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MSNBC’s “Hardball” host Chris Matthews’ abrupt resignation on Monday night is the latest sexual-misconduct related debacle for the once-proud NBC News as the company continues to make headlines for refusing to enlist an independent investigation into its culture.
A source familiar with the situation told Fox News that the 74-year-old Matthews’ human relations file is chockfull of complaints. NBC management couldn’t ignore it anymore, fearing that more women would come forward on the heels of journalist Laura Bassett’s GQ column that was published on Friday.
“He’s been a dog to women for years,” the source said. “It was only going to get worse.”
Bassett listed a series of comments allegedly made by the longtime “Hardball” host that didn’t “rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment” but “undermined” her ability to properly do her job. She wrote that she decided to spill the beans after watching Matthews conduct a cringe-worthy interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., about why she believed a woman who accused former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg of pressuring her to have an abortion.
Matthews met with MSNBC management following Bassett’s claims, which came after a brutal few days for the liberal host that included a series of on-air gaffes and embarrassing moments. He came under fire for comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazi conquest of France in 1940, for which he apologized and mistook South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison for a different African-American politician, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
But in addition to the on-air rhetoric making frequent headlines, it was Matthews’ treatment of women that ultimately “accelerated” his retirement plans during a meeting with executives.
He was subsequently benched for the network’s coverage of the South Carolina primary on Saturday and then announced his sudden and immediate retirement on Monday. He was initially planning to exit the network sometime after Election Day, according to a person familiar with the situation.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was accused of using sexist language by journalist Laura Bassett.
Former NBC producer Rich McHugh, who worked with journalist Ronan Farrow on his reporting of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, has been an outspoken critic of NBC’s handling of misconduct issues.
“Having spoken with former ‘Hardball’ staffers, I believe there is more to the story,” McHugh told Fox News.
“I heard there are other women and he quit preemptively,” a second NBC News insider told Fox News
Longtime political pundit Jeffrey Lord told Fox News that he was invited to watch Matthews tape “Hardball” years ago and echoed McHugh, but questioned the network’s timing.
“After that, I heard he had acquired a reputation for inappropriate words with women,” Lord said. “But I find it curious that as long as he was seen as a liberal’s liberal he was fine as a host on MSNBC.”
In fact, Matthews peppering of far-left Warren with about believing a woman over the wealthy Bloomberg were seen as an example of him not believing women and standing by a powerful man, while simultaneously attacking a prominent liberal in favor of the more moderate candidate. Feminist Lauren Duca described Matthews’ line of questioning as “insane.”
The exchange was an inflection point, as progressive activists and women’s groups quickly turned on the MSNBC host. Bassett’s now-infamous GQ column was even headlined, “Like Warren, I had my own sexist run-in with Chris Matthews.”
Matthews had also criticized Sanders in recent months and Lord wondered why “his alleged behavior is suddenly a problem” after years of being swept under the rug. “Curious, indeed,” Lord said.
Spectator USA Washington editor Amber Athey covered sexual harassment claims against Matthews back in 2017 at the height of the #MeToo era but the “Hardball” host managed to stick around despite her report that NBC paid an assistant producer $40,000 in 1999 to settle her sexual harassment claim against the anchor.
“This was a long time coming and I’m sure the many women who spoke to me, either on background or off the record, about their experiences with Chris Matthews feel very vindicated right now,” Athey told Fox News.
An MSNBC spokesperson said at the time that executives were told that Matthews made inappropriate jokes and comments about the woman in front of others and that the matter was reviewed. It was determined the comments were inappropriate and made in poor taste but were never meant as propositions. MSNBC has not confirmed the amount paid to the woman, nor has the network said whether the payment was made to settle a harassment claim.
Some insiders say Matthews and NBC “mutually” parted ways as the veteran host wanted to avoid further tarnishing his legacy. Others feel the longtime “Hardball” host wasn’t left with a choice. But his exit amid sexual misconduct allegations is the latest public relations debacle that has occurred under NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack. The extensive list of scandals that the high-powered Lack has managed to survive has been well documented.
Lack has been accused of botching a variety of sexual misconduct issues, ranging from his claim that Ronan Farrow’s award-winning coverage of now-convicted sex offender Weinstein wasn’t fit to print to insisting that the investigation into Matt Lauer’s alleged lewd workplace behavior be conducted by fellow NBC executives instead of an outside entity.
His NBCUniversal colleagues eventually declared he was oblivious to misconduct happening under his nose and he was given a pass, despite widespread calls for an independent investigation.
UltraViolet President Shaunna Thomas, a leading women’s group, feels NBC News has “a culture of silencing survivors and protecting abusers,” such as Matthews, and has urged parent company Comcast to step in.
“What they clearly need at the same time is an independent investigation and a hard look at the top executives, the decision-makers, who have protected people like Chris Matthews for years,” UltraViolet President Shaunna Thomas tweeted Monday. “Why won’t they do it? What are they hiding?”
The calls for NBC News to get to the bottom of its issues haven’t only come from outside the network’s famed Rockefeller Center headquarters. MSNBC’s biggest cash cow, Rachel Maddow, even criticized the way her employer handled the Weinstein and Lauer issues on-air last year.
“I’ll tell you, there has been consternation, even inside this building, inside MSNBC and NBC News, that that matter was handled with an internal investigation — with the company, in effect, investigating itself rather than hiring an external firm to do it,” Maddow told viewers in October.
Maddow called the Weinstein and Lauer allegations “gut-wrenching,” and said claims that NBC executives were “complicit” in “shielding” the alleged predators from accountability “very, very hard to stomach.”
Matthews’ exit is the latest fiasco for Lack’s news division but new leadership could eventually heed the calls for an independent probe into the Peacock Network. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell is expected to put his own stamp on the news division later this year when he formally takes control from outgoing CEO-turned-chairman Steve Burke following the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Burke has been extremely loyal to Lack, but Shell will report directly to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and be free to shake up his news division as he sees fit.
Matthews apologized Monday for some of his past comments about the appearance of women, and NBC has denied all wrongdoing related to Lack.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn and Sam Dorman contributed to this report.