POLITICS
01/30/2014 02:24 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2014

MSNBC Tweet Has Republican National Committee Threatening To Say 'Cheerio' To Network

Win McNamee via Getty Images

An ill-considered tweet from MSNBC, which presented the network's view of a new Cheerios commercial as something that would draw "hate" from "the right wing," has earned the enmity of Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus.

Priebus, in a statement published Thursday on the RNC's website, is now threatening the network with a boycott if he does not receive some sort of personal apology, and probably the defenestration of whatever misbegotten social media editor is behind this flap.

The context for the shiny flare-up is a now-deleted tweet sent from MSNBC's main account at 8:06 p.m. Wednesday. It read: "Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awwww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family." Some hours later, came the inevitable, a tweet from MSNBC that stated: "Earlier, this account tweeted an offensive line about the new Cheerios ad. We deeply regret it. It does not reflect the position of msnbc." A later tweet announced that the offending tweet would be deleted, and offered another apology.

What was going on with MSNBC last night? One can only speculate. In all likelihood, whoever made the initial tweet about the Cheerios ad may have had an earlier story on their minds as they composed it. Back in June 2013, Cheerios put out a commercial featuring a mixed-race family, which took a dark turn after it drew "a host of ugly remarks online." The story drew national attention, so it's easy to see how one might recall the incident when a new Cheerios commercial with a similar theme becomes available.

And had MSNBC simply tweeted, "Maybe the racists will hate it..." this would have never evolved into a shooting war with the RNC, an organization that represents "the right wing" institutionally. But this is part of the new way we manufacture outrage by combing social media networks for ignorance and then blowing up the perpetrators as somehow representative of larger institutions. Were the people who decorated the YouTube clip of Cheerios' earlier advertisement "right wing?" Perhaps. Are those attitudes reflective of everyone who identifies as "right wing?" Nope! But this is all beside the point, which is that the people who left those comments -- even if they are indicative of a dark strain of racism in our society's anonymous corners -- are nobodies. They have no real importance. They represent no one.

Well, anyway, enter Reince Priebus:

While we understand MSNBC will go to great lengths to discredit Republicans and conservatives, this kind of attack on the millions of Americans who identify with the political right is offensive and unacceptable. Unfortunately, this tweet is just the latest in a pattern of poor statements by MSNBC and its hosts.

This morning I left a message with MSNBC President Phil Griffin to express my displeasure. I have sent him a letter demanding that he personally, as president of the network, take responsibility and apologize for the disgusting tweet. Until he takes internal corrective action and personally apologizes—not just to the RNC but to all right-of-center Americans—I’m banning all RNC staff from appearing on, associating with, or booking any RNC surrogates on MSNBC.

As an elected official, strategist, or surrogate, I’m asking for you to agree to the same.

We can have our political disagreements with MSNBC, but using biracial families to launch petty and ridiculous political attacks is low, even by MSNBC’s standards. It only coarsens our political discourse.

MSNBC hosts—including Alec Baldwin, Martin Bashir, Melissa Harris-Perry, Alex Wagner, and Ronan Farrow just to name a few—have had a troubling streak in the last several weeks of making comments that belittle and demean Americans without furthering any thoughtful dialogue. Perhaps it’s time for the executives at MSNBC to consider whether their network is upholding a meaningful journalistic mission.

This is more than just a tweet or an offhand comment. This is part of a pattern of behavior that has gotten markedly worse, and until Phil Griffin personally apologizes and takes corrective action, we cannot be part of this network’s toxic programming.

I am confident that he will want to “lean forward” and prove to the American people that he does not condone this behavior. I look forward to his apology and corrective action.

Naturally, there are parts of Priebus' response that are too clever by half. It's nice that he's only lightly wounded at the notion that someone out there is going to "lengths to discredit Republicans and conservatives," because part of his job is to go to lengths to discredit Democrats and liberals. I suppose that it's very useful, though, that Priebus has specifically demarcated "using biracial families to launch petty and ridiculous political attacks" as something that's "low." (Here's a prominent Republican, by the way, using biracial families to launch petty and ridiculous political attack.)

That said, the network's recent troubles, cited by Priebus, provide some momentum. Chances are, he'll get that personal call from Phil Griffin. Let's not hedge: The apology is earned, as is the disciplining of whoever sent this tweet in the first place.

To his credit, Priebus can point to a recent decision to confront and police his own -- calling for the resignation of virulently anti-gay and anti-Muslim Michigan committeeman Dave Agema. If he's serious about raising the discourse, though, might I recommend he tell his members to stop palling around with the Duck Dynasty guys? One might say that's become something of a "pattern of behavior that has gotten markedly worse."

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