Chris Matthews, A Hardball And A Half.

Media Life Magazine brings news that Mark Leibovich has been nominated for a National Magazine Award for his profile of Chris Matthews which appeared in The New York TImes Magazine. Here is an extract, (look out for the Didion reference!):

“If Matthews has an overriding professional insecurity, it is being confined to the pigeonhole of cable blowhard. The insecurity is well founded, since this is how many people view him. ”The shorthand for Chris in the gossip columns is always ‘blabbermouth’ or ‘cable yakker’ or something,” said Nancy Nathan, the executive producer of ”The Chris Matthews Show.” ”It’s not fair or accurate. But it’s obviously out there.”

Matthews takes great pride in ”The Chris Matthews Show,” as if its select Sunday morning time slot, just before ”Meet the Press,” confers him a spot on the coveted first team. ”We envision viewers watching up on the West Side of New York,” Nathan told me. ”They’ve been to Zabar’s. They have their bagel, juice, coffee. These are smart people who want smart analysis. We like to think we’re a complement to ‘Meet the Press.’ ”

When I asked Matthews about the bloviator stigma, he dismissed it as jealousy or at the very least ignorance among those who don’t know him or who don’t regularly watch his Sunday show or who have not read his books or who are not aware that he is a student of history and film or that he is on the board of trustees of the Churchill Center or that he has received — did he mention? — 19 honorary degrees. (Breaking honorary-degree news: Matthews told me in late March that he expects to be up to at least 22 later this spring.)

He also mentioned — more than once — that he has heard that the historian David McCullough watches ”Hardball” every night and that ”Arthur Schlesinger watched ‘Hardball’ ” and that sometimes ”Joan Didion watched ‘Hardball’ with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, before he died.”

Matthews envisions his role in this presidential campaign to that of Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite in 1968. ”Your job is to illuminate, illuminate the game,” Matthews says. He faces a nightly challenge to ”bring to life” the unfurling of history. Matthews says he wants to be synonymous with this campaign, like Howard Cosell was with Muhammad Ali.

”Imagine bullfighting without Hemingway,” he says. ”I can’t.”

Is Matthews comparing himself to Hemingway?

”No way,” he says. ”Don’t you, don’t you [expletive] do that.”

Matthews fashions himself a blend of big-think historian and little-guy populist. Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, who is also from Philadelphia, says that Matthews has internalized the ”inferiority complex” of his native city. Matthews says that although he’s now 6-foot-3, he was little as a child and has always viewed himself as ”a short guy.”

”I don’t think people look at me as the establishment, do you?” Matthews asked me. ”Am I part of the winner’s circle in American life? I don’t think so.”

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