The younger generations out there are ready to take the reins. We’ve seen them in politics, in the media, and fighting for the causes. They’re improving the workplace. We’re talking here about better standards than we grew up with. Fair standards. A lot of it has to do with how we talk to each other. Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were okay, were never okay. Not then and certainly not today. And for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.
MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, who had the unenviable task of picking up the show in New York after Matthews vacated the chair in Washington, delivered a moving tribute to his colleague and mentor at the end of the show. The visible emotions on Kornacki’s face and in his voice speak to how much Matthews meant to many of us who had the honor of working with him. If you want to know why I’ve been in your faces on MSNBC for the past 13 years, you have Matthews to thank for it.
I was brand-new to Washington in 2007. A moderated panel of journalists on climate change at the Four Seasons would be my first big event in town. Everyone you’ve ever seen on Sunday television was there. After neither Teresa Heinz Kerry nor George Stephanopoulos offered up questions when called upon during the Q&A period, Matthews was more than happy to oblige.
“Do I have a question? Yeah, I have a question,” Matthews thundered in the ballroom. “Where are the African Americans?”
Evans appeared flummoxed.
“This is a majority African American city, and I’m looking at a panel filled with white faces!” Matthews continued. The only other black person at the event was seated clear across the ballroom. Our eyes locked, and all I could think was “WOW! This is GREAT!”
Evans countered, “Well, Chris, how many African Americans do you have on your show?!” Without missing a beat, Matthews leaned forward and yelled, “Not enough! We’re always looking for African Americans to put on my show!”
After the event, I went over to Matthews and told him that I thought what he did was incredible. He was still a little hot. “I go to these events all the time, and I always see the same old white faces,” he huffed. “And for him to make that crack about me and my show. I’m always looking for African Americans to put on my show!”
With that opening, I reached into my pocket and handed him my newly printed Washington Post business card. “Put me on your show,” I said. He asked what I did at the paper and asked that I send him my résumé. He had no card to offer in return, but he did give me his email address. I sent what he requested that night.
About a week later, I was cc’d on an email from Matthews to his producer. The message was something like “impressive guy. Get him on the show.” The next week began my weekly appearances on “Hardball” that morphed into a near-daily presence on MSNBC for the next 13 years, 11 of those under contract as a paid contributor to the cable network. I even got the thrill of a lifetime subbing for Matthews twice in 2015. Matthews was one of my guardian angels in the crazy world of television. He encouraged me, nurtured me and never hesitated to tell me when he thought I was wrong or not on the right track.
Like all of us, Matthews is complicated. At 74 years old, he is a product of his time, and that meant that many of his comments hit the ears like rhetorical relics. One day, we’ll face a moment when we understand that we are products of our times — and that the times have moved beyond us. May we all handle it with the awareness and grace shown by Matthews.
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