November 18, 2013
Martin Bashire
Martin Bashir, in 2007 (Nick Ut/Associated Press)

At the top of his MSNBC show today, Martin Bashir unleashed an apology so contrite, so complete that it sounded as if his job was riding on it.

The offense for which he was making amends took place on his show Friday. Bashir was looking to debunk a comparison that Sarah Palin had made between public debt and slavery. It was idiotic on its face, but Bashir wanted to explain just why, so he presented some research exploring the full barbarism of slavery.

He cited the diaries of one Thomas Thistlewood, who took “copious notes” for nearly 40 years about his experiences overseeing slaves on the island of Jamaica. Referring to the “cruelty and brutality” of Thistlewood’s regime, Bashir recounted how he once punished a slave who’d been caught “eating canes,” by requiring another slave to defecate into the mouth of the transgressor. In another incident, a slave was forced to urinate into the eyes and mouth of another.

Point made, right? With those incidents, Bashir had exposed just how ridiculous was Palin’s parallel. Mission accomplished.

Until, that is, he decided to channel the ways of the oppressor. He piled on: “When Ms. Palin invokes slavery, she doesn’t just prove her rank ignorance, she confirms that if anyone truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood, then she would be the outstanding candidate.”

With those words, Bashir managed to accomplish a mammoth fail: matching Palin’s offensive statement and point of view with his own offensive statement and point of view. The weekend apparently afforded the cable host whatever time and space were necessary to reach that very conclusion. He apologized to Palin herself, to her friends, family, her supporters, MSNBC viewers and “anyone who may have heard what I said.”

Further: “My words were wholly unacceptable. They were neither accurate nor fair. They were unworthy of anyone who would claim to have an interest in politics, and they have brought shame upon my friends and colleagues at this network, none of whom were responsible for the things that I said and at a place where we try every day to elevate political discourse.”

Except last Friday, that is.

As full-voiced apologies go, Bashir’s belongs in the same league with that of Ed Schultz, who in 2011 apologized on MSNBC’s air for having called Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on his radio show. “I am deeply sorry, and I apologize,” said Schultz. “It was wrong, uncalled for and I recognize the severity of what I said.”

The vile suggestion that Palin be treated like a slave is tough to tease out from the pressures of cable TV. Given how much blather fills the airwaves these days, it’s hard to get noticed with the same old Bashir segments decrying Republicans and cheering for the Obama administration and progressive causes. One way to stick out is to step over the line.

At the same time, there’s something Palin-centric about Bashir’s outrage. The former Alaska governor made a patently dumb remark, one that teed up a choice for him: laugh it off in a satirical segment; or treat it like a serious piece of statecraft worthy of a tightly edited rebuttal. He chose the latter and was losing even before he stepped in it.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.