MSNBC’s Cinco de Mayo controversy and when morning show antics go wrong

Way Too Early

It’s not easy being a morning show — bleary-eyed viewers want the news, but ideally, some lighthearted entertainment as well. (Why do you think the cheery “Good Morning America” has become such a huge success?) Unfortunately, sometimes programs take that idea way too far, and things go horribly wrong.

See: On MSNBC Monday morning, “Way Too Early” (airing weekdays at 5:30 a.m.) celebrated Cinco de Mayo on its show in a way that offended pretty much everyone, and the network was forced to apologize. (Tequila, sombreros and maracas were prominently involved.)

In case you missed it, the show kicked things off with host Thomas Roberts shaking a maraca: “Welcome to ‘Way too Early,’ the show that loves Cinco de Mayo…even though we only speak Spanish un poco,” he said, and told viewers to make a drinking game out of it: “We’re going to work on that throughout the show. And we want you to take a shot of tequila every time we talk about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”

Later, reporter Louis Burgdorf sported a sombrero and wished everyone a “Happy Cinco de Mayo” and pretended to take a swig out of a shot glass: “Let me just take a shot to get things started.” Buzzfeed chronicled more dancing and tequila-drinking.

The outrage on the Internet was quick; National Association of Hispanic Journalists president Hugo Balta was appalled at this “planned segment,” and said in a statement: “This is simply the worst example I have seen of a discriminatory stereotypical portrayal of any community by any media. The fact that this was done by a news organization is abominable.”

MSNBC said there will be an apology on Wednesday morning’s show (see below for an update), and released an apologetic statement as well: “On Monday, Cinco De Mayo, ‘Way Too Early’ made sarcastic references to the way some Americans celebrate the holiday. It was not our intention to be disrespectful and we sincerely apologize for the ill-advised references.”

While we wait to see if there’s any fallout, this appears to be a prime example of what can happen when a morning show is trying way too hard to be fun — and obviously, it was a terrible plan for MSNBC anchors to behave this way while the screen says “Mexican Heritage Celebration.”

The other morning talk shows are all about experimenting with wacky segments — both “Today” and “Good Morning America” send its anchors dancing across the stage frequently, which is both a source of delight and entertainment to its staff. (Did David Gregory really want to dance to “Gangnam Style”?)

In the end, it’s understandable why another show, particularly one that needs ratings extremely early in the morning, wanted to try to shake things up. But this is an unfortunate lesson to keep in mind that the line is very, very thin between what is actually entertaining and what is a terrible idea.

UPDATE, Wednesday:

On Wednesday morning’s show, Roberts offered the following:

On Monday, Cino de Mayo, “Way Too Early” made sarcastic references to the way some Americans celebrate the holiday. And it was not our intention to be disrespectful, and we sincerely apologize for those references. You know, after 20 years in this business, anyone who knows me knows where I stand on diversity and inclusion, so to those I let down or feel betrayed, I hear you, and I’m sorry. We want to go over to Louis now…and I know you are contrite as as well.

Burgdorf appeared on screen. “Thomas, I wanted to express my sincere apologies as well,” he said. “It truly was never my attention to offend anybody and if I did — and I know I did — I’m very sorry.”

Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle
Next Story
Chris Richards · May 6