Chris Matthews Retires

The longtime talking head is the latest poster boy for #MeToo. And mandatory retirement.

Former Capitol Hill staffer Chris Matthews has been talking politics on television for decades. He abruptly quit his show last night after coming under fire for his treatment of women and some increasingly unhinged on-air rants.

NBC News (“Chris Matthews announces retirement, mutually parts ways with MSNBC“):

Chris Matthews, one of the longest-tenured voices at MSNBC, announced his retirement during Monday’s night’s airing of his talk show, “Hardball.”

Matthews, 74, said he and MSNBC had mutually agreed to part ways. The decision followed a series of events that resulted in criticism of the host’s statements about Bernie Sanders, African-American lawmakers, and comments he had made to female journalists and coworkers.

“I’m retiring,” Matthews said. “This is the last ‘Hardball’ on MSNBC.”
Matthews was due to retire in the near future with the events of the past week playing a factor in the timing of the move, an MSNBC spokesperson said.

After MSNBC aired a commercial following the announcement, Matthews did not return to the program. Steve Kornacki, a political reporter for the network, took over the rest of the hour, and seemed shocked by the news. “That was a lot to take in,” he said, saying it had been an honor to work with Matthews, and then beginning a discussion about the coronavirus response.

Matthews, a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, has hosted “Hardball” on MSNBC since 1999 and remained a centrist voice on the cable news channel’s prime-time programming, which often features commentary that is further to the left.

NBCUniversal is the parent company of MSNBC and NBC News.
Matthews said he was not retiring due to a lack of interest in politics, but nodded to changes taking place.

“The younger generations out there are ready to take the reins,” he said.

Matthews also apologized for comments he made to women. On Friday, journalist Laura Bassett wrote an op-ed in “GQ” stating that Matthews “has a pattern of making comments about women’s appearances in demeaning ways” and that Matthews asked “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” just before a televised discussion about sexual-assault allegations against President Donald Trump.

The recent accusation that Matthews made inappropriate comments to a female journalist was not the first time he had faced such allegations. In 2017, The Daily Caller reported that MSNBC formally reprimanded Matthews over jokes and comments he made to a female employee in 1999.

“For making such comments in the past, I’m sorry,” Matthews said on tonight’s broadcast.

Matthews had recently drawn criticism for comments about Sanders, who is currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Matthews apologized after comparing Sanders’ win in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazis taking over France in World War II.
On Friday, Matthews mistook Jaime Harrison, a Democrat running for Senate in South Carolina, with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. Both men are black.

CNN Business (“Chris Matthews retires from MSNBC after string of recent controversies“) adds:

Matthews was told by management to step down, said a person with knowledge of the situation, who characterized it as a firing that was masked as a retirement announcement.

A different source disputed that and said it was “truly a mutual decision.”
Matthews mentioned a “conversation” with management during his farewell on Monday evening.

“After a conversation with MSNBC, I decided tonight will be my last ‘Hardball,’ so let me tell you why,” he said. “The younger generation’s out there ready to take the reins. We see them in politics, in media, in fighting for their causes. They’re improving the workplace.”

[…]

Matthews did not specifically mention Bassett but that was the context in which Matthews’ made his remarks on Monday night about workplaces implementing “better standards than we grew up with — fair standards. 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. Not then and certainly not today,” Matthews said. “And for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”

Bassett responded to Matthews’ announcement by saying, in a tweet, “All I gotta say is… it’s about time.”

NYT (“Chris Matthews Out at MSNBC“) adds:

An eminence grise of television news, Mr. Matthews has a pugilistic and red-cheeked persona familiar to viewers from countless election nights and parodies on shows like “Saturday Night Live.” His rat-a-tat political commentary was informed by experience: Before his move into punditry, Mr. Matthews served as a speechwriter in President Jimmy Carter’s administration and spent years as chief of staff to Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., the powerful Democratic speaker of the House.

But the Matthews style was increasingly out of step with the times. In 2017, MSNBC acknowledged that the anchor had been reprimanded in 1999 after making inappropriate remarks to a female colleague, prompting a settlement. In 2008, he was quoted in a magazine profile declaring the actress Kerry Washington “a total knockout.”
MSNBC executives had discussed Mr. Matthews’s looming retirement, with an exit after Election Day likely, according to two people familiar with internal network discussions. There was talk of shifting “Hardball,” which ranked behind Fox News and CNN programming among crucial younger viewers, to a less prominent time slot.

Then came a painful 10-day stretch.

