems awfully intent on motivating any sort of latent anti-Chris Matthews vote in future primary states as well. Get a load of what he said (hat tip, Greg Sargent) about Hillary Clinton this morning on MSNBC:

The Hillary appeal has always been about her mix of toughness and sympathy for her. Let’s not forget — and I’ll be brutal —the reason she’s a U.S. senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That’s how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn’t win on her merits. She won because everybody felt, my god, this woman stood up under humiliation, right? That’s how it happened. In 1998 she went to New York and campaigned for Chuck Schumer as almost like the grieving widow of absurdity, and she did it so well and courageously, but it was about the humiliation of Bill Clinton.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.