Chris Matthews of MSNBC resigned (was pushed out, truly) on Monday night. Much has been made – rightly – of how his comments about his female guests made him unsuitable for his role.
In the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan raises a second objection, worth considering, to Matthews’s work: he was too-often unprepared. Sullivan writes that
One of the most prominent and well-paid hosts in the cable-news game didn’t listen, didn’t do his homework, and treated politics as a game in which noisy confrontation was a necessity. The problem was less about greenroom boorishness and far more about what you could see and hear on the air — especially in recent weeks, but also going back a long way.
With his reported $5 million annual salary, he wielded enormous influence. For many years, he had the power to sway public opinion on the crucial topics of the day. Not infrequently, he failed the main test of someone in that role. He was ready to offer his own views, but not prepared to hear those of his guests or to bring deep knowledge to the conversation.
(Sullivan accurately observes that when Matthews questioned Sen. Elizabeth Warren about her criticism of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Matthews was plainly ignorant of published reporting that supported Warren’s criticism.)
Conduct toward others – including in the green room before a show – matters. And yet, even if Matthews had treated all of his guests properly, there would still be – as Sullivan notes – a meaningful deficiency in Matthews’s work. He was unprepared, either through laziness or arrogance.
When disadvantaged or disabled people try to do the best they can, they should be encouraged for their efforts. Matthews is neither disadvantaged nor disabled – he has no excuse whatever for his lack of thorough preparation.
Consider chess: accomplished competitive players practice for hours each day. They don’t do so because they’re incapable, they do so to achieve their full abilities. Practice isn’t evidence that they’re dull – it’s evidence of their efforts to show how sharp they are, and can be.
For every word written, or spoken, there should be countless more words read or heard. Reading precedes writing, as listening precedes speaking.
Away from the camera – away from the screen – a daily, diligent effort should undergird expression.