Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever reported "Valentine's Day was a week ago, but MSNBC's Chris Matthews has belatedly gifted a particular former president with a mash note - strike that, a one-hour special called 'President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon,'" which airs tonight, somehow equating Clinton with Washington and Lincoln. Stuever explained:
Matthews, aided by the likes of Terry McAuliffe, Mary Steenburgen and various biographers, remarks again and again how smart Clinton is, how generous, how famous, how friendly, how productive. Perhaps this special is some sort of MSNBC covert-op to cause paralytic apoplexy over there on the right? The kind of people who still keep the Starr Report at the ready?... The not-very-sub subtext of "President of the World" is a nostalgic grieving for the glory of the Clinton years.
The Post critic found this line was typical:
"Bill Clinton's position in the world continues to grow. He's part dignitary, part humanitarian, part politician, part international statesman, and somehow, greater than them all," he intones. (Italics his.)
Stuever isn't really interested in rehashing the Clinton presidency, but he thinks Matthews isn't really working to plumb the depths of Clinton's post-presidency:
The real story - glossed over and merely admired here - is how Clinton discovered previously uncharted territories of fame and motivates other celebrities to do their saintly best. There is also an unforgettable narrative about a marriage here, but the name Hillary Clinton barely comes up, except in the context of his role in her 2008 presidential campaign or how his travels often pave a way for her diplomatic efforts as (you may have heard) secretary of state.
Ever cooperative, Clinton grants Matthews interviews and permission to tag along for a few days. Nothing new is revealed or reflected upon, except how good he feels at 64, and what a charge he gets out of globe-trotting. We learn little of the partnerships and financial underpinnings of the nonprofit Clinton Global Initiative and its philanthropic offshoots. We get little insight into Clinton's daily life as a millionaire VIP.
Nobody in the press seems interested in whether the William J. Clinton Foundation and its donor list of foreign fat cats represents any conflict of interest for the Secretary of State. But one hidden subtext in this fawning special is how Matthews might be doing some form of liberal penance for being a harsh critic of Clinton's sexual misbehavior on Hardball (then on CNBC) in 1998.
Stuever also failed to contrast this special with the much harsher Matthews special last year on "The Rise of the New Right." He can only say this fawning is a little too early:
"President of the World" triggers another thought: We need more time apart, him and us. Bill Clinton is too young - and too alive - for anyone to make a good one-hour special about, just yet. Matthews has merely made a promotional film for someone who isn't running for anything.