Why Is Chris Matthews Still on Television?

Illustration for article titled Why Is Chris Matthews Still on Television?
Screenshot: MSNBC

When Chris Matthews interviewed Senator Kamala Harris following her winning performance on the Democratic debate stage, he managed to bungle an otherwise normal conversation with an absurd question about race. Namely, how did Kamala Harris end up not hating the whites?


Matthews was referring to an exchange during the night’s most tense moment: Harris told Joe Biden that she found his chummy recollections of working with segregationists in the Senate “hurtful,” especially since he allied with them on anti-bussing measures. A visibly frustrated Biden denied Harris’s characterization and—due to his pathological inability to ever admit fault—inadvertently presented a hamhanded defense of an inarguably racist stance on bussing while insisting that he’s a champion for civil rights. It was a low moment, and Harris capitalized on it—only building on to the narrative that Biden is too out of touch for the modern Democratic Party.

But Biden wasn’t the only one who was embarrassingly out of touch that night. Enter MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who thought that he was offering a sensible
response to Harris’s explanation of why she was so hurt by Biden’s comments:

“This is really important to people of all backgrounds and ethnicities—I don’t like the word race, ethnicities,” said Matthews, who apparently thinks race and ethnicity are interchangeable (they’re not). “How did you come out of that and not have hatred toward white people generally?”


Harris was immediately taken aback. Matthews tried to recover.

“I’m just asking because you talked about being a kid and having other kids be kept off as friends because their parents looked at you as someone else,” Matthews said.

Harris replied:

Most Americans do not conduct themselves that way, and most parents don’t conduct themselves that way, so there was no need to create a broad application because of that one experience. But we cannot deny that there are many children, black children in America who have had that experience. Children of color who have had that experience, be they Latino, Asian, or Black. That has happened. That happens in America.”


If Matthews was sincerely curious about how black people manage to stay remotely sane in a deeply racist country, he sure picked the wrong way to ask. But Matthews’s tendency toward boorish tactlessness is basically his entire brand, which leaves an even bigger question hanging in the air: What is MSNBC thinking—and how does anyone manage to watch Matthews without waiting for the inevitable moment of dread?

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.

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To most of us, what we saw from Kamala taking on Biden was a beautiful, pure, and ruthless takedown. A completely competent person you’d want for president. But for many white people Chris Matthews’s age (and under), the takeaway is: “I don’t want someone who HATES me to be my president!!!?!?!!!!” The content gets lost immediately: what they remember is that a black woman took down a beloved white guy on national television. What they feel is: I don’t want this to happen to me. That’s why Kamala didn’t get the poll boost she deserved, and why Biden didn’t fall as far as he should have. (I mean, fuck FiveThirtyEight forever after 2016 but still.)