Time to Pull the Plug on MSNBC?

By Carl M. Cannon - November 22, 2013

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He seemed sincere, but this is the latest in a string of such conduct at MSNBC, and it’s not an accident. It’s almost an occupational hazard. It’s difficult to vilify people 24 hours a day because their priorities for federal spending differ from yours or because they’d be happier if we called gay marriages “civil unions.” So Republicans have to be demonized.

On MSNBC, conservatives are racist, sexist, homophobic, and moronic. That would be dubious enough, except that it turns out that if you view so many of your fellow human beings this way it spills out at the edges. You make sexist comments of your own, homophobic comments, dumb comments. You race-bait in the editing room.

Bashir’s apology, you see, was only the latest at MSNBC.

There was the time host Ed Schultz was suspended for a week for calling conservative author Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut.” (“I used vile and inappropriate language,” he said.) Or when MSNBC repeatedly played a slyly edited tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call to make it look, inaccurately, as though Zimmerman had disparaged Trayvon Martin for being black.

In fact, the Bashir episode came while another MSNBC talk show host, actor Alex Baldwin, was on suspension for calling a photographer a nasty homophobic slur. Baldwin’s apology, if one can call it that, was kind of sketchy. Bashir’s, by contrast, was poignant. His comments about Palin, he noted, “were neither accurate nor fair.”

“They were unworthy of anyone who would claim to have an interest in politics,” Bashir added. “My hope is that it will renew in me a spirit of humility and humanity, that looks for the good and that builds upon the great things that this country has to offer to all of us, regardless of our political persuasion. This will be my guiding light and compass in the days ahead.”

That would be an uplifting outcome, one that would encourage the ghosts of Guglielmo Marconi and David Sarnoff.

Marconi, for one, lived long enough to see the medium he helped invent misused to profoundly evil purposes by the real Hitler. When he died in 1937, Marconi was working on a speech he called “The Path of the Inventor.” It was never delivered, but he sent a draft to Sir James Irvine, a prominent Scottish scientist and educator. Recalling that his original inspiration was for ship-to-ship conversations, Marconi posed this question: “Have I done the world a good or have I added a menace?”

It’s a question the suits at MSNBC might ask themselves today. A cable network informed with progressive sensibilities devoted to unearthing hard truths about this society is something people might watch. They did watch it in the 1950s and 1960s. It was NBC’s “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” anchored by two newsmen with great gravitas, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

In those days, NBC hired regional reporters with talent, people such as Frank McGee, John Chancellor, and Tom Brokaw, who would go on to become anchors themselves. The network distinguished itself covering the civil rights movement.

Their politics surely skewed liberal, but they told their stories with shoe-leather reporting that required physical courage when they went to the Deep South and good humor when going into the hornets’ nest of Republican politics.

Chancellor, covering the 1964 GOP convention in San Francisco, once set up camp in an aisle in the convention hall. Sen. Barry Goldwater’s supporters, not keen on NBC anyway, told him to make way for the delegates. When he didn’t move fast enough, he was ejected from the hall by security guards.

“I've been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office,” he said on-air. His sign-off that night was, “This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody.”

I can see Chuck Todd -- or Rachel Maddow or Alex Wagner -- saying something similar. And that’s a news show I’d watch. 

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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