I posted earlier about the sub-par apologies offered by the infamous MSNBC Three, who decided to indulge their hate for Mitt Romney and Republicans by ridiculing the fact that Romney’s family now includes an adopted African American infant. Either Melissa Harris-Perry got a Martin Bashir memo, or she sincerely decided that she had not adequately communicated regret for the ethically indefensible segment. What she delivered, on the air this time rather than through Twitter, arguable qualifies as a Level #1 apology [“An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.”]:
“Without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family. Adults who enter into public life implicitly consent to having less privacy. But their families, and especially their children, should not be treated callously or thoughtlessly. My intention was not malicious, but I broke the ground-rule that families are off-limits. And for that I am sorry. Also, allow me to apologize to other families formed through trans-racial adoption, because I am deeply sorry that we suggested that interracial families are in any way funny or deserving of ridicule. On this program, we are dedicated to advocating for a wide diversity of families. It is one of our core principles. And I am reminded that when we are doing so, it must always be with the utmost respect. We’re genuinely appreciative of everyone who offered serious criticisms of last Sunday’s program, and I am reminded that our fiercest critics can sometimes be our best teachers.”
Harris-Perry deserves special credit for the last sentence. She didn’t have to say that, and it is an excellent point for her to make, especially on her network, where some critics have been told that someone needs to shit in their mouths.
I assume readers here are sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate the distinction between the Jester’s Privilege, discussed in the previous post, and what Harris-Perry did, but because I hate having to tell commenters that their brains are atrophying, let me offer this prophylactic note. Harris-Perry isn’t a comedian. She is supposed to be a professional public affairs host, and what she is paid to do is offer political commentary and enlightenment. I have my own, frequently stated, opinion on how ethically she does that, but never mind: intentionally choosing the loving inter-racial adoption by a public figure’s family to target for ridicule, using the infant as the provocation, is unprofessional, ugly, wrongful conduct. She chose and assembled the snarky progressive comics, she dictated their target, she sicced them on Kieran Romney; it was her show, and she is ultimately responsible for what her minions delivered, which was neither funny nor fair. Also, as one of MSNBC’s race-baiters par exellance, Harris-Perry’s use of the race of an adopted orphan as the catalyst for a Romney-bashing was both inexplicable and hypocritical.
It took a while, but she did the right thing, and did it well.
An aside, also related to the previous post: On the Blaze’s story about the apology, several commenters mocked Harris-Perry’s lisp, and others admonished them for doing so. I agree that mocking people for speech impediments is cruel, and that our recognition that stuttering and other speech issues are handicaps that are no more legitimate targets of ridicule than cancer or paralysis was late in coming but ethically correct. But Harris-Perry is in the business of communication, and inadequacies in her ability and delivery are fair game for criticism and mockery, just as an unpleasant voice or an impenetrable accent would be. She has no right to be a broadcaster—frankly, I don’t understand how networks justify having speech-impaired reporters and anchors on the air, when there are so many competent professionals who can speak clearly and well. I felt the same way about Barbara Walters, and her well-parodied difficulty with R’s, and Tom Brokaw, who just about breaks his jaw trying to say L’s. (David Gregory does a dead-on imitation of Brokaw, high-lighting this quirk.) If a newscaster is going to make the audience endure his or her speech deficiencies, they can learn to appreciate the jokes, or learn to talk better. Was it unethical for impressionists to focus on Judy Garland’s late-career habit of dropping the consonants in words (“… Why, oh why, can’ I?”) Was John Belushi cruel to imitate Joe Crocker’s spastic moves? Obviously there is a trade-off in such cases: MSNBC feels that Melissa Harris-Perry’s insights are worth tolerating her lisp. For those who don’t agree, I think the lisp is fair game.