“Ugly horsefaced skank.” “Fat bitch.” “Die in a fire.” “Why would Chris Matthews hit on you? I thought he was straight.”
These are among the messages I’ve received from strangers since I wrote an article for GQ last week cataloging some examples of the MSNBC anchor’s demeaning treatment of women over the decades, including his sexist comments to me. The piece seems to have been one of the catalysts for Matthews’s early retirement Monday night. I was surprised by this outcome, but I do not lament it.
The genesis for my column was Matthews’s grilling of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren after the Democratic debate last week. The anchor had pressed Warren about why she believes a woman’s (corroborated) accusation against Mike Bloomberg over the word of the former New York City mayor.
When my editor e-mailed to ask if I’d like to write about the exchange, and Matthews’s long history of misogynist behavior, she didn’t know one important fact: I had my own uncomfortable experiences with him. Indeed, I had written about them, without naming Matthews, in a 2017 essay about an older, famous TV host who made lascivious comments to me in the makeup room before I appeared on his show. I wrote the piece at the time not to have my own “MeToo” moment, but to spark a nuanced conversation about the gray areas of the movement — the behavior that doesn’t quite rise to the level of reportable sexual harassment, but still regularly undermines women in the workplace.
I’d been afraid to name Matthews then, because I thought he or the network might retaliate. He was a media titan, seemingly untouchable; I was a relatively unknown reporter. But it still felt like a conversation that needed to be had.
Three years later, I’ve seen what can happen when women are brave enough to stick their necks out and come forward against powerful men — in the media, Hollywood and elsewhere — who have gotten away with unacceptable behavior toward women in the workplace for far too long. The balance of power is slowly shifting, and these men are finally starting to be held to account.
Since writing my original essay, I have watched Matthews objectify women on air and heard many similar stories from other female journalists. I felt guilty each time for having protected him when I could have mustered the courage to say his name. So when my GQ editor asked if I was ready to name him now, I said yes.
My personal story isn’t the thing that brought Matthews down. Even I found it so unremarkable compared with things he’s said to and about other women over the years that I buried it at the bottom of my column, using it only as one example of how he has treated female guests when the cameras aren’t rolling. My story only added to his pile of woe, which had been building for years and happened to reach its apex this week with his misguided interrogation of Warren and his mixing up of two African-American politicians.
I didn’t expect Matthews to retire or be fired. In fact, I didn’t expect him to face any consequences, beyond maybe a stern reprimand from the network along the lines of the one they gave him when a colleague accused him of sexual harassment in 1999. The fact that MSNBC swiftly pulled Matthews from Saturday’s election night coverage and that he publicly apologized and stepped down days later speaks to how much American culture has changed, and how much institutions have learned, from the past few years of women pouring out our stories and demanding to be heard and respected at work.
The harassment I have faced since publishing my essay, however, speaks to how far we still have to go. There is no way to rid the internet of trolls. But the level of rage that is provoked even now when a woman dares to share her story of a man’s misconduct in the workplace is the dying gasp of an old patriarchal order that isn’t ready to be stamped out. Although the overwhelming majority of messages I have received are supportive, the anger — and in particular the degree of vitriol about myself as a woman — is alarming.
I’m still trying to digest what all this means, but what I can say is: I am not celebrating the end of a legendary journalist’s career. I am celebrating the fact that Matthews no longer has a platform to undermine ours.
Laura Bassett is a freelance journalist and GQ columnist. She wrote this article for the Washington Post.