When we wrote to the brass at NBC/MSNBC, including to the Chairman of Comcast, the corporate owner of NBC, we got a prompt reply from the executive producer of the Morning Joe show, on which two compensated MSNBC pundits had accused critics of Mayor Bloomberg of harboring anti-Semitic feelings. The pundits offered no evidence and no examples for their accusation. We sent a follow up letter (below) to our first that in effect said hosts, co-hosts and compensated pundits on MSNBC talk shows too frequently raised false alarms about racism and engaged in other such calumny directed at critics of its talkers’ ideological bent. We told the network’s executives that MSNBC “has a ‘race’ problem.”
Michael Meyers’ open letter addressed to Alex Korson, the executive producer of Morning Joe, and copied to network brass, follows:
March 29, 2013
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, New York 10112
Dear Mr. Korson:
Thank you very much for your prompt response to my open letter to the Comcast Chairman and MSNBC executives.
I wish to assure you that I am a regular viewer of Morning Joe, and as such I endure the host and panelists talking over each other, and I suffer through, seemingly daily, Eugene Robinson’s interminable “you knows” when expressing his views. And, yes, I watched and listened to the segment in its entirety about which I wrote to MSNBC’s management.
It was during the discussion of Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership and funding of the multi-million dollar advertising campaign to gain public support for further gun control legislation that Mike Barnicle piped in with his surmise about an element of “anti-Semitism” in the opposition to Mayor Bloomberg. He said, as you know, “Let’s get down to it. Mike Bloomberg [emphasis on Bloomberg], Mayor of New York City. I mean. There’s a level of anti-Semitism in this thing, directed toward Bloomberg.”
And Al Sharpton immediately agreed with Barnicle, adding, “There’s no doubt about it. But if he were not a big-city Jewish man, in some parts I think it would be different.”
I did not take those remarks out of order or out of context. Rather, out of order—and out of the blue—was Mike Barnicle’s allegation of anti-Semitism as a motivating factor among the critics of Mayor Bloomberg. Barnicle’s allegation was not only speculative it was baseless inasmuch as he made the charge without offering a shred of evidence to support his bizarre claim. The “support” for Barnicle’s claim came from MSNBC pundit Al Sharpton, although Sharpton, too, did not offer any evidence for their indignant accusation of anti-Semitic bigotry on the part of Mayor Bloomberg’s critics.
I must admit that in my first writing to Comcast/MSNBC about this matter I did not think of Al Sharpton as any authority on the subject of anti-Semitism. So, Sharpton’s offering his support for Barnicle’s absurd and vile assumption of a “level of anti-Semitism” out there about Mayor Bloomberg, I did not imagine that that was Sharpton offering up scholarly proof. My colleagues subsequently reminded me that the Al Sharpton of Freddy’s Fashion Mart on 125th Street fame—the owner of which he called a “white interloper”—and the Al Sharpton who decried Jews in Crown Heights as “diamond merchants”—knows something about anti-Semitism. Al Sharpton’s notoriety on the subject notwithstanding is not dispositive; it is not enough to either explain or support Mike Barnicle’s invention of “anti-Semitism” behind the opposition to Mayor Bloomberg or to Mayor Bloomberg’s gun-control or other initiatives.
You point out that Dan Senor was at the table on Morning Joe, and that Senor disagreed with Barnicle and Sharpton’s insertion and assertion of anti-Semitism into the discussion. Yes, he was; and, yes Dan Senor disagreed with them. But there was no refutation of the absurdity and the insanity of the claim of anti-Semitism. There was no demand for proof to back up their accusation of anti-Semitism. There was nothing by way of a confrontation to have either Mike Barnicle or Al Sharpton to put up or shut up, much less stand down and take back their reckless claim of anti-Semitism. Nothing like that came from any panelist; that, I expected from the MSNBC host and from the management of MSNBC. So, in my judgment, there was no immediate or subsequent rebuke from MSNBC, much less refutation of the overblown rhetoric of Barnicle and Sharpton.
The accusation that critics of Mayor Bloomberg are anti-Semitic warrants something more effective and substantial than mere disagreement from a single panelist on the show; it deserves a demand from MSNBC that the opinions of its compensated pundits be informed and guided by solid evidence. To my knowledge, MSNBC executives have not demanded such evidence of either Mike Barnicle or Al Sharpton. Rather, your reply suggests that we, who have called your attention to this matter, have taken their remarks out of context. The truth is their charge of anti-Semitism is out of order; it is divisive; it is phony; it is manifestly insupportable—in the context of the discussion. And it is especially outrageous because it was a smear against those who simply do not agree with Mayor Bloomberg.
