Unethical and Unjust Firing of the Week: The MSNBC Cheerios Tweeter

CheeriosWhen reader Scott Jacobs sent me a link to the now infamous MSNBC tweet that presumed that all “right-wingers,” which in MSNBC Universe means anyone who doesn’t want to put Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore, were horrified by the very existence of bi-racial families, I honestly didn’t understand what he was telling me.  MSNBC’s official position is that Republicans are racists, so he couldn’t have been referring to that….everybody knows that. (“But did you know Old McDonald was a really bad speller?”) And what racists approve of bi-racial families? So the tweet wasn’t illogical or dealing in rationalizations. The tweet—oh, here it is:

“Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family”

—was an unremarkable re-statement of the miserably insulting, arrogant, demeaning and biased assumption MSNBC talking heads operate under every broadcast day, presumably with the full approval and endorsement of Phil Griffin, the unethical head of the unethical network. So? News Flash! Birds fly! Fish swim! I just didn’t get it. This was a dog bites man story.

Yet Scott, a.k.a. ablativemeatshield, was obviously on to something that I missed, because this rapidly became Tweetgate (or has there already been a Tweetgate?) An outraged Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus sent a letter to Griffin announcing that he would ban all GOP staff members and surrogates from appearing on the network until Griffin personally and publicly apologized.  (If I hadn’t used the to often referenced “Casablanca” quote about being “shocked—shocked!—that gambling is going on in this establishment!” just last week, this would have been the perfect place for it. Note to self: “Jack, don’t waste lazy clichés!”)

Over at Fox, even the Fox House liberals were piling on MSNBC, with Joe Trippi (Howard Dean’s old mouthpiece) wondering aloud to Megyn Kelly why the tweet didn’t outrage good progressives other than him. Called the tweet  a “stupid” move, he vigorous agreed with Kelly that “Not all the left agrees with this kind of thinking and this tweet,” saying,  “No, not at all. What would have been good is that you see someone on the left denouncing this and joining in on some of that tweeting.”

Now why would they do that? MSNBC has been declared the Obama Administration’s favorite cable network, and why wouldn’t it  be? Democratic surrogates and elected officials appear on the network every day, and if someone other than them doesn’t state that opposition to Obamacare or the President’s feckless foreign policy is due to Republicans not being able to stand having a black man in the White House, so they can nod vigorously in agreement, they are pretty sure to say something similar themselves, because they know they will get only approval from Chris, Joe, Ed, Melissa, Chris and whoever else MSNBC has hired recently under its new contract forbidding them from wishing on the air that someone would take a dump in Sarah Palin’s mouth.

Then Grifffin apparently decided to end the controversy that shouldn’t have been one at all—controversies usually require something unexpected and inconsistent with the status quo—the easy way: by issuing an insincere apology and firing the poor, innocent, anonymous schlub who composed the tweet.
“The tweet last night was outrageous and unacceptable. We immediately acknowledged that it was offensive and wrong, apologized, and deleted it. We have dismissed the person responsible for the tweet. I personally apologize to Mr. Priebus and to everyone offended. At msnbc we believe in passionate, strong debate about the issues and we invite voices from all sides to participate. That will never change,Griffin wrote in a statement.

What a weasel. Permit me to translate for Phil:

‘The tweet last night perfectly expressed the theme of race-baiting that has been MSNBC’s signature thrust at least since the 2008 Presidential campaign, but because so many media voices elsewhere are sputtering that it was outrageous and unacceptable, we’re going to play along. Thus we initially reacted by  disingenuously saying that the tweet was offensive and wrong, and “didn’t reflect our position,” which still makes me giggle because it reflects our position exactly, apologizing vaguely to no one in particular, and deleting the tweet. [“Earlier, this account tweeted an offensive line about the new Cheerios ad. We deeply regret it. It does not reflect the position of msnbc. We are deleting the earlier offensive tweet. It does not reflect msnbc’s position and we apologize.”] Rather than re-examine our divisive, unethical and unprofessional policies, we took the lazy and cowardly route of firing the low-level employee who composed the tweet, because, really, I can hire my nephew or the mail room clerk to do the same job. I personally apologize to Mr. Priebus and to “everyone offended,” meaning that none of our viewers or anyone at the White House needs to pay attention to the aplogy, because we know they love this stuff. At MSNBC we believe in passionate, strong debate about the issues so much that we will continue to invite the designated punching bags the GOP sends over here to be ridiculed, but make sure to avoid dealing with any conservative  smart or articulate  enough to make one of our hate-mongers look as bad as they are. That will never change.’

