Watch MSNBC Destroy Northam After ‘Terrible’ Press Conference; It’s ‘His Perry Mason Moment’

As part of the media-wide outrage at the racist yearbook photo and subsequent fallout involving Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D), Saturday afternoon’s MSNBC Live seemed unsure whether to laugh or be outraged at Northam’s press conference in which he denied being in the racist photo, admitted to wearing blackface that same year, and almost did the moonwalk.

Host Kendis Gibson set the tone, appearing exasperated at what had taken place, ruling that it was “a terrible attempt at damage control speaking for more than 40 minutes there at the executive mansion trying to explain away those controversial photo [sic] that came out yesterday from the medical school yearbook — racist photo.”

 

 

The National Urban League’s Marc Morial could be heard muttering “incredible,” adding that the Richmond presser was Northam’s “Perry Mason moment” as “he made it worse.”

A man with his own master’s degree in causing controversy, even Rev. Al Sharpton expressed disgust. Sharpton stated that “it was totally unacceptable that he did not resign and he made it worse,” especially when “he said I didn't do blackface here, I did blackface there.”

Eager to comment further, Morial unloaded and Gibson added a rather personal confession about how he dressed in high school (click “expand”):

MORIAL: But I also didn't feel any conviction, no feeling, no real sense of remorse. I felt words were being mouthed, a statement was being read. I heard a man....not credible at all. The reason why is, because he then admitted to wearing blackface for Michael Jackson which proves the point that there may have been a pattern to this at this point in time in his life. It wasn't believable. He should still resign and I think it was a bit clumsy in how he did it. I didn't feel — I didn't feel any remorse. I didn't feel any sense. I saw a man saying, “well I may have made mistakes. I'm not ready to ask for forgiveness, it was my responsibility to,” quote, “to try to keep the thing from being public.”

(....)

GIBSON: Joy, one of the things that stood out for me is he said he had to carefully examine this photo to be able to know that it was not him. He had friends carefully examine it and tell him that it's not him. I dressed up in drag in high school, I remember that I dressed up in drag. You remember what you dressed up in.

Though she later went on a rant about how Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum lost their elections in the south due to racism and “voter suppression,” AM Joy host Joy Reid still had some good takes earlier on.

Those sensible takes included notions that Northam’s entire press shop should lose their jobs for letting that disastrous press conference unfold and that Northam should have known better as he was 25 at the time (and in the military).

Regarding Northam’s admission that he wore blackface so he could dress up like Michael Jackson, Sharpton pointed out what should have been obvious to Northam, which is that one could still dress like Jackson with the glove and tight pants but not use blackface.

Sharpton also chose to invoke one of Jackson’s most famous songs not once but twice to reiterate that Northam should resign (click “expand”):

His motivation is he's trying to save his career and he's putting that over the interest of his party, of the state and of national politicians who have now said they're running for office....You've got to remember, he had every opportunity while he was running to come with even his Michael Jackson story to show I've grown. Charlottesville happened in the state he ran in. He had ample opportunity. He did not resign and in the words of Michael Jackson, I say he should Beat It.....I think that his using this excuse about Michael Jackson when there were literally tens of thousands, if not millions of kids that were imitating Michael that never used blackface showed his mentality. That was the year of Michael Jackson, year of Jesse Jackson, year of Bill Cosby....I think he further damaged himself and I repeat since he loves Michael, he should go back to the mansion and play Beat It and start packing. 

Somehow, Reid had the best summary to take away from the presser: “When your defense for accusations that you dressed up in blackface is, I dressed up in blackface — you cannot — just in a different photo, you cannot win the argument. This man needs to put his state and his party ahead of himself.”

Prior to thanking the panelists and going to commercial, Gibson offered a fitting summation of the previous hour: “Unbelievable.”

To see the relevant transcript from February 2's MSNBC Live with Kendis Gibson, click “expand.”

MSNBC Live with Kendis Gibson
February 2, 2019
3:22 p.m. Eastern

KENDIS GIBSON: There you have it. The governor of Virginia and what I must say seemed like a terrible attempt at damage control speaking for more than 40 minutes there at the executive mansion trying to explain away those controversial photo [sic] that came out yesterday from the medical school yearbook — racist photo. 

MARC MORIAL: Incredible.

GIBSON: He saying that was not him in the but, for me, the headline was he admitted that he's done blackface and that there might have been a nickname for him that involved — 

MORIAL: That — that is his Perry Mason moment. But he made it worse.

GIBSON: It did, so the panel is here — the panel’s with me. Joy Reid and my colleagues and reverend Al Sharpton as well as Marc Morial from the Urban League. Uh, weigh in. This was —

AL SHARPTON: I think that, first of all, it was totally unacceptable that he did not resign and he made it worse. He said I didn't do blackface here, I did blackface there and you must remember, as I said, I was in charge of community relations for Michael Jackson’s tour that year, '84. 