Our beef is not strictly with Morning Joe; and while we appreciate your reply to my open letter it was not directed at or intended for you per se as executive producer of Morning Joe. Our complaint is broader and emblematic of our larger concerns about character assassination and smears against people who disagree with MSNBC compensated pundits and hosts, co-hosts, and substitute hosts. The smears frequently come around matters related to—and wholly unconnected with—“race” and ethnicity and minority status. MSNBC’s “opinion journalism” and on-air commentary too often invokes—needlessly and recklessly—“race.” The latest example is the commentary of MSNBC’s Toure—who very recently lambasted Dr. Benjamin Carson, the renowned neurosurgeon, he who just happens to be African American. Dr. Carson was depicted as some kind of a black lackey (my words), as a token whose own opinions are supposedly intended to meet the emotional needs of white conservatives. Toure referred to Dr. Carson, derisively, as the “black “friend” of white conservatives.
Toure’s actual words are worse than my paraphrase:
“…It’s time for a new ‘black friend.’ Enter Dr. Ben Carson! He’s smart! And helpful in assuaging their guilt…”
We deplore the racial calumny that is routinely, almost reflexively, directed at blacks, and whites, who disagree with the MSNBC hosts, co-hosts and compensated pundits. Every discussion of politics, news events, President Obama, voter registration, immigration, civic affairs—whatever—inevitably seems to turn to “race” as a backstop or the trigger for a racial or personal attack or insinuation of racism or other bad motive on the part of people who disagree with MSNBC hosts, co-hosts, and compensated pundits. The Ed Schultz comment about Laura Ingraham as a “right-wing slut” rightfully evoked outrage and rebuke from MSNBC management. There are so many examples of MSNBC personalities shouting and insinuating racism where none exists, too. I need not give you line and verse but, suffice it to say, it was surprising, and ignorant—at least to us—for MSNBC hosts to accuse public figures of racism when these figures used the word “Chicago” or “golf” in their discussions or criticism of President Obama. That’s exactly what more than one MSNBC host did. And we have watched and listened, and cringed, whenever pundits –as is their wont—piped in with their sorrowful wails about others’ prejudice—quipping, as did one regular MSNBC pundit did, in explaining why some people kept talking about President Obama’s Chicago roots—“Well, there’s a lot of black people in Chicago.”
MSNBC hosts and on-air personalities were fast and furious with their insinuations and accusations of others’ racism during the 2012 Presidential race. Maybe you read my Huffington Post column, “Racial Politics and the Non-White Vassals of White Politicians,” (2/10/12). There, I recounted how some MSNBC personalities race-baited, this way:
“When it comes to racial paranoia MSNBC is in a bizarre world of its own. Andrea Mitchell, among others, decried Newt Gingrich’s racial overtones as ‘dog whistles’ aimed at white voters. Chris Matthews [accused] The Newt of the racially-charged use of ‘Juan’ when Gingrich answered a question from journalist Juan Williams during the South Carolinian debate. And MSNBC star host Rachel Maddow inveighed that Gingrich, when he chastised Obama as ‘Entertainer-in Chief’—for Obama’s having crooned at the Apollo Theater—was depicting Obama as a minstrel.”
The depiction and imagery of President Obama as a “minstrel” during the last Presidential campaign was not only MSNBC’s contention, it was MSNBC’s invention. Likewise, the depiction of Dr. Benjamin Carson—who Toure calls “Dr. Ben [sic] Carson—as some kind of toady for conservative whites is the latest affront to a man’s dignity because his skin color does not coincide with MSNBC personalities’ prejudgments and definition of what is an authentic black man. At MSNBC, invoking race as a dictum is a demeaning, mean-spirited attempt to besmirch the bona fides of people who disagree with your hosts, co-hosts and compensated pundits. This base and scurrilous brand of race-baiting is especially contemptible because it is sheer bullying; it is an example of a craven antic by your hosts, co-hosts and compensated pundits to shame blacks who disagree with them, and to stereotype blacks as “blacks.” No African American, according to such racialist thinking, is ever to be regarded as an individual; African Americans, according to such thinking—they who disagree with the blacker-than-thou crowd—are pilloried as “friends” of white conservatives, of white racists, as “traitors” to the race, and as not being authentically “black.” And the hosts, co-hosts and compensated pundits at MSNBC get to define who is—and who isn’t “black.”
