The Untold Truth Of Chris Matthews

In March 2020, MSNBC host Chris Matthews shockingly announced his retirement during an episode of his long-running series Hardball with Chris Matthews. After saying his peace, the show cut to a commercial break, and Matthews never returned. This dramatic exit marked the end of an era for MSNBC's longest-running series. Matthews, who's likely to be replaced by Shepard Smith, Steve Kornacki, or Joy Reid, hosted the show for more than 20 years.

It's hard to remember a time where Matthews wasn't associated with MSNBC. For Generation Z, those born near the end of the second millennium, there was never a time. The TV journalist picked up the longtime gig in 1998, and has subsequently landed contributor spots on other politically-driven talk series like Morning Joe and MSNBC Live. Nonetheless, Matthews' complicated legacy began long before he ever appeared on television. The pundit is a chameleon of ever-shifting, Washington-adjacent careers, but there ultimately seems to be a clear reason his expansive run on television was cut short. This is the untold truth of Chris Matthews.

Did allegations of inappropriate flirting trigger Chris Matthews' retirement?

Chris Matthews' Hardball departure came in the wake of a bombshell GQ article from journalist Laura Bassett, who alleged that the veteran political anchor "inappropriately flirted" with her before she appeared on his show in 2016. Matthews retired shortly after the report was published.

In the oped, Bassett cited a number of alleged incidents involving the TV host, claiming his list of indiscretions was "long, exhausting, and creepy." This included his treatment of Elizabeth Warren during a recent interview, and allegations from a report in The Daily Caller, which claimed Matthews fostered an "abusive work environment" and "[rated] his female guests on a numerical scale."

As for her own experience, Bassett alleged that the host made inappropriate comments towards her in the makeup room shortly before she went on-air to discuss sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. Matthews allegedly remarked, "Why haven't I fallen in love with you yet?" and told Bassett's makeup artist to "Keep putting makeup on her, I'll fall in love with her." He also reportedly said, "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."

Bassett, who first made these claims back in 2017, admitted that she didn't initially reveal Matthews' identity because she was afraid the network would retaliate, and because the behavior didn't "rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment." 

Chris Matthews was once investigated for sexual harassment

Journalist Laura Bassett's allegations of Chris Matthews' inappropriate flirting aren't surprising once you dive into Hardball's past controversies. A year after Matthews picked up the hosting gig, he was investigated by CNBC, the show's then-network, following sexual harassment allegations. 

According to Reuters, in 1999, a female employee told network execs that Matthews had made "inappropriate jokes and comments about her in front of others." An internal investigation found that the host was at fault, and he was "formally reprimanded" (i.e. the guy got a slap on the wrist). The employee, who remained unnamed, was given "separation-related compensation."

It's unclear exactly what comments got Matthews in trouble, but according to a report from The Daily Caller, it wasn't a one time deal. The report — which details sprawling accusations of sexist remarks, inappropriate comments, and verbal abuse — alleged that the TV journalist would rate which guests were the "hottest of the week." One host, who was allegedly a regular target, "didn't want to be in the same room as him" and didn't want to "get her makeup done if he was in there too." Another former producer claimed Matthews "made multiple women uncomfortable," though she didn't personally feel harassed.

Beyond that, some former staffers accused Matthews of verbal abuse, claiming that he would scream at employees, "throw objects," and "demean" people on-set. According to one former producer, "The screaming is beyond the screaming you've ever heard. You just feel so under attack."

Was Chris Matthews passing the torch or did he get fired?

Chris Matthews' departure was so unexpected that contributor Steve Kornacki was visibly stunned and didn't exactly seem prepared to fill the rest of the show's hour-long runtime (though, he did step up and manage to finish out the show). This — combined with the timing of the star's retirement — raised a lot of suspicions. Could Matthews have been fired?

Matthews initially framed his retirement as a passing of the torch, and apologized for his past comments. "The younger generations out there are ready to take the reins," Matthews said. "We've seen them in politics, in the media, and fighting for the causes. They're improving the workplace. We're talking here about better standards than we grew up with ... Compliments on a woman's appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were okay, were never okay. "

Though the host said "a conversation with MSNBC" sparked his decision to retire, sources seemed mixed on what actually went down. Per a CNN report, one source claimed management told him to resign, and that it was "a firing that was masked as a retirement announcement." Another said it was "truly a mutual decision." We probably won't ever know exactly what went on behind the scenes, but according to The Wrap (via Yahoo! Money), the show wasn't exactly crushing the ratings, drawing only 229,000 viewers in the key demographic of adults aged 25-54, which put it behind other similar programs. 

Chris Matthews is no stranger to public apologies

In Chris Matthews' shocking retirement announcement, the political anchor apologized for making inappropriate comments towards women throughout his tenure, but those were not the only inappropriate comments he's apologized for in recent years. Basically, Matthews has gotten really, really good at public apologies.

