After making a series of controversial remarks in recent weeks, veteran MSNBC host Chris Matthews abruptly announced his retirement last week at the top of his signature weeknight show, ‘Hardball.’
“Let me start with my headline tonight: I’m retiring,” Matthews said. “This is the last ‘Hardball’ on MSNBC, and obviously this isn’t for lack of interest in politics, as you can tell I’ve loved every minute of my 20 years as host of ‘Hardball.’”
A long-time fixture on the network who first began hosting the show in 1997, Matthews thanked younger generations for “improving the workplace” and ushering in “better standards than we grew up with.”
“A lot of it has to do with how we talk to each other, compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men — including me — might have once incorrectly thought were okay were never okay,” he added. “Not then and certainly not today, and for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”
Immediately after his on-air resignation, frequent substitute host Steve Kornacki, who was visibly disoriented by the news, took over as host for the rest of hour.
“That was a lot to take in just now,” Kornacki said, adding later that Matthews was a “giant,” a “legend” and that it was “an honor to work with him.” Fellow MSNBC anchor Katy Tur, also caught off guard by the surprise announcement, said in a tweet, “Wait. What?”
According to BuzzFeed News, Matthews had already been in talks with MSNBC executives about retiring during the 2020 election cycle. With a string of controversial remarks in recent weeks, however, the timeline of his exit from the network was “accelerated” to the point that both parties agreed “it was time” for Matthews to step aside, a person familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed News.
In his coverage of Matthews’ resignation, CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that a source with knowledge of the situation “characterized it as a firing that was masked as a retirement announcement.”
The blunders on Matthews’ part were countless. After Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) decisively won the Nevada caucuses on February 22, Matthews likened his rise to the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 during MSNBC’s live coverage of the caucuses.
“I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940,” Matthews remarked. “And the general, Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over.’ And Churchill says, ‘How can that be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.'”
Matthews immediately faced a barrage of criticism from supporters of Sanders, who is Jewish himself, as well as fellow journalists. Arun Chaudhary, a progressive filmmaker, said Matthews’ “constant references to political violence and today Nazism to describe Bernie Sanders campaign is beyond the pale,” anAd called for him to either resign or be fired.
A week later, during an interview with Jaime Harrison, who is challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Matthews confused Harrison with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), which led to an awkward couple of seconds as Harrison and Matthews’ guests tried explaining his mistake to him.
Matthews was also criticized for a post-debate interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) when he repeatedly pressed her about a claim she made against Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City.
In a 1997 lawsuit, an ex-employee of Bloomberg LP said that when he learned she was pregnant, Bloomberg told her get an abortion and “kill it.” In February, one of the woman’s co-workers corroborated her account and told the Washington Post he had overheard Bloomberg making the remark. In 2001, the New York Daily News reported that the lawsuit had been settled “with no admission of guilt by [Bloomberg] or his company.”
After Warren brought up the claim in the debate to question Bloomberg’s electability, Matthews grilled her on why she believed the woman, which led to tense exchange over how ‘he-said, she-said’ situations should be interpreted.
Chris Matthews asks Elizabeth Warren why she believes a female employee who sued Mike Bloomberg for telling her "kill it" when she was pregnant over Bloomberg.
"You believe he's lying? …Why would he lie? Just to protect himself? …You’re confident of your accusation?" pic.twitter.com/hVkkQhhXtz
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) February 26, 2020
Critics of Matthews’ pointed to the exchange, as well as an extensive history of sexist remarks on women’s looks and appearance, to argue that Matthews was an out-of-touch commentator who was ill-suited for covering politics.
Others, like Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist, suggested that Matthews’ history of inappropriate remarks was only part of the issue. Instead, Sullivan identified his “bombastic” style, tendency to be unprepared and treatment of politics “as a game in which noisy confrontation was a necessity” as the real reasons his exit was overdue.
“With his reported $5 million annual salary, he wielded enormous influence,” Sullivan wrote. “For many years, he had the power to sway public opinion on the crucial topics of the day.”
“Not infrequently, he failed the main test of someone in that role. He was ready to offer his own views, but not prepared to hear those of his guests or to bring deep knowledge to the conversation,” she added.