Friday, January 18, 2008

Matthew's Sort-a Sorry

Chris Matthews' record of creepy, on-air misogyny is not exactly new, but it reached new depths last week with his small-minded dismissal of Hillary Clinton. After years of anti-woman rhetoric, this one seemed to cross the line.
Thankfully, Matthews seemed to get the message. Or, at a minimum, his bosses seemed to get the message, and told Matthews to apologize.
For 10 days, the "Hardball" host had doggedly insisted he was just reciting a bit of history when he said on the air that "the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around."
But protests against those and other remarks by Matthews reached a peak yesterday when the presidents of such groups as the National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority and National Women's Political Caucus sent a joint letter of complaint to NBC News President Steve Capus.
On last night's program, Matthews defended the substance of his remarks that Clinton's political career in New York was launched because of public sympathy stemming from her husband's much-investigated affair with Monica Lewinsky. But, he said, "was it fair to imply that Hillary's whole career depended on being a victim of an unfaithful husband? No. And that's what it sounded like I was saying."
Noting that it would be just as unfair to attribute John McCain's political success to having been shot down in the Vietnam War, Matthews said: "Saying Senator Clinton got where she's got simply because her husband did what he did to her is just as callous, and I can see now, came across just as nasty — worse yet, just as dismissive." He said he would be "clearer," "smarter" and more respectful in discussing women.
It's worth watching:
The comments were certainly welcome, but are they enough?
Kim Gandy, NOW's president, said last night that "Chris Matthews is a repeat offender when it comes to sexist attitudes toward women politicians. . . . I wasn't really looking for an apology. I was looking for a behavior change, and for him to treat female politicians the same way as male politicians."
In the joint letter, also signed by author Gloria Steinem, the women cited other examples in which Matthews referred to Clinton as a "stripteaser" and called her "witchy." When Nancy Pelosi was in line to become House speaker, the letter noted, Matthews asked a guest if Pelosi was "going to castrate Steny Hoyer" if the Maryland congressman was elected majority leader.
About 30 people affiliated with the National Women's Political Caucus picketed NBC's Nebraska Avenue NW bureau yesterday afternoon as a protest against Matthews's remarks.
"This is a victory for all women. We are pleased that Chris Matthews has shown remorse," the caucus said in a statement last night.
I am, too, but at the risk of sounding overly demanding, I found his contrition underwhelming. For one thing, Matthews didn't apologize willingly — he insisted for nearly two weeks that his comments were perfectly appropriate, and only backpedaled when the network started feeling the heat.
For another, Matthews' apology made it sound as if his misogyny problem was limited to one anti-Clinton diatribe. It's not; his problem extends to other women, and has for quite a while.
What I'd hoped to hear is a sense that Matthews realizes that he's been disrespectful to women, and that he's finally ready to change his attitude. Instead, we heard one statement of contrition about one incident.
Matthews has a pattern of behavior. I got the sense that last night's mea culpa was, as far as he's concerned, the end of the controversy. In reality, it should be just the initial step.

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