MSNBC, the cable news network that in recent months parted ways with Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashir, started the New Year with one of its weekend hosts, Melissa Harris-Perry, apologizing for making racially insensitive remarks during her last show of 2013. A Drudge Report link certainly got the ball rolling, but several days later the controversy seems only to have grown larger as competitors like CNN and the Fox News Channel have weighed in multiple times and Twitter and other social media continue to spread news of the MSNBC segment.
The segment had Harris-Perry showing newsworthy photos of 2013 to a panel and asking them to come up with clever captions. The one photo that didn't include an image of President Barack Obama was a Mitt Romney Christmas card that featured a photo of the former Republican candidate for president surrounded by his wife and grandchildren. On his lap sat infant Kieran Romney, the adopted black son of one of Romney's sons.STORY: The Top 10 TV Stories of 2013
On seeing the photo, one panelist, actress Pia Glenn sang, "One of these things is not like the other ... and that little baby, front and center, would be the one," as Harris-Perry laughed. Another panelist, comedian Dean Obeidallah joked that the image "sums up the diversity of the Republican party." Harris-Perry cracked up the panel of four with the notion that Kieran could some day marry North West, the child of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. "Can you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?" she asked. See the segment below.
The rebuke from the right began soon after the Sunday show ended. "MSNBC racists mock Romney family for adopting a black child," read a headline at Gateway Pundit the next day. "We all saw media/left go after Sarah Palin's family. This attack on Mitt Romney's grandson is who these evil scumbags are," tweeted John Nolte of Breitbart.com. Investors Business Daily used the MSNBC segment as evidence that "the real bigots are on the left." Palin wrote on her Facebook page, "You really need a conscience, yellow journalists. May your 2014 New Year's Resolution be to find one. Thank you, Romney family, for giving a child a family full of love."
Gaining traction Thursday was a scathing rebuke from Charles Hurt in the Washington Times where he writes: "Since you, like most Americans, do not watch MSNBC and have never heard of these thuggish characters, I will describe what they did." He then belittles Harris-Perry as "a silly woman who apparently hosts a show on the network" and her panel as "Neanderthal guests."
National Review called Harris-Perry's comments "extraordinarily backward and hateful," and Crystal Wright noted at the Guardian that Harris-Perry has a white mother and black father, then derided her for "displaying the height of hypocrisy." Referring to Glenn singing "one of these things is not like the other," Wright wrote: "Imagine if an innocent black baby had been referred to as a 'thing' by Republicans. But since a liberal television show does it, we should accept it and move on?" Wright continued her assault Thursday night while a guest on Hannity on Fox News.PHOTOS: 18 Breakthrough Stars of 2013
Conservative talk radio has also been on the case, but perhaps the most sustained criticism has come from conservative actor Nick Searcy, who has an adopted son who is black and tweeted on Monday, "Yo Melissa! Mock me too!" Searcy followed with a barrage of tweets aimed at Harris-Perry and her panelists, including: "They ridicule transracial adoption because they are afraid the child won't hate whitey," and, "I'm not going to sit by & pretend it's not happening. She and her leftist drones hurt transracial adoption & society."
Harris-Perry has apologized via several tweets and an article at MSNBC.com. Glenn also addressed the controversy in tweets, and Obeidallah went into a lengthy explanation in an article at the Daily Beast, where he writes that he's disappointed Palin and others haven't leapt to his defense as they did with Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson after he was attacked for saying politically incorrect things during a GQ interview. In response to Obeidallah's piece, Howard Portnoy of the conservative NewsBusters penned an article headlined: "MSNBC 'comedian' slightly less of a jerk than Melissa Harris-Perry."
But MSNBC, which did not respond to a request for comment, is also taking heat from its not-so-conservative competitor CNN, which, in turn, is being attacked from the left.
On Wednesday, CNN ran a segment where journalist Fredricka Whitfield claimed that "some are calling for Melissa Harris-Perry to be fired," though the report was light on evidence that that, in fact, was the case. See the CNN video below.
At the left-wing PoliticsUSA, Jason Easley wrote that CNN ran what amounts to "a hit piece on Melissa Harris-Perry that is designed to get her fired." He added: "CNN's story was a deplorable piece of television that was intended to pander to the right, and prop up a scandal that is already dead."
Fox News, meanwhile, has mentioned the MSNBC segment numerous times on air and at its website. Liberal Fox News contributor Alan Colmes used his blog to defend the MSNBC crew because, as he saw it, they were mocking 3d christmas cards Republicans and not an innocent baby. But that was a minority view at Fox News, where even liberal Bob Beckel advised his competitors at MSNBC to "shut your mouth. Be happy that child's got a place to be. Be happy they've got a good place to live, some food on the table and they're being housed and clothed and given the kind of education they need."Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com