When liberal media figures and Democrats heralded the arrival of the #MeToo era three years ago, they couldn’t have known how many of their own would ultimately be felled by the crusade against sexual assault, harassment, and just plain boorish behavior.
In the latest example, the left said good-bye and good riddance Tuesday to Chris Matthews, the top Democratic operative turned MSNBC standard bearer whose decades in the trenches for the cause couldn’t save him from allegations that his sexist jokes and ham-handed flirting had crossed a line.
“Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were okay were never okay, not then and certainly not today,” Mr. Matthews said Monday in his farewell. “And for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”
Joy Behar, co-host of ABC’s “The View,” had a message Tuesday for Mr. Matthews — “Shut up, Chris, all right? You’re out now, good-bye” — even as she admitted watching “Hardball,” the nightly political talk show that Mr. Matthew had hosted since 1997.
“I did, I have to say, I used to watch it at 7:00,” Ms. Behar said. “He’s passionate and he loves politics and he loves history, and I enjoyed that about him, but you know what? It’s enough with these old guys with their stupid remarks.”
His abrupt retirement, which he announced at the start of Monday’s show, came three days after journalist Laura Bassett accused him in a Friday op-ed for GQ of making inappropriate comments when she was a guest on the show in 2016.
While they were in the makeup room, Ms. Bassett said he told her, “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” and “Keep putting makeup on her, I’ll fall in love with her.” Another time, she said he asked if she were going out after the show, and 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.”
“Again — Matthews was never my boss. I’m pretty sure that behavior doesn’t rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment,” said Ms. Bassett. “But it undermined my ability to do my job well. And after I published a story about it, even though I didn’t name him, dozens of people reached out to say they knew exactly who it was. Many had similar stories.”
Not everyone was ready to consign Mr. Matthews to the #MeToo scrap heap. MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski said Tuesday, “As a woman, I want to say this: I loved working with Chris Matthews.”
“I understand the important changes around this so-called cancel culture,” she said, adding, “I do wonder at this point, though, as we move forward and we look at this and what happened here, if there might be a better way for all of us in the future, where we work through this and get to a better place.”
Also sticking up for Mr. Matthews was columnist Kathleen Parker, who touched off a social-media brouhaha when she tweeted that “Chris Matthews is a friend of mine.”
“He and I have flirted unabashedly for 20 years. This is an atrocious end to a noble, happy-warrior career. I will continue to be his friend. Angry column to follow,” Ms. Parker said.
Among those who pushed back was former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who accused chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment in July 2016, prompting other women to come forward and spurring his resignation weeks later.
“Kathleen — respect you but [were] you with him in every case of interactions with other women?” asked Ms. Carlson.
NBC has seen its share of top personalities depart the network under the #MeToo cloud, notably “Today” co-host Matt Lauer and MSNBC senior political analyst Mark Halperin in 2017.
Mr. Matthews has not been accused of physical misconduct, but University of Colorado Boulder associate business professor Stefanie K. Johnson said #MeToo has also prompted companies to take inappropriate comments into account.
“The #MeToo movement has caused employers to take sexual harassment more seriously,” she said. “But it has also changed the way that men and women view harassment, and from his apology, it sounds like Matthews recognizes that his comments toward women really are not okay.”
Mr. Matthews has also been criticized for his treatment of female candidates. He famously referred to Hillary Clinton as a “she-devil,” and drew the ire of progressives last week when he quizzed Sen. Elizabeth Warren over her criticism of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
The 74-year-old Matthews told his audience that the “younger generations out there are ready to take the reins,” boosting speculation that MSNBC was looking for a reason to put the liberal warhorse out to pasture.
“Groveling in the end couldn’t save him. It never does,” said Fox host Tucker Carlson. “I would say his real sin, of course, was being old and unfashionable. That’s why they’re making him leave.”