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Boycott or Not, MSNBC Can't Have It Both Ways (Updated)

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Updated Below

Maybe you've heard but MSNBC is once again taking crap for something it said. This morning, impossibly named RNC Chairman Reince Priebus announced that the GOP would begin a boycott of the network in response to a tweet fired off from its official Twitter account yesterday. The offending tweet suggested that conservatives would dislike a new Cheerios ad that features a biracial family. And that's putting it mildly. It's since been deleted -- as if that ever works -- but it read as follows:

Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/biracial family.

Priebus, immediately sensing something he could feign self-righteous outrage over, demanded an apology from MSNBC -- and of course MSNBC, being what it is, complied without hesitation. That's not good enough for Priebus, though -- not when there's mileage to be gained from a horseshit controversy that once again stokes the right's perpetually inflamed persecution gland. He's demanding a personal apology from Phil Griffin and says he'll discourage Republican leaders, personalities and strategists from making appearances on the network until he gets one.

We can have our political disagreements with MSNBC, but using biracial families to launch petty and ridiculous political attacks is low, even by MSNBC’s standards. It only coarsens our political discourse.

MSNBC hosts—including Alec Baldwin, Martin Bashir, Melissa Harris-Perry, Alex Wagner, and Ronan Farrow just to name a few—have had a troubling streak in the last several weeks of making comments that belittle and demean Americans without furthering any thoughtful dialogue. Perhaps it’s time for the executives at MSNBC to consider whether their network is upholding a meaningful journalistic mission.

This is more than just a tweet or an offhand comment. This is part of a pattern of behavior that has gotten markedly worse, and until Phil Griffin personally apologizes and takes corrective action, we cannot be part of this network’s toxic programming.

I am confident that he will want to “lean forward” and prove to the American people that he does not condone this behavior. I look forward to his apology and corrective action.

And so we do this stupid, tiresome dance again, with the right pretending to be hurt and angry, its fragile sensibilities having been offended, and the left being shamed into submission with staggering ease.

Here was MSNBC's tweeted apologia:

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It would be easy to run down the dozens and dozens and dozens of times that Fox News, the media arm of the Republican party, has voiced or written something undeniably offensive and has done so with a schoolyard bully's expectation of impunity. It would also be easy to demonstrate the ways in which MSNBC's tweet might be perceived as correct. But the more interesting story here is what MSNBC's constant need to express remorse for even flirting with the same kind of language you regularly find at Fox News says about the network.

The issue is that MS is trying to have it both ways. It's trying to engage in a street fight with Fox News and conservatives while also keeping its hands unbloodied. It wants to take a side but still remain true to the tenets of honest journalism, which are antithetical to taking a side. The problem is something I've written about before, which is that despite its occasionally combative progressive tone and urge to meet its enemies on their own terms, MSNBC still has to answer to the NBC mothership, which is insistent on balance and objectivity to a fault. NBC is so dedicated to the notion of being unbiased that it will proudly behave as if all political stories have two equal sides, essentially turning its journalists into little more than stenographers dutifully reporting the conventional wisdom of whichever side of the aisle they happen to be assigned to — and despite going way out on a limb over the past couple of years MSNBC has had to at least nominally toe that company line because to not do so would hurt NBC News’s reputation as a whole.

MSNBC is a subsidiary of NBC; Fox News is a subsidiary of Roger Ailes, and he's a ruthless, unscrupulous son-of-a-bitch who isn't bound in any way by the rules and morals that govern MS. That's why MS can't go up against him and the right unless it's prepared to stop bringing a knife to a gunfight. It's like Colonel Kurtz at the end of Apocalypse Now, where he speaks with both revulsion and awe of the willingness of the enemy to cut off the arms of children to achieve its goals. "It's judgment that defeats us," he says. Exactly. It's judgment that defeats the left and MSNBC over and over again. A desire to be both vicious and moral.

Guys like Reince Priebus and Roger Ailes will continue to get the better of MSNBC as long as MS continues to pretend that it isn't what it claims to and wants so badly to be: a ferocious and truthful adversary of conservatives and their media bullhorns. This isn't even to say that it's necessarily a good idea for MSNBC to take this tack and to be that kind of news outlet; I've said before that I'm not sure that's where MSNBC should be headed. But one thing is for sure: As long as MSNBC keeps backing down when it gets called out by people who can score political points by doing so, it's always going to lose. It's always going to look weak.

Update: And, right on schedule, MSNBC has fired the person who sent the tweet and Phil Griffin has groveled before Priebus.

"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."

The "S" in MSNBC apparently stands for "suckers."