Why Chris Matthews’ Run on MSNBC Ended After 21 Years

Whatever your feelings about Hardball anchor Chris Matthews, no one will deny Matthews has been a cable news institution for more than two decades. It began when he brought Hardball to America’s Talking (a network under the NBC umbrella) in 1994.

After a stop at CNBC (1997-99), Matthews and Hardball settled in for a run that lasted 21 years on MSNBC. But that run came to a close on March 2, when Matthews stunned observers (including many at the network) by announcing he was retiring at the start of his 7 p.m. show.

Following some brief parting words, Matthews left nearly the entire show for the network to manage. (A surprised Steve Kornacki took the reins.) Though many wondered about Matthews’ long-term viability at MSNBC, his abrupt departure reflected pressure he’d gotten from behind the scenes.

Chris Matthews’ on- and off-air behavior reportedly forced his early retirement

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to Chris Matthews of MSNBC after the Democratic debate on February 19, 2020. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Anyone who’s seen Hardball knows Matthews had, to put it mildly, an “old-fashioned style” of working. If you check on YouTube, it’s easy to find clips of him objectifying women (“You’re a knockout,” he once told Erin Burnett on the air after asking her to “come closer” to the camera.)

In his March 2 goodbye on Hardball, Matthews acknowledged how dated his workplace habits had become. “Compliments on a women’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were OK were never OK,” he said. “Not then and certainly not today.”

But Matthews didn’t leave his post at Hardball over some “compliments” from another decade. MSNBC viewers probably suspected something was afoot when Matthews did not contribute to the network’s South Carolina primary coverage February 29.

Indeed, by then he’d been “benched,” a source told The New York Times. That followed a stretch in which he enraged people for his handling of a post-debate interview with Elizabeth Warren on February 19, then put his foot in his mouth on several other occasions.

However, Matthews’ moment with Warren set other wheels in motion. Following that incident, an article published in GQ brought other allegations of inappropriate behavior by Matthews to light.

Matthews’ terrible 2020 sealed his fate

Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball,” prepares for interviews after the Democratic Presidential Debate on July 31, 2019.| JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

After the Nevada caucuses, Matthews’ long run began to look doomed. That night, while discussing the victory of Bernie Sanders, he compared the win to the 1940 Nazi invasion of France. The following day, he had his moment with Warren.

Later in the week, Matthews confused Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina with Jaime R. Harrison, another African-American politician running for senate as a Democrat. By the weekend, MSNBC president Phil Griffin went to meet with Matthews, the Times reported.

But by Saturday, Matthews faced even more heat when MSNBC contributor Laura Bassett published an article in GQ describing Matthews’ unwelcome flirtations with her in the studio in 2016. At that point, network executives could not justify keeping him at Hardball (institution or not).

Matthews certainly didn’t seem ready to go on March 2. “Obviously this isn’t for lack of interest in politics,” he said. “As you can tell, I’ve loved every minute of my 20 years as host of Hardball.”

Also see: How Old Is the Average Fox News Viewer in America?