Thursday, January 28, 2010
A Matter of Opinion
Interesting little item coming out of MSNBC right now -- and by that I don't mean the network is reporting it, but rather that what MS is doing is the item.
Just a few minutes ago, David Shuster and right-wing web-douche Andrew Breitbart practically got into a fist fight over the whole James O'Keefe arrest during an on-air segment. What's interesting about this is that Shuster was reprimanded about 24-hours ago by MSNBC management for tweeting the following directly to O'Keefe on Tuesday night:
"@JamesOKeefeIII a) you are not a journalist b) the truth is you intended to tap her phones c) it's a felony d) you will go to prison."
Obviously, considering that Shuster is ostensibly a general assignment reporter for MS and not a prime time host-commentator, this goes quite a few steps over the line when it comes to both offering a very public opinion on a politically charged story and confronting (at least "virtually") the person at the center of that story. What's strange, though, is that MSNBC would rightly come down on Shuster for the comments, then turn around and let him interview another of the main players in the O'Keefe controversy. It's a clear conflict of interest, and one that most news organizations would try to avoid -- even MSNBC.
Unless of course MS wanted to see the inevitable on-air fireworks that a Shuster-Breitbart confrontation would surely provide, but if that's true then why bother disciplining him in the first place?
I swear, sometimes I really have no idea what the hell they're thinking over there.
Worth mentioning, though, is that this isn't the first time David Shuster's gotten in trouble with the suits at MSNBC. Remember the "pimping out Chelsea Clinton" comment? Believe it or not, that time around, I defended Shuster. What follows is the piece I wrote for the Huffington Post during that whole row.
By the way, there are quite a few people who believe that this was the column that alerted CNN to the fact that I was writing on the outside -- the one that essentially got me fired.
"Pimp My Riot: In Defense of David Shuster" (Originally Published in the Huffington Post, 2.10.08)
Go ahead and pick up those rocks and get into pitching stance, because I'm about to suggest something unthinkable.
As you must know by now, MSNBC's David Shuster has revealed himself to be the Anti-Christ by suggesting on-air that Chelsea Clinton's role in her mother's campaign smacks of opportunism on the part of Camp Clinton; his exact words were that the once-and-possibly-future First Daughter was being "pimped out" by Mom and Dad. Since most folks assumed Shuster wasn't alluding to the MTV brand of pimping out, which I imagine would've involved jacking Chelsea up on 24" rims, the wave of thoroughly bullshit outrage in response to his admittedly ill-advised comment began pushing across the land almost immediately. Over the past few days, Shuster's been excoriated in the press and the blogging media, suspended by NBC, and targeted for as public a shaming as possible by Hillary Clinton herself.
Most of those now engaging in the obligatory and all-too-gratifying pile-on claim Shuster's offense to be two-fold: He insulted the child of a particular presidential contender for behavior most politicians' kids engage in -- the cynical would say that all candidates pimp their children in one manner or another -- while cavalierly flaunting the depth of anti-Clinton group-think that supposedly permeates MSNBC.
Hillary, though, has taken the argument one step further.
Her campaign is insinuating that Shuster's comment is a slight against all women, more proof that MSNBC -- the special-needs child of the NBC News family -- is essentially one big frat house. They cite a 12-month period that's seen the dismissal of Don Imus for making a crude but, let's face it, somewhat innocuous joke about the Rutgers womens' basketball team, an on-air mea culpa from Chris Matthews -- not to mention his inability to talk to Erin Burnett without little hearts dancing over his head -- and now Shuster's indiscretion.
In other words, the Clinton camp seems to be recasting this in exactly the kind of terms that are likely to motivate women voters; the fact that the Clintons are so adept at this sort of misdirection is precisely the reason their critics consider them little more than political profiteers who will say or do anything to make points at the polls.
This is why it's become second nature to question their motives, no matter how genuine or innocent those motives might seem at first glance. While there's no doubt that Chelsea Clinton simply wants to see her mother elected president, the campaign's own "handling" of her makes Chelsea look like just another weapon in the Clinton arsenal, and Hillary's indignation reek of calculated insincerity.
Understand something, I'm certainly not claiming that what David Shuster said wasn't incredibly stupid and somewhat unfair, nor am I saying that Hillary Clinton wouldn't make a decent president. However, it's not as if a journalist's decision to question the motivations of the Clintons is happening in a vacuum; the press has seen the Hillary and Bill PR machine in action for quite some time now, and maybe for that reason is apt to regard the Clintons' actions with slightly more suspicion than it otherwise might. I'll be the first one to say that this is unfortunate.
Did David Shuster deserve to be disciplined?
Yes, but not for the reason his detractors might think and not by the one charged with doling out the punishment.
Shuster raised a relevant point in an unquestionably crass and injudicious manner, and there's no doubt that he wouldn't challenge, say, Michelle Obama, in the same way -- lest he risk having Al Sharpton amass a torch-wielding mob at NBC's front door before the opening credits of the 5 O'clock news even hit the air. Now, though, a different group is demanding satisfaction for what it feels is a personal slight, and, for starters, it wants that one ineffectual gesture aggrieved parties invariably want in times like this: a public apology. I'll never understand why an obviously insincere show of genuflection acts as some kind of panacea to the perpetually pissed-off, but a good rule of thumb is this: If someone's apology has to be demanded, he or she probably doesn't really mean it. When you look at it like this, suspending Shuster is probably justified since he knows exactly what he said and meant every word of it -- making any apology an act of ass-kissing theater. Still, factor in the comical twist that Shuster's official reprimand is being self-righteously administered by NBC News President Steve Capus -- the same man who tied himself in an ethical slipknot on national television last year to justify his network's shameful decision to air the video manifesto of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho -- and you have to wonder what's really wrong over there at 30 Rock.
Maybe Shuster got off easy.
He gets to spend some time away from the Clintons and the peacock for awhile.