GIBSON: The victory tour. 

SHARPTON: The victory tour. In many cities, I remember distinctly in Knoxville, Tennessee, Michael was under threat because many whites were very upset that their children wanted to celebrate these black artists, these five Jackson boys, but he's saying in ‘84, I didn't do the picture in the ‘84 yearbook but I did the blackface on Michael Jackson in the same year. He's also saying I submitted three photos, but I never got my yearbook

GIBSON: But the fourth one was not the one with the blackface.

SHARTON: And I never got my yearbook. So, I mean, it was just too much.

GIBSON: But, Marc, what do you make of this? You listened to him. He didn't resign. 

MORIAL: But I also didn't feel any conviction, no feeling, no real sense of remorse. I felt words were being mouthed, a statement was being read. I heard a man — I made —

GIBSON: Was he believable? 

MORIAL: — not credible at all. The reason why is, because he then admitted to wearing blackface for Michael Jackson which proves the point that there may have been a pattern to this at this point in time in his life. It wasn't believable. He should still resign and I think it was a bit clumsy in how he did it. I didn't feel — I didn't feel any remorse. I didn't feel any sense. I saw a man saying, “well I may have made mistakes. I'm not ready to ask for forgiveness, it was my responsibility to,” quote, “to try to keep the thing from being public.”

GIBSON: Joy, one of the things that stood out for me is he said he had to carefully examine this photo to be able to know that it was not him. He had friends carefully examine it and tell him that it's not him. I dressed up in drag in high school, I remember that I dressed up in drag. You remember what you dressed up in. 

JOY REID: Yeah. So, just to look at it from the point of view of, you know, I’m not in politics anymore, but if I were still in political communications, my first step would be to fire every single person that works in his political communication shop. 

GIBSON: They did him a disservice. 

REID: Because what this boils down to, the headline tomorrow morning to use a Chris Matthews-ism is that he says, I didn't dress up in blackface this time, but the same year, I dressed up in blackface to lampoon Michael Jackson. Think about this just for a moment. We were talking about 1984. Somebody just texted me, Nell Carter’s show Give Me a Break did a huge episode on blackface in 1984. 

GIBSON: They did a blackface and they used the n-word in that episode. 

REID: And they did. The Bernie Goetz situation that Reverend Sharpton knows so much about was 1984.

GIBSON: Yeah, we’ve got some kids on the subway.

REID: You had the Jackson campaign but the biggest thing and we were talking about this during the break earlier, it really was Michael Jackson. As somebody who grew up in that era, who was a kid in that era, Michael Jackson kinda took over the world. Remember, he initially even wasn't allowed on MTV. This is not like a secondary artist. He had to search for his name for a moment.

(....)

3:27 p.m. Eastern

GIBSON: He went on to say removing black Polish is difficult and that he won that contest. 

SHARPTON: No, but I think what you must understand, because again I was on that tour —

GIBSON: The Victory Tour.

SHARPTON: — for Michael, is that young white kids all over the world dressed like Michael, none of them to our knowledge put on blackface. So why would you add blackface? That was not part of the Michael Jackson costume.

REID: And by the way —

SHARPTON: People were wearing the short pants up above the ankle like Michael and the white glove. He added blackface, which meant it was not foreign to him to do it. Why would you add something to the Michael Jackson costume? 

REID: — and the problem too is that his self-description is that — first of all, he wasn't a kid. He was 25. He was in the military as he described it. It's the same year as this photo, ‘84 that he says he did blackface. What it sounds to me just to me, just from a political communications point of view, is that he realizes that he's trying to get ahead of whatever the next thing is. 

SHARPTON: Yeah, somebody —

GIBSON: He did say there are no other photos out there. 

REID: Okay. That he knows of.

SHARPTON: That he knows of.

GIBSON: That he knows of.

SHARPTON: But it took him 30 years to see his yearbook, so how does he know —

GIBSON: Who takes 30 years to see their yearbook?

MORIAL: I also felt — I’ll you what else I felt. I’ll tell you what else I felt. He said I apologize for mistakes in my past and I continue to learn. See, there was no consistency here. Apologize for mistakes in my past means Michael Jackson and other things he may have done would be embarrassing to him from a racial perspective. Yet, yet, today he's the governor of Virginia and for the first time, he's acknowledging quote/unquote, these mistakes after he's been nailed by a photo that's come out. I found it not credible or believable. 

REID: The other issue is from a planned political perspective is what I saw in that press conference was a man who is prizing his own governorship. It's more important to him that he remain governor than that his state political party or that his national political party be made whole. He's placing his own interests first. 

MORIAL: And we should be talking about what’s next? What’s next?

GIBSON: What's his motivation? Yeah, because what is next? 

