Chris Matthews Tears Fla. Gubernatorial Candidates a New One. Hopefully.
We've got a Democratic candidate whose image with black voters is so bad he had to bring one on as a running mate. And a Republican candidate who is taking credit for investigating the state's first civil rights murder and battling rumors of sexual impropriety with people of both sexes.
Do we know how to have a election in Florida, or what?
Tasked with getting to the nitty gritty of all this on statewide and national TV is MSNBC's Chris Matthews, an excitable political junkie whose reputation for interrupting guests on his frenetic talk how Hardball had the usual suspects in Florida political circles tsk tsk-ing over NBC stations choosing to parachute in a TV star. See my brief story on his intentions from today's paper here.
Even Matthews himself seemed a little cowed by the controversy when I talked to him Friday: "I read all the clips – that’s all I’ll say," he offered, before continuing on for about five more minutes.
"It’s always been my experience that the best questions are the simplest ones -– the ones everybody agrees should be asked. The questions that are only surprising in their obvious directness. You go wow, thast’s a surprising question, only because it’s so appropriate. People can hear the questions. There’s something that’s an automatic real-time sense of fairness about the question. People listening to them, they decide whether they think it’s a fair question and they look to the candidate for an answer. If anyone were to ask a question that wasn’t really over the plate, they would say that’s an odd question, and they wouldn’t really expect much of the candidate. You really have to put it over the plate and make it clear, and easy to understand so the viewers are curious most of all about what the answer’s going to be. Thoe are the best questions, you know? It’s my job to keep it very clear and, as they say, stay out of the weeds. So when you walk away, you’ll know where each candidate stands on a number of issues. I think that’s my job."
Umm, okay. He also promised to try and keep his best questions down to just five words. Good luck with that one, guy.
But I think Matthews is an excellent choice for this debate. He's got an interview style tailor-made for throwing well-scripted pols off their game (likely the real reason Charlie Crist's campaign resisted the debate in the first place). He brings enough glamour to get the debate on nationwide TV -- even if it is just MSNBC. And he brings an even-money chance of inspiring a Saturday Night Live parody that could make our goober-natorial race an even greater exercise in absurdist humor.
What do you think, Chris? "They have to talk to their voters and say to them why they have in common, what they care about. You have to show what you care about. You have to encourage people to vote and give them a reason to vote. It’s hard to change a mind at the end -– it's very hard -- most of these campaigns right now are about getting your supporters out. Although I have to tell you -- I wrote a book on this -- George W. Bush won the (2000) election on the debates. He wouldn’t even have been in it; he was way behind before the debates and after the debates he was ahead. That’s what you look at. Where were they before the debates and where were they after? You never ask who won. That doesn’t mean anything to people. Gore may have won the last debate, but Bush was better off afterwards. So who really won?" (check this image: have we been voting on four versions of the same guy?)
Couldn't have said it better, myself. See how he does at 7 tonight on WFLA or MSNBC.
From Bad to Badder: Newspaper Circulation Woes Continue
Audit Bureau of circulations just put a big-old pile of candy corn in the newspaper's industry's trick-or-treat bag today (see earlier note on bad puns, which extends to unwieldy metaphors), announcing severe circulation declines for most big metropolitan newspapers year-to-year.
Close to home, Mother Times saw daily circulation drop 3.2 percent from Oct. 2005 (about 9,500 subscriptions), while Sunday circulation basically held fast with a gain of .2 percent (867 subs). The Tampa Tribune saw a 3.6 percent drop (7,500 subs) daily and a 4.6 percent loss on Sunday (13,338 subs).
For those keeping track, the Times is still the largest-circulation newspaper in Florida, thanks mostly to the way the Miami Herald has been hemmoraging readers. This time, it's a 8.8 percent drop daily (25,615 subs) and a 9.8 percent drop on Sundays (39,342 subs). The continuing lesson: midsize dailies need to better focus on the needs of their readers -- the Heralds, Inquirers and (Chacago) Tribunes can no longer be all things to all readers, because you wind up speaking to no one.
Here's the raw numbers:
St. Pete Times -- 288,676 daily (M-to-F); 386,661 sunday
Tampa Tribune -- 204,177 daily; 278,411 Sunday
Miami Herald -- 265,583 daily; 361,846 Sunday
Orlando Sentinel -- 214,283 daily; 317,226 Sunday
Times Festival of Reading Aftermath
Is there anything cooler than standing in the same room with noted historian John Hope Franklin, former New York Times editor Howell Raines, former St. Petersburg Times editor Gene Patterson, and former tennise star Martina Navratilova?
Maybe it was getting a compliment from Arianna Huffington.
These wonderful experienes came courtesy of the Times' 14th annual Festival of Reading on Saturday, which drew a record crowd to the University of South Florida. I had the good fortune to interoduce one of the highest-profile authors there, pundit/blogger/celebrity pal Huffington, and speak on my own toward the end of the festival (Huffington liked my intro, saying it was the best she'd gotten on a book tour so far).
For those of us who work at the paper, it's gratifying to rub shoulders with people you've admired from afar (getting a compliment from puzzlemaster Merle Reagle will keep my confidence up for weeks), while hearing directly from readers about what they love -- and loathe -- about Mother Times.
Not surprisingly, the redesign wasn't a big hit with many people, but I told folks what I've been telling myself -- give it a chance, because change is hard. Arianna couldn't stay long -- she wanted to get home to Los Angeles to be with her family -- but actress Meg Tilly, Navratilova, Franklin and Raines all charmed various volunteers and staffers with their good cheer, great stories and open attitude.
Can't wait to see who stops by next year.
N-Space Arrives, Closet Racists Rejoice
I know I shouldn't even mention it, but when the Huffington Post offered a link to a web site dubbed Niggaspace, I had to check it out.
According to FishBowlNY, its a site established by a fellow named Tyrone, who swears he's not doing it to be racist and will not divulge his own ethnicity. But, of course, the homepage has a poll asking what kind of Kool Aid you like most, or how well endowed certain peopel are.
In other words, it's filled with the kind of nonsense racists often imagine black folks saying as some awful vindication of their feelings about us. It's the same crappy dialect that crops up in the racist messages posted to this blog and sent to me personally -- never with a real name attached. Even these kinds of knuckleheads aren't dumb enough to put their own names on such awful prejudice.
Anyway, it may turn out this guy is some self-hating brother from the Shelby Steele mold. But it smells an awful lot like a racist in-joke to me, and I only mention it because I remain flabbergasted at how far some of these guys will go to further a putrid point.
Let the deluge of knuckleheaded -- and anonymous -- rebuttals begin.