“The most important thing to succeed in show business is sincerity. And if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” (George Burns)
Such is the essential message of Chris Matthews’ new book, “Life is a Campaign”. He posits that we can all learn from politicians and their oh-so-clever trick of pretending to listen to and care about people they don’t give eight tenths of a bucket of warm spit what happens to.
This was what got Matthews into so much trouble in his brutal interview with Jon Stewart. Stewart was (understandably) flabbergasted. He was saying (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I can’t believe that this is your philosophy of life. Lie and shmooze and fake your way to the top? That’s your advice to America?”
And Matthews looked at Stewart in complete befuddlement, wearing an expression like a dog hearing a high-pitched sound, “Yeah, what’s wrong with that?”
It was a bloodbath.
Well, today I was out running errands before work and I turned on Radio Free Lunch with Mara Davis, a show where the host, Mara Davis, picks a theme and then listeners email and call in with requests. Sometimes she has a guest, and when I tuned in, there was this nasal, irritating voice that seemed weirdly familiar, but certainly not in this context. I thought, “Is that Conan O’Brian?”
“Blah, blah, whine, whine, Bill Clinton. Hillary, Hillary, blah, whine,” the voice said, then went on to speculate about how many nights a month Bill and Hillary sleep in the same bed or something.
“Well, goddamn,” I thought, “Tweety’s publicist has screwed up the directions to AM 750 (Atlanta’s home for angry Righty talkers), and he’s ended up at Dave FM* by mistake, and fetched up here between Bow Wow Wow and Tom Petty. Quelle catastrophe!“
(*The spot on my dial that a. I do not work at and b. seems to consistently provide the Lowest Percentage of Suck.)
And Mara Davis is my favorite. Her show is a riot. Occasionally she has been known to bust out and sing a Johnny Cash song (“I’ve Been Everywhere”) on a dare from a listener. (She made it all the way to the second chorus without screwing up, just FYI.) And I have never once heard a guest sound uncomfortable on her show.
Matthews, despite being presented with a completely congenial interview situation, was bombing. Dying. I have no idea whose brilliant plan it was to put him on the station, but the market couldn’t have been more wrong for Matthews’ brand of tepid Old Boy DC-insider quips and nasty little anti-Clinton asides.
She asked him about his interview with John Stewart and the most eloquent thing he could come up with to say about it was, “John Stewart wishes he had my height. He’s a jealous man. Jealous, angry guy.”
Then he fell completely silent, probably realizing that most of the people who listen to the station also watch the Daily Show. After a pause, Davis tried to draw him out.
“How about you play our Radio Free Lunch game with us, Chris?” she prodded, “The topic is Worst Choices for a Campaign Song Ever.” Then she named off an impressive slew of anti-campaign songs like, “I Fought the Law and the Law Won” by the Clash and “I Got High” by Afro-Man, “I Shot the Sheriff” and more.
Silence from Matthews.
“Well,” he ventured after a moment, “FDR won with ‘Happy Days are Here Again’. John Kennedy used ‘High Hopes’,” he paused, “And Bill Clinton used ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow’ in his campaign.”
Now, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually heard the sound of someone rolling their eyes to heaven quite so clearly as I heard Mara Davis do it today. It was a Moment in Radio History, I think.
“No, Chris,” she said patiently, “The game is WORST campaign songs.”
“I guess I only know the good ones,” Matthews replied lamely.
A deeply awkward silence followed.
“I’m too stiff, aren’t I?” Tweety conceded.
“No, no!” lied Mara Davis, “Here, gang, I’m going to play Chris Matthews’ favorite song.”
And in what I can only hope was a nod and a wink to the radio audience, she cued up Beck’s “Loser”.
“You don’t even know this song, do you, Chris?” she asked him as the slide guitars growled to life and the song kicked in.
Matthews needs to fire his publicist and whoever else thought that it would be a good idea for him to try to sway the elusive Youf Market this way. Di-saster.