By Kevin H. Wirth, ARN Director of Product Development and Media Relations
Earlier this past week, news commentator Chris Matthews and Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence went at it on "Hardball" (video). Pence, by the way, is in a leadership position as the Chairman of the House Republican Caucus.
I'm pretty sure I'm going to take some heat among many of my colleagues for what I'm about to say, but I feel strongly compelled to say it anyway: Mike Pence gave what I consider to be an absolutely embarrassing performance in this segment. In fact, if Pence represents the best that the GOP can muster for this kind of media opportunity, then they haven't earned the right to win the hearts and minds of anyone. Why? Because Pence was obviously not prepared. Folks, we're in the middle of a culture war, and Pence came to the table with the intellectual equivalent of a pea-shooter when he could have and should have come with a howitzer. Like I said, it was downright embarrassing.
Here's how the segment started out:
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in evolution?
PENCE: Do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that's in them, and --
MATTHEWS: (interrupting) Right, but you believe in evolution from the beginning.
PENCE: The means, Chris, that He used to do that, I can't say, but I do believe --
MATTHEWS: (interrupting) You can't what?
PENCE: -- in that fundamental truth.
MATTHEWS: Well -- well did you take biology? Did you take biology in school? Did you take science, which is all based on evolutionary belief and assumption?
PENCE: Well, I've always wanted to --
MATTHEWS: If your party is to be credible on science, you've gotta accept science. Do you?
PENCE: Yeah, I want to --
MATTHEWS: Accept science?
PENCE: I always wanted to play in Inherit the Wind, but on the global warming issue --
PENCE: -- I know that in the mainstream media...
MATTHEWS: See how you're hedging?
PENCE: In the mainstream media --
MATTHEWS: This is why people don't trust Republicans!
PENCE WAS EVASIVE
In reviewing this segment in it's entirety, it's very clear that Matthews was intent on getting Pence to answer one question in particular: "Do you believe in evolution?" This was not a trick question for someone who is prepared. Matthews asked Pence this question at the beginning and also well past midway in the interview (at 3:30), and Pence never did offer up a direct response.
Regardless of how Matthews then goes on in this interview, the point is this: Pence parsed his words, waffled and dithered and danced around this and other questions and offered up a pretty lame response by going off on a tangent. This did not look good at all.
Matthews seemed to be a bit exasperated at first over the way Pence responded initially. Quite frankly, I would have also been a little exasperated if I had received the same evasive and ridiculous response from someone I was interviewing. I think Matthews has a legitimate beef with Pence when he then says: "See how you're hedging?"
Matthews is right - Pence WAS hedging. Pence abruptly changed the subject from evolution and went off on a totally different talking point: global warming. He clearly DID sidestep the discussion Matthews was trying to nail him on.
DID MATTHEWS PROMOTE FALSEHOODS?
Did Matthew promote any Falsehoods? Well, first of all, my take on it is that Matthews actually believes the baloney he pumped out in this segment. He thinks he's representing the way things really are when he says Republicans hate science and evolution in particular. Like it or not, many folks on the Left think exactly the way Matthews does - and they don't see this view as false at all. I can find people in Matthews' corner who don't put much stock in science either, but that doesn't necessarily mean I can then legitimately extrapolate a broad brushstroke perspective of how their party views science in general. But the point is, Matthews and others in his corner often make the same worn-out claims all the time - making their arguments and questions predictable. He presented a predictable opportunity for Pence to run away with, but instead, he flubbed it royally. Fielding basic questions like the ones Matthews posed (ie, "Do you believe in evolution") should not be a surprise, and anyone from the Right who goes up on CNN or MSNBC ought to have a much better response. Some of my colleagues suggest that Matthews tried to "trap" Pence, but I don't buy that. You can't "trap" someone with a predictable question they should be prepared to give a good answer for.
WAS MATTHEWS OUT FOR BLOOD?
Perhaps. Was he conducting an inquisition? Well... I think that's a bit of a stretch. Taking the entire interview in context, I think it's safer to say that he was honestly seeking to pin Pence down for some answers to a few questions. He wanted Pence to give an account for what he believes about evolution and science - which is legitimate - regardless of how distorted Matthews' assumptions might be. They were honest questions (as Matthews said later in the interview "That's what I really think.").
Matthews also clearly positioned his comments as not an attack against Pence, but as an opportunity for Pence to respond to what Matthews maintains are commonly held beliefs of "many Republicans." I don't have a problem with him asking those questions. I think we should welcome the opportunity to receive such queries, and offer up good responses, regardless of how distorted the basis for those questions might be. In fact, situations like this present a great opportunity for the prepared person to CORRECT such distortions. Pence had an opportunity to address Matthews' distortions, but he didn't even come close to doing that.
THE ONE THING
Here's the One Thing (as Glenn Beck likes to say...): Regardless of whatever the interviewer (Matthews)thinks, Pence had an opportunity to win the audience. Matthews does come at Pence with some obviously baited remarks(ie, "Many Republicans don't like science" and "Many Republicans don't believe in evolution"). I'm not sure anyone could ever sway Chris Matthews away from his presumptions in seven minutes, but they COULD sure give him (and his audience) some substance to chew on. This interview was an opportunity to provide a rational and well reasoned response to a national audience, which Pence did not do throughout most of the segment. Showing up on camera to perform a waffle-fest doesn't cut it with viewers. And Matthews understandably took him to task for it. Matthews was playing to his audience, and Pence, unfortunately, clearly wasn't.
The backside of this "One Thing" is, in an interview with a national audience watching, you need to capture the respect of your viewers up front with your initial remarks. Instead of doing that, Pence actually LOST his audience with his initial remarks, and so found himself in the position of digging himself out of a hole from the get-go. And while I thought Pence did come back with some good points on stem cell research, it was too bad he didn't establish himself well from the start.
Then, later in the interview Matthews makes other claims about the views of some in the Republican party...
MATTHEWS: There are people who really are against science in your party who really do question not just the science behind climate change but the science behind evolutionary fact that you and I were taught in our biology books. They don't accept the scientific method, they believe in belief itself... people say "I don't think your party really believes in human progress..."
Matthews then goes on to say that he doesn't think the Republican party is passionately committed to science and that this is what he really thinks.
Another great opportunity to challenge Matthews' assumptions. And how does Pence mangle it?
PENCE: I'm in the pary of Teddy Roosevelt, the party that has a long and storied history in conservation... I've supported extensive increases to the National Institute of Health... This anti-science thing is a little bit weak."
More evasion. Actually, I thought it was Pence who was weak. Spoken like a true politician, in my view.
OTHER COMMENTARY ON THIS SEGMENT
Others who have blogged or commented on this segment include the following:
Rush Limbaugh - May 6, 2009
Red Sounding - May 7, 2009
Seattle area writer and Darwin skeptic Kevin Wirth is a founding member of ARN (formerly Students for Origins Research). He is also the Senior editor, contributor, and publisher of the book "Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth About Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters" by Dr. Jerry Bergman (2008). This is the most comprehensive book published to date documenting the extent and types of discrimination against Darwin Dissidents. He is also the publisher of Caroline Crocker's upcoming book "Free to Think," (Leafcutter Press) which addresses her critics and relates her experience as an Expelled University professor. Her book is currently slated for release in June of 2009.
To read more essays by Kevin Wirth, click here.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Kevin H. Wirth, all rights reserved. Quotes and links are welcomed with attribution.
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