There’s a lot of bigger things to worry about (like Trump confessing to using the FBI to interfere with the vote count in Florida in 2018, and implicating DeSantis and Scott as he does so) but I wanted to post this here because since I put this story and much of this content in the Monday podcast, I’ve been trying to flesh it out all week - without success.
On the Friday before an election crucial to the safeguarding of democracy in this nation, MSNBC fired its most outspoken and most probably its bravest host because people at Fox News complained about her. There is no official explanation from the network, only anonymous leaks, and they are all sticking to the same story: Tiffany Cross wasn’t fired, her contract just ran out so they cancelled her show immediately. Even though it was virtually the only one showing any kind of ratings growth even as the network – and the cable news industry in whole – collapse around it. The timing was a coincidence? What timing? What coincidence? What’s Fox News? Who’s this Tiffany Cross?
And even more disturbing: though once, each of them stood and defied orders to keep their mouths shut when controversial steps were taken within MSNBC, none of the primetime hosts there has said a word about this or its simultaneous scandal at NBC News which re-lit the homophobic and brutal Paul Pelosi conspiracy theory. Where is the statement of protest about the firing of Tiffany Cross from Lawrence O’Donnell? Where is the anger from Chris Hayes? Where is the condemnation of a woman’s voice silenced from Alex Wagner? Where is the threat to walk out, to boycott, to quit, to stand up on principle from Rachel Maddow? If you’ve ever believed that the aging of MSNBC from a new organic venue for protest and perspective into an institutionalized profit center with high-priced hosts, the week since the Cross firing has done nothing to convince you you’re wrong. Where once we had principled outsiders rushing to a platform to express often dangerous positions, we now have seasoned television performers who will make sure they are seen in the easy fights, but when it is bad will draw a line and fight and protect one thing and one thing alone: their paychecks. We have the caged, de-clawed, gutless and entirely authorized, official opposition.
I mentioned the second scandal. Last Saturday, NBC News had to retract a story it put on the Today Show the morning before in which reporter Miguel Almaguer re-fueled the entire right wing conspiracy theory about the Trumpist terrorist attack on Paul Pelosi. Almaguer quoted an unnamed source who claimed Pelosi “didn’t flee or tell responding officers he was in distress.” It was entirely untrue. Almaguer simply took a right wing disinformation talking point and put it on national television even though it disagreed completely with the on-the-record police account. He might as well have been quoting Gateway Pundit. By the evening he had handed Tucker Carlson a headline: “NBC REVEALS EXPLOSIVE NEW DETAILS IN PELOSI ATTACK.”
Has Miguel Almaguer been fired? Has the vice president in charge of the TODAY Show Libby Leist been fired? Has the president of NBC News Noah Oppenheim been fired? Has the chairman of NBC News Cesar Conde been fired? Has the chairman of NBC Universal Jeff Shell been fired?
No. Tiffany Cross was fired.
Tiffany Cross was fired (or if you want to stick to the legalese, NBC let her contract lapse) because Tucker Carlson complained about her. And between her firing and the crackpot conspiracy theory The TODAY Show delivered - gift-wrapped - to Tucker Carlson, it is evident that right now the only discernible point of there being an NBC News and an MSNBC is to do Tucker Carlson’s work for him. And the faces of MSNBC – the people there who have made NBC more money in the last decade than NBC News has – have over a week said nothing about the firing of Tiffany Cross because she dared to anger the propaganda machine at Fox that would make Goebbels blush and dared to call a theocratic fascist on the Supreme Court what he is. Those same faces of MSNBC have said nothing about Almaguer and the Pelosi story (whether that was mere firing-level incompetence) or it was firing-level sabotage of the truth. Just as those faces of MSNBC have said nothing about the parade of election deniers and Trump cultists and other Republicans every week on Meet The Press while Chuck Todd does his best impression of Susan Collins and lets them spread their lies while he puts one finger to his lips and pouts pensively.
NBC News is doing the work of those who would end democracy in this country. On occasion they may be doing it inadvertently (it is possible Almaguer and the producers of the Today Show are just incompetent morons; god knows it’s happened before). But in throwing out Tiffany Cross they are not only silencing a valuable voice who might have become an essential one, but they are warning everybody else on the air at MSNBC: Yes this company has made a several billion dollars in profits in the 15 years since that old guy, what was name, Olberding or whatever, inadvertently made us the sole home of accurate and liberal and progressive news coverage and commentary and since he hired Maddow as his guest host and spun her off to her own show and then spun his new guest host O’Donnell off to his own show and then spun his new new guest host Hayes off to his own show and auditioned Wagner to be his guest host – they warned Maddow and O’Donnell and Hayes and Wagner and all the others: Sure we’ve made money and sure Tiffany Cross’s show was just about the only one on our network with any ratings growth, but we fired her (and we made sure that we leaked to The Washington Post that another African-American woman, MSNBC president Rashida Jones, was “heavily involved” in the decision) because she was controversial and NBC Universal cannot be controversial because fascists buy Comcast cable packages and Peacock subscriptions too and you could be next, and you have heard the responses of Maddow and Hayes and O’Donnell and Wagner.
