About Chris Matthews

There is no denying it.  Chris Matthews was a loudmouth.  Except for his surprise subdued farewell opener on his final “Hardball” Monday night, when he seemed also contrite, sad and sorry to go.

Much has been said and written about him before and since, including by me back in 2011, when I interviewed him for an article in Bethesda Magazine about media celebrities in our area. He was just a couple of paragraphs in a much longer story that also included David Brooks, Cokie Roberts, John Feinstein, Howard Kurtz, Doreen Gentzler, Candy Crowley, George Will and Tony Kornheiser.

“It’s not like being a movie star or even a local anchor where everyone knows you,” I quoted him as saying. But “if I get on an airplane in front, everyone knows me. I’m not bragging, it’s just the way it is. I like to have people say, ‘What do you think is going on?’”

Now, it’s fair to say, there’s a lot going on and pretty much everyone knows him, and not in a good way.  His sudden departure from MSNBC came after several cringe-worthy on-air gaffes (if that’s the right word) and public disclosures of sexist behaviors towards guests and associates. The breaking point came after a GQ freelance writer outed him for making discomfiting remarks about her looks in the makeup room prior to her appearance on his show.

Since then, there have been extensive stories both supporting and criticizing him and his banishment from cable news.  In no way excusing or approving of his alleged misbehaviors, I got into a Twitter argument with one of my “followers” over the so-called “cancel culture” and whether a person’s entire life’s work should be erased by his or her obvious flaws and mistakes.

I believe we are at an inflection point in our culture and country that is to some extent generational.  I came of age in the 1950s, as did Matthews, when a popular song went “Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by.” The verse continued, “Brother, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking, or for that wolf [insert wolf whistle sound here] look in your eye. You’re only standing on the corner watching all the girls, watching all the girls, watching all the girls…go by.”

Today, even that “wolf look in your eye” could be, well, problematic.

It was pervasive in the culture. In movies, on TV shows, on radio, in lyrics, you could hear men “complimenting” or “flattering” women on their looks.  There was also something called “sex appeal,” a once common phrase applied only to women and seldom if ever heard anymore. In magazines, on calendars, even on matchbcovers, there were “pin-up girls,” and, of course, the “Playmate of the Month” in Hugh Heffner’s Playboy magazine. Women were encouraged to dress provocatively. That was then. This is now.

If Rip Van Winkle of that era were suddenly to awake in these times and didn’t know the rules had changed, he would be at risk of offending and suffering the consequences. But Matthews wasn’t sleepwalking through the years; he was living through them and didn’t get the memo.

Otherwise, he told me back in 2011, referring to himself and his wife, Kathleen Matthews, “we live a pretty normal life,” consisting of breakfast while reading the newspaper at the unpretentious Olympia Cafe on Brookville road, near his home in Chevy Chase, and sometimes dinner with church friends (“the Blessed Sacrament crowd” at Columbia Country Club.

Chris was and will always be a Philly boy, but not with an upper crust Main Line accent. Since I’d been a young newspaper reporter there, we had a common bond.  In that first and subsequent conversations, we also talked politics and politicians we both had known. As I recall, he went on for 45 minutes, nonstop, and I was hard pressed to ask my questions.  Later, in 2014, he graciously accepted my invitation to appear on a panel (“politicians and the press”) at an authors conference I helped organize. There was no fee, and he was gracious and engaging. My friend and colleague Peggy Engel moderated, and the other panelists – Peter Baker and Evan Thomas – somehow managed to get a few words in.

As I said, Chris Matthews was a loudmouth. And that mouth, misstatements and worse ultimately ended his 20-year run on “Hardball.” His strident, overly aggressive interview of Elizabeth Warren regarding Michael Bloomberg, his conflation of two black politicians, his bizarre comparison of Bernie Sander’s Nevada caucus win to the Nazi blitzkrieg of France, topped off by the GQ column—it was all just too much.  It was time for him to move off the stage.

Is that worth celebrating?  In the aftermath, thoughtful commentaries, by Laura Bassett, author of the GQ article, by Kathleen Parker, Margaret Sullivan, Jonathan Capehart and others have appeared.  All are worth reading. Wrote Capehart: “One day, we’ll face a moment when we understand that we are products of our times — and that the times have moved beyond us.”   I suspect Chris will not be the last of our generation to fall from grace.  But, please, let’s give them credit where credit is due, even as we focus on their faults.  Let us not simply “cancel” them. That would be bad journalism and unfair to history. And, it would be wrong.

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  1. Chuck Kaufman on March 5, 2020 at 7:32 am

    I wonder whether Chris Mathews’s outrageousness was merely the result of a cable consultant urging him to be “good television.” I liked his biting comments. And as a baseball guy, I liked the use of the word hardball. But then, that outrageousness got out of control. He was crotchety. It didn’t take much for me to turn the channel. I’ll miss him. Sort of.

  2. Ken Rossignol on March 5, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Chris Mathews was correct to grill Warren on her accusations against Bloomberg, to put up or shut up. If Bloomberg indeed made the alleged remarks, voters should have had the evidence. If not, Pocahontas should have been held accountable. It won’t be long before Warren has made her deal and is out of the race.
    Matthews outgrew the stage?
    For Matthews to use a historical context of an unexplainable event in history was indeed correct but over the heads of the ignorant. On top of that is that there are those who believe they have the exclusive right to govern the use of the word “Nazi” and only they are allowed to toss it around to slander their political opponents. It is a perverse and diabolical use of the evilest killers that ever lived.
    The thinking ability of the mindless morons of today has not grown enough to handle gruff and rough commentary by Matthews and others — especially on PMSNBC.
    Everyone has the ability to turn the channel.
    Fox would be smart to cajole him into a new program and match him up with Hannity like the old show with Alan Colmes and Hannity — it would be the best show on cable news.

  3. Jane Brown on March 5, 2020 at 11:43 am

    Gene – agree with your commentary. I, as you know, same generation. I, also, exposed to comments not politically correct today. I say so what! Tired of accusations over insensitive comments that do not break bones. Young women – get over it.
    Chris, I will miss you terribly. Your boyish charm, quick whit, searing questions, insightful commentaries. Oh oh, do these wirds cause an anrmy to come after me?

  4. Sara Fitzgerald on March 7, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Chris worked with my late husband in the Carter White House, but I did not know him personally. I grew tired of his failure to allow his guests to complete an answer. Why do an interview if you aren’t going to let your subject provide an answer?

    Your Rip Van Winkle analogy is appropriate to T.S. Eliot, who wrote a letter in 1960 anticipating the release in 2020 of his correspondence with his longtime muse, Emily Hale. His nasty letter disavowing their longtime love was undoubtedly done to protect his much-younger second wife, who might have still been alive when the letters were opened after a 50-year embargo. He could not have anticipated his letter would arrive amid the #metoo movement, and women would be outraged that he destroyed Hale’s side of the correspondence. (The inspiration for my new novel, “The Poet’s Girl.” 😀

    • Gene Meyer on March 7, 2020 at 10:39 am

      Sara, thanks for your comment and your insights.

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