Has MSNBC heightened script scrutiny following Bashir screwup?

Rachel Maddow (Ali Goldstein/Associated Press)
Rachel Maddow (Ali Goldstein/Associated Press)

When then-MSNBC host Martin Bashir in November made his execrable remarks about Sarah Palin, commentators seized on a single aspect of the nastiness: It appeared to have been scripted. Bashir, who later resigned over the disaster, was clearly reading from prepared remarks aimed at rebuking Palin’s comparison of public debt to slavery. Premeditation, argued critics, was an aggravating factor in the episode.

The National Review Online’s Eliana Johnson today reports that MSNBC has moved to shore up its pre-air scrutiny. Network exec Rich Stockwell, reports Johnson, is “now” reviewing scripts before they get read to MSNBC’s audience. “The new step of having Rich Stockwell review scripts before they air is an attempt to impose order on the chaos reigning at the network,” writes Johnson. Stockwell has been with MSNBC since 1996.

MSNBC is telling a different story. “MSNBC has had an editorial and script review process in place since the network began in 1996,” notes a statement from MSNBC spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski. Okay, but is script review a new part of Stockwell’s portfolio?

“His job responsibilities have not changed,” responds Skowronski.

This is awkward. You can blame Bashir for Bashir’s outrageous comments; you can blame MSNBC’s left-leaning culture; you can even blame cable television. But a more exacting review of the scripts on that November afternoon would have saved Bashir’s job as well as averted a massive credibility crisis for MSNBC. Yet here is MSNBC fighting off a report that it has acted … like a rational and responsible news organization.

Now, perhaps MSNBC is just setting the record straight; maybe Stockwell, in fact, isn’t doing what National Review Online says he’s doing. Even if he isn’t, though, it makes a lot of sense that more resources at MSNBC would be shifted toward editorial vetting. When we asked Skowronski if there is such a plan underway, we didn’t get a response right away.

The other element of Johnson’s story is that Rachel Maddow, the brainiac prime-time star of MSNBC who writes a monthly column for The Post, is driving the network’s editorial and personnel decisions. To back up that claim, Johnson cites recent events at MSNBC along with “sources.” Which is to say, the contention isn’t terribly convincing. And MSNBC is contesting it as well: “The NRO story is absurd and full of inaccuracies from beginning to end. To start, Rachel has absolutely no role in network management decisions. Writing her show every night is more than enough work. She gladly leaves talent management to her bosses. We’re disappointed that the National Review would run a story with more anonymous, uninformed sources than you’d ever find on the gossip pages.”

Maddow has issued her own statement: “This is categorically false. I have never had any role in any management decision at MSNBC. Any source who says otherwise is wrong.”

UPDATE: Skowronski e-mails to indicate, “There have been no changes to our editorial process.”

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