MSNBC Host Chris Matthews runs an at times openly derisive and brazenly sexist news operation that has led at least some staffers to describe themselves as victims of “battered wives syndrome,” according to three of his show’s guests and two former producers.
Two former NBC producers independently alleged Matthews would rate the looks of his female guests on a scale and said Matthews was so abusive that staff joked about being battered women. The interviews in total paint Matthews as a tyrant liable to fly off the handle at the slightest mistake, who was eager to objectify women and made inappropriate sexual comments appear to be a matter of course for someone in his position.
Both former NBC producers requested anonymity out of concern for their future careers. One is actively seeking a job in media and the other still works closely with MSNBC. One expressed fears about being labeled a “troublemaker” and cited the string of former Fox News women who have all but disappeared from television.
“Sadly, I know other women who won’t even be an anonymous source regarding Chris [Matthews] because they’re that concerned about the door closing on career opportunities in media,” the producer concluded.
According to the two producers, whose combined time at the network nearly spans the existence of “Hardball,” Matthews frequently objectified his female guests and staffers, inappropriately commenting on their appearance and clothing. Matthews would allegedly use pet names like “cutie” and “sweetie pie” to refer to female guests and was constantly making uncouth and “boorish” remarks about women.
“He would eye down a woman who walked on set or comment on their features or what they were wearing,” one former producer said, explaining that it looked like Matthews was undressing the women with his eyes. “He would objectify them and interrupt them in a way that he would never do to his male guests. He has a very outdated view of women.”
The other producer likened his behavior to that of a “teenage boy,” alleging that Matthews would rate his female guests on a numerical scale, deciding which guest was the “hottest of the week,” and would talk about how “hot” various women in the office were, including herself.
One host on a CNBC show was allegedly on the receiving end of many of his comments and tried to avoid being around Matthews in the office.
“She didn’t want to be in the same room as him,” the former NBC producer claimed. “She wouldn’t want to get her makeup done if he was in there too.”
The former producer said that while Matthews made comments about her appearance, she never felt like she was being harassed. She described the comments as “unprofessional” and “inappropriate” and said his remarks made multiple women uncomfortable.
Matthews’ alleged casual misogyny would sometimes spill out into the open, and he has a long history of making sexist remarks in interviews or on his show.
In a 2008 New York Times profile, Matthews introduced himself to actress Kerry Washington by giving her a business card and telling her that Phil Griffin, the head of MSNBC, wanted to get her on the show because she is “black” and “beautiful.” Matthews later referred to the actress as a “total knockout.”
Matthews has also creepily told then-CNBC reporter Erin Burnett to get closer to the camera and asserted that vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is “electric” but could be “hotter.” Just last year, he was caught on a hot mic admiring Melania Trump’s “runway walk,” and in 2017 he noted that acting Attorney General Sally Yates is “attractive, obviously.”
The host was notoriously tough on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggesting that her political success was due to her husband Bill’s infidelity, asking a male senator if it was “tough” to debate a woman, claiming that Bill had Hillary on a “leash,” and routinely mocking “witchy” Hillary’s “fingernails on a blackboard” voice.
In addition to the troubling behavior toward women, all five of the sources who spoke to TheDC about the workplace environment at “Hardball” described Matthews as verbally abusive. They claimed that Matthews’ outbursts went beyond normal or justifiable frustration, and former staffers apparently felt like they had to “walk on eggshells” around their “abusive” boss.
The two former producers independently referred to incidents involved screaming at staffers, throwing objects around, and generally demeaning guests and the people who worked for him.
“I would describe it as verbal abuse,” one former producer asserted, recalling their own experiences with Matthews. “The screaming is beyond the screaming you’ve ever heard. You just feel so under attack.”
“He did it so openly,” the producer continued. “It’s not just sexual harassment … what are you supposed to do when somebody is verbally abusing you and attacking you this way?”
The former producers claimed that multiple female employees were often left in tears after Matthews’ angry tirades, which would frequently occur in front of guests during commercial breaks or after his show ended.
On one recent occasion, a producer said Matthews berated a staffer so aggressively during a taping that they had to halt production. Matthews left the set to continue yelling at the staffer, who he called “worthless” and an “idiot,” while a panel of guests waited for him to cool down. Two other people who were present recalled the incident immediately and seemed shaken by what had happened, although one could not remember the exact words Matthews used.
“Seeing it would have made you shudder … you don’t forget something like that,” the former producer said of the incident.
A witness with several years in broadcast media said, at the time, they had never seen anything like it and likewise haven’t since.
“Walking into the studio that day felt like walking into someone else’s unhappy home,” the witness recalled. “There was a sense of unease that was obvious from the outset, and I remember at one point hearing Matthews shouting in the distance.”
The witness, who wished to remain anonymous because he or she is still a guest on other MSNBC programs, said all of the guests seemed “horrified” by Matthews’ behavior, while the staff “reacted with what almost read as embarrassment.”
“I just cannot convey strongly enough how eerie it felt,” the witness continued. “I’ve never been in a situation like that in a TV studio.”
During the same interview block, two people present recalled Matthews asking to rearrange the seating so that he would be sitting next to the only young woman on the panel, even though producers had initially seated her at the opposite end of the table.
Two sources with experience on the show said they often couldn’t believe some of the degrading and belittling things Matthews said to his staffers, such as mocking their intelligence and telling them weren’t good enough to be working on the show. The rants were often laced with expletives and one source described Matthews as acting like “a drunk at a bar.” Both said Matthews’ behavior made guests feel highly uncomfortable.
TheDC’s Betsy Rothstein interviewed Matthews for a piece in AdWeek in 2010, and Matthews admitted he often argued with producers but didn’t cop to being overly aggressive.
“We have to have our facts right every night – you can’t fix it later. I argue with my producers,” he said. “We argue about getting the facts right.”
One former NBC producer said Matthews did not like to be challenged and doing so would lead to one of his fits of rage, while a former guest recalled Matthews losing it over minor teleprompter errors or mistakes by producers–“stupid” things that wouldn’t warrant such an aggressive response. Segments of the show were frequently pre-taped as opposed to being live-taped, making minor technical errors even less significant.
The former producer described the HR department at the network as completely unhelpful, indicating that they didn’t take complaints seriously and would try to turn the victim into the problem.
“Their common first instinct is to protect the talent, no matter what the complaint, and then turn the victim into the problem,” the producer insisted. “When he turns on you, look out. All they do is protect him. All they do is protect him from himself.”
All five of the sources TheDC spoke to expressed fears that speaking out publicly against Matthews could hurt their careers.
“No other workplace like this exists where you can get away with that,” the former producer concluded.
MSNBC told The Daily Caller on December 16 that NBC made a separation-related payment to an assistant producer on “Hardball with Chris Matthews” after she complained to CNBC executives about sexual harassment. “Hardball” was hosted on CNBC when the complaint was made in 1999. (RELATED:NBC Made Payment To Staffer After Sexual Harassment Claim Against Chris Matthews)
One former NBC producer, who was at the network at the time of the payment, argued that the woman who made the complaint left the network because of Matthews’ behavior.
“One morning her desk was cleared out overnight,” the former producer told TheDC. “The [Hardball] staff was saying she had made a complaint and they paid her off.”