Grief and anger, is, of course, a powerful unifying force. Witness the coming together of Jacques Chirac and George Bush after 9/11, or the moving reunion between Paris and Nicole after other bimbos threatened to take over the tabloids. Yesterday, two other icons were driven into each other arms by a force greater than themselves: a scurrilous “Page Six” item. The item, which ran today, claimed that Chris Matthews was plotting loudly with his agent about how to get deceased anchor Tim Russert’s Meet the Press job — at Russert’s own memorial service. Matthews colleague and longtime frenemy Keith Olbermann caught wind of the item in advance, but instead of rubbing it in, decided to put their contentious past aside and envelope the older man in a warm embrace. Figuratively, we mean. Olbermann not only declared “Page Six“‘s Paula Froelich, who wrote the item, his “Worst Person in the World,” dripping with indignation, he vigorously defended his colleague:
As we mourned Tim Russert yesterday in Washington, a Pennsylvania acquaintance of Chris’s came up to him and said, “You should be on the list to succeed him.” Chris said he didn’t want to be on any such list. He changed the topic immediately. He asked this Pennsylvania man, who is not his agent — no agent would be crass enough to bring up such a topic now or there — for advice on a speech Chris is to give at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, next week. What he should say? How he should approach it? The speech.
The item was clearly mean-spirited, as anyone who read Mark Leibovitch’s genius Times Magazine profile of Matthews knows, the man loved “Tim.”
Tim — as in Russert, the inquisitive jackhammer host of “Meet the Press” — is a particular obsession of Matthews’s. Matthews craves Russert’s approval like that of an older brother. He is often solicitous. On the morning of the Cleveland debate, Matthews was standing in the lobby of the Ritz when Russert walked through, straight from a workout, wearing a sweat-drenched Buffalo Bills sweatshirt, long shorts and black rubber-soled shoes with tube socks. “Here he is; here he is, the man,” Matthews said to Russert, who smiled and chatted for a few minutes before returning to his room.
But we think it’s very sweet that Olbermann would rally to Matthews’s defense. Perhaps this is the beginning of the maturing of their relationship into a great love — or they could just go back to hating each other, like Jacques and George did.