In his own defense, Dr. Carson named that game for what it is—and decried the calumny for what it represents; it is something on the level of third-grade racial idiocy. But, Dr. Carson was much too kind and diplomatic in dismissing as merely juvenile the rants of MSNBC’s Toure. The racial rhetoric, mockery and race games that Toure and other MSNBC hosts, co-hosts and compensated pundits play are too serious to go undiagnosed as the sickness that they represent. In our considered judgment, MSNBC has a race problem; the network is obsessed with skin color and identity politics
MSNBC has turned over its microphones to people who peddle racial poison in the guise of opinion—when, in fact, their opinion is neither informed nor guided by rationality. The kind of venom that MSNBC condones and sells in the form of racial rhetoric and errant charges of racism –directed at people, black and white (and any other skin color) who disagree with your personalities’ political bent—is reprehensibly ignorant. The network seems to shun if not loathe blacks who don’t see race as the center of the universe. African Americans who are merely liberal and those who are— to use Ed Schultz’ term—“right-wing,” are written off as kooks, Uncle Toms, Tomasinas, and as traitors to the black community and to the so-called black race. (Of course there are exceptions to the rule; I know that MSNBC has hired as a pundit the GOPer Michael Steele, for example). This blacker-than-thou mentality is destructive and unbecoming of a major television network. The role of a television news network, normally, paraphrasing my mentor, Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, the social psychologist and civil rights activist, is to alert an indifferent or gullible public and for protecting that public from the pretensions of infallibility. Dr. Clark believed, and I concur, that this can be done “within the framework of due regard to freedom of inquiry and respect for the right of individuals [without regard to their skin color] to differ, and certainly with unqualified adherence to fundamental human and democratic processes. But there must be vigilance; intellectual vigilance is essential to the expansion and preservation of human dignity.”
The haranguing of blacks as “Uncle Toms” or of whites as “racists” because they disagree with the incumbent President, because the incumbent President is an African American—or calling opponents of Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts “anti-Semitic”, on the basis that Mayor Bloomberg is Jewish—breeds fanaticism on matters of race, ethnicity and religion.
The penchant for calling attention to one’s race, or religion, or ethnicity as the reason he or she is being opposed is morally bankrupt. Such race-baiting, as well as false charges of anti-Semitism, is sick, regressive, and tyrannical. It is anti-intellectual in character. Its main focus and purpose is the stirring of emotionalism rather than thought. And, that is why I asked Comcast/MSNBC executives to demand of Mike Barnicle and Al Sharpton some evidence for their claims that there is “a level of anti-Semitism” directed at Mayor Bloomberg supposedly from people opposed to his gun control advertising campaign.
What support is there for such emotionalism on their part?
Race isn’t what it used to be in America. There has been much progress in curbing and combating racial discrimination—and more progress and vigilance are always needed. But we cannot deny that considerable racial progress—or contradict it–by suggestions that any criticism of or opposition to the first African American President is due to racism—when that criticism or opposition is earnest and not at all race-based or a manifestation of skin-color prejudice or malice. I am baffled as to what MSNBC’s aims are when it comes to race talk. It seems that there is on the part of so many of your on-air personalities a perennial search for the answer to the old and ludicrous question, “Who speaks for the African American”? (I remember when the question was “Who speaks for the Negro’?). If that is the search, then let the search end now. Let individuals speak for themselves, whatever their skin color. This “take me to your leader” nonsense is just that; it has to stop being propagated by well-intentioned but profoundly racialist thinking and anti-intellectual behavior countenanced and fostered by the people who are entrusted with our nation’s airwaves and who own and operate broadcast networks.
People who are accomplished, who know stuff, who are academics, physicians, elected officials and civic leaders, who are renowned in their own right as neurosurgeons, and who are brilliant and engaging thinkers and activists, do not need to be racialized or otherwise categorized or marginalized into racial or ethnic camps and stereotypes. Likewise, it seems only sensible that executives at MSNBC will not want to ignore and should not countenance false claims of either racism or anti-Semitism, feelings that seemingly exist only in the fertile imaginations of the compensated talkers on your network.
I am always available to speak with you; I would suggest a face-to-face.
With best wishes to you for the happiest of holidays, and always, I am
Cc: Brian l. Roberts, Chairman, Comcast Corporation
Patricia Fili-Krushel, Chairman, NBC Universal News Group
Phil Griffin, President, MSNBC