Times TV-beat writer Alessandra Stanley just loved watching MSNBC's omnipresent "Hardball" host Chris Matthews cover the Iowa caucuses Thursday night, and the headline captured her mood: "For Happy Warrior Of Political Coverage, Another Joyous Night."
But before that came some of Stanley's latest trademark strained comparisons:
"If Tim Russert of NBC News is the New Hampshire primary of political pundits - crucial, serious and august - then his colleague Chris Matthews, intense, voluble and unavoidable, is the Iowa caucuses. And it takes one to cover one, as Mr. Matthews demonstrated with his coverage Thursday night on MSNBC
"'I'm telling you, Keith, this is Lexington and Concord - this is going around the world,' Mr. Matthews told his election night co-host, Keith Olbermann, in describing Barack Obama's victory. He announced that the nation was in a rut and that the Iowa vote signaled a craving for radical change: 'It's taking us to a new place. The biblical term, since we're in a biblical era, is deliverance.'
Not all talk-show hosts got the same enthusiastic reception from Stanley.
"In all that noise, cable-news talk shows function as a kind of couch potato caucus, a gathering of self-selected, not always representative opinion-shapers who push forward the media consensus. Emboldened by Fox News, cable hosts are freer than ever to hawk their own opinions; Lou Dobbs of CNN has turned into the William Jennings Bryan of the immigration debate, a nut about border crossings instead of a cross of gold.
Meanwhile, Stanley downplayed Matthews' Democratic ties:
"Mr. Matthews, a former Democratic aide on Capitol Hill, is hardly neutral, but his chief passion is process. He seems pushily, happily obsessed with the art and science of politics and political drama."
She concluded by lauding both Barack Obama's win and Matthews' "unbridled enthusiasm" for the process - and Obama.
"But on a night when even Mr. Obama's history-making victory could not impel the networks to interrupt their regular programming - 'The Celebrity Apprentice' on NBC, a rerun of 'Grey's Anatomy' on ABC - all that unbridled enthusiasm on cable news was welcome."