Following Melissa Harris-Perry's smear on Mitt Romney's adopted black grandson - the third in a series of recent high-profile faux pas by MSNBC hosts - Fox News media analyst Howard Kurtz asked a question Friday whose answer appears to definitively be "Yes."
"[H]as the channel developed a culture in which harsh personal attacks are encouraged, or at least tolerated?"
Is there any doubt that this is being encouraged and has been since former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann started throwing flames at conservative targets in the previous decade?
Since that point, the format of "Shoot first, ask questions later" has moved throughout the network's primetime lineup as hosts seem to compete for who can be the most inflammatory.
Even worse, people such as Chris Matthews - who used to actually be quite a fine host when Hardball began in the '90s on CNBC - bear absolutely no resemblance to their prior on-air personas.
Although Kurtz wasn't willing to go this far, he did explain his position:
If there is a theme to these episodes, it is a view of Republicans and conservatives as so mean-spirited, hard-hearted and clueless that just about any rhetoric against them can be justified.
Thus we had the spectacle of Martin Bashir so reviling Sarah Palin that he not only called her a “dunce” and an “idiot” but prescribed for her an old slave treatment in which he said someone should defecate in her mouth.
What was striking to me was that MSNBC did nothing but issue a tepid statement until Bashir resigned under pressure nearly three weeks later. But he had a telling line in his apology, saying that “the politics of vitriol and destruction is a miserable place to be and a miserable person to become.”
Yet as NewsBusters reported after the incident, Bashir's comments regarding Palin though his worst were not that out of the ordinary for him.
I also wonder who Kurtz believes have "a view of Republicans and conservatives as so mean-spirited, hard-hearted and clueless that just about any rhetoric against them can be justified."
Is he speaking for MSNBC executives, hosts, or viewers?
Regardless of the answer, is that any way for a so-called "news" organization to structure itself?
As Kurtz noted, there have been other such episodes in the past:
Go back a bit further and there are more transgressions. Ed Schultz apologized for calling Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” and was suspended for a week. Chris Hayes said he was “uncomfortable” calling fallen soldiers “heroes” because that could be seen as justifying more war.
Kurtz even addressed how his own network has largely stayed away from such inflammatory vitriol in recent years:
I’m sure some folks are at this moment scrambling to dig up incendiary comments made on Fox, which shouldn’t be difficult. I’m not crazy about pundits calling their opponents idiots and liars. But not since Glenn Beck was branding Barack Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred” of white people has anything been at the Bashir level, and that was five years ago.
Indeed. This is why I abhor the false equivalency many on the left claim exists between Fox and MSNBC.
As NewsBusters reports on a daily basis, there's no comparison between the one-sided almost playground rhetoric on display at MSNBC and the more serious political discussions that ensue on FNC.
"With so many opinions being flung around," Kurtz observed, "perhaps there is subtle pressure to push the boundaries of acceptable commentary in an effort to break through the static."
That seems to be without question. In fact, Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik wrote last month:
[MSNBC president Phil Griffin is] as responsible as Bashir for this kind of hateful speech.
Under Griffin's leadership, MNSBC has become the leading proponent of such ideologically-charged, rabble-rousing rhetoric.
They don't do news at MSNBC any more. They just do propaganda. And you can only attack your ideological enemies so long before you find yourself in the realm of hate speech as Bashir did.
I hope this event will help Comcast come to understand how deeply Griffin and his cynical programming strategy have damaged the brand of NBC News and the network in general.
That was December 4.
As NewsBusters has reported, though not rising to the level of Bashir's disgusting comments, the inflammatory rhetoric at MSNBC has continued unabated.
Here are some examples:
Readers are advised that all of the above happened in December BEFORE Harris-Perry's comments about Romney's adopted grandson.
As such, it is quite clear that the answer to the question Kurtz posed early in his piece is a resounding "Yes."
Griffin and the folks at Comcast must be so proud.