Let us take a brief moment to praise MSNBC for its exemplary coverage of the 2016 presidential election. Yes, the nearly two-decade-old network has taken heat in some circles for allegedly going over the top in its coverage of Donald Trump, but on the whole, the network has provided the sort of expert analysis this most unusual campaign deserves: evening hosts Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell have done some of the best work of their careers covering this one-of-a-kind election.
As you may know, MSNBC has been the focus of intense criticism following the recent departure of host Melissa Harris-Perry on the heels of reported conflicts with management. I was a fan of Harris-Perry’s program, appreciating her focus on climate change and environmental justice in particular. (I profoundly disagree with writer Jason Whitlock, who crudely dismissed Harris-Perry as a failed TV personality who “cast herself as the light-skinned, female Ta-Nehisi Coates, a nerdy intellectual down to castigate white folk from the safety of a laptop, white college classroom, TV studio or charity cocktail party”; why would Whitlock make that bizarre reference to Harris-Perry’s complexion?). Having said that, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack and MSNBC President Phil Griffin were well within their rights to part ways with Harris-Perry, especially on the heels of this particular outburst:
Here is the reality: our show was taken–without comment or discussion or notice–in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.
The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.
I admire Harris-Perry, but I cannot defend these remarks; when I think of people fomenting bigotry in the cable news business, I think of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, not Lack and Griffin.
MSNBC is not perfect. No network is. Yet, when they do things right, they deserve our praise. Hayes, Maddow and O’Donnell have done everything a politically engaged viewer could ask for: they have pressed the powerful, challenged conventional wisdom, and clarified the consequences of this campaign. If I were an executive at a competing television network, I’d pay any price to bring them on board.
I understand, and in many respects share, the grief Harris-Perry’s viewers feel over the abrupt end of her show; it’s quite comparable to how Keith Olbermann’s fans felt after MSNBC ended his trailblazing broadcast five years ago. It’s always a shame when talent leaves—but that doesn’t mean we should disregard the quality of the talent that’s still there.