MEDIA WATCH: Where are the adults at MSNBC?!

At the New York Civil Rights Coalition, we’ve been alarmed at the widespread race-baiting practiced by a variety of news outlets in their coverage of the presidential race. Repeatedly, we’ve heard the terms “racial dog-whistle”, “racial code” and even “racial war” bandied about carelessly on news networks that purport to be fair and balanced. From hearing about the “Niggerization” of Obama on MSNBC, to the president’s supposed “Racial War” on Fox News, we’ve decided to inaugurate a media watch, to expose the ways in which certain stories in the news exploit race to boost their numbers.

Our pick to come under the lens is MSNBC. We were speechless when we heard initial reports that the network was giving Al Sharpton his own show and began to fear for the worst. That it would choose to hire as its first black anchor the famously bombastic racial huckster rather than an actual african american journalist drew criticism from the left and right and appeared to us as an omen of things to come. Many questioned whether it was wise to hire someone who vowed on 60 minutes not to criticize President Obama:

“Sharpton told us that having a black president is a challenge: if he finds fault with Mr. Obama, he’d be aiding those who want to destroy him. So he has decided not to criticize the president about anything — even about black unemployment, which is twice the national rate.”

–“60 Minutes”, May 19th, 2011.

Why would the network make such a man an anchor? We were aghast to see MSNBC president Phil Griffin defend his decision to hire Al Sharpton by stating that he had “evolved into an elder Statesman” despite the fact that Sharpton has never been a statesman, and that his record as an “activist” is only noted for its divisive and inflammatory past rather than for any achievement on behalf of civil rights or race relations.  The fact that Al Sharpton refuses to criticize the president’s policies no matter what they be, just because he is black, together with Al Sharpton’s ‘guitly until proven innocent’ activism against George Zimmerman, just because his victim was black, proves that, even though he no longer uses terms like “white interloper” or “diamond merchant“, he cannot bring himself  to shed his racial biases.

For their next prominent African American slot position, the network gave Melissa Harris-Perry her own political commentary show. While Harris-Perry actually has a Ph.D in political science and is a published author on politics, she has, in her two published books, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, as well as in numerous articles written for The Nation, consistently pursued a racial agenda that leads her to view current events through a racial prism, as when she declared that black men wearing NYPD hats around New York City after 9/11 could only be described as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or that any mention of people not paying taxes (without any reference to race) is racism.

Here is her criticism of Michelle Bachmann’s statement that “53% of americans pay income taxes to the federal government, 47% do not, so I think we definitely need to change the tax code”:

Harris-Perry regularly injects race into her political analyses to the point where she can coolly accuse Americans of racism for showing less support for the president three years into his term.  Whereas other journalists attempt to explain the president’s fluctuating support by analyzing popular opinion on specific policies Melissa Harris-Perry simply chooses to smear voters without just cause.  Her belief that the decline in Americans’ support for President Obama “can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation” prompted liberal Slate columnist Gene Lyons to write:

“See, certain academics are prone to an odd fundamentalism of the subject of race. Because President Obama is black, under the stern gaze of professor Harris-Perry, nothing else about him matters. Not killing Osama bin Laden, not 9 percent unemployment, only blackness.”

But MSNBC proved that this is the sole qualification they seek in hiring African American political commentators, and the network drove this point home when, in June of 2012, it gave pop culture writer “Toure” a prominent spot on “the Cycle”, a show about Politics.  Toure was indeed an established professional journalist at the time of his hiring on “The Cycle”, but he wrote almost exclusively about pop culture, hip hop, sports, lifestyle, etc.  The closest Toure ever got to political commentary was when he would write about race, discussing which song should be “the national black anthem” or instructing parents to tell their black boys that “black maleness is a fatal condition…There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity“.

Before his hiring Toure notoriously appeared on CNN to attack anchor Piers Morgan for his coverage of the Trayvon Martin controversy. Toure began to paint the Trayvon Martin tragedy as a landmark moment in American History simply because the victim was black , and proceeded to discredit Piers Morgan’s ability to satisfactorily cover the Trayvon Martin sotry simply because he is British.

Piers Morgan v. Toure

Since Toure had written almost no published pieces on politics that had nothing to do with race, it seems reasonable to conclude that MSNBC gave Toure a spot on a political show for one reason: to inject race into the discussion.

But Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry and Toure Neblett are not the only MSNBC hosts that have continually deployed the race card, and in this presidential race, we’ve found that other hosts such as Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, Martin Bashir and Lawrence O’donnell have all needlessly injected race into the political discussion and painted critics of the President, mostly its Republican critics, as racist.

Unfortunately, even though many blogs and outlets were quick to point out dozens of instances where MSNBC hosts tried to stoke racial fear of various politicians, MSNBC itself, unlike other news outlets, never put a stop to the practice, leading us to believe that there has either been a complete breakdown of journalistic standards or the network implicitly sanctions the incitement of racial animus.

