I am sure, though I can’t find a link at this moment, that I have complained before about the “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” segment of The Chris Matthews Show. This is the part of Matthews’s Sunday morning show when, each week, he promises viewers “scoops and predictions right out of the notebooks of these top reporters!” goes to commercial, returns from commercial, and then exhorts his reporter-panelists to, “Tell me something I don’t know!”
Which is, simply, an invitation to speculate. A request to wow Chris Matthews with some tidbit of insider’s gossip or some foretelling of future events or some half-thought based on, well, often based on very little. The reporters then try to one-up one another with some counter-intuitive or otherwise memorable nugget or prediction. And everyone knows that Matthews won’t ask them how they know this “Something I Don’t Know,” that no one will ask for more or push for a source beyond the “some say” or “insiders believe” or “I hear” that typically precede these “Somethings.”
This past Sunday, Bob Woodward was among Matthews’ “top reporter” panelists and, when requested to “tell me something I don’t know,” Woodward gamely offered the following (h/t, Sam Stein via a CJR reader):
WOODWARD: This may be tantalizing, but vague. I don’t think that…
MATTHEWS: Like Deep Throat.
WOODWARD: Like—I don’t think the nanny and household tax problems and so forth are over for the Obama administration.
MATTHEWS: Well, it’s already hit Geithner and Caroline. Anybody else?
WOODWARD: I say it’s not over.
Woodward says it’s not over. Vague but tantalizing. (And boy Matthews did sound tantalized).
The next panelist, the Washington Post’s Ann Kornblut was forced to qualify her own offering with “well, I can’t top that, but I will, I’ll go out on a limb and say the most exiciting political story for a few weeks…is going to be the race to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.” (The “keep an eye out for this story” or “this story is going to get a lot of attention” being a common way that some of Matthews’s more restrained reporter-panelists handle the “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” segment). And, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman felt the need to confess that his offering “is not tantalizing but it’s specific,” before advising Matthews to “keep your eye on [Richard] Holbrooke” who will be “focus[ing] immediately” on “those rough, wild territories in Pakistan” and “you’ll hear a lot of news out of that.”
Of Woodward’s “murky” offering, HuffPo’s Sam Stein writes: “It was the type of gossip ginning, insider reporting that makes D.C. journalism what it is.” Or, it’s the “type of gossip ginning” that journalists should be embarrassed to do, let alone on national television. As Stein points out, Woodward’s “vague” tidbit doesn’t even meet the reporting standards to which Chris Matthews (sort of) held another not-Bob-Woodward guest on Hardall earlier last week. “Earlier in the week,” writes Stein, “Matthews had shut down similar banter on Hardball when the New York Daily News’ Liz Benjamin noted that the unconfirmed rumor mill was saying that Caroline Kennedy had an ‘affair issue.’”
But, looking at the transcript of that exchange, it seems to me like Matthews actually first invited that very speculation/banter before then “shutting [it] down” (italics mine):
MATTHEWS: First, Liz, the question is this. Did [Caroline Kennedy] withdraw because of a personal problem perhaps involving her marriage to Ed Schlossberg, or did she withdraw because she got word from the vetters that she had a tax problem or a nanny problem? Which was it of those two?
BENJAMIN: Well, there’s a lot of subterfuge going on right now and a lot of spin on all sides of this story. Coming out of the governor’s office is the story regarding the nanny problem and perhaps the tax problem, which ironically, would have surfaced in a vetting situation in a questionnaire — I assume, but we’ve never seen them publicly — that the governor had all these candidates fill out.
No one has confirmed and — not publicly, at least, the affair issue, but that certainly is out there.
MATTHEWS: The what issue?
BENJAMIN: The affair question. I believe that was the question. [ed. note: I believe that was the question, too.]
MATTHEWS: What is the affair — well, you have just something I did’t know. What is the affair question?
BENJAMIN: There’s some personal questions — there`s some personal questions about relationships that are surfacing on blogs and on all sorts of things on the Internet, but nobody has talked about that.
MATTHEWS: Well, how about — let`s stick to journalism. Let`s not — I don`t do that here, Liz. Liz, if it`s just — if it`s just blogging, let`s drop it. OK?
MATTHEWS: If you have got anything to report that`s hard, report it. Don`t — don`t give me blog stuff here.
No “blog stuff here,” but “Woodward stuff” is ok? “Let’s stick to journalism” except when I invite you to “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know?”Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.