By:
March 3, 2020

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Stunning but not surprising: Matthews is out

It was somehow both stunning and not surprising all at the same time.

And it was long overdue.

Chris Matthews is out at MSNBC. The rambunctious longtime political host and pundit abruptly resigned Monday night, making his announcement live on the air just as his “Hardball” show went on at 7 p.m. Eastern. While the timing was unexpected, the resignation comes after several recent controversies, including accusations of sexual harassment by a female guest of his show. In fact, CNN’s Brian Stelter reported one source told him it was firing dressed up as a retirement. Another said the parting was mutual.

Either way, the news caught the media world by surprise.

Matthews started Monday’s show by immediately announcing that he was retiring, quickly adding, “Obviously, this isn’t for lack of interest in politics” and that he is “gung ho to get to work” each day, lending credence to the news that he isn’t leaving fully by his own choice.

“But,” Matthews continued, “after conversation with MSNBC, I decided tonight would be my last ‘Hardball.’ So let me tell you why.”

Matthews, 74, then said younger generations are ready to take the reins. Then he said, “A lot of it has to do with how we talk to each other.”

That’s when he dropped this:

“Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were OK were never OK. Not then and certainly not today. And for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”

He then thanked everyone, said he would miss the show and the audience, that he would continue to write and, well, that was pretty much it. The whole announcement took less than two minutes.

The show went to commercial and when it came back, a visibly shaken Steve Kornacki was in the anchor chair, making it clear that the timing of Matthews’ departure surprised even his own show.

Kornacki said, “Um, that was a lot to take in just now, I’m sure. And I’m sure you’re still, um, absorbing that. And I am, too.”

Kornacki called Matthews a “giant” and a “legend” and then said, “We do have to fill the rest of this hour.” The show then went to another commercial break and scrambled to keep going.

So while everyone, including his own show, was caught off guard, Matthews’ announcement didn’t come completely out of left field. He has been at the center of several recent controversies.

The most glaring — and seemingly the one to which Matthews referred to in his announcement — was journalist Laura Bassett accusing Matthews of sexist remarks in a piece for GQ over the weekend. A freelance journalist and an occasional guest on “Hardball,” Bassett wrote that Matthews had flirted with her and made inappropriate comments about her appearance. (She first wrote about those encounters in a 2017 piece for HuffPost when she didn’t identify Matthews by name out of fear of retaliation.) Bassett claimed that Matthews said such things as, “And I haven’t fallen in love with you yet?”

In the GQ essay, Bassett listed not only her personal experiences with Matthew’s sexism and misogyny, but a laundry list of times Matthews has crossed the line. Reading it all in one place makes you wonder how Matthews lasted this long. And it makes you wonder why MSNBC allowed him to continue for this long.

Matthews is coming off other controversies as well — comparing Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada primary to the Nazi invasion of France and a post-debate interview with Elizabeth Warren that many viewed as condescending. He was noticeably absent from MSNBC’s South Carolina primary coverage Saturday.

Because of the suddenness of Monday’s news, MSNBC said it has no succession plan in place, although you would think it has a short list already in a drawer somewhere. The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum reported that MSNBC has been discussing a retirement plan for Matthews for months, and considered switching “Hardball” to a less prominent time, like daytime. For now, it is expected to have a rotating series of guest hosts until settling on a permanent one.

Matthews hosted “Hardball” since 1997, first on CNBC and then, starting in 1999, on MSNBC. Before that, Matthews was a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and chief of staff for House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

Where to watch Super Tuesday unfold

Looking for straightforward Super Tuesday coverage? “PBS NewsHour” will have special coverage of tonight’s Super Tuesday results. Check local listings, but most PBS stations will air the special coverage from 11-11:30 p.m. Eastern. Judy Woodruff will anchor with correspondents Amna Nawaz in California, Yamiche Alcindor in North Carolina, Lisa Desjardins in Virginia and Dan Bush in Texas. Always entertaining and informative political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks will be in studio with Woodruff.

Meanwhile, Noticias Telemundo will have special Super Tuesday coverage with a one-hour broadcast, “Decision 2020,” at 10 p.m. Eastern.

The Washington Post will produce live video coverage of the Super Tuesday results tonight, streaming live across multiple Post platforms including washingtonpost.com, Post apps and The Post’s YouTube channel.

And to get you ready, Poynter’s PolitiFact writes  “15% is the Super Tuesday number you’ll be hearing about a lot.”

 

It’s China vs. USA in a game of media chess


President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Not only does President Donald Trump have a war going against the American media (see: “fake news” and “enemy of the people”), but now he’s going after Chinese media. The administration announced Monday that four Chinese news outlets operating in the U.S. must reduce the number of Chinese nationals working on their staffs by more than a third.

According to Carol Morello of The Washington Post, “The action comes on the heels of a State Department decision on Feb. 18 requiring five Chinese news organizations considered organs of the government to register as foreign missions and provide the names of employees.”

Last week, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters because of a WSJ op-ed it didn’t like. So now U.S. officials said Chinese news outlets can have no more than 100 Chinese citizens on staff — down from the 160 who are currently on the staff of those four outlets. It’s believed there are about 75 American reporters in China.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “As we have done in other areas of the U.S.-China relationship, we seek to establish a long-overdue level playing field. It is our hope that this action will spur Beijing to adopt a more fair and reciprocal approach to U.S. and other foreign press in China. We urge the Chinese government to immediately uphold its international commitments to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press.”

 

Coronavirus watch continues


NBC News’ Richard Engel, left, interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force. (Photo courtesy of NBC News)

Each day, I’ve been trying to highlight some good spots to get the latest info on the coronavirus. The Washington Post now has a live update page worth checking out.

Meanwhile, I continue to be impressed by NBC News’ coverage, including Richard Engel’s reporting from Hong Kong and Singapore on the coronavirus outbreak, which will be featured on MSNBC on Sunday. On Monday, Engel spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force. Fauci said it’s likely to become a pandemic.

This exchange, which aired on “NBC Nightly News,” was superbly informative.

Engel: “What should the public know? People are scared when you ride the subway. If somebody coughs right now. You can see the fear on people’s face. Are they right? If somebody is coughing on the bus, should you get off?”

Fauci: “No, no. Getting off is not going to help.”

Engel: “What about sporting events? What about concerts?”

Fauci: “See, that is called mitigation. We are not at the stage right now of mitigation for this. It may come to a point where when you have enough community spread that you switch from trying to contain it, from coming into the country or contain it from spreading, and trying to protect yourself and your community. We’re not there yet.”

CNN is taking no chances

Mediaite’s Adrian Carrasquillo reported Monday that CNN chairman Jeff Zucker told employees in a memo to “limit all forms of travel as much as possible” because of the coronavirus. Intercontinental trips must be personally approved by Zucker. CNN still has plans to cover such things as the March 15 Democratic debate in Phoenix, which is being moderated by CNN.

Zucker’s memo also told employees to make “prudent decisions” even for personal travel out concern for the health and safety of their colleagues.

Two step up in Texas

The Texas Tribune has found replacements for the leadership team of Emily  Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora, who recently left to launch their own nonprofit news startup.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael — former senior editor at Apple, managing editor for mobile at BuzzFeed News and VP of communities at the Financial Times — will be the Tribune’s new editorial director. Millie Tran — former deputy off-platform at The New York Times who has also worked at BuzzFeed and the American Press Institute — will be the new chief product officer.

Hot type


James Lipton. (Photo: Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch /IPX)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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