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Opinion Joy Reid’s super-bizarro non-apology

Joy Reid attends the premiere of “Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story” during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
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Thirty seconds would have done the trick. Joy Reid, the MSNBC host who offensively characterized the Muslim world on Monday night, could have faced the camera and regretted the way she’d framed the matter. Then she could have moved on.

Instead of such a graceful dispatch, however, the episode on Wednesday’s edition of “The ReidOut” received the cable-news version of “The Twilight Zone.” Two guests came on to discuss Reid’s missteps, and the host — in the best tradition of Bill O’Reilly — displayed her mastery of the almost-apology. “I guess the way that I framed it obviously did not work,” said Reid, in a segment where she was joined by Newsweek editor-at-large Naveed Jamali and Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

No, it did not work. As discussed here, Reid, in her Monday night program, said:

When leaders, let’s say in the Muslim world, talk a lot of violent talk and encourage their supporters to be willing to commit violence, including on their own bodies, in order to win against whoever they decide is the enemy, we in the U.S. media describe that as, ‘They are radicalizing those people,’ particularly when they’re radicalizing young people. That’s how we talk about the way Muslims act. When you see what Donald Trump is doing, is that any different from what we describe as radicalizing people?

The parallel that Reid was seeking to draw — that there is a double standard vis-a-vis Islamic terrorism v. White terrorism — was a righteous one. The problem was that she stereotyped the Muslim world en route to her point. In a tweet, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called it an example of “casual Islamophobia,” and many others took umbrage, suggesting that Reid would do well to apologize.

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What they got instead was a monument to the U.S. media’s legendary inability to admit wrongdoing. Teeing up the issue, Reid unspooled an analysis that contradicted the simplistic characterization of Monday evening. “For decades, America’s Muslim community has endured blanket portrayals that focus on only one thing, not their families or individual achievements, or even anything about Islam,” she said. “Nope. Just one thing: terrorism. Particularly after 9/11, profiling became a near American obsession for anybody brown, God forbid with a beard or a headscarf. Whether they were Muslim or not, traveling through an airport could be hell.… To be clear, the vast majority of the more than 1 billion Muslims on the planet and the millions in this country are decidedly unradical, everyday people just living their lives, when they’re not getting profiled by the NYPD or banned by the Trump administration."

Then she reprised her point about the double standard, noting that when “when White Christians are radicalized, we don’t react the same way.” Addressing the backlash to her Monday comments, Reid said some of the reaction was in bad faith, but not all of it: “Some of the conversation reflected the genuine feelings of people who have been subjected to the kind of stereotyping that I just described, and who take matters like this to heart because of it,” she said. “And we should all be sensitive to that. And I certainly should have been sensitive to that.”

That kinda-sorta half-apology didn’t much impress the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which tweeted:

The balance of the presentation was cringeworthy: Reid replayed her offensive comments and slipped into a self-punditry role: “Not exactly the most artful way of asking that question, obviously, based on the reaction,” she said. Then she asked Jamali, who was also on Monday night, to “contextualize” the matter. He responded by essentially recapping his previous argument, about the double standard.

Mogahed complimented Reid on her past treatment of Muslims on MSNBC and supported the comparison between Muslim radicalization and White radicalization. As for Reid’s comments: “The way that it came — the way that it landed, and the way that it was heard by some people, and many people, in fact,” said Mogahed, “was unintentionally saying that Muslims were inherently violent or that Muslim society, the way Muslims act is violent. And though that was not your intention, it is important to correct that notion for your millions of viewers.”

That was something. A friendly guest on “The ReidOut” delivered a brain scan of the host, on live television. By the end of the segment, the two appeared to have switched places:

MOGAHED: Joy, fair coverage is important for democracy overall. It’s not just about how Muslims are portrayed. It’s about informing the public and getting them the facts.
REID: Indeed.

Shouldn’t Reid have been the one to deliver the wrap-up lesson about the media, as part of a mea culpa?


  • We know that Joy Reid can apologize; she did so two years ago, after reporters outed old homophobic posts that she’d written on a blog. Perhaps she decided that her remarks painting the Muslim world as a criminal syndicate didn’t warrant remorse. We’ve asked MSNBC whether management urged a mea culpa. But cable TV hosts are celebrities — stars, even. And if they want to do a segment that prolongs their own agony, they’re apparently entitled to do so.
  • Panel discussions, as a general principle, are tedious affairs. One of the reasons that Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News does so well with viewers is that he has abjured these monsters in favor of rip-roaring and offensive monologues or one-on-one chats. The multilateral talk format is particularly awkward when the host is trying to clean up a mess. That job falls to you, not to your guests.
  • Moments of offense on the cable news airwaves turn into full-blown crises at headquarters. Twitter mentions are flyspecked; PR folks are mobilized, as are exterior allies; statements are drafted, deleted, edited and perhaps released. But research demonstrates that these crises double as opportunities. Fifty-one percent of U.S. adults, according to a study by the Pew Research Center released earlier this week, feel more confident in a news organization when it issues an “official correction.”

No word on how folks react to an “unofficial correction via guest proxy,” which describes what Reid orchestrated on Wednesday night.

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