In a move that shocked his live TV audience and left his colleagues scrambling to fill nearly an hour of airtime, Chris Matthews on Monday evening abruptly resigned from his post at MSNBC.
Speaking at the top of the 7 p.m. telecast of “Hardball,” the 74-year-old Matthews stared down the camera and announced, “Let me start with my headline tonight: I’m retiring. This is the last ‘Hardball’ on MSNBC.”
Matthews went on to speak for two minutes, providing a brief valedictory in which he reaffirmed his enthusiasm for politics while explaining why he would be stepping down from the show he’s hosted for the last 20 years.
“After conversations with MSNBC I decided that tonight would be my last ‘Hardball,’ so let me tell you why,” Matthews said, before acknowledging that the standards of personal interaction that were the norm when he was coming up were no longer acceptable in the newsroom or any other workplace.
“A lot of it has to do with how we talk to each other,” Matthews said. “Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were OK were never okay. Not then and certainly not today, and for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”
After Matthews’ short monologue, MSNBC cut to a commercial break. When the show returned, Matthews was nowhere to be found. Instead, political analyst Steve Kornacki was pressed into service, and if viewers were stunned by the turn of events, the emergency substitute seemed just as flabbergasted.
“Um, that was a lot to take in, just now, I’m sure.” Kornacki said. “And I’m sure you’re still absorbing that, and I am, too. … But we do have to fill this hour; we’re going to take a quick break and come back with today’s news.”
Matthews’ sudden departure comes on the heels of a rough couple of weeks in which Laura Bassett, a writer for GQ, called him out for harassing her when she was an on-air MSNBC guest. Just days before that story was published, Matthews got himself in hot water after comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ decisive victory in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazi invasion of France in 1940.
Matthews also recently came under fire after a contentious exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, during which he questioned why the presidential candidate believed a woman who’d accused former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg of pressuring her to have an abortion.
“Hardball” closed out February as the twenty-first most-watched cable news program while ranking as MSNBC’s fifth highest-rated show. Per Nielsen, the show last month averaged 1.5 million viewers per night, of whom 229,000 were members of the 25-54 demo.
MSNBC will turn to a rotation of substitute hosts to fill the “Hardball” time slot until a permanent successor is identified. For his part, Kornacki fought back tears as he took a few moments to honor the departed host. “Chris Matthews is a giant. He is a legend,” Kornacki said. “It has been an honor for me to work with him, to sit in for him on occasion and I know how much you meant to him, and I know how much he meant to you.”