A Day in the Life of Chris Matthews
Interviewing the Post’s Dana Milbank about the economy
|A private moment to review his notes and his commentary|
|Admiring a photo of his two sons, Michael and Thomas|
|Taking a few moments to sign copies of his new book at The Hay-Adams for Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough|
|The ritualistic pre-show fist bump with stage director Derbin Cabell|
Chris Matthews loves his pictures. It’s hard to blame him, as the photographs, most framed in simple black, document his life: Peace Corps volunteer, husband (his wife, Kathleen Matthews, is a former news anchor and a current executive at Marriott International), aide to former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, father (Matthews has two sons and a daughter, all in their twenties). For the past 10 years, Matthews has hosted NBC’s popular Chris Matthews Show, a Sunday roundtable with lively discussion and insider news, and for 17 years, he has been the driving force behind Hardball, his nightly political festivus on MSNBC, with powerhouse guests who excitedly spew rhetoric and opinion at breakneck speed.
An author, Matthews recently released his latest book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, an important and well-crafted tome filled with new insights on the fabled president, whose life has long held Matthews’s fascination and admiration. However, most days Matthews can be found in his office at the DC bureau of NBC News, surrounded by a staff of producers, a “family” that has become accustomed to the boisterous quips and punctuated statements of their boss. His loud “HA!” follows most tidbits of information and typically signals that Matthews is intrigued, amused, or flat-out disbelieving. Asked what part of his job he enjoys the most—the TV hosting, the speaking engagements, the writing, the occasional acting gig—Matthews stops for a hot second to think, then smiles. “What can I say? I like it all.”
Although his day begins a couple of hours earlier, usually at home with his wife, Kathleen (“I bring her her coffee—a skim latte”), “work” starts in earnest with a conference call to Hardball executive producer John Reiss, based in New York City, and all the Hardball producers. They go over the morning’s news and plot the outline of that evening’s show.
Matthews takes meetings, reads several newspapers, gathers information, and has lunch, all before heading to his office at NBC News at around half-past one.
The day picks up, and Matthews’s attention is directed toward getting the lineup set for the upcoming Hardball taping. He dashes into a tiny makeup room to “fix my face” for a few quick cut-ins and teases for the night’s program.
Retreating to his corner office, a large one with plenty of windows and a couch he sometimes uses to grab a brief afternoon siesta (“I love this thing; it smells like my grandmother’s old house”), Matthews takes time to show off his photographs, many of which he has taken himself. He and his family love to travel, and his images are of many of their sojourns, from Africa to Prince Edward Island. He shows off one in particular of his two sons: Michael, a filmmaker who lives in Matthews’s hometown of Philadelphia, and Thomas, an actor who lives in the West Village in New York and recently landed a part on Aaron Sorkin’s latest project.
Matthews also points out the various politicians he has pictures of in his office, at the same time telling stories of campaigns, historic moments, and what he thinks of President Obama’s chances in the coming election. “This is from a guy who only voted right twice, but we’ll have to see,” he says of his own presidential voting record. “The thing with Obama is Democrats typically only vote when they’re excited, so he has to get them excited again. He just has to keep trying to bring that excitement back.”
Five Hardball producers crowd around Matthews’s table, and Reiss and the New York producers join in on the phone. Matthews listens as each block of the show is solidified, asking questions and challenging some answers. “Is this state-of-mind reporting?” he asks of one particular story making headlines that day. Matthews occasionally looks at a few stats and polls and says, “This is good reporting here; this is good.” No matter how long he has been doing this, it’s clear that Matthews is a hardcore news junkie, not just a talking head, and the staff meeting, which lasts about 45 minutes, is getting him geared up for the show.
Matthews grabs some alone time to write his commentary, “Let Me Finish.” Senior producer Tina Urbanski then heads into Matthews’s office to review the show script, part of the daily ritual.
Matthews is ready to go after a quick touch-up and a few more notes. He greets his studio guests and takes his seat on the set, ready for action. Just before the camera rolls, Matthews does his customary “Have a good show” fist-bump with stage director Derbin Cabell.
Most evenings Matthews says he meets Kathleen for dinner at a local haunt near their Chevy Chase abode, but this night he is at The Hay-Adams, being fêted at a book party hosted by MSNBC president Phil Griffin. Matthews is in fine form, greeting colleagues like Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski; journalists including Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and Andrea Mitchell; and politicians—Senator John Kerry and former Senator Chris Dodd both work the room and receive signed copies of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. It is an impressive turnout of Washington notables, and Matthews, although a tad overwhelmed, looks entirely pleased to be in a room filled with boldfacers as the guest of honor. He takes the microphone, says a few words of thanks to his mentors, his wife, and his friends, and then, because he just cannot help it, he looks over the crowd and smiles.
photography by greg powers; courtesy of msnbc (book signing)
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.