“I’m retiring,” said Chris Matthews at the top of his show on Monday night. “This will be my last ‘Hardball.’” A younger generation was “ready to take the reins,” Matthews said, but it turned out there was more to it. The longtime MSNBC host, 74, had made some inappropriate comments on a woman’s appearance, and had come to realize that such things are “never okay.” That settled an issue that had been brewing for several days.
Last Saturday, MSNBC stars Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams, and Nicolle Wallace assembled to cover the South Carolina Democrat primary. Viewers wondered why Chris Matthews was not among them.
The night before, the Washington Examiner explained, GQ columnist Laura Bassett accused Matthews of “inappropriately flirting” with her four years ago. In the makeup chair, Matthews reportedly asked Bassett “why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” And another time he made comments about her red dress.
Bassett was uncertain if any of it amounted to illegal sexual misconduct but Matthews’ tiff with Elizabeth Warren over Michael Bloomberg’s conduct prompted Bassett to speak out. MSNBC duly yanked Matthews, who had been in hot water before.
“A female staffer was paid severance by NBC after accusing Chris Matthews of sexual harassment,” Erin Nyren noted in Variety back in 2017. Matthews had reportedly “made inappropriate comments and jokes about her in front of other people.” The unnamed woman departed the show, reportedly with a payment of $40,000. According to the story Matthews received a “formal reprimand,” but remained on the show. One of his favorite guests was Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti.
“Were they paying him [Trump lawyer Michael Cohen] for a service or they are paying him to help out Trump pay off his bills to Stormy Daniels?” Matthews asked. “How did that money get funneled from the Russians potentially?”
“So by the time the Russian oligarch directed that first payment in January,” Avenatti replied, “we believe that those funds and funds thereafter went to replenish that account from which the $130,000 had been paid.” And as the lawyer added, “Chris, it was shock and bewilderment when we first realized that.”
On another occasion, Avenatti said, “why all of this nonsense, with these bogus legal bills and structuring the payment over many months? It just doesn`t make sense, Chris. It doesn`t pass the smell test.” Matthews replied, “I agree with you completely. Why did they need the offshore that they created the LLC so they could somehow hide the money through there?” And so on.
Viewers might not recall that Chris Matthews was a congressional staffer, presidential speechwriter, chief of staff to House Speaker Tip O’Neill and author of Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, one of his eight best-selling books according to Wikipedia. Matthews served as Washington bureau chief for the San Francisco Examiner and a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Then he went into television and over the next 20 years seemed to lose edge as journalist, and his sense of fairness along with it. Always overbearing, in recent years Matthews began to sound like the blowhard at the end of the bar.
Like colleague Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews was all-in on the Russian hoax, to the point that he would take seriously porn star lawyer Michael Avenatti. To be fair, this seventh-rate fraud was hailed as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare” by Bill Maher and touted on CNN as a presidential contender. For the erudite Ana Navarro, Avenatti was “like the Holy Spirit. You are all places at all times.”
More than two years of collusion with the Russian hoax could not get Chris Matthews booted off the air, but a four-year-old accusation of “inappropriate flirting” did the trick. So Matthews joined Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, and Tavis Smiley as a target of the #MET00 Torquemadas. In other ways he may have surpassed them.
Chris Matthews compared Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. It was the reductio ad Hitlerum writ large, but not his worst gaffe.
Chis Matthews also confused Democrat Jaime Harrison with South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott. This from a former congressional staffer, presidential speech writer, Washington bureau chief and columnist, and author of books on John Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan. This is what happens to those who spend too much time on television.
“Matthews advised to quit MSNBC,” ran the Politico headline in 2008, when Matthews was allegedly “dead serious about running for the Senate in Pennsylvania.” The Nazi-Sanders comparison prompted calls for Matthews’ resignation but the MSNBC host stayed on the job. A charge of “inappropriate flirting” finally pushed him out the door.
“I hope you are going to miss me,” Matthews said Monday, adapting the Humphrey Bogart line from Casablanca. “We’ll always have ‘Hardball.’”
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Photo by Steve Bott at Wikimedia Commons.