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The Cheerios ad and MSNBC’s apologetic pathology

MSNBC is now advancing its mastery of the apology. Here’s the network’s official Twitter account:

And here’s Executive Editor Richard Wolffe:

MSNBC can do what it likes with its tweets — delete them, leave them standing, whatever. The tweet in question here, however, will live forever on non-MSNBC platforms. Here it is:

That tweet linked to an story on the ad, which will air during Sunday’s Super Bowl. The piece concludes, “Forget the Seahawks and the Broncos: there may be another outcry, but most viewers are likely to declare this ad the Super Bowl winner.” That sentence originally came off a bit differently, according to this fellow:



The Cheerios ad is in the video at the top of this post; it features a biracial family in a very cute moment with a certain General Mills cereal right in the thick of things. It’s a sequel of sorts to another cute ad from last spring (see below) that spurred all manner of nasty YouTube comments that AdWeek characterized as “an endless flame war, with references to Nazis, ‘troglodytes’ and ‘racial genocide.'” Perhaps that particular backlash provided the grist for MSNBC’s tweet last night regarding the new ad. The Erik Wemple Blog has asked MSNBC for an explanation but hasn’t yet gotten one.

Whatever the explanation, there’s certainly no excuse. The tweet in question isn’t clever, helpful or fair. It’s a divisive piece of taunting nastiness driven by a worldview that MSNBC personalities have surfaced with great regularity in recent memory, always followed by excellent apologies. After then-MSNBC host Martin Bashir suggested that Sarah Palin be subjected to an excrement-related punishment visited upon slaves, he said, “My words were wholly unacceptable,” among other very contrite things. After short-lived MSNBC host Alec Baldwin allegedly shouted down a paparazzo with homophobic language, he said, “I did not intend to hurt or offend anyone with my choice of words, but clearly I have — and for that I am deeply sorry.” After host Melissa Harris-Perry presided over a segment that mocked Mitt Romney’s family over a photo featuring his adopted African-American grandson, the host said, among other things, “So without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family. Adults who enter into public life implicitly consent to having less privacy. But their families, and especially their children, should not be treated callously or thoughtlessly.”

And now this Cheerios thing. The string of offenses raises doubts about Wolffe’s claim that the tweet from last night doesn’t reflect “who we are at msnbc.” Rather, the tweet appears to a careful observer to define precisely what MSNBC is becoming: A place that offends and apologizes with equal vigor.

The Erik Wemple Blog supports media organizations that muster strong apologies. Too often, mistakes are followed by stonewalling and a failure to repent. Apologies can be an important measure of accountability. Yet this string of meae culpae suggests that the apology may be morphing into an enabling device for the network’s tendentious and divisive attitudes. Sometimes a bad tweet represents the errant and unrepresentative thoughts of some employee managing the social-media accounts. And sometimes it represents institutional morays mores and prejudices.