The MSNBC star Chris Matthews issued an unusual apology to Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday night, a moment of humility for the veteran “Hardball” anchor after days of mounting criticism from allies of Mr. Sanders, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race.
Mr. Matthews, who has a reputation for pugnacious commentary, drew fire from Sanders aides — and at least one network colleague — after he compared his victory in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazi takeover of France in World War II.
“The general calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over,’” Mr. Matthews said during a Saturday broadcast, as he tried to describe Democrats’ surprise at Mr. Sanders’s command of the party primary. “Churchill says: ‘How can it be? You got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.’”
Mr. Sanders was so upset about Mr. Matthews’s remarks that his top aides, including his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, privately expressed their displeasure to MSNBC officials, according to a campaign aide.
Mr. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, routinely complains about his coverage in what he deems the “corporate media,” and his supporters seized on Mr. Matthews’s wartime metaphor as evidence of bias.
“Never thought part of my job would be pleading with a national news network to stop likening the campaign of a Jewish presidential candidate whose family was wiped out by the Nazis to the Third Reich,” Mr. Sanders’s communications director, Mike Casca, wrote on Twitter.
MSNBC did not respond to the uproar until Monday, when Mr. Matthews began his “Hardball” program by telling viewers, “I want to say something quite important and personal.”
“Senator Sanders, I’m sorry for comparing anything from that tragic era in which so many suffered, especially the Jewish people, to an electoral result of which you were the well-deserved winner,” Mr. Matthews said soberly into the camera.
“This is going to be a hard-fought, heated campaign of ideas,” the anchor added. “In the days and weeks and months ahead, I will strive to do a better job myself of elevating the political discussion.” Mr. Matthews concluded by congratulating Mr. Sanders on his Nevada victory.
MSNBC’s commentators are influential with the Democratic base, and they convey a variety of left-leaning views. Their mixed opinions about Mr. Sanders have mirrored some of the divisions within the party itself as he has jumped to the lead of the nominating race.
Perhaps because of the channel’s popularity with Democrats, Mr. Sanders’s campaign has singled out MSNBC for criticism, complaining about Mr. Matthews and the political anchor Chuck Todd, who recently read on his program a column by a conservative writer that referred to Mr. Sanders’s aggressive online supporters as “brownshirts.”
The New York Post reported that Mr. Sanders had personally complained to MSNBC and NBC News executives about the network’s coverage during a debate walk-through last week in Las Vegas.
Mr. Matthews’s World War II comments, however, drew condemnation beyond the Sanders inner circle, including from the MSNBC contributor Anand Giridharadas.
“Many in this establishment are behaving, in my view, as they face the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination, like out-of-touch aristocrats in a dying aristocracy,” Mr. Giridharadas said on MSNBC on Sunday morning. He added, “Why is Chris Matthews on this air talking about the victory of Bernie Sanders, who had kin murdered in the Holocaust, analogizing it to the Nazi conquest of France?”
After his apology, Mr. Matthews carried on his show as usual, debating the merits of Mr. Sanders’s candidacy with guests like Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, a Sanders surrogate.
At one point, he offered a summary of the Democratic race that featured a less incendiary analogy. “Do people feel they want a revolutionary, radical change from the past?” Mr. Matthews asked. “Or do they want, as I say, a designated driver, a Democrat to get them home safe?”
Sydney Ember contributed reporting.