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I, Virginia Bergman, pledge not to vote for a male presidential candidate in 2016 just because he's male.

Friday, February 8, 2008

MSNBC’s Shuster Ignites Latest Media Firestorm

Shuster courtesy of Wikipedia

The latest media firestorm has interrupted my plans to complete another project this evening unrelated to Katalusis. The firestorm was ignited by David Shuster’s suggestion on MSNBC yesterday that Chelsea Clinton’s campaigning on her mother’s behalf meant she was being “pimped out” by the Clinton campaign. Watch the video at Talking Points Memo.com.

I first came across this story on the Huffington Post earlier today, where I was stunned by the number of Obama supporters incredibly piling on to assault the Clinton family in readers’ comments while defending MSNBC and Shuster. Below are a couple of examples.

This one is especially abusive:

“Shuster should have given them the middle finger. Pimp is becoming part of the vernacular today. It's one of the slang words thats utterly harmless. And the fact that the Clinton Machine is pimping Chelsea out makes this even more pathetic. People get so pissy and uppity over the stupidest things.

“What they really need to address is how the hell Chelsea became the ugliest child/ person in politics. Or Public office. That poor thing got beat with the ugly stick one too many times.”
This one defends the freedom of the press to slander people:

“We now see why Hillary was the only candidate who refused to sign the formal public pledge sponsored by a half-dozen large civil liberties organizations to restore the personal Constitutional-guaranteed liberties that were taken away by Bush (e.g. Writ of Habeas Corpus). With this episode, she is now apparently also getting ready to remove the freedom of the press once she takes office.”

Later on today, I came across Jeff Weintraub’s blog that includes a letter to MSNBC by his friend, Lois Dubin, who teaches history, religion, and Jewish studies at Smith College. Dubin’s letter offers an effective antidote to both Shuster’s abusive remark and the readers’ comments by Obama supporters on the Huffington Post.

(Incidentally, JeffWeintraub currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.)

LETTER SENT TO MSNBC, Feb. 8, 2008Protesting Correspondent David Shuster’s referring to Chelsea Clinton’s campaigning for her mother Senator Hillary Clinton as being “pimped out in some weird sort of way”

From Lois Dubin

Dear Mr. Phil Griffin, Mr. Steve Capus, Mr. Keith Olbermann, Mr. Dan Abrams et al.,

In 2004, I became a devoted and enthusiastic viewer of MSNBC, particularly when Keith Olbermann was the only person on TV or major newspapers to call attention to the questions surrounding the Ohio vote and electronic voting more generally. He continued to speak out courageously on Constitutional issues and the many threats to our civil liberties and democracy presented by the Bush administration (aided ably by Jonathan Turley and John Dean.) Keith Olbermann deserves much credit for his loud and courageous voice during these very trying years.

Now, I regret to say that I am truly dismayed by your network's coverage of the Democratic primary. Perhaps Mr. Olbermann's enhanced popularity has gone to his head, or perhaps the lesser Chris Matthews' standards have infected Mr. Olbermann. Chris Matthews shoots his mouth off, often with trivial inanity, often with simple errors, and exceedingly often with misogynist comments worthy of a frat boy. No thanks, MSNBC, we already have a frat boy in the White House. We don't need at least two more on your shows.

The Democratic Party has two intelligent, worthy and exceptional candidates. Each is ground-breaking.

However, your network is relentlessly cheer-leading for Senator Obama and relentlessly denigrating and ridiculing Senator Clinton. Your disappointment when she wins a state's vote is palpable. You have hang-dog deflated looks. Most of your commentary consists of: How is Senator Obama going to beat her? Yes, he can, yes he can, the little engine that could. Give me a break! Cheer-leading is not analysis and you are not providing balanced coverage or analysis.

And now, David Shuster's comments referring to the pimping of Chelsea Clinton are simply the icing on the cake. They are absolutely unacceptable.

I know, he apologized for his use of "slang" this morning. Small crumbs, thanks a lot. It's not merely slang he used. It's language that is profoundly denigrating of all women and of families. If he said anything remotely resembling that about a member of Senator Obama's family, everyone would be shouting: Racism, implications of ghetto gangs, absolutely unacceptable! But, surely it is equally unacceptable to raise specters of whoredom and cynical manipulation because a daughter is campaigning for her mother!!!!! The novelty of this in a Presidential race -- a serious candidate who is a woman and who happens to have a daughter-- seems to be unhinging some people in your organization.

Surely it is not news that family members usually support the members of their family who run for office (notwithstanding the situation with Rudy Giuliani and his grown children, Chris Matthews' last crush). When JFK had every member of his large family campaigning for him, was that a sex ring? When Mitt Romney's family campaigned for him? When middle-aged and older politicians have their young trophy-wives dangling on their arms campaigning for them? When Michelle Obama speaks out about her husband, is she being "pimped"?

