Chris Matthews Says Harassment Allegation That Prompted Retirement Was "Highly Justified"

Chris Matthews of MSNBC  - Getty - H 2020
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In his first interview since retiring from 'Hardball,' the former MSNBC anchor admitted to making inappropriate comments in the workplace: "I didn’t argue about it, I didn’t deny it. I accepted the credibility of the complaint in the article."

Former MSNBC host Chris Matthews is speaking out for the first time since retiring from the network, admitting that his alleged inappropriate comments were accurate and "highly justified" his leaving. 

In his first interview since announcing he was retiring as host of Hardball in early March after 20 years, Matthews told Vanity Fair‘s Inside the Hive podcast that the account detailed by journalist Laura Bassett in a February GQ article was true. Bassett alleged that in 2016 when she was preparing to appear on Matthews’s program, he made remarks that made her uncomfortable such as, "Keep putting makeup on her, I’ll fall in love with her."

"I didn’t argue about it, I didn’t deny it,” Matthews told Vanity Fair. "I accepted the credibility of the complaint in the article."

He added: "I didn’t want to challenge the person that made the complaint and wrote the article. I thought it was very credible and certainly within the person’s rights to write that article, of course. That was highly justified. Basically, as I said, to repeat myself, it’s inappropriate in the workplace to compliment somebody on their appearance, this is in the makeup chair, and I did it."

When announcing his retirement on-air, Matthews seemingly referenced the inappropriate comments he made to Bassett. "After a conversation 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 the causes. They have improved the workplace. We're talking about better standards than we grew up with — fair standards," he said. 

Matthews also went on to make a public apology. 

"A lot of it has to be with how we talk to each other. Compliments on a women'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 said.

Following Matthews' admission, Bassett took to Twitter to address his statement: "Somehow I missed that Chris Matthews confirmed my story about him to Vanity Fair yesterday. I appreciate him owning up this and respect how he handled it. And to everyone who reflexively said I was lying: Please read this," she wrote.

Bassett's claims were not the first time Matthews came under fire for statements he's made. He had previously apologized to Bernie Sanders for comparing his rise in the 2020 presidential campaign to the German invasion of France. He also corrected himself on air after confusing an African American politician, Democrat Jaime Harrison, for another African American politician, Republican Sen. Tim Scott.

Advocacy group UltraViolet Action had also called for MSNBC to fire Matthews after he received backlash for his questioning of then- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren about Mike Bloomberg. "Why would he lie?," Matthews had said. 

After retiring, the network leaned on a rotating group of hosts to fill in for Matthews, including national political correspondent for NBC News/MSNBC Steve Kornacki.