Remind me: what did Chris Matthews do for Jimmy Carter?
posted at 9:30 am on December 8, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Allahpundit noted with appropriate derision last night the attack by Chris Matthews on Sarah Palin’s use of ghostwriters for her campaign memoir and her speeches. For the appropriate context, let’s revisit the entire reason Matthews has a show on MS-NBC. Newsbusters has the transcript of Matthews’ exchange with USA Today’s Susan Page on the subject:
MATTHEWS: Does it bother the press that somebody comes in there, whose book was written for them – and this is people who work. You write every day. You sweat it out getting the right words, thinking how to organize a piece, intellectualizing it and then putting it on paper. And I’m sorry, and reporting it to start with. It’s a lot of work, being a reporter. I’ve seen you guys on deadline. It’s hard work. Don’t you essentially disrespect somebody who walks in and puts a book on the table and said they wrote it, when you know somebody else did? Who comes in and gives a speech that you know somebody else wrote all the jokes for and gave it to her and she paid for it probably? Doesn’t that bother you guys? I’m arguing there.
PAGE: You know I think if it’s, I think if it’s not, if it’s not-
MATTHEWS: Does it bother you?
MATTHEWS: Why doesn’t it bother you?
PAGE: Because if it’s in her voice, like the book, I read her book, it’s in her voice. It sounds just like her. Maybe she doesn’t write it, it does reflect her in a way. And the idea, you who, you who’ve written-
MATTHEWS: But she didn’t sweat it out.
PAGE: You have written many speeches for politicians.
MATTHEWS: And I’ve written them and I’ve written books. And, and I take-
PAGE: Does it offend you?
MATTHEWS: But I have tremendous respect for you guys, on the bus, when I see you guys. I’ll sit on a bus somewhere, covering a campaign, and all of a sudden one of you people from the big papers, and all of a sudden I’ll see a 1,500 word piece taken and you’ve somehow gotten it done, in the same time I’ve been with you? I say, “When did you write this thing?” I mean there’s a lot of talent she doesn’t have, and yet she takes credit for it.
PAGE: It’s not, it’s not the talent that we ask the political figures to have. We ask them to have other talents like points of view.
MATTHEWS: Well why do you let them take credit for books and speeches they didn’t write?
In fact, Matthews only matters because he used to write speeches for politicians. He got his big break in the Carter White House when he was brought in to write speeches for Jimmy Carter:
As Carter entered the fall election against Ronald Reagan, the speechwriters typically got little direction. “All the political dinners and all the road shows we did, we had to come up with them [from] nothing,” recalled Chris Matthews, who had joined the speechwriting staff in the late fall of 1979.
A Philadelphia native and former Peace Corps volunteer, Matthews had worked on the Hill, and for consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and made an unsuccessful primary challenge against a Democratic member of Congress in 1974. He had worked on a government reorganization, including civil service staff, and had helped out on some previous speechwriting, including the 1979 State of the Union address. “Chris was no Sorenson, but he is a fast, solid writer and a hard worker,” Hertzberg wrote in October, pushing to hire Matthews. “He is politically very savvy, has a firm grasp of the Carter program and record, and he is very good at working with people.”
That comes from Robert Schlesinger’s book White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, pages 309-310. The reason I quote this is to underscore the irony of a man who wrote speeches for politicians complaining that a politician uses a ghostwriter, but there’s another unacknowledged bit of irony at play here. Matthews has his own television show without having had any real experience in media other than being a staffer for said politicians, and yet here he’s complaining about Palin’s supposed lack of qualifications to actual journalists. Do you think that Page and Politico’s Jonathan Martin may be wondering how Matthews got a prime-time show, other than his political connections and career writing words for other people?
I daresay they may be a little more offended at a political hack grabbing a media brass ring than a politician who uses a ghostwriter, especially when the political hack also happened to be a ghostwriter.