One revealing incident is this segment of Martin Bashir’s show posted below. Martin Bashir mocks Mitt Romney’s attemp to reach out to Latino voters and joins one of his discussion panelists, Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn, in mocking Romney’s appearance at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials by imitating Romney speaking to attendees in broken Spanish (even though Romney delivered his speech in English), with Bashir adding “Burrito!”.

Later in the panel discussion, Politico Reporter Joe Williams suggested that Romney was only comfortable around “white folks”, which led to his immediate suspension and subsequent dismissal at Politico, which released a statement saying that Williams’ comments “fell short of our standards for fairness and judgment”.

But where were the MSNBC editors in condemning Bashir’s insulting remark suggesting that Romney would simply throw out the word “Burrito” in order to connect with an assembly of elected Latino officials? Do they not hold their hosts to the same journalistic standards that Politico demands of its reporters? Bashir’s remark went unnoticed and unpunished.

Bashir has also been particularly vocal against former front runner for the Republican Presidential nomination Herman Cain.  Bashir used the death of civil rights icon Fred Shuttlesworth to attack Cain for not participating in the civil rights activism of the era, preferring to, instead, “stay out of trouble” according to Cain in his autobiography.  Bashir then asked his viewers to compare Herman Cain’s decision as a young adolescent to stay out of trouble, a decision which many, if not most blacks, made at the time, with the life of Fred Shuttlesworth –  despite the fact that the two have nothing in common.  Did Bashir decide to link the two just because they were both black?  Does he think that all blacks that did not participate in civil rights activism are traitors? Bashir then stated that Cain’s decision to stay out of trouble during the civil rights movement shows that, unlike Shuttleworth, who answered to god:

“[Herman Cain] finds himself answerable only to those republicans who will soon start electing their nominee for the white house and as such, probably feels obliged to assure them that he is no angry black man fighting for the rights of minorities, he wants to be known as one who stayed out of trouble.  

But he would be wise to remember, that without the likes of the late Fred Shuttlesworth, Herman Cain wouldn’t even be able to vote, let alone get the chance to run for the presidency.”

In another segment, Bashir again attacks Cain for “attempting play down his racial background, he’s the one, who keeps saying that America is now color-blind…” as if he were incensed that a black presidential candidate would chose to not play the role assigned to them by MSNBC: to play the race card.

Herman Cain was attacked by other MSNBC hosts as well for his non-role in the civil rights movement, most notably by Lawrence O’Donnell for, once again, not participating in the civil rights movement:

The interview provoked criticism from various quarters, and O’Donnell quickly responded, not by apologizing, but by gathering MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry (when she was just an analyst for the network) and Goldie Taylor of (a property of NBC Universal, of which, MSNBC is also a subsidiary) – in effect, using black MSNBC/NBC Universal personalities to shield the racial rhetoric of one of its white anchors.

Herman Cain also brought out the worst from another MSNBC host Ed Schultz, who, on “The Ed Show” also attacked Cain for considering Jim DeMint (R-SC) as a VP pick:

“So Herman Cain’s short list for VP includes…the guy who used an old southern racist term when talking about defeating president obama during the health care debate.”

What was the term?  We’re not sure. it was either “break” or “Waterloo”, here is the quote:

“If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

Ed Shultz was not called upon to clarify his comments, and nobody else at the network bothered clarify his comments though it bordered on actual nonsense.

A similarly nonsensical statement came from Lawrence O’Donnell, who, after playing a clip where then- Presidential Nomination Candidate Mitt Romney explains that his father was born in Mexico, O’Donnell cuts the clip to remind viewes that Romney:

“is not just white, he’s whiter than white, so the only direction he could go, was something that required a little less sunscreen.”

While O’Donnell’s comment did not provoke the same reaction as his Herman Cain interview, it did strike us as a characteristic appeal to race used specifically to discredit a presidential candidate among minorities, one that went without censure at MSNBC.

To this day, MSNBC continues to sanction the racial rhetoric of its hosts even when that rhetoric raises eyebrows among their peers in the journalistic profession, such as Toure’s now infamous “niggerization” comment about Obama, in which he blasted a speech by Newt Gingrich for including the words “anger”:

“That really bothered me. You notice he said ‘anger’ twice. He’s really trying to use racial coding and access some really deep stereotypes about the angry black man. … I know it’s a heavy thing, I don’t say it lightly, but this is ‘niggerization.’ You are not one of us, you are like the scary black man who we’ve been trained to fear.”


The firestorm of controversy led to an apology from Toure, not over the ridiculous charge of racism for using the word anger, but for use of the word “Niggerization”. MSNBC itself did not comment on the matter.

Overt racial rhetoric in criticizing Republicans from MSNBC hosts has reached a deafening pitch, and the practice of calling Republican discussion of tax reform, welfare reform, or even the birther issue racist continues unchecked by the cable news network…