Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 2002/ 26 Tishrei 5763

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Matthews' Softball


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Chris Matthews' Hardball has become almost invisible since switching exclusively to MSNBC in the 9 p.m. Mon.-Fri. time slot. Last week, for example, the once-buzzworthy talk show got creamed in cable ratings, earning a minuscule .3 share compared to Fox's Hannity & Colmes' (1.8) and CNN's detestable Larry King (1.3).

I certainly don't tune in as often, but it's got nothing to do with the competition. Matthews, who rose to tv fame by mercilessly bashing Bill Clinton in the last two years of his presidency, has become a leading cheerleader for the antiwar movement, nightly bashing the "neocons" for their influence on the Bush doctrine of international preemption rather than containment. Newsweek's smarmy Howard Fineman, used as Matthews' political expert, doesn't help with his ubiquitous presence, but it's the host's "Masters of War" rhetoric that makes one wish that understudy Mike Barnicle would take over the program for good.

But Matthews was no match for syndicated columnist George Will-who's popping up everywhere, promoting a new collection of his columns-late last month. The former aide to Tip O'Neill and San Francisco Chronicle columnist quizzed Will about Iraq and once again promoted the theory that men like Bill Kristol have substantially influenced Bush.

Will was polite, he's on a tv book tour after all, but demolished Matthews' argument. He said, in a calm, articulate voice, that while Kristol's Weekly Standard is a political magazine he admires, its circulation is small, a speck in the publishing landscape compared to the newsweeklies and dailies, most of which are firmly against Bush's plans to invade Iraq.

Matthews tried to goad Will by reminding him that Bush, as a 2000 presidential candidate, said he was against nation-building. Isn't that hypocritical, the sinking host asked his guest. No, Will replied. Bush, because of world events, specifically Sept. 11, changed his position. That's the definition of leadership, Will continued-as Matthews fell silent-the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances in order to best serve the country.

A knockout punch.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith