After then-MSNBC host Martin Bashir in November made his famously nasty comments about Sarah Palin on the network’s air, MSNBC President Phil Griffin kept a fairly low profile. He watched as Bashir issued a convincing apology on air, and he released a statement when Bashir later resigned under pressure from a sustained media backlash. When asked later about the criticism over his small profile on the issue, Griffin told the Erik Wemple Blog in December: “I’ve spoken about it and made it clear that I feel it was unfortunate but we’re moving on.”
Moving on, yes, to a fresh set of embarrassments in the new year. Critics are swarming the network over a prejudicial tweet over a Cheerios ad, not to mention an edgy tweet by MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow — and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has banned his staffers from appearing on MSNBC’s air until Griffin issues a public apology.
Priebus and Griffin have been trying to arrange a phone call today to discuss their issues, but it’s unclear exactly when it’ll take place. An RNC spokesman told the Erik Wemple Blog he’s not sure whether they’ll comment publicly on the call.
There was a time when prime-time players for the network caused the headaches for network management. Keith Olbermann would make a bunch of unsupported allegations about some Republican or get caught making political contributions. Or Ed Schultz would utter an unrepeatable claim on his radio show about conservative commentator Laura Ingraham.
Recent flare-ups come from just about everywhere except the people helming MSNBC’s regular prime-time lineup. Bashir was marooned at the 4:00 p.m. hour, in the midst of what BuzzFeed’s Dorsey Shaw calls “a super-dead zone.” Alec Baldwin was doing a weekly Friday night show when he said allegedly hateful things to a paparazzo. Melissa Harris-Perry’s misfiring discussion on Mitt Romney’s family occurred on her weekend show. And this latest firestorm surges not from prime time; not from non-prime time; but from the network’s Twitter feed. All that should be enough to enrage an expressive guy like Griffin.
And it has, according to two sources at the network. Griffin, says one of the sources, is as “angry” as his colleagues have seen him. In a meeting, he warned of serious and immediate repercussions and ripped the staff about the recent bout of stupid actions, according to the sources.
Lauren Skowronski, a spokeswoman for the network, e-mailed this statement: “What you’re hearing is an exaggeration but obviously this is a serious matter that’s being handled internally. Phil has spoken to his team to make it clear that these incidents are unacceptable.”
UPDATE: Griffin has put his name behind an apology that reads as follows:
“The tweet last night was outrageous and unacceptable. We immediately acknowledged that it was offensive and wrong, apologized, and deleted it. We have dismissed the person responsible for the tweet.
I personally apologize to Mr. Priebus and to everyone offended.
At MSNBC, we believe in passionate, strong debate about the issues and we invite voices from all sides to participate. That will never change. “
What a coup for Priebus and the RNC: By acting quickly and forcefully, they managed to get Griffin to include Priebus by name in the official MSNBC apology. Had only Griffin stamped his name to an apology early this morning, such a concession never would have been necessary.
Note, too, the wording in the apology regarding the firing: “We have dismissed the person responsible for the tweet.” It doesn’t say that they’ve dismissed the person who wrote the tweet, merely the person “responsible” for it. As argued earlier on the Erik Wemple Blog, “responsibility” for that tweet could well encompass many different folks at the network.