While I haven’t been a regular viewer of television political commentary for 15 years or more now, this is sad news. I grew up on the Sunday shows and the rare political debate shows and didn’t move away from them until blogging drove me almost completely online, not only because it was easier to link and quote web-based sources but because it’s a better venue for finding diverse and interesting opinions.

“Hardball” has only been around since 1997 but it seems like he was on television forever. He left Capitol Hill in 1987 to become the Washington bureau chief of the San Francisco Examiner; I’m pretty sure he became an on-air fixture in that capacity but can’t find verification.

While often exasperating to liberals and conservatives alike—his politics were complicated—I always found him likable and entertaining. I met him once or twice in the early 2000s, during that brief period where bloggers were the rage and got invited to various DC events, and found him pleasant and affable.

I hate to see him go out this way. He’s had a long and distinguished career and yet he’ll always have the gaffes and micro-scandals that forced him out the door affixed to his reputation.

Unlike Harvey Weinstein and some of the grosser figures ruined by the #MeToo movement, Matthews seems like a decent guy who simply caught on too slowly to the changing realities of our culture. I don’t know whether he truly believes that the younger generation has “better standards than we grew up with — fair standards” or that “Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were okay, were never okay. ” But he’s right.

Watching the current Presidential campaign, dominated by men Matthews’ age and older, it has become apparent to me just how hard it is for people to keep up. People I’ve always liked and respected even while disagreeing with their politics, like Matthews and Joe Biden, have a lot of baggage simply because they’re old enough to have a record of conduct and attitudes that were perfectly acceptable—maybe even progressive—at the time but seem positively retrograde today. (I think Mike Bloomberg is probably a jerk but think some of the more extreme statements that have come out may well be of the same piece.)

I’m twenty years younger than Matthews but old enough to remember the days of mandatory retirement. In particular, there was a short period when the network news anchors were all replaced by younger men.* Walter Cronkite was pushed out at CBS in 1981 at the age of 64 or 65. It was normal at the time but Cronkite always resented it and it turned out that he had a lot left in the tank.

Still, I wonder whether it’s not better for public figures to leave the stage a little too early than too late.

__________________

*It turns out that either my contemporaneous understanding of what was happening was mistaken or my memory is playing tricks on me. John Chancellor pushed out at NBC in 1982 in favor of a much younger Tom Brokaw but I see now that Chancellor was only 55 and that it was perhaps more about ratings than age. And Frank Reynolds was replaced at ABC by a much younger Peter Jennings in 1983—but that was because Reynolds, only 59, had died.

FILED UNDER: Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    I always found him likable and entertaining.

    I wonder if you would feel the same way if you were a woman…

    12
  2. MarkedMan says:

    I’m mostly in agreement with your sentiments here, except for my opinion of Matthews himself. He always struck me as a cocktail party journalist, hobnobbing with the people he had on his show and pulling punches for friends. And he injected too much of his personal opinions into his questioning. The incident with Warren the perfect example of that – he believes Bloomberg and doesn’t believe the women and so he couldn’t let it go.

    10
  3. Argon says:

    I wished he’d just stop talking over his guests. His was an almost content free show: Little news, just ‘what are people saying about people saying things!?’

    6
  4. Teve says:

    He was terrible. The political version of Dick Vitale.

    8
  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Finally. Chris Matthews is going to STFU* and let other people talk.

    *stop pissing all over my fantasy, it’s mine and i’m sticking with it.

    8
  6. gVOR08 says:

    The few times I caught a bit of Hardball I found Matthews irritating. His reputation for talking over and shouting down his guests seems well deserved. I did catch him in the spin room after the last, or second last debate. His first question to each candidate was don’t you think it’s stupid to say you’ll take away peoples current healthcare. OK, James doesn’t like Bernie, I don’t like Bernie, Andy hates Bernie, but Matthews swatting you in the face every few minutes with his dislike of Bernie is inappropriate.

    Matthews abrupt departure begs speculation. I found an article saying Brian Williams is getting good ratings and MSNBC may be looking to bring him back out of his 11:00 PM exile, while Matthews ratings with the sacred youth demographic are apparently poor. The yellow blond combover that got Matthews the nickname Tweetie has turned gray, his misogyny has become public, and gawd knows if there’s more and worse, and there sometimes seems to maybe be a little cognitive decline. Add ratings decline, well it’s a competitive business. If Williams takes over the slot I’ll continue not watching. I think Webster’s uses his picture to illustrate “unctuous”.

