Chris Matthews is still bombastic after all these years.
But I prefer Rachel Maddow's reasoned, analytical style to Matthews' glibness.
It boils down to a matter of whether you prefer the old-school, in-your-face delivery of Matthews or the new breed, personified by the even keel of Maddow.
While flipping the channels immediately after President Obama's speech on the economy Tuesday night, I marveled at how General Electric's MSNBC could manage to pair two such different analysts on the same show.
Let's face it. Any time Keith Olbermann, himself no stranger to preening on television, comes across as the voice of reason, you have to sit up and take notice.
MSNBC is scrambling to find something -- anything -- that will stick to the wall and attract viewers. Its task is exacerbated by two factors: the Fox News Channel juggernaut and the expectations for MSNBC following the election of "its" candidate, President Barack Obama.
Some pundits believed that Obama's victory would translate into a sea change in cable television ratings. The reasoning went like this: A liberal president would help the ratings of the most overtly left-leaning cable news channel -- and take some of the shine off Fox, which had a reputation as the network that gave the Bush White House a home-field advantage.
So far, that hasn't happened. Fox continues to trounce its rivals. In February, Fox has remained at the top of the heap in cable news ratings, where it has been for the past seven years. (Fox, like MarketWatch, the publisher of this column, is a unit of News Corp. )
Following Obama's speech, it became clear that a large part of MSNBC's strategy was to do what it has been doing for the past few years: stress the personalities of its top anchors and give them free rein to riff and wing it.
Matthews showed that for a moment, at least, he could win me over by giving viewers his well-thought-out analysis. He noted that one of the reasons that Jindal had gotten the Republican's nod to counter Obama, instead of one of the GOP's more established stars, was that the Republicans in Congress were in the hall -- and had been shown supporting Obama's attempt to unify the nation.
When Matthews relaxes and shows off his considerable political knowledge, he is both entertaining and illuminating, a lesson Maddow grasped on day one. Matthews pointed out Tuesday night that Jindal was "running for the outside rail of the Republican Party," hoping to appeal to the most rabid sector of the GOP.
Yet for MSNBC as a whole, it might help the channel's prospects if its reporters and anchors showed more devotion to explaining the news -- not taking gratuitous shots at people.
It should have embarrassed MSNBC to the core when Matthews admittedly groaned, "Oh God," as Jindal was about to speak.
It was sophomoric of MSNBC's analysts to take a shot at CNN anchor Lou Dobbs during the post-speech analysis as well. Dobbs is an easy target these days because he has traded any semblance of objectivity to cater to his beliefs.
The MSNBC folks were joking about how "steamed" Dobbs gets. Dobbs represents low-hanging fruit if MSNBC, or anyone else, wants to mock him.
I wish MSNBC's journalists would make a stronger attempt to offer keen analysis, not mindless commentary. The network has pretty much tied its fortunes to the political left. And why not? Fox has effectively put a stranglehold on the conservative audience on TV for the past decade or so by tapping a market that the TV world has largely overlooked.
MSNBC has to do more than stand for left plitics if it hopes to capture a bigger share of the ratings pie. If its stars continue to get their jollies by mocking foes, all I can do is groan and say, "Oh God!"
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you like or dislike about MSNBC?
By Jon Friedman