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As Melissa Harris-Perry walks off MSNBC show, speculation erupts on Twitter

MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry sent an e-mail to staffers of her show on Friday, informing them that she had no intention of going on the air as scheduled Saturday morning.

For weeks, her regular weekend show, she wrote, had been preempted by election coverage, raising questions from viewers and media critics about her absence. What’s more, she added, “Social media has noted the dramatic change in editorial tone and racial composition of MSNBC’s on-air coverage.”

“Here is the reality,” she continued. “Our show was taken — without comment or discussion or notice — in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.

The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head.”

Harris-Perry specifically cited Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News, and Phil Griffin, MSNBC president, as the decision-makers she held responsible for the decision to sideline her show in recent weeks. Harris-Perry suggested in her email that she was only put back on the schedule this weekend to prevent the chorus expressing concerns about the show’s absence from growing louder.

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In a statement, MSNBC representatives wrote that, “In this exciting and unpredictable presidential primary season, many of our daytime programs have been temporarily upended by breaking political coverage, including MHP.” The network added that Harris-Perry’s email was “really surprising, confusing and disappointing.”

In an interview with the New York Times on Friday, Harris-Perry said,  “I don’t know if there is a personal racial component. I don’t think anyone is doing something mean to me because I’m a black person.”

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Yet speculation about race immediately bubbled to the surface. Harris-Perry’s show often tackled race-related issues — discussing Beyoncé’s “Formation” video on Superbowl Sunday and the racial and gender implication of the movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

And when two black female anchors, Tamron Hall and Joy Reid, appeared on MSNBC Saturday morning, they came under attack from Twitter users suggesting they weren’t showing loyalty to Harris-Perry. Harris-Perry quickly came to their defense.

Harris-Perry, who is also a professor at Wake-Forest University, said in her Friday email to staff that she was more than qualified to host campaign coverage on her show.

“I have stayed in the same hotels where MSNBC has been broadcasting in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina, yet I have been shut out from coverage. I have a PhD in political science and have taught American voting and elections at some of the nation’s top universities for nearly two decades, yet I have been deemed less worthy to weigh in than relative novices and certified liars. I have hosted a weekly program on this network for four years and contributed to election coverage on this network for nearly eight years, but no one on the third floor has even returned an email, called me, or initiated or responded to any communication of any kind from me for nearly a month. It is profoundly hurtful to realize that I work for people who find my considerable expertise and editorial judgment valueless to the coverage they are creating.”

It’s unclear what the future holds for Harris-Perry and her show. Representatives of the network did not immediately return calls or emails requesting further comment. Nor did Harris-Perry. But in the concluding paragraph of her email to staffers, she wrote, “I will not sell short myself or this show. I am not hungry for empty airtime. I care only about substantive, meaningful, and autonomous work. When we can do that, I will return — not a moment earlier.”