MSNBC Caves and Fires Twitterer, But Is the Mess Really That Person’s Fault?

I was going to attach this to the end of my earlier post on this subject but I think it might deserve its own spot for the sake of posterity. You already know that MSNBC drew the wrath of Reince Priebus this morning, who threatened a Republican boycott against the network for a tweet it fired off yesterday that offended the right. You also already know that Priebus demanded an official apology not simply from MS in general but from Phil Griffin personally. You may even know that, in a display of steely resolve not seen since the 38-minute Anglo-Zanzibar war, Griffin caved to Priebus’s demands faster than you can say, “Thank you, sir, may I have another.” All of this — this absurd Kabuki of feigned indignation from the right and servile submission from the ostensible left — is painful enough. But as it turns out, somebody lost a job over it.

Because publicly kissing Priebus’s ass apparently just wasn’t enough, Phil Griffin has also provided him with a head. He claims to have fired the person responsible for the offending tweet, which, if it’s true, is infuriating for a whole host of reasons. The main one is this, and it goes to what I wrote about earlier: You can’t claim to be an opinionated left-leaning network and then fire someone for essentially giving you exactly what you’re asking for. There’s little doubt that whatever the behind-the-scenes culture is at MSNBC these days, the person running the official Twitter feed for the network yesterday felt that saying what he or she said would be acceptable by its standards. And why shouldn’t this person think that? MSNBC has positioned itself as a network with fierce views and a willingness to air them — Griffin even said so in his apology to Priebus, further adding to the sense of discomfiture — and as it turns out most of those views are liberal. To tout yourself as this and then shit-can someone who crosses the line you yourself can’t clearly define isn’t just unethical, it’s practically sociopathic.

Unless this person had a history of screwing up, it’s impossible not to see him or her as a hapless victim. It’s like the movie scene where a bunch of people in a group make a rude crack, each one worse than the last, and it finally gets around to the one guy who says something that draws a, “Hey! Not cool!” from everybody else. As I said earlier today, MSNBC is trying so hard to have it both ways — to be a serious news network that honors the classic pedigree of the NBC News mothership and a fiery separate entity that isn’t afraid to instigate from the left — that producing television there must be an exercise in constant confusion. Will erring on the side of caution put you on management’s bad side for being too tame? Will taking a mild shot at the political faction many of your hosts rail against daily put you on management’s bad side for being too opinionated? It’s not possible to simply use good common sense when the schizophrenia runs that deep.

And it’s created a chaotic mess. MSNBC executive producer and really good guy Rich Stockwell is supposedly in charge of looking over scripts at the network before they hit air in the wake of the Martin Bashir debacle last November. Is MS now going to have to appoint someone to oversee the Twitter feed as well? Is the problem that there are too many children at the network who need adult supervision? Or is the problem the adults themselves, with the children simply having no earthly idea how to please them?