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MSNBC 'Imus'es Schuster For Chelsea Gaffe

7 years ago
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Keith Olbermann reported, very gravely, that MSNBC had suspended David Shuster for what the Countdown host called "an utterly innappropriate and indefensible thing to say."

This incident has echoes of last year's Don Imus kerfuffle. In fact, there seems to be a direct corollary between Imus' dismissal from MSNBC and Shuster's suspension, a sort of "See, we're SUPER-fair."

There are several problems with this, which I'll get into after the jump, including what GOP Presidential nominee John McCain had to say about a then-18 year-old Chelsea and how decency only seems to punish the truly decent.

But first, I have a Special Comment for you, Keith Olbermann (or, to avoid trademark entanglements, a Unique Utterance): Although I have the utmost respect for your work, you are an ass for throwing Shuster under the bus to try and retain your own credibility with people who hate you. Context matters, Keith. You, of all people, should know this, as your specialty is providing context that is missing from other newscasts. Shame on you, sir, for not coming to Shuster's defense.

Here's Keith's announcement:
Update: See end of story. Politico has Email exchange between Shuster and a Clinton press secretary.
What do you think of David Shuster's remark about Chelsea Clinton?
He stepped way over the line, the suspension was appropriate.636 (30.8%)
It was inappropriate, but we know what he meant. An apology was enough.788 (38.2%)
Shuster has nothing to apologize for, it was a legitimate rhetorical flourish.522 (25.3%)
It was the worst thing I've ever heard. He should be banished to radio.118 (5.7%)

I'm not done with you by a damn sight, Keith. Unfortunately, it is precisely because you do such a creditable job of pointing out hypocrisy that your own lapses into it are so glaring. Shuster's remark was innappropriate, for sure, but far from indefensible or worthy of suspension. In context, the remark was meant to convey a cynical use of a personal relationship for political purposes. He was clearly not calling Chelsea a prostitute, or implying that she is equipped with spinning chrome rims and a plasma TV in her headrest. For a guy who prizes nuance, you seem to have taken a narrow view of Shuster's unfortunate word choice.

Should he have been suspended? I don't think so. A profuse and unqualified apology would, I think, have sufficed. Chelsea Clinton seems like a good sport, if this clip is any indication. Of course, that would have allowed critics of MSNBC, such as your nemesis, Bill O'Reilly, to make hay out of your firing of Don Imus, as if they were the same thing. So, you sacrificed your friend in exchange for retention of your high horse.

And what of the Imus firing? Again, his remark was far more offensive in its content and its intent, but as mild as baby shampoo compared to the bile that is SOP from other hosts and pundits. Then, there's your colleague, Chris Matthews, who was cited in detail by Media Matters for a steady stream of misogynist, anti-Hillary commentary for which he, to his slight credit, issued an apology before continuing it unabated. You tolerate misogynistic substance from Matthews, yet condemn Shuster for the distorted appearance of misogyny where there is none.

Then, there's John McCain. Crooks and Liars has this:

John McCain made this odious joke about Chelsea Clinton back in '98. Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno." – Sen. John McCain, speaking to a Republican dinner, June 1998.

Not only is McCain's hideous attempt at humor about 10 times more tasteless than what Shuster said (as the David Corn article notes, newspapers that reported on the joke wouldn't even print it), but while the newsman's ill-conceived comment was at least spontaneous, McCain's joke was a prepared remark to a public audience.
I include this, not because it makes Shuster's comments any less wrong, but to illustrate how decency is punished. John McCain, and the Republican Party, have long since given up on any pretense of sensitivity, indeed making their lack of same almost a point of pride. Consequently, they are free to say anything they like, because they have no bar to meet.

It is high time that the media, to the extent that it polices itself, began to do so based on ideas, and not words.

Update: Politico has the full email exchange between Shuster and Clinton Press Secretary Philippe Reines. You can see clearly that Shuster is defending the substance of his remarks while making them crystal clear. I am a little disappointed in the Clinton campaign for pressing the "Gotcha!" aspect here rather than just acknowledging Shuster's real point and telling him he ought to have rephrased it.

Reines' assertion that Shuster should have called the campaign for comment about Chelsea is a little bit ridiculous. The Clinton campaign never has a comment on anything that you couldn't just read out of a press release. It's a very "on message" organization.

I do think that Hillary has a point in threatening to refuse a debate on MSNBC based on the totality of their coverage, particularly Chris Matthews, but then to accept a debate on Fox News? That dog, as they say, don't hunt. In her letter to MSNBC, it is clear that she is demanding that they change their ways in the macro, but there also seems to be a call for Shuster to be fired. MSNBC needs to stand up for their reporter.
Filed Under: Gaffes, Media, Featured Stories

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