In the Office With: Chris Matthews
My political awakening occurred at age six. It was the spring of 1952, and I was sitting in a Philadelphia movie theater with my dad, watching a newsreel about General Dwight Eisenhower’s return from NATO. I remember asking him if Eisenhower was president. ‘No,’ he said, ‘but he will be.’
By 1960 I was obsessed with politics. The country was alive with the most hotly contested, exciting presidential election of modern times. It was Senator John F. Kennedy versus Vice President Richard Nixon. It was the last of the old-style campaigns: Candidates rolled along Broad Street in giant noontime motorcades, and a half-million people donning giant campaign buttons and skimmer hats turned out to see them.
The first time I heard of Kennedy was during the Democratic Convention in Chicago four years earlier. I remember sitting in the backseat of my dad’s two-tone ’54 Chevy Bel Air and listening as the news crackled across the car radio. The fight to become the vice-presidential candidate was on between Estes Kefauver of Tennessee and this new candidate no one knew anything about. Kennedy lost the battle, but it was the first look we had at someone we would come to know so well, who would soon mean so much to us—to me.
|Matthews’s photo wall. He has taken several of them himself, including the one of his wife, Kathleen (TOP CENTER).|
As I said, I had become enamored with politics. I think it came from Mom’s side of the family. Charles Patrick Shields, my grandfather, was a classic Irishman and a local Democratic committeeman in Nicetown. He worked the night shift as an inspector at a plant in North Philadelphia. A favorite ritual of mine after Grandpop retired was accompanying him for long walks through the old neighborhoods around Hunting Park and Broad Street, stopping to buy the bulldog edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the way home. He would sit in the living room at his house on 15th Street talking politics with me forever.
I think about those moments with my Grandpop often when I step on the set of Hardball. I have a daily duty to the show: I need to get my head around the events, news, and political developments, working with my producers to find our trademark way to hit the top and secondary stories. The key is finding the exciting nail and sharply hitting it on the head. The end of the week is much busier than the beginning because of The Chris Matthews Show. It airs Sundays at 10 AM, so we typically plan on Thursday mornings and tape Fridays at noon. In between I try to write as much as possible. I have a basic rule about my writing: Hit your deadlines. It comes from my years of newspaper work. When writing a book, I plan backwards from a deadline, then divide up the time into more deadlines. I get up around 6 AM and work until I fall asleep over the keys. I am very fortunate to love what I am writing about.