ROTHENBERG REJECTS MATTHEWS…. Election analyst Stuart Rothenberg, a prominent fixture of the political establishment, has decided he’s played “Hardball” for the last time.

In his latest column, Rothenberg complains that “caricature and vitriol have replaced reporting and analysis” on most of the cable network shows, and he now prefers “straight news and analysis.” With that in mind, he’s done with “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” which Rothenberg believes is no longer the “straight political news program” it used to be, instead becoming a forum “to beat up one party and one point of view.”

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to Rothenberg’s concerns, but I noticed a few problematic areas in his analysis.

First, Rothenberg points to “Morning Joe” as an example of a news talk-show that’s “fun, informative and thoughtful.” I’m sorry, but that’s just silly. If you’re looking for a “straight political news program” with an even-handed outlook on current events, pointing to “Morning Joe” as a model of a show that gets it right tends to undermine the rest of your argument.

Second, Rothenberg describes Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show as “far worse” than “Hardball.” He didn’t say what it is that makes it “far worse,” but I can only assume Rothenberg hasn’t actually watched Rachel’s program (the only prime-time cable talk show to get a nomination from the Television Critics’ Association).

And third, when, exactly, was “Hardball” a “straight political news program”? Jamison Foser asks the right question: “When has anything about Matthews ever been ‘straight’?”

When he was insisting that “everybody” likes George W. Bush, except “the real whack jobs”? (Bush’s approval ratings at the time were in the 30s.) […]

When he said Bush “glimmers” with “sunny nobility”? Or when he gushed over Bush’s “mission accomplished” stunt, revealing what could only be described as a crush on the president?

When he derided Democratic critics of Bush’s handling of Iraq as “carpers and complainers”?

Or when he ridiculed Barack Obama for ordering orange juice in a diner and said Obama’s bowling was insufficiently “macho”? When he called Obama an elitist who had trouble connecting with “regular people” — by which he meant “white people”?

Or when he called Hillary Clinton a “She Devil” and said she was “witchy”? Or when he said of Clinton “I hate her. I hate her. All that she stands for”?

Or when he spent two years absolutely trashing Al Gore, helping to hand the presidency to George W. Bush? Or when he turned over his airwaves to Gennifer Flowers, allowing her to accuse President Clinton of murder?

Is that when his was a “straight political news program”?

If Rothenberg doesn’t like “Hardball,” that’s obviously a subjective question. But his larger case isn’t exactly persuasive.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.