    3
  7. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    He always struck me as a cocktail party journalist, hobnobbing with the people he had on his show and pulling punches for friends. And he injected too much of his personal opinions into his questioning.

    He was a personality and commentator, not a reporter. He made no bones about what he thought; he wore his emotions on his sleeve.

    @gVOR08:

    The few times I caught a bit of Hardball I found Matthews irritating. His reputation for talking over and shouting down his guests seems well deserved.

    It’s been a long time since I watched his show but there was definitely something of that.

    @gVOR08:

    I did catch him in the spin room after the last, or second last debate. His first question to each candidate was don’t you think it’s stupid to say you’ll take away peoples current healthcare. OK, James doesn’t like Bernie, I don’t like Bernie, Andy hates Bernie, but Matthews swatting you in the face every few minutes with his dislike of Bernie is inappropriate.

    I didn’t see the show in question and, as noted in the OP, really haven’t watched Matthews much in recent years. But I do think it’s appropriate for a commentator to offer commentary. (But I also don’t know that we need commentators moderating debates.)

    4
  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Personally, I found him unwatchable.
    If I had MSNBC on, and I like his lead-in – Ari Melber, I would tune out at 7:00 pm…not a good indicator of success.
    Now if only they would get rid of Chuck Todd, too.
    I’ll bet you that Shep Smith’s agent is busy this morning.

    3
  9. Andy says:

    Like you, I haven’t watched him (or network political television) in many many years. But my view is quite different. His behavior always struck me as a loudmouth overconfident jerk that really relished embarrassing people he didn’t like on air. And it seems he got worse with age.

    He was an embodiment of the beltway palace intrigue naval gazing that so many of us hate. Being a fixture in Washington politics doesn’t mean he was a positive influence or that his brand of commentary is one that anyone should emulate.

    9
  10. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:

    He was an embodiment of the beltway palace intrigue naval gazing that so many of us hate. Being a fixture in Washington politics doesn’t mean he was a positive influence or that his brand of commentary is one that anyone should emulate.

    Amen!

    3
  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Take a look at the comments at WaPo. A bunch of women posters are defending Matthews. Ditto on Twitter.

    Whether we liked his style or not, and I’m a ‘not,’ this is a bullshit take-down. This is an example of the misuse of #MeToo, a misuse that discredits a necessary societal corrective. And the pushback isn’t just coming from men, it’s coming increasingly from women. That’s not a surprise, it was always going to be women who started pumping the brakes.

    Unjust systems do not yield just results. The #MeToo ‘system’ of justice could have been shaped from the start to differentiate between the Weinsteins on the one hand, and the Matthews’s on the other. But nope. The most extreme voices pushed relentlessly for the most extreme interpretations and applications and as a result have damaged their own movement.

    This annoys me because I really like seeing the Cosbys and the Weinsteins and the Aileses punished. But at the point where #believeallwomen became a thing the movement went off the rails. That kind of absolutism runs smack into people like Amber Heard, whose accusations against Johnny Depp have been categorically proven false, and revealed that Heard herself was the abuser. Believe all is an absolutist position, easily falsifiable.

    Extreme positions are great fun on Twitter, but they are irresponsible and in the long (even medium) term, damage the cause. #MeToo is weaker today than it was a year ago, and it’s not because men have mounted a defense, it’s because a lot of women don’t buy into the neo-Victorian, puritanical view of the sexes.

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  12. rachel says:

    I always found him likable and entertaining.

    I always found him rude and unwatchable. I’m sorry he went out like that, though.

    2
  13. al Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:
    Not going to happen but … I’d like to see Joy Reid in the Hardball slot (but, only if she keeps her AM Joy show too)

    2
  14. steve says:

    Always thought he should be on talk radio since he mostly wanted to talk about himself or his ideas. Not a fan.

    Steve

    1
  15. R.Dave says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I agree with you on the process issue here – what got Matthews fired here was a call-out article in GQ combined with a Twitter dogpile, both prompted by the fact that he pissed off Warren’s fans when he badgered her in an interview like he always does with his guests. That kind of opportunistic and vengeful social media mobbing is absolutely not a fair or just process. However, the underlying charge of being a sexist jerk (of the “patronizing and objectifying but not predatory” variety) is clearly accurate based on a long-running pattern of behavior, and that really should be disqualifying for a prominent political commentator. In short, he should have been pushed out years ago for his manifest d-baggery, but the actual triggering event and process by which it finally happened were deeply flawed and unfair.

    9
  16. DrDaveT says:

    Unlike Harvey Weinstein and some of the grosser figures exposed by the #MeToo movement

    Fixed that for you, James.

