Chris Matthews, the former MSNBC host who was unceremoniously canceled a little over a year ago thanks to a GQ article accusing him of sexual harassment, made his return to cable television this week. During an appearance on his old network, Matthews asserted that he takes ‘ownership’ of his behavior:
‘I took ownership of it — using a nice modern phase — I have took complete ownership. I did not deny it. I lost my show over it. That’s it — so that’s the truth.’
Matthews’s not-so-triumphant comeback follows in the footsteps of other once-canceled personalities like former NBC News contributor Mark Halperin, who has been appearing as a guest on Newsmax, and comedian Louis CK, who is selling out live shows around the country. Their reemergence naturally raises the question of when someone has been sufficiently ‘punished’ — or rehabilitated — before returning to their old job, relationships, and life.
It’s a difficult question to answer, but a necessary one in the age of cancel culture. There are numerous factors to be considered: the severity of the offense, how long it’s been since the offense, the sincerity of the offender’s apology, and how long the offender stepped away from public life. (Too often, sadly, the political leanings of the offender play a big factor, as well). Aziz Ansari, for example, was probably punished far too harshly; he served a year and a half for what was basically a bad date.
Matthews, who is also set to appear on Bill Maher’s show tonight, has only been off television for just over a year — and to me that seems too short. I know because I spent years covering the sexual harassment allegations against Matthews as a young journalist before Laura Bassett accused him on-the-record in GQ. I first reported, and NBC confirmed, in 2017 that the network made a separation-related payment to a staffer in 1999 after she complained about Matthews’s behavior. Matthews was ‘formally reprimanded’ for the incident.
That was only the tip of the iceberg. Former guests and producers of Matthews’s show later told me that he ran an abusive and sexist work environment, leading some employees to refer to themselves as victims of ‘battered wives syndrome’. They accused Matthews of rating the appearance of guests on a numerical scale, referring to female colleagues and guests as ‘cutie pie’ and ‘sweetie’, making some women so uncomfortable they would refuse to even be in the same room with him. He was allegedly verbally abusive to staff, calling them ‘worthless’ and ‘idiots’ — and would throw objects when angry.
‘Seeing it would have made you shudder…you don’t forget something like that,’ one producer said of an incident where Matthews screamed at staff in front of guests during a commercial break.
The allegations spanned over a decade and multiple sources claimed MSNBC was aware of Matthews’s behavior. Matthews said in his return Tuesday, ‘I did something wrong.’ That does not even come close to acknowledging the breadth of the accusations that have been reported about him.
It is also quite odd that Matthews returned to the network on a program that is hosted by Joy Reid, whose favorite tactic is to accuse people of racism. I say that because Matthews has his own history of racist comments. As Mike Cernovich tweeted last March, and a former NBC producer who heard the comment confirmed to me, Matthews once quipped about a black female guest that he could have ‘owned’ her in another time.
There’s also the question of Matthews’s comments about former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Over the years he has referred to her as ‘Nurse Ratched’, ‘witchy’ and joked on a hot mic about giving her a ‘Bill Cosby pill’. When confronted about these comments recently on The View, Matthews denied ever speaking derogatorily about Clinton.
‘There was a tease by a producer. It was setting up what the Republicans were going to do to her in that campaign,’ Matthews falsely claimed.
Does this really sound like someone who has acknowledged their wrongdoing? Does it sound like someone who is remorseful for their decades of vitriol toward women? Or does it sound more like someone who will half-apologize for the least of their offenses in the hopes of speeding up their return to television?
Lucky for Matthews, he has deep ties to the Democratic establishment and plenty of friends remaining at his old TV network — and he once managed to survive 20 years against internal complaints about his behavior. His comeback was a given; whether he deserves it is a different story.