Thursday, October 4, 2007

Chris Matthews, John Stewart and American Pundit Fighting

There was an interesting duel last night between Jon Stewart and MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews. Chris appeared on the Daily Show to promote his new book, 'Life's a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success'. Instead what Chris got was a public dressing down where the host destroyed the entire conceit of his book.

If you're interested in seeing more interviews with pundits that didn't run so smoothly. Click to view my post on 'Shoot Fights'.

What's troubling is, I fundamentally agree with Chris Matthews' premise that to succeed you need to put on a show. Heck this whole blog is about that very notion. Presentation does matter, to achieve success there is a certain amount of schmoozing and butt kissing that needs to be done. How overtly its done can mean the difference between charm and artifice. I think where Matthews went wrong is that he doesn't have the gravitas and charisma to deliver his message credibly. He comes off like a greasy car salesman selling a book on 'integrity', Stewart wasn't buying it. Matthews has the appearance of a devious politician who doesn't realise he's not fooling anybody. It's quite ironic really.

This reminds of a similar episode involving Air America talker Rachel Maddow. Rachel does a regular video feature called The Campaign Asylum where she focuses on particular topics, in this instance presidential hopeful Fred Thompson. Rachel makes a compelling argument that Fred Thompson is an empty suit with little to offer but charisma. If YouTube replies are anything to go by, she wasn't convincing enough. For her message to be effective Rachel has to be able to convince Thompson-type supporters who are enamored by charisma. Ironically the only way she can break that spell is to at least be as captivating as Fred for people to take her seriously.

To be fair Rachel faces an uphill battle with her medium. 'Talking straight to camera' has an awkward aesthetic. The most successful of these are usually solemn and humble, like a presidential address or a fireside chat. The excitable delivery Rachel employs without the benefit of another person to bounce off appears 'smarmy' (to quote a YouTube commenter). In fact the only other time you see this aesthetic is with amateur myspace/YouTube users ranting from their bedrooms. Presenting with a buffer rather than direct to camera brings a feeling of earnestness and humility, even when delivering the material the same way.

Tell me what you think? Do you agree?

Just to make the circle complete.
How do you think Fred Thompson comes off looking in this?

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