My visit to MSNBC’s “Hardball”

Last week my mom invited me invited me to a taping of “Hardball with Chris Matthews” which was being staged at Villanova University (where she works). I figured it would be an interesting experience, John McCain was scheduled to be the guest, and it was actually the first time my immediate family has been together sans children and/or spouses since Jen and I got married – so that was actually kind of neat. I wish I could say that the same thing about the show itself.

It was neat to be in that big of a crowd for the taping of a live show, the atmosphere was really energizing, but the over-all experience wasn’t something quite as memorable as I’d hoped. This was in part because they did an absolutely terrible job with the sound system – they had speakers there, but it was almost like they weren’t even turned on. Also, in the era of huge-screen TVs, where was the jumbo-tron? I mean, throw the people in the back (that is, me) a bone here!

Aside from the poor execution on the part of the set-up, I was also seriously disappointed at the content of the show. Here’s some thoughts:

  • There’s a reason it’s called a “show,” the whole thing just felt orchestrated and fake. When the show came back from break there was always a 2 or 3 second pause before people remembered to cheer. It was kind of uncomfortable. There was a humorous moment when Chris Matthews mentioned Boston College just as the show came back from break, and when they went “live” the crowd was booing! I chuckled at that.
  • While “Hardball” is a throwback show, it’s not an old-style news presentation. Why? The amount of commercial breaks was staggering. If you think commercial breaks are pain when watching on TV try being there “live.” It really points out that the way we present “news” in this culture actually prevents the ability to communicate anything of depth to the audience. By the time a rhythm was about to be established in the conversation, a break would happen. It drove me nuts.
  • The crowd questions sucked. I mean, they were awful. The first two, in fact two drew the ire of Chris Matthews himself during the break, half-jokingly labeling them the biggest “smart-ass questions in the history of Hardball.” The second set of questions were either overly general, or softballs gently nudged in McCain’s direction. The overly-general questions really didn’t help McCain any, he just rambled trying to say something that made sense – it didn’t work (though, in the opening segment he did give some context on his 100 years comment that’s been a favorite rallying cry for his political adversaries, which was the high-point of the show).
  • When Chris Matthews tried to bring it back to “hardball,” the questions barely got to into a fast-pitch softball league – he merely asked, “Why do you think people feel inspired by the words [and the emphasis was on words] of Barak Obama?” That’s hardball? What?

All in all, I thought it was a poor interview (not helped by the student questioners who got their 30 seconds on national TV but did nothing to make it a “good conversation”). I’ve never seen “Hardball with Chris Matthews” so I didn’t know what to expect, but what I was a pretty good commentary on how American News is capable of nothing more than gleaning a sound-bite.

Update: Click here to read the AP’s reporting on the first two student questions. I find it interesting that they report McCain’s joking reference to them being hard questions, and neglect Chris Matthew’s comments on the same.