Silence, — with just a barely perceptible vibration of fear in the background.
When asked on Comedy Central which state the Democrats could afford to lose, Tiffany Cross made a joke about the phallic shape of Florida and said “Let’s castrate Florida.” Last month she referred to Clarence Thomas as “Justice Pubic Hair on My Coke Can.” When Alyssa Farah, the former Trump propagandist, became a finalist to co-host “The View,” Cross called her a “tawdry turncoat Trump loyalist” and said she had ridden his “wave of open xenophobia and racism all the way to network television” and when the despicable Megyn Kelly – whom NBC is still paying off after foolishly hiring her in the belief she could bring fascist viewers to NBC – called her “the most racist person on television” Cross responded by calling Kelly “the blackface expert” because Kelly had defended blackface – ON NBC - as a Halloween costume. I would have been proud to have thought of saying any of those things on television. They are not just incisive and wounding and directed at the scum of the earth - they have the added benefit of being true.
And then Tucker Carlson devoted an entire segment to Tiffany Cross and suggested her commentary was likely to instigate an anti-white movement in this country akin to the genocide in Rwanda. If that prediction wasn’t so racist and so paranoid and so syphilitic in its thinking, it would be hilarious. Tucker Carlson suggested all the black people would rise up and kill us in our beds because of the woman who hosted two hours on MSNBC. Two hours on Saturdays. Two hours on Saturday mornings. But all NBC executives could see there was controversy – as opposed to truth. Tucker Carlson attacks truth. And at NBC, defending your own people or truth or the true victims of racism or democracy or America, is controversial. You can’t do that on our television. You will be quiet. You will be quiet, Alex Wagner. Chris Hayes. Lawrence O’Donnell. Rachel Maddow (And I have left MSNBC’s 7 PM host Joy Reid out of this because she at least said something on Friday night. It was personal and not professional. I wish it had been more. Compared to what the other hosts said, she is on the Mount Rushmore of putting yourself at just a little risk to speak out for what’s right).
And O’Donnell? I’m not surprised. Lawrence O’Donnell is a snake. He had been buried so deep by MSNBC that when he was pitched to me as the new guest host for Countdown after we finally got Rachel her own show in 2008, he no longer had a valid log-in to the in-house production computer. I was hesitant but hopeful. Then in February of 2010 I took about a four-week leave of absence because after seven months in the hospital my Dad was dying. Lawrence O’Donnell spent that four weeks trying to get me fired as the host of Countdown so he could replace me, and when that didn’t work he sweet-talked all of the producers to go with him to a new 10 P-M show and three or four of them actually went with him and one of them told me recently that anything I could think to do to her as revenge, Lawrence O’Donnell had already done it for me. If this seems familiar to you, it was part of the plot of the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin’s old HBO show Newsroom. How on earth could he have found out about a guest host taking advantage of the 8 PM host’s leave of absence to try to steal all the producers for his new 10 PM spinoff? Well, I was telling Sorkin about it by email in real time.
I don’t know what to think about the silence of Chris Hayes. I do not expect you to remember, but right after the 2010 elections I revealed I had donated to the campaigns of three Democrats who had received multiple death threats and as a result had had to spend excessively on security. The donations came literally after the last time I had covered each of them or even mentioned their names on the air (one of them was Gibby Giffords). The suspension, for violating NBC News Employee Guidelines, was overturned by the NBC lawyers when they explained to the then-news president that to save money they had written a contract that specifically and repeatedly stated that I was not an NBC News Employee. Even Fox News commentators thought it was ludicrous. As one said “Oh no, Olbermann is a Democrat? Who knew?” Before they were hoist on their own petard, NBC executives asked one person to fill-in for me Chris Hayes. To his eternal credit, he refused. Then again he did not have a multi-million-dollar contract with MSNBC then, did he? And he did not yet have a show that has been on for nine years without showing any kind of ratings growth. Or providing anything of substance. Like what he could provide by saying that what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong, and even if it is your own bosses doing the wrong thing – maybe because it is your own bosses – you have to stand up and say something. Even though he did this before.
