Chris Matthews’ Role in MSNBC’s Donahue Firing
by Peter Hart
Gabriel Sherman’s piece in New York magazine (10/3/10) on the cable news wars includes a bit
of history on MSNBC’s firing of progressive host Phil Donahue in 2003; an internal memo at the time worried that the show would be “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” Sherman focuses on MSNBC personality Chris Matthews–who sometimes claims he was opposed to the Iraq War–and his desire to get Donahue fired:
Donahue’s problems only increased when Chris Matthews let it be known that he wanted Donahue off the air. Matthews was a rising force at the network, with a reported salary of $5 million. He cultivated former GECEO Jack Welch and had the ear of NBC CEO Bob Wright. (The two summered together on Nantucket.) Matthews saw himself as MSNBC’s biggest star, and he was upset that the network was pumping significant resources into Donahue’s show. In the fall of 2002, U.S. News & World Report ran a gossip item that had Matthews saying over lunch in Washington that if Donahue stays on the air, he could bring down the network.
After the item was published, Matthews showed up at Donahue’s office and apologized. “He didn’t deny it,” Donahue remembers. With the war looming, Sorenson and Griffin decided to take him off the air to make way for 24/7 war coverage.