Chris Matthews said Monday that he is retiring as host of Hardball after years of allegations of sexist, misogynistic comments to and about women and a tumultuous few weeks of on-air slip-ups.
The veteran anchor, who has hosted the popular cable news program for more than 20 years, opened the show by immediately announcing his retirement, a decision he said he made after a conversation he had with NBC executives.
"After my conversation with NBC, I decided tonight will be my last Hardball — I'll tell you why," he said. "The younger generations are ready to take the reins. We see them in politics, the media, they have proven in the workplace. They grew up with better standards, 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."
A person familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed News that Matthews and MSNBC executives had been discussing his retirement for some time to coincide with 2020's election results. However, the string of recent controversies and blunders "accelerated" that timeline and both parties mutually agreed that "it was time," the person added.
The 74-year-old has made a series of blunders in recent weeks, like comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ performance in Nevada to a Nazi invasion. The anchor eventually apologized to the Democratic presidential hopeful, who is Jewish, for "comparing anything from that tragic era, in which so many suffered, especially the Jewish people, to an electoral result in which you were the well-deserved winner."
Then, days later, Matthews provoked a fresh wave of criticism for his interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in which he pressed the presidential candidate about why she believed a woman who said former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg told her to “kill it” when she found out she was pregnant.
“Do you believe that the former mayor of New York said that to a pregnant employee?” Matthews said after a recent Democratic primary debate.
When Warren replied that she believes women, Matthews dug in.
“You believe he’s lying. Why would he lie?” the anchor said of Bloomberg, who has insisted that he "never said it."
Shocked, Warren reiterated her stance and asked the MSNBC host why the woman would lie.
“I just want to make sure you’re clear about this,” Matthews said. “You’re confident of your accusation?”
Then on Friday, journalist Laura Bassett wrote an op-ed for GQ claiming that Matthews made a series of inappropriate comments to her before she appeared on his program as a guest in 2016 to discuss sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump.
While sitting in a chair next to him in the makeup room, Bassett said the host looked at her and asked, "Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?"
She said she laughed nervously, but didn't say anything. Matthews then addressed the makeup artist, reportedly saying, "Keep putting makeup on her, I’ll fall in love with her.” He also allegedly complimented a red dress she was wearing during another interaction and asked if she was going out later that night.
As Bassett noted in her piece, the longtime host has a well-documented history of questionable, creepy, and often misogynistic comments about women's appearances on and off the air that spans decades, many of which have garnered criticism.
Back in 2008, Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, documented the MSNBC host's behavior toward women, pointing out that the anchor frequently comments about how women are dressed, their smiles, and how beautiful or attractive they are.
Before interviewing Hillary Clinton in January 2016, Matthews joked about taking a "Bill Cosby pill." He has also called Clinton other derogatory names, such as "witchy," and "she-devil."
In 1999, an employee told CNBC executives that Matthews had made inappropriate jokes and comments about her. Officials reviewed the allegations and concluded that Matthews had crossed the line and was sternly reprimanded. The woman received a "separation-related compensation," Reuters reported in 2017.
In addition to his history of sexist remarks, Matthews awkwardly misidentified a black politician on air. During his program, the anchor confused South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison, who is running against Sen. Lindsey Graham, with Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who is also black.
In announcing his retirement Monday night, Matthews said that he was proud of his career at NBC and planned to continue on in political media, including writing a new book.
"I'll continue to write and talk about politics and cheer on my producers and crew here in Washington and New York and my MSNBC colleagues," Matthews said. "They will continue to produce great journalism in the years ahead."
A visibly shaken Steve Kornacki returned from commercial break as the show's host.
A spokesperson for MSNBC said that the time slot will be filled by a rotating group of hosts until the network chooses Matthews' permanent replacement.