Picking a winning TV performance this week is a piece a cake. Nothing and no one on television matched WETA's presentation Thursday night on PBS of Stevie Wonder In Performance at the White House: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize.

I was just a grade school kid when John and Jacqueline Kennedy were in the White House, but I remember reading newspaper accounts of the evenings they hosted to celebrate the arts with performers like celloist Pablo Casals. Living in a Midwest factory town, to me the affairs seemed like they were happening in some glittery, wonderful, faraway land of talent and celebrity -- a realm I dreamed of one day seeing.

Last night, WETA brought that sparkling place to my TV screen, and it was an hour of pure delight and restoration -- a tonic to transport a weary and frightened nation away from the mounting economic gloom.

First lady Michelle Obama introduces Stevie Wonder at the White House
(Associated Press Photo)

The music -- especially the songs performed by Wonder -- was great. How could you go wrong with a lineup that included Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Martina McBride, Esperanza Spalding, Paul Simon and the gospel duo Mary Mary?

But the true magic came from the sense of joy in the room. It started with Michelle Obama's opening words of welcome, and it extended through the President's winning remarks on music and multiculturalism as he conferred the Gershwin Prize upon Wonder.


Way to go, WETA. Here's hoping we have more of these White House evenings celebrating the arts. No one needs to get a big prize. Just send the cameras over whenever the Obamas host such a gathering.

Just like Wonder's music, TV can help bring us together as a nation, too. And, man, do we need it now.

The sinner of the week is also a slam dunk. Chris Matthews, the MSNBC host and full-time Democatic Party partisan and hack, garners this dubious distinction for his dismal performance as co-anchor of the cable channel's coverage of President Barack Obama's speech to the joint session of Congress Tuesday.

The moment of shame came when Matthews said, "Oh, God," just as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal appeared on the screen to present the GOP response to Obama's speech.

Again, Matthews and MSNBC officials pretended that it was all a mistake captured by an open microphone. But Matthews does this little act too often. Remember the national political conventions. I thought MSNBC and NBC news officials had vowed after that to keep him and Keith Olbermann away from the anchor desk when televising political events for grown-ups.

You can read a full analysis of the matter including my take on Matthews' lame explanation for his actions here. But let me be clear about what I find to be so reprehensible: MSNBC and NBC News are allowing Matthews to interfere with the practices and rituals of American politics. The press is supposed to report, analyze and comment, not disrupt the processes by which we, the people, elect our government officials.