“This isn’t for a lack of interest in politics,” he said on the air tonight. “As you can tell I have loved every minute of my 20 years as host of Hardball.”
Matthews did not appear on MSNBC’s coverage of the South Carolina primary on Saturday night, which led to speculation over his absence. Laura Bassett wrote in GQ last week that he had “inappropriately flirted” with her before an appearance on his show, “making me noticeably uncomfortable on air.” She criticized the way that Matthews interviewed presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren following the debate last week in Charleston, SC.
He addressed that story in his remarks today, indicating that his decision to retire came after mutual discussion.
“After conversations with MSNBC, I decided tonight will be my last Hardball, so let me tell you why. The younger generation is out there ready to take the reins. We see them in politics, in the media, in fighting for their causes. They are improving the workplace. We are talking here about better standards than we grew up with — fair standards.”
“A lot of it has to do with how we talk to each other. Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, once incorrectly would have thought were okay. They were never okay. Not then, and certainly not today, and for making such comments in the past, I am sorry.”
Watch his comments above.
After Matthews made his announcement, a stunned Steve Kornacki appeared on air after a commercial break and said, “That is a lot to take in now, and I am sure you are still absorbing that, and I am too.” He then stepped in to host for the rest of the hour, asking some of the guests about Matthews’ tenure and legacy.
“Chris Matthews is a giant. He is a legend. It has been an honor for me to work with him, to sit in for him on occasion and I know how much you meant to him and I know how much he meant to you,” Kornacki said.
A rotating group of hosts will fill the slot until a permanent successor can be named. MSNBC did not immediately issue a comment on Matthews’ announcement, but a spokesperson told NBC News that he had been due to retire in the near future but the recent events played a part in his departure.
Hardball, with its intense, freewheeling talk about all things politics, has been a Washington fixture for more than two decades, a prime spot not just for political figures but for reporters and pundits. Matthews was known for an interviewing style that demanded guests get to the point or face interruption.
Matthews said that he will continue to write books and talk about politics and “cheer on my producers and my crew here in Washington and New York and my MSNBC colleagues. They will continue to produce great journalism in the years ahead.”
Hardball originally was on CNBC, starting in 1997, before moving to MSNBC. He had generated controversy through the years for some of his boisterous remarks, and more recently for a comment he made during the network’s coverage of the Nevada caucuses. He compared the Sanders victory to the fall of Paris to the Nazis in 1940, and later apologized for the remark.
Matthews took the name of the show from his book, Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game, and has since written books on John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. He also hosted a syndicated political roundtable, The Chris Matthews Show, from 2002 to 2013.
Other MSNBC figures weighed in on his retirement.
Joe Scarborough, the co-host of Morning Joe, wrote on Twitter, “Mika and I were deeply moved by @SteveKornacki’s tribute to Chris Matthews. Actually, we are wiping tears from our eyes. We love Chris and will miss him every night in our home at 7pm. As Steve said, Chris was the most human TV guy and “I say that as the highest compliment.”