When Chris Matthews, the gray beard pundit of MSNBC, was hastened into retirement by the network last week, you just knew there was a woman out there waiting to tell the world he once said or did something that made her “uncomfortable.”
And, voila! There she was just in time for Women’s History Month.
Mr. Matthews’ affront to womankind was to make a clumsy comment meant to be urbane and witty. “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” he is reported to have said to journalist Laura Bassett before an appearance on his show. Four years ago.
As the story goes, Mr. Matthews and his whistle-blower were not alone in an office, they were in make-up chairs being readied for a prime time television show.
His remark was dumb, but it was not vulgar. There was no touching or violence. Mr. Matthews is no Harvey Weinstein.
The only thing shocking is that Mr. Matthews hasn’t developed a better line since sometime around his 17th birthday. At 74, he is a victim of his time.
After all, how could Mr. Matthews’ inner 17-year-old know the comment would be heard as inappropriate and offensive?
It must be hard for men to know which women are open to a flirt and which will cry foul then call the media.
“Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” was a flip compliment 50 years ago. I’d wager a vast majority of women from that era, including older feminists, are surprised it caused the fuss it did.
Ms. Bassett was not a victim. She had options. She could have diffused the comment and her discomfort by recognizing it for what it was, a straight line begging for a comeback.
So, instead of reaching for the smelling salts, she could have cracked wise with something like “Chris, you sweet talker, aren’t you just the sweetest thing?”
Then she would laugh and he would laugh and life would return to normal except she would have grown some self-confidence instead of accepting victimhood and Chris Matthews would have been put in his place.
This debate over words and how they are used is more of a battle of the generations than a battle of the sexes. Ms. Bassett is a victim of her time, too.
There is still much more to do to close the gender gap, but hypervigilance and political correctness have diverted the attention of some who, like Ms. Bassett, seized on the most unimportant issue in the overall progress of the women’s movement.
Her delayed reaction was self-centered. It made her look petty and weak and that is not a good look for a feminist, a journalist and a grown woman.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but, words will never hurt me” is still good advice.
This whole thing resulted in Mr. Matthews’ written apology, which was as cringe-worthy as his original comment and so “corporate” it sounded like he was fulfilling the terms of a clause in his NBC retirement agreement. Which he likely was.
In the end, after decades the newsman was vanquished and Ms. Bassett’s complaint did not one thing to advance the women’s movement nor did one woman receive equal pay or opportunity because of it.
OK, bring on the tar and feathers. I can hear the outrage from some of you now. But, frankly, some of us have lost our way, our focus and our priorities.
Can we please choose our battles more wisely and know which ones are worth the trouble? Can we please get back to fighting the good fight without adopting a scorched earth policy toward men?
And, finally, can we please learn the difference between an awkward flirtation and a violent physical assault?