Days before stepping down, Matthews made a rare public apology for a comment he made while covering the Nevada caucus. According to Deadline, the host compared Bernie Sanders' win to the Nazi invasion of France. Of course, people were outraged, especially because Sanders is Jewish and has been open about how members of his family were killed during the Holocaust. Not long after, Matthews apologized on-air. "Senator Sanders, I'm sorry 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," he said.

Matthews also came under fire for a joke he made during Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign run. In 2018, a video surfaced of Matthews from the 2016 Democratic primary when he was just about to interview Clinton. He remarked, "Can I have some of the queen's waters? Precious waters? Where's that Bill Cosby pill I brought with me?" Matthews told The Cut that it was a "terrible comment" made in "poor taste during the height of the Bill Cosby headlines." 

Politics and journalism has always been Chris Matthews' path

Though most of us know Chris Matthews from his more than 20-year run with Hardball, he actually had an extremely long career before he became a TV host. The star wasn't always a journalist, much less a journalist on television. According to Multichannel News, Matthews worked for the Peace Corps in Africa before jumping into the world of politics. He worked for Sen. Frank Moss of Utah and Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, was speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, and he spent six years an aide for Tip O'Neill, who served as Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1986.

Matthews only jumped into journalism in the late '80s, and he's covered every single presidential campaign since then. According to Temple Now, he also spent "15 years as a newspaper journalist." The majority of that time he served as a Washington bureau chief for the San Francisco Examiner, but he also had a two-year stint at the San Francisco Chronicle. His first major TV hosting gig came in 1994 with A-T in Depth.

Throughout his television career, Matthews has covered major events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first South African election where all races were allowed to run, and Pope John Paul II's funeral. His accomplishments racked him up 19 honorary degrees, as of a 2008 New York Times profile. Impressive!

What is Chris Matthews' rule of three?

Part of Chris Matthews' success as a TV journalist is because he isn't afraid to push for hard answers. Though some criticisms of the star claim he regularly cuts off guests (particularly female guests) before they can answer, the host does have a specific strategy to get tough answers. Strangely enough, it relies on unabashed candor and his show's time slot.

In an interview with Multichannel News, Matthews admitted that he gives it two or three tries when asking a question that a host doesn't particularly want to answer. "I always thought my advantage over the Sunday shows is that I can be a little bit more difficult for a guest," he said. "When they do the usual avoidance, where they give you words but not an answer, I can say, 'Well, answer the question,' and I can try two or three times. And then after the third time, I'm as limited as everyone else."

Matthews admitted that people only really start to accuse someone of "badgering the witness" if they ask something more than three times. He also believes his patented interruptions help move the guest back to the answer of his question. Basically, Matthews knows how to play hardball.

Chris Matthew's wife's congressional campaign was problematic

In some alternative universe, Chris Matthews is America's first husband. Alongside his wife's work as a local news anchor and Marriott hotel executive, Kathleen Matthews is a woman of politics. She ran for congress in 2016, and though she didn't win, there was a lot of controversy surrounding her campaign.

According to a report from The Intercept, Chris announced that Kathleen was launching a congressional campaign during a 2015 episode of Hardball. She was hoping to replace Chris Van Holland, who represented Maryland's 8th district. Like a supportive husband, Chris promised to maintain transparency in order to uphold MSNBC's high journalistic stands while offering "Kathleen whatever help [he could]." Unfortunately, some naysayers believed Chris helped a little too much.

The Intercept reports that Hardball guests ended up giving Kathleen $79,050 in campaign donations, which raised some concerns among her opponents. This was sort of a gray area. While The Intercept reports that it probably didn't violate Federal Election Commission finance guidelines, nor was it likely to trigger a complaint from the FCC who has laxer standards for cable networks, The Washington Post claimed it "[raised] questions about whose interests [Kathleen] would represent" if elected. Republican Aryeh Shudofsky even "called on MSNBC to remove Chris Matthews from the air for the duration of Kathleen Matthews's candidacy." All in all, donations from Hardball guests only made up about five percent of Kathleen's overall fundraising.

Even cancer didn't slow Chris Matthews down too much

Chris Matthews' dedication to Hardball was absolutely unmatched. To wit, the star was diagnosed with cancer, underwent treatment, and only missed two weeks of work — two weeks. That's like using your standard vacation time to recover from a major, life-threatening illness.

In an interview with Men's Health, Matthews opened up about being diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall of 2019. Instead of radiation, he opted for surgery, which he had on October 7 at the National Institutes of Health. He spent Monday through Friday at the hospital, had three visits over the following week, and got his catheter removed eight days later. Ultimately, he spent just two weeks out of work, which he claimed was a "long time if you work in this business."

