December 4, 2013
Martin Bashire
Martin Bashir, in 2007 (Nick Ut/Associated Press)

Conservative America just lost one of its talking points about left-leaning network MSNBC. For the past couple of weeks, the network’s critics have slammed it for a lack of accountability in l’affaire Martin Bashir, who on Nov. 15 made nasty comments suggesting how Sarah Palin, who had foolishly compared public debt to slavery, should be treated to a most horrific form of slave punishment: Defecation in mouth. In his next broadcast, Bashir apologized, but people wanted something more.

Today they got it. Bashir has resigned from the network, an occasion marked, as always, by dueling releases of boilerplate. From Bashir:

After making an on-air apology, I asked for permission to take some additional time out around the Thanksgiving holiday. Upon further reflection, and after meeting with the President of MSNBC, I have tendered my resignation. It is my sincere hope that all of my colleagues, at this special network, will be allowed to focus on the issues that matter without the distraction of myself or my ill-judged comments.
I deeply regret what was said, will endeavor to work hard at making constructive contributions in the future and will always have a deep appreciation for our viewers – who are the smartest, most compassionate and discerning of all television audiences. I would also wish to express deepest gratitude to my immediate colleagues, and our contributors, all of whom have given so much of themselves to our broadcast.

From MSNBC President Phil Griffin:

Martin Bashir resigned today, effective immediately. I understand his decision and I thank him for three great years with msnbc. Martin is a good man and respected colleague – we wish him only the best.

At Bashir’s usual 4:00 p.m. slot today, Joy-Ann Reid took over hosting duties, as she has done since Bashir went on his “pre-planned vacation” at the start of Thanksgiving week. Gone from the top of the screen is the “Martin Bashir” branding.

Its disappearance speaks to the inadequacy of apologies in a bloodthirsty medium. Here’s a portion of Bashir’s Nov. 18 mea culpa: “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.”

There was simply no way to puncture the thoroughness of the declaration. Bashir didn’t hedge, make excuses or somehow circumscribe the acts that warranted a show of remorse, as Rush Limbaugh so famously did back in 2012 in the Sandra Fluke controversy. That still wasn’t good enough. In an appearance on Fox News Sunday on Nov. 24, Palin herself chided the network for having failed to punish Bashir, even as she accepted his apology. “As for the network’s condoning those type of statements — ’cause there’s been no punishment of the fella who said these words — that’s hypocrisy. That’s a given, though, when a conservative woman says something that they take offense, they usually just kind of pooh-pooh it, laugh it off, it’s no big deal,” said Palin.

Bashir doesn’t appear to have succumbed to a three-strikes-and-you’re-out situation. As NewsBusters’ Noel Sheppard made clear in this post, the host never exactly elevated the standards of cable news, but nor did he compile a record of recent infractions on the magnitude of the Palin comment.

More like general mediocrity. Or tendentious mediocrity. At his 4:00 p.m. start, Bashir followed a number of MSNBC programs hosted by folks like Tamron Hall, Andrea Mitchell, Alex Wagner and Thomas Roberts: A progressive lineup, for sure, but one that didn’t lean so far forward as did Bashir.

Whatever standards of fairness those folks struggled to establish, Bashir generally failed to push into the next hour of programming. Most infuriating to the Erik Wemple Blog was that Bashir appeared to delight in a certain brand of interview, in which he’d ask a liberal (or some non-conservative) to guess what conservatives were thinking. Over many months of watching Bashir’s program, we’d occasionally drop a transcription of such moments into a tickle file, for use at some future moment. Since there’ll few discussions of Bashir in this space going forward, what better time to trot out some samples?

Sample No. 1: On Sept. 30, Bashir was chatting with Democratic Rep. Steve Israel:

Bashir: Why do people like [House Speaker John] Boehner and others like Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)……Why do they continue to act as if the American public is actually behind them when the polls generally show the exact opposite?

Steve Israel: Well, they keep saying, listen to the American people. What they really mean is, listen to our echo chamber…

Bashir: Isn’t there something, finally, sir, utterly reprehensible about an individual party that looks forward to throwing 12 million people off health care?

Not surprisingly, Israel responded that it was indeed reprehensible.

Sample No. 2: On Nov. 13, Bashir asked Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison: “I understand, sir, that the only thing that Republicans currently agree on is opposing the ACA, but when do they actually look beyond their pet project and do something that might actually benefit the country as a whole, like reforming the immigration system, which we all know will benefit the nation economically and in all other ways?”

Sample No. 3: On Sept. 18, Bashir put this question to the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page: “Clarence, why do Republicans…think that a debt ceiling fight that failed two years ago and contributed to the country’s downgraded credit rating — why would that work now? Why would that work this time around?”

Sample No. 4: On Oct. 14, Bashir queried MSNBC.com’s Irin Carmon: “Irin, you might think it couldn’t get any worse, but of course it does. One so-called protester even went to the White House and started waving around a confederate flag. What exactly is the message that they’re seeking to send the president?”

I don’t know, Mr. Bashir, why don’t you ask them?

This is the sort of broadcasting MSNBC will be missing from now on. Reid’s replacement show is already a massive improvement.

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