If Phil Griffin had an iota of courage, honor, responsibility, accountability and integrity—and he does not-–he would have said something like this instead:

I am not going to fire the MSNBC employee who authored the tweet in question, because that would require me to fire all the on-air hosts, commentators, and guests, as well as our producers and writers, who regularly express similar or worse sentiments in the same biased and insulting vein every day, and whose very visible and well-established examples that employee was only following. I would also have to fire myself, for I am the individual directly responsible for allowing the tone of hate, divisiveness, incivility and intolerance to flourish at MSNBC. I am accountable, and because I am accountable, I pledge to use this opportunity to retreat from the ugly culture I have allowed to develop here at MSNBC, a culture that shares blame for the terribly harmful political polarization and distrust paralyzing our public policy and the nation’s progress. Henceforth I will not accept, nor will I allow, our employees to impugn the character of those whose political views they disagree with, or to use baseless accusations of racism, sexism or anti-gay bias as a substitute for reasoned argument and respectful debate. I want to apologize to conservatives, progressives, and all  Americans for allowing this terrible and damaging attitude to fester on MSNBC so long. I am sincerely sorry, and hope we can regain your respect and trust.”


It’s so much easier to fire a hapless underling, and pretend that it was all his fault, when all he was doing was following Phil Griffin’s parade of hate.


Pointer: Scott Jacobs

Sources: Mediaite 1,2;  Politico 1,2

16 thoughts on “Unethical and Unjust Firing of the Week: The MSNBC Cheerios Tweeter

  1. So what is the difference between the tweet and MSNBC’s normal faire? Is it that the tweet actually called out the entire right wing as racists, as opposed to the parade of thinly veiled examples demonstrating with individuals how all right wingers are racists? Or did everyone collectively have enough?

  2. Had to laugh at edshow’s assertion that he, at least will be shown to be on the right side of history. Now they’re rewriting the future. Is there a rationalization for that?

  3. Step back to get a broader view, and another ethics issue shows up.

    Priebus’s threat to deny access reinforces a weakness of today’s media, which is that they’re too afraid to offend the people who grant them photo opportunities.

    The media cowardice and the willingness of politicians to exploit it gives politicians power over the media. Even if you’re happy about how that power was used this time, it’s a terribly unhealthy power for politicians to have in a free society.

    This time it was a threat from the opposition party. The Administration has even more of this kind of power.

    Watchdogs can’t do their job if they’re begging for table scraps.

  4. I’m pretty sure, at this point, that watching cable news is per se evidence of… what’s the PC term du jour for being a tard?

    Not that most print is much better but at least you get some actual news and analysis along with the bias, instead of just incompetence and bias. Personally I read HuffPo for the basic aggregation and to troll the comments section, keep an eye out for a few of the more balanced columnists on TDB (Anyone but Brown-nose Tomasky and Butthurt Stevens), and then check Salon to see what talking points to run from at high velocity.

  5. So, Jack, here’s a question.

    If someone you have come to despise after repeated observations does something right, should you condemn or praise them?

    Can the merit of an ethical act be erased by a history of the opposite?

    Is assuming everything an unethical person or organization does is automatically unethical just a mirror image of the fallacy of thinking the best of every action from someone with a good record?

    • 1. Easy: you praise them. I’ve made Bill Clinton an Ethics Hero more than once. An ethical act is still an ethical act, no matter who does it.

      2. Erased? No. But rendered an after thought in the shadow of the larger context of the unethical acts. Supporters of Cardinal Law, whose decision to protect the church by moving sexual predator priests around resulted in hundreds and maybe thousands of children being molested, kept saying he was a good man who made one mistake. Make a “mistake” like that, and you lose the option of being called “good” again.

      3. Yes. It’s cognitive dissonance at its most powerful. The flip-flopping poll numbers on NSA spying under Bush and Obama are a perfect example.

      • Then is your criticism of the firing on the grounds of uneven enforcement?

        Would the “unethical and unjust” firing have become ethical and just if MSNBC had fired other people with similar attitudes and changed policy?

        • Hardly uneven enforcement. It’s closer to the Duck Dynasty flap on A&E. The tweeter was correctly following all the signals that he was in line with the MSNBC culture. His tweet was a symptom of the lousy culture created under Griffin’s leadership. He should have fired himself.

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