If you heard that it was because of “sexual harassment,” then it must have been bad.
In 2016, right before I had to go on his show and talk about sexual-assault allegations against Donald Trump, Matthews looked over at me in the makeup chair next to him and said, “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?”
When I laughed nervously and said nothing, he followed up to the makeup artist. “Keep putting makeup on her, I’ll fall in love with her.”
Another time, he stood between me and the mirror and complimented the red dress I was wearing for the segment. “You going out tonight?” he asked.
I said I didn’t know, and he said—again to the makeup artist—“Make sure you wipe this off her face after the show. We don’t make her up so some guy at a bar can look at her like this.”
Chris Matthews announced last night that he’s “retiring.”
“I’m retiring,” he said. “This is the last Hardball on MSNBC, and obviously this isn’t for lack of interest in politics.”
This came on the heels of his questioning Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren in a way that outraged the typical MSNBC viewer.
After the tenth Democratic presidential debate, the Hardball anchor grilled Elizabeth Warren about one of her lines of attack against Mike Bloomberg during the debate: that a pregnant female employee accused Bloomberg of telling her to “kill it.”
“You believe he’s lying?” Matthews asked Warren of Bloomberg’s denial.
“I believe the woman, which means he’s not telling the truth,” said Warren, who recently had to defend her own credible story of pregnancy discrimination.
“And why would he lie?” Matthews said. “Just to protect himself?”
“Yeah, and why would she lie?” Warren responded pointedly.
He asked. She answered. She won’t be president and he won’t be on MSNBC anymore.
“After my conversation with MSNBC, I decided tonight will be my last Hardball,” Matthews said on his show Monday night. “So let me tell you why. The younger generations are ready to take the reins. We see them in politics, the media, and fighting for their causes. They’re improving the workplace. We’re talking about better standards than we grew up with, fair standards… Compliments on a woman’s appearance some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were OK were never OK. Certainly not today. For making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”
Laura Bassett, who was the guest on Hardball who felt compelled to tell her #MeToo story of Matthews’ harassment twice, once without naming him and a second time directly accusing him, didn’t think she was the victim of “illegal” sexual harassment, but she was still the victim.
Again—Matthews was never my boss. I’m pretty sure that behavior doesn’t rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment. But it undermined my ability to do my job well.
But her complaint wasn’t limited to the personal offense she took by his comments. Matthews was sexist, and a sexist man had no business having a show on MSNBC.
Beyond the question of Matthews’s employment, there is the decision of keeping a man with this flagrant bias as the anchor of a major cable-news evening show. His position affords him the ability to affect public opinion, both sweeping away documented behavior of male presidential candidates and casting doubt on corroborated women’s accusations against those men. Having a news anchor who calls women “she-devil” and treats their assessments with infantilizing suspicion while conducting post-debate interviews builds in a major disadvantage for female candidates. And that’s downright irresponsible.
For his part, Matthews apologized for his conduct and, in an act of contrition and repentance, resigned as anchor of his show. The post-mortems have aggregated decades of offense by Matthews this morning, none of which mattered until now, to explain why he was horrifying and exhausting.
Over the course of Matthews’ decades-long career at the network, he has made degrading comments about the women at MSNBC and guests who have appeared on his show.
He once joked about using a “Bill Cosby pill” on Hillary Clinton before a 2016 interview and has made cracks about the physical appearances of then-CNBC stars Erin Burnett and Margaret Brennan, and political figures including Sarah Palin and Melania Trump.
He made jokes. He made “cracks” about physical appearances. He even said mean things about Hillary. Forget about the legal definition of sexual harassment, severe, pervasive and objectively offensive, as it’s now been reduced to whatever offends the most sensitive and easily outraged.
“Who are you?” he asked me, as the makeup artists powdered our faces.
I reminded him of my name. “We’ve met before,” I said.
He turned and looked at me. “And I haven’t fallen in love with you yet?”
I froze. He was older, married, far more powerful than I was in media. He could decide whether or not I got booked on the network again. I’d been warned by more than one person that he sometimes tried to humiliate his female guests on the air.
So I laughed uncomfortably and said nothing.
Who’s laughing now?