SHARPTON: His motivation is he's trying to save his career and he's putting that over the interest of his party, of the state and of national politicians who have now said they're running for office and they will not appear with him, presidential candidates. You've got to remember, he had every opportunity while he was running to come with even his Michael Jackson story to show I've grown. Charlottesville happened in the state he ran in. He had ample opportunity. He did not resign and in the words of Michael Jackson, I say he should beat it. 

GIBSON: Well, we do have — we should mention if he were to resign, there's a very attractive candidate or Lieutenant Governor there in Virginia, Justin Fairfax. He is 39 years old, married. He has a very, very successful career, did very well in the election when he ran with Northam there in 2017.

MORIAL: We had just about three weeks ago at a black — at a Martin Luther King Day event down in the Tidewater region, down in Hampton. He’s very popular. He has a great following. 

GIBSON: He has been silent. 

MORIAL: And I think for him to be silent because he would have to pick up the pieces and unite the state is the right thing for him to do, but now that the governor has not resigned it's going to be interesting to see how he will react, how others in Virginia politics will react and what the fallout will be because I think the pressure is going to continue to mount because his effort to control the fallout was not really effective today. So a lot to come and the question will also be, will there be an effort in the Virginia legislature to remove the governor? He could be impeached. There are provisions a lot like the federal Constitution, so I think it remains to be seen. 

GIBSON: Let me just remind folks that are just joining us here at the bottom of the hour at 3:30 Eastern time, 12:30 out West, we just watched the governor of Virginia, the current governor of Virginia, for how much longer who knows, talking there for about 43 minutes about that photo that was on his yearbook page when he was a 25-year-old back in 1984 showing someone in a hood and someone in a blackface. He said that it took him several hours to realize that he was neither of those people there that you see the photo's there. That you see the photos there. He did admit that he once painted black polish on his face as a tribute to Michael Jackson, the same year that this photo was posted and that someone may have called him Coonman as a nickname, of course, which dates back to the Jim Crow era.

(....)

3:33 p.m. Eastern

GIBSON: Joy, your final thoughts. 

REID: When your defense for accusations that you dressed up in blackface is, I dressed up in blackface —

GIBSON: Just not enough. 

REID: — you cannot — just in a different photo, you cannot win the argument. This man needs to put his state and his party ahead of himself. He could turn this around only one way by allowing Justin Fairfax to take over a state that is 10 percent almost African-American or 20 percent, sorry, African-American. 

GIBSON: He received 87 percent of the African-American vote. He counts on black folks there in Virginia. 

MORIAL: Two things to really hone in. Yesterday, he took responsibility. Today, he shirked responsibility. Yesterday, it was about the blackface and the Ku Klux Klan. Today, he admits he wore black for Michael Jackson. His defense is not credible. He has to resign. I think the pressure is going to build and I also think he put his own selfish interests a of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the people of the United States, not understanding context that we can and will not tolerate racist behavior in 2019. 

SHARPTON: I think that he must resign. If he does not, I think the Virginia legislature has a responsibility to remove him. I think that his using this excuse about Michael Jackson when there were literally tens of thousands, if not millions of kids that were imitating Michael that never used blackface showed his mentality. That was the year of Michael Jackson, year of Jesse Jackson, year of Bill Cosby. It was a cultural backlash against blacks and that was the only reason you add blackface to someone who everybody was accepting as a pop star. I think he further damaged himself and I repeat since he loves Michael, he should go back to the mansion and play Beat It and start packing. 

GIBSON: I got to tell you. Parts of it was comical and we do have to go to a break, but I was watching it. There's a visceral reaction of embarrassment for our country. 2019. I used to live in Northern Virginia, but this is the governor of Virginia, somebody who admitted to all of these things. 

REID: Yeah and literally the idea of a New South sort of died with the last election in which, you know, African-American aspirants to the governorship to Maryland and Florida and — and Georgia lost and in two of those cases in the worst way, with some of the nastiest, ugly and racial tactics, particularly in Florida and Georgia. Voter suppression, all of that happened this year. For the state that was the last hold-out — the last readout of the New South, to now have to deal with this, why this man would put that state through this a year ahead of what is for a lot of American the most important presidential election in our lifetime's, it is beyond selfish. He ought to really take some time to think about his state, his party, his constituents, including all of those African-Americans. He needs to just rethink. 

GIBSON: Alright. 

SHARPTON: You must add and quickly that even though he's saying he did not send the photo, if you were called Coonman, that was your nickname, whoever put it on there was consistent with the name that he had no problem being called. 

GIBSON: He said he didn't even know what that meant. 

MORIAL: And he didn’t — well —

GIBSON: Come on. 

MORIAL: Remember, that was in a separate —

GIBSON: I was born at night but not last night. 

MORIAL: — yearbook. That was a VMI yearbook. 

SHARPTON: That was a separate yearbook.

MORIAL: That was his other graduate book. So —

GIBSON: Unbelievable. Alright, our thanks to you, guys. We really appreciate you guys being here for this.


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