Frequent MSNBC contributor Anthea Butler, Professor of Religious Studies and Graduate Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, went off on the network and Joe Scarborough in particular Wednesday morning. She called MSNBC an "evil empire," and compared Scarborough to Bull Connor, while vowing never to appear on Morning Joe:
While Butler's ire was directed at Scarborough's overall Michael Brown/Tamir Rice oeuvre, there was one especially egregious Morning Joe moment in which Scarborough just pulled facts out of the thin air between his ears:
"There's another story in Cleveland where a young boy tragically was shot dead. Police officers got a 911 call, he was waving a gun scaring the blank out of everybody in this public park. Police officers came up, stopped, shot the young boy. He was 12 years old. They had taken off the markings to make it look like a toy gun. It was an actual gun. Do you know what The New York Times put in the captio nf the video? 'Police officers shoot child with toy.'
"I don't know exactly who puts those, attaches those, we are doing such a grave disservice to police officers in this country by pushing a narrative that they are going around looking to shoot and kill black people. Somebody has to tell me, something somebody needs to tell me why Michael Brown has been chosen as the face of black oppression."
There's so much wrong with that minute of video, it's hard to know where to start, so let's go chronologically. The 911 caller told the police dispatcher that the gun was "probably fake," and of course, the gun wasn't an actual gun, it was a toy pellet gun whose orange cap had been removed, and no one is saying that police are "going around looking to shoot and kill black people," just that they are a hell of a lot quicker to shoot black people than white people. That's just a fact -- 21 times quicker.
Finally, and more broadly applicable to the media at large, Michael Brown wasn't chosen to be the face of black oppression, he was shot into it. Butler's ire at Scarborough is understandable, but there is a broader trend developing among some white commentators at MSNBC to succumb to this "perfect victim" narrative, and the white backlash against Michael Brown. On Up with Steve Kornacki this weekend, there was this jaw-dropping exchange in which contributor Mike Pesca warned protesters against championing Brown because he's "really not the perfect victim," and when conservative columnist Robert George brought up the story of John Crawford, who was shot dead at an Ohio Walmart, listen to what Jonathan Alter said:
"But that was an accident."
Wait, what? There is video of the John Crawford shooting, he didn't just trip into a bullet. So, if you're keeping track, Mike brown is an "imperfect victim" because only 16 witnesses and the cop who shot him said his hands were up, but not the guy who was 100 yards away and wasn't sure what he remembered. Tamir Rice is an "imperfect victim" because Joe Scarborough thinks a real gun was modified to look like a toy gun. John Crawford is an "imperfect victim" because oops.
Then, on Meet The Press, conservative commentator Rich Lowey effectively broke an MSNBC-heavy panel with a stream of douchiness in which he declared that all the "credible evidence" suggests Brown deserved to die because he "rob(bed) a convenience store," tried to "take a policeman's gun," and didn't stop when he was told to. The panel crashed in a verbal heap before Eugene Robinson could (rather weakly) point out that the facts are still in dispute, when Chuck Todd stepped in to tell Lowry he was obviously out of order, factually. Or not:
"And Michael Brown is not Trayvon Martin."
I hate to break it to you, Chuck (and Joe Scarborough, who also reminisced about Trayvon Martin's superior victim status), but Trayvon Martin wasn't Trayvon Martin, either. Not the way you're thinking of him. Trayvon's killer got off, too, all of which proves that they are all perfect victims. That's the point. There will always be enough people willing to believe that a black person was scary enough to kill.
The nighttime hosts on MSNBC has done a great job of keeping the focus on the protests, and the travesty of the Ferguson grand jury, but even on their own network, everyone else is writing Brown off as a not-perfect-enough victim to rally around. In the late twentieth century, it was the "Jackie Robinson effect," then it was "twice as good, half as much," but Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford may be ushering in a new era: half as scary, just as dead.