(by James Rucker, Cofounder of ColorOfChange.org)
I had a great conversation with Dylan Ratigan last week to discuss Andrew Breitbart's recent appearance on his show, and why he would host someone who has a clear history of race-baiting and deceit.
As you may know, ColorOfChange members led the charge to ensure that Breitbart's credibility and image weren't sanitized by ABC News or the Huffington Post. After we saw Breitbart on Ratigan's show, with Ratigan seemingly praising Breitbart as "smart" and a "sharp shooter who gets results," we were deeply concerned.
When I spoke with Ratigan, he explained what he was trying to do. He quickly agreed that Breitbart was a race-baiter, dishonest, and undeserving of credibility -- without question. And he frankly hadn't thought about the legitimizing effect that having Breitbart on his show -- without clearly labeling him as the race-baiter and deceiver he is -- would have.
Ratigan's core issue is exposing the corruptive nature of corporate dollars in politics (which I, and many ColorOfChange members would agree is a critical and important endeavor). Ratigan's goal in interviewing Breitbart was to ask him why he chose targets like Sherrod or the NAACP, while Breitbart and the Tea Party activists he defends seems to agree that banks and corporations with undue influence over government are actually the ones destroying our country. It's an important criticism of Breitbart. Ratigan's goal was to keep the conversation there, and he believed that if he focused on Breitbart's penchant for race-baiting and deception, it would simply trigger Breitbart, and he'd end up in the same conversation others have where Breitbart goes on a rampage and the cconversation goes nowhere.
Moving forward, Ratigan said that if he deals with Breitbart at all in the future, it will be with the explicit disclaimer that Breibart is someone who deceives and race-baits. Ratigan recognizes and respects the argument that there's a problem with giving Breitbart a mainstream platform, and he's committed to making sure that his show is not used to lend Breitbart the appearance of legitimacy and credibility.
When I reached out to leadership at MSNBC, they were also receptive to our concerns -- here's what Jeremy Gaines, a spokesperson for MSNBC submitted to me when going on the record:
James, I understand and appreciate your concerns. Our goal is to ensure that our network has a high standard of integrity and that guests whose integrity or credibility may be in question are presented as such. You might notice that the next time Breitbart appeared on our network, the following day, Martin Bashir held Breitbart's feet to the fire and engaged in a line of questioning that brought to light the specific issues of Breitbart's integrity and credibility which I understand to be your concern.
Gaines was careful in his formal statement but the sentiment from the conversation was clear and it's reflected in his words. Gaines agreed that MSNBC has a responsibility around presenting guests of questionable integrity as such. He then holds up Bashir as a presumed way to correct what happened on Ratigan's show, saying it helped "[bring] to light the specific issues of Breitbart's integrity and credibility which I understand to be your concern." While Bashir's line of questioning was helpful, Breitbart shouldn't have even been on his show in our view. But it's clear what MSNBC was trying to do. Given my conversations, the writing is on the wall. I think it's quite likely you won't see Breitbart on any show of MSNBC's again, without some pretty clear disclaimers that the guy is a liar and a race-baiter.
At ColorOfChange, we had been contemplating a campaign to demand that MSNBC stop treating Breibart as a credible commentator. Breitbart's appearance on Ratigan's show seemed to be another case of a mainstream news organization lending Breitbart legitimacy -- and thousands of ColorOfChange members have taken action in the past to stop this from happening at ABC and Huffington Post. But in this case, when we reached out to Ratigan and MSNBC, they responded quickly and indicated they would not treat Breitbart as legitimate in the future.
We'll be keeping our eyes open to see how MSNBC deals with Breitbart moving forward. But while I still believe it was a mistake for MSNBC to host Breitbart in the first place, Ratigan and his producers deserve credit for being receptive to our concerns, agreeing with our assessment of Breitbart, and committing to treat him as the liar and race-baiter that he is.