Mitt Romney (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) Mitt Romney (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In a chat with colleague Gail Collins, David Brooks of the New York Times made this observation:

I do remain mystified by why cable TV is so politics obsessed. When I write a political column, it gets, let’s say, an average reaction of 7 on the response scale. When I write something about values or culture, it gets a reaction of 14. Yet on cable TV hardly anyone is talking about values and culture.

That content analysis provides a nice framework for cable news’ end-of-year spat, in which MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and guests on her show took a close look at a family picture of Mitt and Ann Romney along with their grandchildren. Perched on a knee of the former presidential candidate was Kieran Romney, the adopted African American grandson of Mitt. Harris-Perry’s guests turned the sweet picture into a political moment. Pia Glenn broke out in song: “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t the same.” Another guest, Dean Obeidallah, drew a line between the picture and diversity in the Republican Party.

After outrage surged over the segment — boosted by Sarah Palin’s judgment that it represented a “new low” — Harris-Perry unleashed some very good apologies, both on air and on Twitter:



In an appearance on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday, Romney accepted the apology: “I recognize that people make mistakes and the folks at MSNBC made a big mistake. They’ve apologized for it. That’s all you can ask for. I am going to move on from that. I am sure they want to move on from it.”

A classy response.

The whole flare-up, moreover, signals just how politics does indeed trump all else on the cable airwaves, or at least on MSNBC. In a recent immersive look at MSNBC’s dayside programming, the Erik Wemple Blog found a massive obsession with all things political and partisan. Perhaps that’s the sensibility that informed the reaction to the Romney picture. Whatever motivated the reaction, it made clear that Romney needs to work harder to get a fair shake on MSNBC. Yes, it’s fair to hammer him for his peripatetic positions on major political issues; yes, it’s fair to hammer him for being a poor presidential candidate; yes, it’s fair to question whether he can be in touch with average Americans in light of the car elevator thing.

But Romney as a family man? It’s here that the former Massachusetts governor has reason to expect a little credit now and then, even on MSNBC. In their book “The Real Romney,” Michael Kranish and Scott Helman put the matter in few words: “It seems that everyone who has known him has a tale of his altruism, whether it’s quietly funding a charitable cause or helping build a playground to honor the late son of a friend and neighbor. And he is an authentically devoted husband and father, commitments often honored by politicians more in the breach than in fact.”