Patrick Gavin at FishbowlDC has obtained an advance copy of this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine, which features a long, juicy profile of Chris Matthews by Mark Leibovich. In the piece, Matthews admits that MSNBC executives forced him to apologize for sexist remarks against Hillary Clinton and speculates that he would be an inviting target for a propaganda kidnapping, which is why he won't visit Syria.
The profile also reveals Matthews' deep job insecurity: his contract expires next year and "NBC officials seem bent on conveying the message that they could get the same ratings, or better ones, for considerably less" than the $5 million per year he gets now. Matthews is particularly suspicious of David Gregory, who is commonly perceived to be auditioning to be is replacement.
Leibovich also writes that "Matthews craves [Tim] Russert's approval like that of an older brother, but that "Russert can be disdainful of Matthews, whose act he often sees as clownish....Russert believes Matthews is something of a loose cannon who brings him undue headaches in his capacity as NBC's Washington bureau chief."
Choice excerpts below, but visit FishbowlDC for more.
• As we approached the airport gate, Matthews mentioned that he and his wife, Kathleen, have been contemplating a trip to Damascus. It's something they have wanted to do for a long time. But he worries that he might make an inviting target for a kidnapper. "I can imagine getting some big-name media figure would be a big propaganda catch for them," Matthews said. "You can imagine what the neocons would say if I were kidnapped. They'd be like, 'See, Matthews, terrorism isn't so funny now, is it?'"
• Matthews says the notion that he is sexist has been pushed unfairly by blogs, women's groups and, to some degree, the Clinton campaign. His remark that Clinton benefitted because her husband "messed around" triggered much outrage from the Clinton team. Matthews eventually apologized in a rambling on-air explanation, but he hardly sounds contrite now. "I was tonally inaccurate but factually true," he told me. I had asked him earlier if he was forced into the apology. "Oh, yeah, of course I was forced into that," he said, laughing. "No, no, no .... Phil [Griffin] asked me to do that."
• "By the way, have you figured me out yet?" Matthews said at the end of another phone conversation the following day. "You gotta understand, it's all complicated. It's not like Tim." Tim — as in Russert, the inquisitive jackhammer host of "Meet the Press" — is a particular obsession of Matthews's. Matthews craves Russert's approval like that of an older brother. He is often solicitous.
• A number of people I spoke with at NBC said that Russert can be disdainful of Matthews, whose act he often sees as clownish. They also told me that Russert believes Matthews is something of a loose cannon who brings him undue headaches in his capacity as NBC's Washington bureau chief.
• According to people at NBC, Matthews has not been shy in voicing his resentment of Olbermann. Nor, according to network sources, has Olbermann bothered to hide his low regard for Matthews, although when I spoke to him, Olbermann denied any personal animosity toward Matthews and told me that he appreciates his "John Madden-like enthusiasm for politics."