As had Maddow.
On June 2, 2009, we were all summoned – all the primetime hosts, all the prime producers, everybody who was in New York – to the office of the president of NBC Jeff Zucker. For the only time in the 25 years I have known him, Zucker displayed agitation and panic and even some color in his face as he explained that the Chairman of our parent company GE, Jeff Immelt, was enraged. In response to our on-air criticisms of Fox News, Fox News was attacking GE and Immelt. And Bill O’Reilly was attacking GE and Immelt. And Immelt’s own mother, a Bill O’Reilly viewer, was attacking GE and him. And if he heard another word about Fox News on MSNBC or another word about himself on Fox News, he was going to take MSNBC off the air. Shut it down, fire everybody, pay off all the contracts. The three hundred million dollars in profits just wasn’t worth it.
And for a tense 40 minutes or so we worked out – mostly it was me and Zucker – what to do to keep that from happening. We would suspend all references to Fox News while we tried to keep our CEO who wasn’t really much of a businessman from turning off the lights. Two weeks, three weeks, some short period of time like that. And then Rachel Maddow – when her show was not quite nine months old – said “Excuse me. I will not have the content of my show dictated by any corporations, including the one I work for. And especially one I don’t work for. I’ll walk out first. I cannot have the audience wondering what else I have not told them. I don’t do a lot about Fox on my show, but if there is a story about Fox, I will not honor this freeze. I will report it, and if I’m prevented from doing so, I will leave.” Rachel Maddow threatened to quit. Over a matter of principle. I felt more than a little guilty that she had beaten me to it, but I was trying to change the plan from all of our shows being replaced by cartoons the same day, to giving a little window in which we could all prevent that from happening, before we had to walk out or be fired or both.
I had threatened to walk out on MSNBC on principle, three separate times. Right after I had signed a contract to return to the network in 2003, they had broken an agreement that the fascist commentator Michael Savage would never appear on Countdown. I called a cab and was walking out the front hallway when they backed down. Then about four-and-a-half years later it turned out they had lied to me when they told me they had given a contributor’s contract to brilliant talent who I thought would make an even brilliant host. Because they hadn’t, we were now going to lose her to CNN because Larry King was willing to pay her $250 to appear with him on a primary night and she really needed the cash. Her name was Rachel Maddow. The last time I had threatened to book was when they told me that starting in 2011 Conservative “contributors” would be assigned to my show for quote “balance” and I said that was a betrayal of our audience and I would leave. And (and it was only one of about a dozen reasons I left) I did leave.
When Rachel said she’d had enough of the grind of a nightly show they gave her 30 million dollars to do one show a week and work on other projects and mostly to prevent her from going to Sirius-XM Radio for nearly that much money. They gave her 30 million dollars in essence to SHUT her up. And now has come a test. A liberal voice, edgy, maybe too wise-ass for some viewers (but – and forgive my arrogance here – but I did kinda invent MSNBC viewers) I never heard any of them complain any of us were too wise-ass, has been silenced. They did it on Friday afternoon, the hour for the proverbial News Garbage Dump. They did it after Megyn Kelly complained. They did it after Tucker Carlson complained. They did it after Fox News complained. They did it, and Lawrence O’Donnell said nothing, and Alex Wagner said nothing, and Chris Hayes said nothing, and once upon a time that would’ve been the precise time that Rachel Maddow would have said something.
Because courage and ethics and leadership and patriotism and the fight against television political content being the sole property of corporations, and the bright red line that says I cannot have my audience wondering what else I did not stand up for and who else I did not stand up for - those things are not expressed when you get one page of Donald Trump’s tax returns and you spend 45 minutes hyping it like a carnival barker selling Dr. Maddow’s Magic Elixir to the rubes. Courage and ethics and leadership and patriotism and the defense of journalism is when if you say something, they may might just take the millions away from you. And you have to decide, which would you rather have taken away from you: the millions? More millions than you could ever spend? Or your ethics and your soul and the very essence of the reason you do what you do, and the very essence of why you have fought a thousand fights for lesser things?
It is in a moment like this: the silencing of somebody else, who does what you do, somebody with no power, with no millions, with no legend, with no longevity, with no permanent base – the silencing of somebody who is now what you were in your second year – it is in a moment like this, when silence is collaboration. As I burned countless bridges to get her her own show, of all the things I ever thought I’d hear myself say in the future to her or about her, these words were not in my wildest dream nor my worst nightmare: Rachel? Will you pretend this is not your problem? Or will you stand up for what is right here?
You know – like you used to.