Freshly announced presidential candidate Ted Cruz has made news with his claim that he became a fan of country music after rock-and-roll music disappointed him with its response to the Sept. 11 attacks. The MSNBC afternoon program “Now with Alex Wagner” used Cruz’s music comments as the jumping-off point for a discussion among guest host Ari Melber, Joan Walsh, Michael Steele and Jamilah Lemieux.
“Nothing says ‘Let’s go kill some Muslims’ like country music,” said Lemieux in kicking off the festivities. The comment came off as something packaged, premeditated. While Walsh and Steele giggled, Melber remained stone-faced, vouching for the pluralism of the genre. “Well, but I mean, there’s plenty of country music that doesn’t have that message,” he said.
Moments later, Melber returned to the matter, telling viewers: “We have a programming note. A few minutes ago on this program, a guest made a comment about country music that was not appropriate, and we want to be clear this network does not condone it. ”
“Guest” is an important marker of distance for a cable news network; it signifies that, unlike “contributor,” the network has no contractual relationship with the person. In this case, that’s particularly convenient for MSNBC. We’ve asked MSNBC if it’ll continue inviting Lemieux on the air — her Web site describes her as a frequent guest, not to mention this: “writer, editor, feminist, mom, troublemaker, provocateur and proud millenial gamechanger.” It also identifies her as the senior digital editor for Ebony magazine.
Lemieux has also racked up a previous appearance on the Erik Wemple Blog, for a March 2014 episode in which she blasted away at Raffi Williams of the Republican National Committee on Twitter: “Oh great, here comes a White dude telling me how to do this Black thing. Pass.” Williams is black, turns out. Ebony apologized.
As we’ve written before, MSNBC has experience in making amends for bad moments on air. That experience stems from a tweet over a Cheerios ad, nasty and hateful comments about Sarah Palin, offensive remarks about Mitt Romney and so on. Handling self-made crises with appropriate contrition — it’s not something that MSNBC would want to stuff into a branding campaign, but it is a strength. Here, Melber not only refrained from laughing about the kill-Muslims joke; he also delivered a no-nonsense brushback almost in real time.