Lessons in the fall of my friend Chris Matthews
With the suddenness of a Hollywood drama, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews went out with his own Howard Beale moment.
Beale, you may recall, is the deranged news anchor played by Peter Finch in the movie "Network" who famously leads his nation of viewers in shouting, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore."
Beale's ratings go up, but -- spoiler alert -- things don't end well for him.
Matthews didn't raise that much drama when he abruptly announced his retirement Monday as host of MSNBC's daily political show "Hardball" -- and turned over the anchor chair to a visibly stunned political correspondent Steve Kornacki during a commercial break -- but he came close.
Matthews' decision came after some of his recent controversial comments renewed criticism of his history of sexual harassment allegations. Adding fuel was a recent article in GQ.com by freelance journalist Laura Bassett disclosing that Matthews was the unnamed "famous broadcast journalist" she wrote about in 2017 as having made inappropriate comments about her appearance when she appeared as a guest panelist.
Since Matthews is a friend, I want to give him the benefit of my doubts. While film producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein awaits sentencing in his high-profile case, the harassment allegations against Matthews struck me initially as small potatoes.
But, alas, I am not one of his accusers. I am not even a woman.
For that point of view, I am grateful, as I'm sure Matthews is, for another colleague and "Hardball" guest, Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning Washington Post columnist. "He and I have flirted unabashedly for 20 years," she tweeted. "This is an atrocious end to a noble, happy-warrior career. I will continue to be his friend."
Me too, I hope. I have known Matthews since we were fellow panelists on "The McLaughlin Group" years before he founded "Hardball" in 1997. More recently, he wrote a nice foreword to a collection of my columns a few years ago.
But, as a supporter of the #MeToo movement, I cannot help but be troubled by the allegations. They come nowhere near Weinstein's excesses, but we all have an obligation to avoid making other people uncomfortable. Trouble is, we all have vastly different boundaries for what causes us discomfort.