Matthews approached his cancer diagnosis with an astounding sense of practicality. He told Men's Health that he "just thought of it as another deadline to deal with." He added, "I didn't have any stress. I got up that morning. Kathleen, my wife, drove me over there, went over there with me. It was one of those things in life, like taking the SATs or GREs. It's a thing you have to go through. I didn't see it as frightening. These doctors are good." Fortunately, he wasn't wrong. The doctors were good. They fully removed the affected tissue, and the former MSNBC has been cancer free ever since.

Chris Matthews almost ran for Senate

More than a decade before Chris Matthews retired, the star considered quitting Hardball altogether — at least according to rumors. In 2008, headlines swirled about Matthews potentially stepping down from MSNBC to launch a Senate campaign.

According to a report from FiveThirtyEight, Matthews met with "veteran Obama staffers" in 2008 to recruit them for his alleged 2010 Pennsylvania Senate campaign. The TV journalist reportedly planned to run as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Arlen Specter. A separate report from Politico claimed the star was "dead serious" about a Senate run and was even purchasing a home in Pennsylvania to establish residency. Behind the scenes, he was allegedly advised to step down from Hardball and had been "privately discussing" leaving the network.

Though it wouldn't be shocking for the star to jump into politics, other network sources weren't as convinced about Matthews' reported career shift. Some insiders believed it was a "negotiating ploy to jack up his contract." Like we said earlier, Matthews knows how to play hardball. Of course, in hindsight we know the star ended up sticking with MSNBC. According to the The New York Times, Arlen Specter joined the Democratic Party and ended up losing his seat to someone else, and the rumors of Matthews' possible Senate career dissolved entirely.

How well does Chris Matthews know Donald Trump?

MSNBC has positioned itself as a left-leaning answer to Fox News, and Chris Matthews is right there with them. According to USA Today, the political commentator is indeed a self-admitted liberal, but he's been criticized for losing touch in the wake of Bernie Sanders.

During a 2003 episode of Hardball (via Media Matters), Matthews revealed that he's "more conservative than people think," and this might have something to do with the company he keeps. In an interview with Multichannel News, Matthews revealed his close relationship with President Donald Trump, who he claimed was Hardball's most memorable guest. "I've known the guy for ... my god, I was at his wedding." he said. " ... When you're with him in the room with maybe one other person, he's not some big shot, yelling and pushing his way around the room. It's different than you'd think."

Though at one point Matthews and Trump shared some sort of friendship and the political commentator praised his old pal's State of the Union address in 2020, Matthews has still been critical of the reality star-turned-president. According to Fox News, the TV host likened Republicans' "religious acceptance" of Trump's various untruths to believing in "Santa Claus" during an appearance on SiriusXM.

Controversy runs in the Matthews family

Chris Matthews isn't the only controversial member of his family. His brother, Jim Matthews, was charged with perjury in 2011. According to local NBC subsidiary 10 Philadelpha, the former Montgomery County commissioner was arrested at a Wawa (just about the most Pennsylvania thing ever) following an 18-month grand jury investigation "on perjury and false-swearing charges." So, what did he reportedly lie about? It had to with a conflict of interest.

According to the report, Jim allegedly lied when he denied having a financial interest in a title company called Certified Abstract, which did business with both the county and Jim's family business Keegan Mortgage. The Ambler Gazette also reports that Jim was a shareholder of another title company called Charter Abstract, "which was owned Jennifer McGuire, who also owned Certified Abstract." It's all a little murky.

In addition to the perjury charge, the investigation looked into allegedly inappropriate "breakfast meetings" that Jim had with "other county officials" and "another commissioner." No, these weren't "improper" because they went to Sheetz instead of Wawa. They were thought to violate the Sunshine Act, which requires state and local government bodies to meet in an open forum with prior notice so the public can take part. There wasn't enough evidence for a Sunshine Act-violation, and according to The Ambler Gazette, Jim's perjury charge was dismissed at his preliminary hearing in 2012.

Yes, that Jon Stewart interview was really that bad

It seems pretty hard to faze Chris Matthews. The political commentator hasn't even let Saturday Night Live get under his skin. According to the The New York Times, Matthews loved Darrell Hammond's impression of him and even caught "himself 'doing Hammond doing Matthews.'" Imitation is the best form of flattery, right? Though, not all public figures have thought so (ahem, Mr. President).

Though Matthews clearly has the type of thick skin one would need to spend decades on cable TV, he was deeply hurt by Jon Stewart. In 2007, the star went on The Daily Show to promote his book Life's a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation and Success and was absolutely eviscerated. Stewart ultimately claimed (via the New York Times) that it was a "self-hurt book" and a "recipe for sadness." Stewart went even further, saying, "If you live by this book, your life will be strategy, and if your life is strategy, you will be unhappy," before claiming he wasn't "trashing" Matthews' book, but rather his "philosophy of life." Matthews was, for a rare moment, dejected.

The political commentator told The New York Times that the interview was a "painful experience." He was humiliated and pretty much discovered that his entire belief system was founded on people – politicians – but the general public didn't want to take advice from those people he held so dear. Talk about an existential crisis.