By Cash Michaels
Last weekend, MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris Perry refused to do her weekend morning show on the network, protesting the fact that she felt her bosses had been disrespectful to her and her program. In effect, MHP drew a line in the sand and said “Enough.” Two days later, MSNBC, obviously stung by the public rebuke of one of its brightest, young stars, made it known that the relationship was irreparable, and that it was indeed parting ways with her.
There are several ways to look at this, and quite frankly, if MHP wasn’t an informative television commentator whose show could always be counted on to deal honestly with black community issues I wouldn’t be dealing with it all. But first, here are some excerpts from MHP to her staff. Her show had been preempted for the two weekends prior because of the primaries, so MHP was not pleased with her on-air situation. Again, she was scheduled to go on, but was now refusing to:
Some unknown decision-maker, presumably [NBC News Pres.] Andy Lack or [MSNBC Pres.] Phil Griffin, has added my name to this spreadsheet, but nothing has changed in the posture of the MSNBC leadership team toward me or toward our show. Putting me on air seems to be a decision being made solely to save face because there is a growing chorus of questions from our viewers about my notable absence from MSNBC coverage… However, I am not willing to appear on air in order to quell concerns about the disappearance of our show and our voice.
Here is the reality: our show was taken—without comment or discussion or notice—in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.
The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.
Undoubtedly, television nurtures the egos of those of us who find ourselves in front of bright lights and big cameras. I am sure ego is informing my own pain in this moment, but there is a level of professional decency, respect, and communication that has been denied this show for years. And the utter insulting absurdity of the past few weeks exceeds anything I can countenance.
I have stayed in the same hotels where MSNBC has been broadcasting in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina, yet I have been shut out from coverage. I have a PhD in political science and have taught American voting and elections at some of the nation’s top universities for nearly two decades, yet I have been deemed less worthy to weigh in than relative novices and certified liars. I have hosted a weekly program on this network for four years and contributed to election coverage on this network for nearly eight years, but no one on the third floor has even returned an email, called me, or initiated or responded to any communication of any kind from me for nearly a month. It is profoundly hurtful to realize that I work for people who find my considerable expertise and editorial judgment valueless to the coverage they are creating.
While MSNBC may believe that I am worthless, I know better. I know who I am. I know why MHP Show is unique and valuable. I will not sell short myself or this show. I am not hungry for empty airtime. I care only about substantive, meaningful, and autonomous work. When we can do that, I will return—not a moment earlier. I am deeply sorry for the ways that this decision makes life harder for all of you. You mean more to me than you can imagine.
My thoughts? First of all, this email clearly indicates that there has been a steady diet of either miscommunication, or no communication at all between MHP and the brass at MSNBC for some time, and the recent change of direction at the liberal-leaning cable network only made it worse.
Some facts you may not like – the MHP show on MSNBC was owned by MSNBC, not MHP. She did not produce it under a separate production company. It was produced under the auspices of MSNBC/NBC News, so while she hosted it and apparently had editorial control, MHP did not own it.
I don’t present that to excuse MSNBC’s behavior, but rather shed light on it. As far as they were concerned, MHP gave them four hours of programming on Saturday and Sunday mornings targeted specifically, but not exclusively, to its African-American audience. They were four hours they could spare, as far as MSNBC was concerned, until they needed them back for something they considered more important.
The presidential election was considered more important.
Now, beyond the tone of MHP’s email, I have no idea what the true gist of her relationship with MSNBC brass was. I suspect it was not bad – bad, but wasn’t all that healthy either. That tells me that when it came to important decisions, MHP was really not seen as part of the team. Her show, beyond whatever cursory value it apparently had to the network given its weekend status, really wasn’t seen as something MSNBC considered important.
That’s not a message you want to send to someone like MHP. She is an extraordinarily gifted black intellectual. She is an accomplished professor of political science at Wake Forest University, a published author and in-demand lecturer. Indeed, she is considered part of black leadership, and respected as such.
So MHP isn’t just another weekend TV personality. She IS somebody who used her weekend show to help inform and enlighten her audience, giving them important perspectives they really couldn’t get elsewhere.
MHP is a professional, and expected to be treated as such. Television is a business of egos, so this should not have been anything new for the suits at MSNBC to deal with. But apparently, in their quest to improve ratings at any cost, the suits there saw MHP as a lower priority than some of their stars like Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews or Chris Hayes.
Part of this is natural in the TV business, but it’s also quite stupid. Recognizing your network’s talent, and giving them opportunities to shine and contribute, should be basic common sense.
Now MSNBC has egg on its face. MHP is gone and MSNBC is hard-pressed to explain it. It is a loss, and we so hope that MHP is able to find another weekly avenue to share her unique black perspective. Lord knows that she will be missed.
Make sure you tune in every Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. for my talk radio show, ”Make It Happen” on Power 750 WAUG-AM, or online at www.waug-network.com. And read more about my thoughts and opinions exclusively at my blog, ‘The Cash Roc” (http://thecashroc.blogspot.com/2011/01/cash-roc-begins.html).
Cash in the Apple – honored as the Best Column Writing of 2006 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Columnist Cash Michaels was also honored by the NNPA for Best Feature Story Journalist of 2009, and was the recipient of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP’s President’s Award for Media Excellence in Sept. 2011.
Until next week, keep a smile on your face, GOD in your heart, and The Wilmington Journal in your life. Bye, bye.