    (“Ruined”? Seriously? Do you also feel that Charles Manson was “ruined” by law enforcement?)

    4
  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @al Ameda:
    I love Joy Reid. And yet, she’s guilty of offenses that would have had her out on her ass if she were an old white guy. This just highlights the fundamental injustice of cancel culture. Matthews is out for leering, and Reid is in despite gay-bashing?

    3
  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    This:

    Do you also feel that Charles Manson was “ruined” by law enforcement?

    By the standards of social media and cancel culture, this is exactly the same as Matthews comparing Bernie Bros and Nazis,. Are you saying Chris Matthews was the same as serial murderers? Well, you used them in the same context. Sure you didn’t say that Matthews was part of the Manson Gang, but what other conclusion can I possibly reach? We’re going to need a public apology.

    3
  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    But at the point where #believeallwomen became a thing

    Meh. That is a predictable swing of the pendulum after the many many decades, centuries, millenniums of the #nobodycareswhatawomansays thing. The correctives always go a little too far. It’ll settle somewhere in the correct neighborhood.

    Besides, Chris Matthews as victim? Pretty sure his bank account says otherwise.

    8
  20. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    (“Ruined”? Seriously? Do you also feel that Charles Manson was “ruined” by law enforcement?)

    That’s really a bizarre non sequitur.

    Weinstein and Matthews had their careers ruined by a mass movement. Weinstein was exposed as a criminal and will, rightly, spend much if not all of the rest of his days in prison, his reputation forever destroyed. Matthews was among money who did things whose “exposure,” to use your word, would have been shrugged off not very long ago.

    2
  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Are you saying Chris Matthews was the same as serial murderers?

    I didn’t say anything at all about Chris Matthews. Go back and reread the bit I was responding to. In it, James described Harvey Weinstein and “the grosser figures” like him as “ruined by the #MeToo movement”. I objected to that characterization.

    3
  22. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Weinstein and Matthews had their careers ruined by a mass movement.

    No. Weinstein had his career ruined by being a serial criminal who eventually got caught. Matthews had his career ruined by a mass awareness movement. The difference should be obvious to you.

    7
  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Over-correction may be common, but it also commonly weakens the cause, so natural, and yet self-destructive. Sometimes I have the foolish hope that a movement I care about won’t descend into contradiction and stupidity. I get tired of enlisting in an army only to discover that the generals are determined to lose.

    3
  24. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Matthews was among many who did things whose “exposure,” to use your word, would have been shrugged off not very long ago.

    That’s probably why my comment wasn’t about Matthews. At all.

    1
  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    ‘Go back and look at the details,’ is the cry of everyone victimized by cancel culture. Matthews also never said Bernie bros were Nazis. I don’t think you get the phenomenon. There is no ‘look at the specifics.’ There’s some guy said X and later he said Y therefore he’s equating X and Y and if you object to that leap of logic, well, you must be a Nazi, too.

    3
  26. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    ‘Go back and look at the details,’ is the cry of everyone victimized by cancel culture.

    Horsesh!t. “Read what I actually wrote” is the cry of everyone victimized by poor reading comprehension, which is the case here. I didn’t say what you accused me of saying. I didn’t hint at it, or imply it, or anything else. I explicitly responded to James’s comment about Weinstein in order to contrast it with the Matthews situation. I’m sorry if that was too subtle for you.

    1
  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Over-correction may be common, but it also commonly weakens the cause, so natural, and yet self-destructive

    I think by and large, any “weakening of the cause” is itself just another swing of the pendulum and as such a temporary state too.

    4
  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    Matthews was among money who did things whose “exposure,” to use your word, would have been shrugged off not very long ago.

    Interesting Freudian slip there James, given that the “moneyed” have always been able to shrug off things that us lesser proles would have suffered a back alley beat down for.

    2
  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Really? You don’t think I can read?

    You don’t understand the situation with cancel culture. You don’t understand how attenuated the ‘evidence’ is. Your angry, defensive reaction would be taken as proof that you were in the wrong. I mean, why are you so defensive when all I was trying to do was correct you? Hmm? Kinda seems like the sort of overreaction that shows a consciousness of guilt.

    I have great respect for you, but you don’t get what is happening. Wrong? Unfair? Distorted? Out of context? No shit. Once an accusation has been leveled, there is no defense because any defense is proof of guilt. Verdict first, trial never. In a thread about Matthews you brought Manson into it, therefore you are equating the two things. Then I tweet that you compared X to Y and that gets retweeted and you, you poor sap, argue that it’s absurd and that gets retweeted with various demeaning hashtags, and the more you argue facts, the less it matters and the guiltier you are.

