MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was notably absent from his network’s primary election coverage this weekend after a one-two punch of an uncomfortable interview and a sexual misconduct allegation before ultimately ‘retiring’ from the network Monday night. But everyone is missing the real reason the Hardball host was pulled off the air.
‘After a conversation with MSNBC, I decided tonight will be my last Hardball, so let me tell you why,’ Matthews told viewers during his opening monologue Monday. ‘The younger generation is out there ready to take the reins. We see them in politics, in the media, in fighting for the causes ..compliments on a women’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were OK, were never OK. Not then and certainly not today. And for making such comments, I’m sorry.’
It’s true that Matthews had a very bad Friday. Freelance journalist Laura Bassett alleged Matthews repeatedly made sexually charged comments to her when she appeared as a guest on his show, such as asserting that he may ‘fall in love’ with her if she had more makeup on her face. That same day, Matthews mixed up GOP Sen. Tim Scott with South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison during an episode of Hardball, causing viewers everywhere to cringe.
Media critics everywhere pointed to these two incidents as the likely culprit of Matthews sitting out a big night in political coverage and then leaving the network entirely, but a quick glance at his two decades on the network suggests this isn’t the case.
First, getting two black politicians confused with one another is unseemly and arguably racist, but it isn’t out of character for Matthews. He has a history of making racially insensitive comments on air, including asking Sen. Kamala Harris how she does not have ‘hatred for all white people’ and purporting to be educated about the black community because he drives through Washington, DC early in the morning and sees black people walking to work. Matthews also told actress Kerry Washington during a New York Times profile in 2008 that MSNBC president Phil Griffin partially wanted her to appear on the network because she is ‘beautiful’ and ‘black.’
It seems unlikely that Matthews’s frequent gaffes, even ones related to race, would suddenly be a reason to push him off air, considering the network has tolerated them for so long.
A similar line of reasoning follows for allegations of sexual misconduct. Matthews’s comments to Bassett were unacceptable, but, again, not uncommon behavior. I reported in 2017, for example, that NBC made a separation-related payment to a Hardball staffer in 1999 over inappropriate comments and jokes. The story was picked up by many major media outlets, but MSNBC downplayed the incident by noting that Matthews was ‘formally reprimanded’ at the time. I published another report later that year that featured two former producers and three guests on Hardball — each individual alleged that Matthews ran a brazenly sexist and abusive news operation, frequently making inappropriate comments about and to women and verbally abusing staffers. MSNBC declined to comment or take further action against Matthews and the story eventually faded into the abyss.
If MSNBC didn’t care about Matthews’s alleged actions then, why would they care now? They presumably could just ignore Bassett’s story like the others and eventually everyone would forget the claims that Matthews is a serial womanizer.
The truth is that Matthews’s real transgression was challenging the leftward lurch of the Democratic party.
Matthews apologized last Monday after outrage over his comparison of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s win in the Nevada primary to the Nazis invading France in World War Two. His comparison was certainly ill-chosen, but it would’ve played just fine if he weren’t talking about the Democratic frontrunner — MSNBC hosts across the board have compared Donald Trump to Hitler with no major backlash. Matthews only got into real trouble when he challenged Sen. Elizabeth Warren for reflexively believing a woman who claimed former mayor Michael Bloomberg told her to kill her baby upon discovering she was pregnant.
‘Why would he lie? Because just to protect himself?’ Matthews asked Warren, referring to Bloomberg’s denial of the incident.
‘Yeah. And why would she lie?’ Warren responded.
‘I just want to make sure you’re clear about this, you’re confident of your accusation,’ Matthews said.
That exchange might not make conservatives think twice, but it was a grave sin among progressive feminists who eschew due process for ‘believe all women’.
Indeed, those two moments may have sealed Matthews’s fate — an MSNBC dinosaur about to get clobbered by a meteor sent by the new leftist order.
The Warren incident showed that Matthews, who has been described to me by a former producer as having an ‘outdated view of women’, is not prepared to embrace the #MeToo culture and identity politics of the new left. MSNBC may be willing to sweep a few of Matthews’s off-color comments under the rug, but only if he falls in line on the rest of the leftist orthodoxy. Because he didn’t, now he must be canceled.
Meanwhile, his attack on Bernie Sanders speaks to an entirely different trend among the establishment left. The Nazi comparison would not have been as detrimental if it were said two weeks ago, as plenty of MSNBC pundits had gone after the elderly socialist in favor of the Democratic National Committee primary favorites. But if Sanders is on the path to victory, the Democratic establishment — including the cable and broadcast news networks — will have to start coalescing around him as their only shot at beating Trump. Matthews proved with his comments that he is not up to that task, plus he only added fuel to allegations that MSNBC has been out to get Bernie from the beginning. This is unacceptable for a network that needs to appear credible to Bernie’s base should he win the primary.
The sexist comments and black politician mixup, then, were just convenient excuses to at least temporarily push him out. The network has tried hard to avoid the radical strain of the left, but as long as Bernie keeps winning, MSNBC will have no choice but to evolve. Matthews won’t be the last to fall foul of the new order.