Outspoken MSNBC host and Philadelphia native Chris Matthews stunned viewers and news media personalities Monday night by announcing he was leaving the network and Hardball, which he had hosted for the last 25 years.
Matthews’ surprise announcement came on the heels of a rough 10 days in which the 74-year-old host confused two prominent black politicians from different parties, apologized for comparing the Bernie Sanders campaign to the Nazi march on France, and was accused of making inappropriate comments to a former guest.
Crew members, many of whom have worked with Matthews for years, learned of his exit about an hour before the show, and guests waiting in the green room gasped while they watched the announcement in real time, according to the Associated Press.
An MSNBC spokesperson said the sudden departure was a mutual decision between Matthews and the network, affected by the events of the previous week. According to New York Times media writer Michael Grynbaum, it followed days of discussions between Matthews and MSNBC president Phil Griffin, a former executive producer of Hardball who has a close relationship with the host. According to CNN’s Brian Stelter, management told Matthews to step down.
Matthews alluded to the fact that leaving wasn’t exactly his decision, telling his viewers, “Obviously this isn’t for lack of interest in politics.”
Among those to react to the news was Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a onetime MSNBC host and personality who frequently appeared on Matthews’ show during the mid-1990s.
“I’ve known Chris Matthews very well since 1995 when I started appearing on his show regularly. He’s everything you think he is,” Carlson told his audience Monday night. “Groveling, in the end, couldn’t save him. It never does. I would say his real sin, of course, was being old and unfashionable. That’s why they’re making him leave.”
Carlson then pivoted to an attack on the network, questioning why Matthews was forced out. Among those Carlson called out was NBC News president Noah Oppenheim, whom former contributor Ronan Farrow accused of sidelining Farrow’s reporting on former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein (the reporting went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for the New Yorker). Oppenheim has vigorously denied Farrow’s claims.
“So it would be worth asking what exactly is the standard we’re applying here that forced Chris Matthews — I’m not a fan, but just being honest — that forced Chris Matthews off the air,” Carlson said.
Media personalities inside and outside of MSNBC were stunned by Matthews’ departure. An emotional Steve Kornacki, who filled in to finish Monday’s episode of Hardball, choked up on air while calling Matthews the “most human” television personality he knows.
“I say that as one of the highest compliments I can pay to someone,” Kornacki said. “I’m sorry, I think you got him. And I think he got you. And all of us are going to miss him.”
“Chris Matthews is a friend of mine. He and I have flirted unabashedly for 20 years,” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote on Twitter. “This is an atrocious end to a noble, happy-warrior career. I will continue to be his friend.”
Parker’s comment set off a fury of #MeToo responses, including from CNN host S.E. Cupp, who wrote that the idea of dismissing Matthews’ comments as flirting “has rightly been retired.”
Others were more critical of Matthews’ history of unseemly comments, including “inappropriate and sophomoric” jokes made to an assistant producer in 1999 that resulted in a formal reprimand from the network. The Daily Show recently aired a montage featuring some of Matthews’ most cringe-worthy remarks about women over the years.
“No matter how the decision was made for Matthews to exit, the fact remains that MSNBC turned a blind eye to his sexist, misogynistic, and offensive behavior for years,” Julie Millican, the vice president of the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters, said in a statement. "This move was beyond overdue, and the network should be ashamed to have propped up this man for so long.”
Journalist Laura Bassett, who alleged in a recent GQ article that Matthews made inappropriate comments to her while she was a guest on his show in 2016, shared screenshots of her inbox filled with profane and misogynistic comments blaming her for the MSNBC host’s abrupt departure.