Chris Matthews, the longtime host of MSNBC’s political show “Hardball,” announced he is retiring from the broadcast after coming under fire over controversial remarks he made to a guest.
Matthews told viewers of his resignation at the top of his broadcast, saying it was time for a new generation to take over. He also apologized for inappropriate comments he made to women that clearly factored in the decision to have him leave the program he has anchored since 1997.
His abrupt exit, effective Monday, was a blow to NBC News, which already had taken heavy criticism over its handling of sexual harassment issues involving other prominent media figures.
“I decided tonight will be my last ‘Hardball,’ so let me tell you why,” Matthews said on the air. “The younger generations out there are ready to take the reins. We see them in politics and the media and fighting for their causes. They are improving the workplace. We’re talking here about 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 OK — were never OK. Not then and certainly not today, and for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”
After reading the statement, the program went to commercial break and Matthews was gone. Visibly stunned MSNBC political analyst Steve Kornacki took over the broadcast.
Matthews, 74, was recently cited in a GQ.com story in which the author, Laura Bassett, said the anchor made inappropriate flirtatious remarks to her before she went on the air. Bassett first wrote about the incident that allegedly occurred in 2016, but did not mention Matthews by name.
Bassett revisited the matter after Matthews’ aggressive questioning of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts following NBC’s primary debate on Feb. 19.
NBC News has acknowledged that there has been one financial settlement paid to a former female employee who complained about Matthews’ behavior. Matthews received a stern reprimand over the matter, which involved inappropriate comments he made to the woman in 1999.
Matthews had been in discussions with NBC News executives about retirement perhaps at the end of the current presidential campaign. But the recent controversies expedited those plans and he agreed his appearance at the start of Monday’s “Hardball” would be his last.
The veteran broadcaster has been under fire in recent weeks because of the Bassett story and comments he has made on the air during MSNBC’s political coverage. He also recently had to apologize on the air to Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont after comparing his victory in the Nevada caucuses to France falling to the Nazis in 1940.
Matthews is well liked within NBC News. But according to people familiar with the discussions about his departure who were not authorized to comment, there were growing concerns over his on-air comments, which have tended to fall out of sync with current cultural norms. While he could get away with such gaffes in a previous era, social media has been unforgiving.
Many women who were offended by his remarks about female politicians — especially 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — have called for his firing. Bassett said after her first piece ran about offensive remarks Matthews made to her, many “Hardball” guests and NBC News employees recounted having similar experiences with him.
The network’s handling of sexual harassment issues has come under scrutiny. Former “Today” co-host Matt Lauer was fired in November 2017 for inappropriate sexual behavior with a co-worker who later accused him of rape. Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill” alleged NBC News executives were long aware of Lauer’s actions but ignored them because he worked on the company’s morning show cash cow. (The network denied Farrow’s accusations.)
NBC News President Noah Oppenheim has also received heat over his handling of Farrow’s reporting on the sexual assault and harassment claims made against film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Oppenheim allowed Farrow to take his reporting to the New Yorker after he was unable to get any accusers to speak on the record. Farrow won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, shared with New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
Weinstein was convicted last week of a criminal sex act in the first degree and rape in the third degree.
A former White House staffer during the Carter administration, Matthews brought a political insider’s knowledge to his program, with historically well-informed, if sometimes blustery, questions of his guests.