    If you don’t think that’s how this works, spend a little time on Twitter.

    You know how easy it is to fall afoul? I was accused of ‘erasing Native American characters.’ The reality? I couldn’t even remember what character they were talking about because he was a throwaway character, irrelevant to the story. He had one scene in which his sole purpose was to provide exposition for another character. Then he ‘disappeared.’ Just like 100% of the adults of all races in the book.

    And when I protested that we have to be able to have throwaway characters, I was primly informed that he was obviously not a throwaway character because – and I am not making this up – the fact that he points to a distant object with his chin, and that is totally an Indian thing, proves that I had done some research on the character. This established my guilty knowledge.

    Why did the character point with his chin if I didn’t mean to reference the well-known Indian chin-pointing thing? Maybe because he was a 70 year-old man driving a truck beside a steep drop-off and needed his hands? Nope, that just deepened my guilt. And that was not some random Twitter idiot, it was an academic, a professor.

    4
  30. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: My understanding is that MSNBC has been trying to move him towards the exit for a while. This was just the last in an increasingly long list of issues and embarassments — things like comparing Sanders’ win in Nevada to Nazis invading France. His has been a long and tiring decline, and to blame this all on hysterical women diminishes,well, everyone.

    8
  31. Teve says:

    Darryl Hammond’s SNL parody was spot on. Dismissive overbearing loudmouth.

    1
  32. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Really? You don’t think I can read?

    Of course you can. In this case, though, you didn’t.

    You don’t understand the situation with cancel culture. You don’t understand how attenuated the ‘evidence’ is. Your angry, defensive reaction would be taken as proof that you were in the wrong.

    I honestly have no idea what you are talking about. What evidence about what? The evidence against Weinberg is overwhelming.

    In a thread about Matthews you brought Manson into it,

    No, in a comment about Weinberg I brought Manson into it. If I’d wanted to talk about Matthews, I would have (say) quoted something from James that talked about Matthews, instead of something that was specifically about Weinberg and his ilk. James is the one who lumped Matthews in with Weinberg; I was calling him on that. Which of us do you agree with?

    If you are trying to illustrate that it is possible to deliberately misconstrue and distort what I said and riff on that, you are succeeding. But then, I knew that sort of thing was possible; I just didn’t expect it here, from you.

  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Yes, I understand. Obviously I understand what you wrote and what you meant. But I’m not part of a Twitter mob.

    You are still under the misapprehension that our allies on the Left are motivated by reason and limited by fairness. I assure you that is not always true. Any movement can be hijacked, any movement can be redefined by its extremes.

    What I just did to you is a fair example of Twitter reasoning and Twitter justice. It was not an exaggeration. That outrage you felt at being wrongly accused, misrepresented, misquoted? Welcome to the age of social media justice. It is this kind of McCarthyite guilt-by-accusation that I’ve been talking about when I rant about MeToo and other causes being hurt by the extremes who are never gainsaid or disciplined by others on the Left.

    I went through a similar depressing realization about my ideological allies during the Vietnam era antiwar movement. They were in the right, they had justice on their side, and then came the Vietcong flags and blaming the military for political decisions, and violence, and even at the tender age of 14 I knew it was stupid. But no one spoke up and said, ‘knock off the ‘Cong flags you idiots, we’re trying to stop a slaughter, not piss off your parents.’

    My first anti-war protest was in 1968. The war went on for another five years, during which time my father did two tours. I have no patience with right-but-stupid. I have no patience with people who destroy what I hoped to help build because they couldn’t be bothered to think.

    2
  34. Tyrell says:

    @gVOR08: I used to listen to Matthews a lot, but in the last few years his mannerisms and style has declined to a lot of hollering and more partiality instead of presenting differing views. This seems to be the trend of much of the mainstream network news. I think in this particular instance MSNBC did not take to his critiques of socialist Sanders.
    I saw one article that the stockholders want an independent investigation of some things going on, so Chris may not be the only one going. Universal will also have a say in this.
    NBC would be better off focusing on the entertainment and sports broadcasting. They should try to give Net Flix and ESPN a run for their money,

  35. de stijl says:

    NBC and MSNBC (and all the others) are in the business of selling ads for the best price they can get.

    They produce content so they can sell ad space.

    It is in their direct monetary interest to attract viewers advertisers want.