A couple of months ago, MSNBC launched “The Cycle,” a group-discussion news show. The idea was to give viewers a rollicking, intelligent dialogue each weekday afternoon. Executive Producer Steve Friedman told Huffington Post: “What people are interested in is listening and watching people give their take.”
If only “The Cycle” had honored its founding principles on Friday afternoon. What an opportunity lay before its cast of four: On Thursday afternoon, co-host Touré had provoked considerable discussion when he accused the campaign of Mitt Romney of a social crime. After running tape of Romney calling the Obama presidency and re-election campaign “angry,” Touré concluded that the Romney people were playing up “angry black man” stereotypes. Ever the provocateur, he charged that the observation amounted to the “niggerization” of Obama.
And he couldn’t have been shocked by the response: a mix of outrage and righteous support on the Internet, plus an angry Romney campaign that raised the issue with MSNBC. An ideal cable-TV storm, in other words.
So how much time did “The Cycle” devote to this topic in its Friday show? Twelve seconds — which Touré used to say the following:
On yesterday’s show, in a discussion about the presidential race, I used a word to make a point. In retrospect, I muddied the discussion by using the ”N-word.’ I could have made my point without that word. I shouldn’t have used it, and for that I’m sorry. We’ll be right back.
Right back, indeed, with segments on education, Mormons and shark attacks — essentially anything, that is, except the racial issue that ”The Cycle” had raised the day before. Touré’s apology itself was buried at the back end of a segment with a comedian, creating an awkward scenario in which a bunch of light-hearted ribbing gave way to a sober monologuito about the N-word. A challenge: Poke around on “The Cycle” Web site and try to find the apology.
An intent to run and hide — not to inform — came through in Touré’s words. They were vague and fast, referencing a “discussion about the presidential race.” If you hadn’t been briefed on the Touré-Romney controversy, you wouldn’t have known what discussion the guy had muddied in the first place.
The whole day at the offices of “The Cycle” appeared dedicated to dodging the issue. In the video below, posted on the show’s Web site before air time, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts and co-host Steve Kornacki get to talking. Roberts asks Kornacki: “Is there really evidence to call the president angry, though, Steve?” (See 5:57 in the video). Kornacki: “I do think this is a stretch for them, and I think it’s potentially a miscalculation.” As if briefed on boundaries, the guys kept the discussion from going racial.
MSNBC officialdom isn’t talking about why it ran away from a controversy it had deliberately raised; it denied a request for comment.. Repeated e-mail requests to Touré didn’t fetch a response. The last attempt was worded this way: “One last try: Please!!!???”
Nor is the Romney campaign — duh — facilitating discussion of the matter. It declined to answer questions about whatever objections it voiced to MSNBC. Mediaite reported Friday that the campaign was taking its case to NBC News President Steve Capus, but an MSNBC spokesperson said later that such a consultation didn’t take place.
An NBC source tells the Erik Wemple blog that “there was some informal communication with the political unit on this — but no formal complaint or anything like that.” “Informal” here, I’m guessing, means off the record, the better to prevent the network from repeating the campaign’s position, and the better to keep Touré’s revisiting of the issue as brief and quiet as possible.
Just what did Romney’s people say to turn MSNBC from the brave network of “Lean Forward” to the shark-attack-highlighting practitioners of “Grovel Backwards”? And what did MSNBC management say to get all of the alleged intelligent dialoguers of “The Cycle” to go mum?