To talk in such terms about any of them would be ridiculous and insulting. To talk that way about Chelsea Clinton, an intelligent career woman in her late 20s, is simply disgusting. Do you really think she doesn't support her mom? Do you really think she doesn't want to do everything she can in this campaign? So, why talk about her in sexual and sexualized terms? Why talk about her as if she's a stupid manipulated object or victim who doesn't know her own mind ... as someone who is being controlled by a puppeteer or a predator-pimp? Do you really mean to state that Senator Clinton is a predator-pimp? !! Of her daughter?! Or - of you? What kind of fears and fantasies lurk behind this particular comment of your correspondent and the broader presentation of Senator Clinton on shows such as Hardball and Countdown? Can you ever take women seriously?

Seriously, gentlemen, you'd better get a grip at MSNBC. You are already losing viewers and you'll lose many more if you keep this up. I have no intention of watching programs that portray Senator Clinton as a she-devil with horns or a castrating bitch. - I hope you will pardon my intemperate language. If you were portraying Senator Obama in similarly egregious ways, drawing on racist stereotypes that exist in our culture, I would also tune you out. Neither is acceptable, racism or sexism. Unfortunately your broadcasts send the unfortunate message: we wouldn't want to be seen as racist in any way, but we're open for business when it comes to sexism and misogyny.

Lately, the only voices of reason on your network have been Tom Brokaw--with his occasional cautionary notes--and Dan Abrams--who has called attention to the imbalance in your coverage. Gentlemen, there are good reasons for people to choose to vote for Senator Obama and there are good reasons for people to choose to vote for Senator Clinton. But there is no good reason for your network to be engaged in Hillary-hate-speak 24/7. I know it's hard for a network to fill up all the airtime. If you can't provide more balanced coverage and more intelligent analysis, then please just show some old movies sometimes!

Give us a break from the puerile frat-boy, rat-pack, pile-on mentality. You insult women; you insult all of us; you damage the cause of democracy which we all share.

Regretfully and sincerely yours,

Professor Lois Dubin


  1. Bravo, Bravo, go get em. They richly deserve it. You say it sooo correctly and so nicely. I don't think I could have been that nice to them.
    Thank you. An old white hair rooting for a woman to win.

    Left with a bad taste in my mouth.

  2. Thank you for saying so eloquently what I have been e-mailing MSNBC for the last few months. I, too, have tuned out the "frat boys' club" at MSNBC. I watched MSNBC because I was a fan of Keith Olbermann until, as my late husband used to say, he started to believe his own "b**ls**t. Thank you again - it's great to know I'm not a "voice crying in the wilderness."


  3. Thank you, Peg. Lois Dubin wrote a fine letter, and we're all indebted to her. I hope you'll continue to visit Katalusis from time to time.

  4. MSNBC has certainly been snake pit central for this campaign but the Media across the board have been writing with saint tinted glasses when writing about Obama and blackguard colored goggles when writing about Clinton. Double standard was months ago, the media's "bias" now is well out of the ball park and has crossed over the state lines and that "Hardball's" still flying. They've lapped themselves they've ALL gone so far passed responsible "journalism".

    Unfortunately for the country nothing's to stop the media except the crushing weight of their own fictions. While not many, if any, of the Media's narrative "points" resemble factual reality, the novelization of the political landscape continues apace. This novelization has burgeoned into an unsupportable, unreadable, and unviewable fictionalization of the campaign and the candidates.

    The media coverage is and has been for months outright well-poisoning. The media's fictionalizing is not just a disservice to the country but an outright betrayal of the public trust.

    When I turn on the news I want the NEWS, the FACTS. I don't want a narrative, I don't want to hear what you think would be fun or interesting IF it were what was happening. If I want some fiction, if I want narrative, I'll read a book or watch a movie.

    If you can only do narrative fiction then get fired and write a screenplay. Get out of the public sphere the bunch of you. A pox on all your houses.

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jay. I, too, have been appalled by the complete abandonment of professional standards in journalism ethics in the media's coverage of the 2008 campaign. Ever since the Democrats' Philadelphia Debate last October, the media has gone all out to tear Hillary Clinton down and anoint Barack Obama.
    Please do stop in and visit Katalusis from time to time.

  6. Thank you for your letter to MSNBC-TV on their treatment of Senator Clinton and her family. I have e-mailed them several times and now I no longer watch Hardball, Morning Joe etc. I also have complained to CNN over their guest commentators. I hope to see a Woman President and I believe Senator Clinton is qualified. Clinton/Obama ticket would be the dream ticket.

  7. And thank you, "anonymous," for taking the time to leave a comment. Like you, many of us are grateful to Professor Lois Dubin for calling the MSNBC leadership (and the media in general) to account for continuously savaging Hillary Clinton and her family throughout this campaign.

    I hope you'll continue to visit Katalusis.