AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right. Chris Matthews is stepping down as anchor of MSNBC's "Hardball." The longtime host resigned abruptly tonight after mounting criticism over embarrassing on-air moments. Here to tell us more is NPR's David Folkenflik.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So "Hardball" has been kind of this fixture of political cable news since - what? - 1997. Can you just walk us through what led to this sudden departure for Chris Matthews?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, it really seemed to take his colleagues by surprise and shock this evening. But if you think back, this week, there's been a number of embarrassing moments. Matthews mistook Tim Scott, the only African American Republican in the U.S. Senate, for the African American challenger to Scott's Republican colleague, Lindsey Graham. Matthews has been deeply out of touch with the liberal-leaning, more progressive wing Democratic Party. MSNBC leans left, but he's been really out of touch with the rise of Bernie Sanders during this campaign season.
And most notably, there were the allegations over the weekend by Laura Bassett, a journalist, that Matthews had, some years ago, clearly ogled and, essentially, sexually harassed her before she went on his program at MSNBC. And this is not the first time. MSNBC has acknowledged they rebuked him sternly in 1999 over a previous episode.
CHANG: And we should note the question of sexual harassment is a sensitive one for NBC. It wasn't too long ago that Matt Lauer left the network once he was facing sexual misconduct allegations himself.
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I think that's a burden that they're going to have to carry for some time. Matt Lauer - in some ways, the most important person, the biggest moneymaker for NBC News as one of the chief hosts of the "Today" show. And it turned out that not only had he sexually harassed other colleagues - people who were effectively subordinates on the "Today" show - but that in one case, he was accused of, essentially, sexually violating someone; a form of rape. And he was forced out. And the culture there really has come under withering criticism, not only externally but internally as well.
CHANG: So now that Chris Matthews is stepping down, what would you say his legacy will be when it comes to cable news broadcasting?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, he was a buoyant figure, you know, a happy warrior, somebody who clearly - he was - he had been a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter in the late '70s. He had been a top aide to House speaker Tip O'Neill for the Democrats in the 1980s - a buoyant Democrat, old-school liberal and enjoyed politics as a game, which many people liked and many people took exception to; but increasingly out of step both politically and in terms of the tenor of the appropriateness of tone on and off camera with the age we now live in. It seemed as though, in some ways, Chris Matthews realized his time was up.
CHANG: That is NPR's David Folkenflik.
Thank you, David.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.