MSNBC’s Capehart: Tolerance ‘Should Not Be a Two-Way Street’

Liberals often say they’re big on tolerance, but apparently tolerance must flow only one way – toward liberals and their favored identity groups. So says MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart.

Appearing as a guest on Monday’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Capehart rebuffed the idea that supporters of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL, should have to tolerate the views of those who don’t agree with Sam’s lifestyle. Capehart argued:

 

[T]olerance, no, is not – it should not be a two-way street. It's a one-way street. You cannot say to someone that who you are is wrong, an abomination, is horrible, get a room, and all of those other things that people said about Michael Sam, and not be forced -- not forced, but not be made to understand that what you're saying and what you're doing is wrong.
 

That’s the perfect encapsulation of liberalism – they will make you to understand that you are wrong and they are right. You will tolerate whoever they like, but as for you – tough luck. If you don’t share their “tolerant” beliefs, they will not tolerate you. Tolerance, in its true classical definition, is intolerable. Real "tolerance" according to Capehart, looks more like a posture of unquestioning acceptance and a self-imposed gag rule whereby social conservatives dare not say anything remotely critical of homosexuality.

But Capehart was surely surprised to find himself locked in a rare argument on The Last Word. That’s because the other guest, New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden, departed from MSNBC orthodoxy with a call for two-way tolerance. The typically liberal sportswriter offered:
 

I think that to deal with things openly there has to be an open back-and-forth dialogue. Tolerance can't just work one way. You can't just be one way, that anybody who speaks out... this cannot turn into a Gestapo-type situation where if you express discomfort with something, then you're cast as a homophobe and you're fined by the league. I think that there has to be a back-and-forth.
 

That was a good moment of sanity from Rhoden, who does not always think or speak this way. Just a few weeks ago, you may recall, he told NPR that every newsroom or stadium press box without a black journalist is essentially guilty of Donald Sterling-level racism.

Below is a transcript of the segment:


WILLIAM RHODEN, The New York Times: Yeah, there was a lot of kissing. No question about that. I was at Radio City Music Hall when it happened. And it was a stunning moment because again, this big linebacker, you know, and his boyfriend kissing. And I think it caught everybody off guard. Now people argue, well, what happened -- I'm not a big fan of it even when it's like, you know, the guy and his fiancé. I’m like, you know, okay, enough is enough. But I get it. This is a barrier that's been broken. We have to deal with it. One thing I would say is this, however. That when you are the first, okay? When you are the first, it can't be just a one-way street. I mean, you have to expect to get pushback. And there's going to be pushback. And –

ARI MELBER: What kind of pushback do you have to expect?

RHODEN: Well, what we saw on Twitter, you know? Now that was ignorant pushback. A lot of that was ignorant pushback. But we have the same problem about racism in this country. And it's interesting that as we speak now, we have two dynamic things going on. In the NBA they're dealing with racism. The NFL is now dealing with sexuality. And I think that to deal with things openly there has to be an open back-and-forth dialogue. Tolerance can't just work one way. You can't just be one way, that anybody who speaks out -- now, I think you can speak out a certain -- if you speak out of ignorance you can -- but I think that people -- this cannot turn into a Gestapo-type situation where if you express discomfort with something then you're cast as a homophobe and you're fined by the league. I think that there has to be a back-and-forth.

MELBER: So speaking of back and forth, let me go to Jonathan.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Okay. So what you're saying is that Michael Sam has to put up with people disrespecting who he is, that Michael Sam has to put up with people who don't like who he is and he just has to put up with it and take it? That's not--

RHODEN: As opposed to what? As opposed to what? I mean, this is the real world.

CAPEHART: But he’s supposed to – what you're saying is he's supposed to be silent. That he's supposed to stand silently by and let people disrespect –

RHODEN: I didn't say that. No, what I said, there has to be a national back-and-forth discourse. It can't just be a one-way thing that if anybody expresses discomfort then they're cast as a hom--

MELBER: Well, Bill, let me ask you  -- let me jump in and ask you a question because you're talking about discomfort. And I think I understand part of what you're saying, although we also have to be careful not to use euphemisms to make some of the so-called discomfort better than it is. Some of these players put up messages on the Internet saying they were disgusted by this, this is gross, this is wrong. Yes, we have an open public square.

RHODEN: Right.



MELBER: But haven't we learned something through these controversies of the past few weeks that it's helpful to have institutions assert responsibility and accountability?

RHODEN: Yeah. Again, there has to be an intelligent discussion. Going on Twitter and Instagram and being ignorant, whether you're talking about sexuality or racism, is not acceptable. But you have to be able to -- but this is new. I mean, this – it's not like this happens every day. This is a historic moment. All right? It's not like there's a precedent for this. There really is not a precedent for this.

MELBER: Jonathan?

CAPEHART: But hatred's not new. Bigotry's not new. Ignorance isn't new. And so when someone denigrates somebody else for who they are, it's not -- I understand you're saying that it has to be a two-way conversation. But tolerance, no, is not – it should not be a two-way street. It's a one-way street. You cannot say to someone that who you are is wrong, an abomination, is horrible, get a room, and all of those other things that people said about Michael Sam, and not be forced -- not forced, but not be made to understand that what you're saying and what you're doing is wrong.

MELBER: We're out of time. So briefly.

RHODEN: Your question, and I think it was an important question, is does he have to take it? All I'm saying is that when you are a pioneer, whether you're Jackie Robinson -- when you're a pioneer, there's a certain responsibility that's going to come with being a pioneer. A certain weight that you've got to carry.

CAPEHART: Right. That I get. But then the person who's doing -- who has the hate in their heart or the bigotry in their heart or the homophobia in their heart has to be made to see that the way they think and feel is wrong.

MELBER: Right. And I think that's an important point to pause on and also goes to whether we learned from Jackie Robinson. He endured a tremendous amount. As we go down this road, can we as a society stand up and actually ask people who are breaking barriers to endure less because they are doing the right thing? I mean, that’s also part of this. Jonathan Capehart and Bill Rhoden, thank you both for joining me tonight.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.