Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik had some harsh words for MSNBC and NBC News Sunday in the wake of Martin Bashir’s vile comments about former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
After accusing MSNBC of debasing “our civic and political conversation on cable TV,” Zurawik asked Fox News MediaBuzz host Howard Kurtz, “Where are people like Tom Brokaw and Chuck Todd who claim to speak for NBC News and the brand? Why haven't they called Bashir out and the lack of punishment for him?” (video follows with transcript and commentary):
DAVID ZURAWIK, TV CRITIC, BALTIMORE SUN: That's part of the larger problem here, that the mainstream media isn't more upset about this. You know, I've been complaining about the, the way our civic and political conversation on cable TV is debased. And MSNBC has led that drive in a calculated way because they have no journalistic function. They have no reportorial infrastructure anymore for business reasons.
And once you go down the road they have gone down of nothing but hosts sitting in front of a camera doing opinion, you have to keep turning it up and turning it up and turning it up and being more and more extreme. And this is what we got. And no one cares. That's what’s outrageous. Whatever you care about, whatever you feel about Sarah Palin doesn't matter. The conversation of democracy, you can't have this kind of stuff going on.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Right. Let me just briefly mention that she had likened the national debt to slavery. A lot of people found that comparison offensive. Absolutely fair game to criticize her. Sarah Palin addressed this this morning on Fox News Sunday. And there's an implicit contrast here with MSNBC's handling of Alex Baldwin, who shouted an anti-gay slur, or he disputes that, but that’s the allegation, at a photographer. Not on the air. Outside his New York apartment, and was suspended for a couple of weeks. And insiders tell me he may never come back to that network. Let's take a listen to the former governor on Fox News Sunday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN: As for the network's condoning those types of statements because there's been no punishment of the fellow who said these words, that's hypocrisy. That's a given though when a conservative woman says something that they take offense. They usually just kind of poo-poo it, laugh it off, it's no big deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Alright, brief comment from each of you. David Zurawik, double standard for conservative women as Sarah Palin puts it?
ZURAWIK: I think there is some of that, Howie, but the real question are where are people like Tom Brokaw and Chuck Todd who claim to speak for NBC News and the brand? Why haven't they called Bashir out and the lack of punishment for him?
KURTZ: Joe Concha?
JOE CONCHA, MEDIAITE: Very good point, David. I think ultimately the pressure will come from NBC News on this one, particularly someone like Matt Lauer who lost his Palin interview. He was going to go to Wasilla. That’s a big ratings get for Today who’s battling Good Morning America. They've been getting beat by them a lot lately. And that's a difference maker there to get Palin up in Wasilla. So, the fact that Lauer lost that interview, I'm sure that he is griping about this internally, and maybe that's where the pressure is going to come from - not so much from outside news organizations that have completely dropped the ball on this, Howie.
KURTZ: Right. I reported that Palin had cancelled that interview as a protest against NBC not taking actions against Bashir.
As neither Concha nor Kurtz answered Zurawik's question, I will: because the people at NBC News and MSNBC don't view Sarah Palin as someone they should defend, and likely feel doing so would harm their brand.
Before MSNBC took its perilous left turn in the previous decade, most people would have said CBS News was the most liberal of the television news outlets.
However, there's no question that MSNBC and NBC have taken over that mantle, and they want to do nothing that might interfere with that perception.
As such, there are a number of conservatives - for example: Palin, former Vice President Dick Cheney, conservative talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) - that you're allowed to say anything about with total impunity.
Even if Brokaw or Todd felt Bashir's comments crossed the line, they know they can't say anything about it because the vast majority of MSNBC viewers agree with Bashir's comments.
To them, MSNBC isn't debasing the civic and political discourse. People such as Palin are, and there aren't things vile enough to say about her or them in response.
Concha, Kurtz, and Zurawik are fabulous media critics, but I'm not sure they understand the rabid nature of those that regularly watch MSNBC who want to see people such as Palin attacked as viciously and as often as possible. That's one of the reasons they watch folks such as Bashir, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Al Sharpton.
To a certain extent, MSNBC viewers are like hockey fans that only go to or watch NHL games to see the fighting. The folks at NBC and MSNBC INCLUDING Brokaw and Todd are aware of this, and they aren't going to do anything to reduce the hostility on their network.
Quite the contrary, it wouldn't surprise me if these kinds of attacks become more frequent.
As Zurawik said, "[O]nce you go down the road they have gone down of nothing but hosts sitting in front of a camera doing opinion, you have to keep turning it up and turning it up and turning it up and being more and more extreme."
Sadly, that's indeed the case making it almost a metaphysical certitude that we're going to see even worse comments about conservatives than what was recently said about Palin.
The funny thing is these folks consider themselves to be the civil intellectuals and we're the brutish miscreants.
Amazing, isn't it?