The Sharpton Sized Elephant in MSNBC’s Buchanan Room…
We still don’t know what Phil Griffin and MSNBC will ultimately do in regards to the Pat Buchanan situation. What we do know is that if Buchanan is taken out permanently, there will be blow-back. And let’s start with what will likely become the focal point for those who take issue with Buchanan getting taken off permanently.
To remind everyone, here is what Phil Griffin said at the TCA concerning Buchanan.
Mr. Griffin said, “The ideas he put forth aren’t really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC.”
If that is now Griffin’s litmus test with regards to Buchanan, it will be one that people will use to examine the records of all other MSNBC contractual talent. And here’s where the trouble begins for MSNBC because if the person at MSNBC with the most baggage and history of controversial, provocative, and (some would argue) hate producing commentary at the network is Pat Buchanan, the person with the second largest amount of baggage and history of controversial, provocative, and (some would argue) hate producing commentary at the network is Al Sharpton. By using the “appropriate for national dialogue” litmus test on Buchanan, MSNBC is all but inviting the same litmus test to be applied to Sharpton. And Sharpton would fail that test just as Buchanan apparently has.
This would put MSNBC in a real quandary. If it takes Buchanan out but leaves Sharpton in place it’s opening itself up for a whole bunch of questions it really doesn’t want to answer. It will be forced to discuss how Buchanan’s controversial history is not appropriate to the point that he has to be taken off the air but Sharpton’s at times even more inflammatory rhetoric and history is. MSNBC doesn’t want to discuss that. It’s a lose-lose scenario.
The subject would next parry to how MSNBC could justify keeping Sharpton on the air if it got rid of Buchanan. Another lose-lose scenario. The conventional wisdom is Sharpton appeals to the Progressive demographic and that’s a core constituency MSNBC does not want to alienate right now because of the perceived threat from the even more leftward bent Current TV. Some would say MSNBC is paranoid about Current TV. I think the threat is vastly overstated because Current hasn’t shown that it can even do the most basic rudimentary cable programing things correctly. Look at Olbermann’s set or the network’s premature cut-out of the Iowa caucuses if you don’t believe me. And then there’s the hiring of Jennifer Granholm who isn’t exactly a progressive firebrand of the type that Olbermann and Uygur are. Given all that, plus the Al Gore backed channel’s poor distribution, one could easily argue that FBN is a bigger threat to CNBC than Current is to MSNBC.
Nonetheless, one could make the case that MSNBC has taken an irrational to the point of being paranoid defensive posture regarding being out-left-flanked by Current. I don’t think you’d see either Chris Hayes or Melissa Harris-Perry with weekend shows if MSNBC wasn’t worried about the potential of Current poaching. The fact that they’d be poached down what would amount to a Nielsen black hole is beside the point. They’d be poached.
When you are in a branding fight, facts on the ground can take a back seat to perception. Keith Olbermann first sowed the seeds of this fight by implying that MSNBC wasn’t progressive enough…that it was too much of the establishment. Cenk Uygur further drilled this thesis down by his very public falling out with the network. The perception was starting to take shape.
If MSNBC doesn’t get rid of Buchanan now, it re-enforces that perception amongst Progressives. Remember, this is a branding fight over ideology not a fight over indisputable facts. If it was a fight over facts and absolute appropriateness for the national dialogue, both Buchanan and Sharpton’s records would have to be examined side by side. MSNBC doesn’t want that because it forces the network into a position where it has to at least tacitly admit that it’s carving out an exception for Sharpton because Sharpton and his views carry Progressive street cred whereas Buchanan and his views carry Progressive street ire.
But the network will likely face no alternative now but to put itself through this gauntlet of examination. It’s just too obvious a comparison to ignore. The network can dodge the issue as long as it remains confined to the ideological they said/they said periphery. But I’m not convinced it will stay confined there given what happened at the TCA. This will likely creep into the mainstream press and all it takes is one or two well connected media writers with enough clout to force the issue of the perceived Buchanan/Sharpton double standard and MSNBC will probably not be able to successfully dodge that.
MSNBC should have seen this coming and if it didn’t it was foolish not to. I warned the network when it was close to hiring Sharpton…
Sharpton, like Eliot Spitzer, carries a lot of prior baggage which could detonate at any time in MSNBC’s face.
I just wasn’t expecting that a potential Pat Buchanan dismissal from MSNBC would be what could light the fuse to that Sharpton baggage bomb…