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To mark our 30th anniversary, we’ve reached into the archives to highlight key events and players who made a difference since we made our debut. A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 26, 1987, edition.
The framed certificate on Christopher Matthews’ desk is his White House commission as a speech writer for Jimmy Carter; the photograph on his desk is a shot of Matthews’ son posing with his dad’s last boss, former House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. Despite these none-too-subtle reminders of Matthews’ connections, he claims to be “taking a breather” from active politics as the newly appointed president of Government Research Corp., a public policy consulting company in D.C. “I’ve definitely made a step toward a more mature position in Washington,” Matthews says. “I’ve gotten out of the shadow of somebody.” Matthews, 41, O’Neill’s former administrative assistant, was a high-profile catch for GRC, a respected but — until Matthews’ arrival — low-profile company. As the speaker’s spokesman, Matthews tirelessly worked the news media to promote O’Neill as the Democratic alternative to Republican President Ronald Reagan. A clever wordsmith, Matthews was also renowned for such bon mots as “Atari Democrats” and “Diamond Don Regan.” His recent move to GRC, following O’Neill’s retirement last December, surprised some political observers. What was a Democratic warrior doing heading up a non-partisan policy analysis company? Would he lobby, taking advantage of his political contacts? According to Matthews and other GRC officials, he will not be a lobbyist. Matthews will be responsible for promoting the company, which now has 21 professional staff members, and for drawing clients. Besides jazzing up GRC’s public profile, he will be adding a political insider’s expertise to the analyses the firm provides to corporations and financial institutions at a cost from $10,000 to $100,000 a year. MASTER MEDIA HOUND Matthews plans to expand GRC’s business by raising its profile. He says he wants journalists to call on GRC’s staff of experts, which includes political strategist William Schneider, and Charles Cook, known for his small but widely read Cook Political Report, which handicaps political races. Cook, a former campaign worker for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), arrived at GRC shortly before Matthews.
Chris Matthews, of course, didn’t stay out of the public eye for long. Not long after Legal Times reported on his new job at GRC, Matthews decided to jump the fence into journalism, becoming Washington bureau chief of the San Francisco Examiner. In 1988, he published his first book, Hardball, a now-classic insider’s account of political life in Washington. He used the title again for his current MSNBC political show, “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” which first aired in 1997. At least two other Government Research Corp. alums are also still going strong: Charlie Cook continues to publish the influential Cook Political Report. And William Schneider has joined Matthews on the airwaves as senior political analyst for CNN.

Meanwhile, Matthews is putting his own talents as a media hound to work. He stays up to date on the latest political gossip, thereby being able to pass along tidbits to favored journalists. Shortly after Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) recently won the contest to be ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Matthews passed on the news to an out-of-town reporter who sometimes covers Washington politics. The reporter had called him on another story. “If I get some information I intend to share it. If you want to be in the information business, [you] help people get stuff they need, and they’ll help you at some point,” Matthews says. His past experience in knowing what journalists want and how to package it for them should help him in his current job. Matthews has a “sensitivity to TV bites, which had been lacking in the Democrats,” a former Hill colleague says. As a top aide to the former House speaker, Matthews has published in The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and American Politics. As GRC president, Matthews hopes to continue to write and is encouraging other staffers to do likewise. Friends and colleagues wonder how long someone with such a love of politics will stay above the fray. It seems clear he will not be sidelined for long. “I intend to take a breather from participatory politics,” Matthews says. “It’s a good opportunity to relax a while in terms of candidates.”

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