Howard Kurtz wonders if MSNBC is being deliberately crude
When your ratings have hit rock bottom, the easy way for a TV network to revive your fortunes is to have your hosts deliberately create controversy, which generates social media buzz, which drives viewers to your network.
Is it possible all of these controversies at MSNBC over the last few months have been the result of company policy which encourages MSNBC personalities to be rude and crude?
Howard Kurtz thinks it's a possibility:
If there is a theme to these episodes, it is a view of Republicans and conservatives as so mean-spirited, hard-hearted and clueless that just about any rhetoric against them can be justified.
Thus we had the spectacle of Martin Bashir so reviling Sarah Palin that he not only called her a "dunce" and an "idiot" but prescribed for her an old slave treatment in which he said someone should defecate in her mouth.
What was striking to me was that MSNBC did nothing but issue a tepid statement until Bashir resigned under pressure nearly three weeks later. But he had a telling line in his apology, saying that "the politics of vitriol and destruction is a miserable place to be and a miserable person to become."
Alec Baldwin lost his short-lived MSNBC show after allegedly shouting an anti-gay slur at a photographer outside his New York apartment. Baldwin admits cursing but denies the slur, though he has used anti-gay terms when upset in the past. In this case MSNBC moved quickly against the actor, but was hiring him in the first place a good idea?
Now comes Melissa Harris-Perry and her MSNBC panel, mocking a Mitt Romney family photo because, amid a sea of white faces, Romney's adopted black grandson was on his knee. This falls more in the category of racially insensitive jokes than personal attacks, but why shouldn't the family be praised rather than ridiculed for the adoption? Instead a defenseless baby was made into a symbol of the GOP's lack of diversity.
Harris-Perry later said that she herself had been born into a white Mormon family and that "without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family and to all families built on loving transracial adoptions."
Go back a bit further and there are more transgressions. Ed Schultz apologized for calling Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut" and was suspended for a week. Chris Hayes said he was "uncomfortable" calling fallen soldiers "heroes" because that could be seen as justifying more war. He apologized: "As many have rightly pointed out, it's very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots."
Kurtz is right - to a point. MSNBC hosts may be under orders to be "edgier" in their criticism. But what Kurtz doesn't seem to comprehend is that this view of conservatives is widespread across the left and the MSNBC liberal hosts don't need instructions on how to characterize the right. For them, it's business as usual to refer to conservative women as sluts, or disrespect the military, not to mention degrade conservative personalities on a regular basis.
It is a measure of how desperate the network is, and how low they are willing to go that they tolerate and even encourage these destructive, hateful comments.