Chris Matthews didn’t get fired for being a sex monster. He got fired for doing his job.
And what was that job? To represent the non-crazy, “No Kool-Aid for me, thanks” Left on television, while being entertaining and pointed and wacky. Read the GQ piece published Friday that apparently got Matthews fired and you’ll note that the writer, Laura Bassett, had two completely unrelated categories of complaint that she artfully weaved together to create an indictment of Matthews as a sexist.
One complaint was that Matthews would compliment women’s looks. He said of Sarah Palin that there was “something electric” and “very attractive” about her. He told Erin Burnett, “You’re a knockout.” All true. He made a couple of mild compliments to Bassett: “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” True, men shouldn’t talk this way around the office, and few guys under 50 have failed to get the message that this kind of thing makes (some) women uncomfortable. But Matthews is 70. Old guys flirt with young women as a way of telling themselves they’re still in the game. Young women used to be more forgiving, to recognize the pathos underlying the impulse and shrug it off. Now they exaggerate their emotional reaction, pretend that they’re “shaken” or “couldn’t breathe.” Bassett writes that a couple of flirty comments from Matthews “undermined my ability to do my job well.” That’s hard to believe.
Why do these women pretend to be undone by a stray compliment? There’s always some ulterior motive. Bassett is utterly blatant about her real motive: She wanted Matthews fired for the way he interviewed Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. She thinks Matthews damaged her political favorites, thinking (probably correctly) that when a prominent Democrat criticizes such candidates, he signals other moderate Democrats and centrists that it’s okay to vote for someone else.
Matthews joked that Clinton is “witchy” and a “she-devil” and struck a skeptical tone when quizzing Warren about claims she made in debate against Mike Bloomberg. All of this is very much part of his job. Matthews tries to be pointed, provocative, a bit unpredictable and funny. Like drive-time radio talkers and other television pundits, he realizes that the minute you stop being colorful, you’re dead. Warren and Clinton are hardly the only pols to whom he has shown antagonism.
So Matthews laid it on a bit thick at times. Comparing Bernie Sanders to the Nazis overrunning France? Ridiculous. Never compare anyone who hasn’t murdered at least a million people to Hitler. Still, hysterical analogies are exactly what drives viewership of “Hardball” and all the TV and radio shows like it. We tune in to these guys hoping they’ll say something completely bonkers.
Yet to assuage the Bernie Bros, MSNBC (which a couple of weeks ago was forced by market pressures to announce it would be hiring more Bernie-friendly voices) made Matthews issue a groveling apology for the Nazi joke. This on a network where the comparisons of President Trump to Hitler are so unremarkable that it happened seven times in July alone. Trump hadn’t even taken office before Rachel Maddow told Rolling Stone, “Over the past year I’ve been reading a lot about what it was like when Hitler first became chancellor … because I think that’s possibly where we are.”
For two years Maddow built her MSNBC show around an actual conspiracy theory, that Trump was engaged in some kind of illegal collusion with Vladimir Putin, and issued one wild speculation after another: that there was a “continuing operation” involving Putin pulling strings here, that Putin was in a position to blackmail Trump into recalling troops from the Russian border, that a Trump-directed missile attack could have been ordered by Putin, that the Russians might be in a position to shut down our power during cold weather.
Conclusion: Saying crazy stuff doesn’t get you fired from MSNBC. It’s only saying stuff that annoys the Left that gets you fired from MSNBC. But that was what was important about Matthews — he’s an impeccably credentialed Democrat (Jimmy Carter speechwriter, aide to Tip O’Neill, guy who “felt this thrill going up my leg” when he heard Barack Obama speak) who doesn’t always stick to the party line.
It’s possible Matthews did worse things than we know about so far, but as of today, it looks like he’s been unfairly thrown into the same cultural ditch with actual predators like Harvey Weinstein. He has been forever smeared as a sex abuser when what really cost him his job was being rude to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren.
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