By giving up her MSNBC show and refusing to take the cable net’s money to stay quiet about it, Melissa Harris-Perry delivered what many of us have missed on the ostensibly progressive channel: media criticism that exposes how corporations limit speech. In their own very different ways, that’s what Trump does by self-funding and Bernie does by relying on small donations rather than Wall Street largesse. Harris-Perry’s departure from MSNBC, her TV home for four years, spurred not only #MSNBCSoWhite, but also #FreedomOverMoney.
The dizzying sequence of events over at “The Place for Politics” last week went roughly like this:
For a couple of weeks in a row, Harris-Perry’s two-hour Saturday and Sunday show was preempted for election coverage “without comment or discussion or notice,” she says. Harris-Perry (a Nation contributing editor) made public an email she wrote to her #nerdland staff, explaining that she refused to later go back on air and pretend nothing had happened. “I told my team, we can’t allow our own show to go off air and then provide racial cover by having me continue to host the show so people see the little black girl up there,” she said to CNN’s Dylan Byers.
That sort of talk was too much for MSNBC. It canceled her show, and offered to buy out the remainder of her contract as long as she honored its non-disparagement clause. She refused.
Like, who doesn’t take the money? Apparently, even Keith Olbermann signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of his severance when, in 2011, he was booted from the network he shaped into a left-leaning anti-Fox. Such agreements, as Seneca Doane wrote back then in Daily Kos, highlight “the larger problem of the silencing of progressive voices in the mass media.”
If there’s anything progressives—or a democracy—must be able to talk about freely, it’s how consensus is formed, how the sausage of the dominant wisdom is made.
“They wanted us to cover politics in the narrowest sense,” Harris-Perry said. “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,” she wrote in the email.
Instead of obsessing over the political horse race, her show tended to the stables—examining up close the racial, gender, and language issues underlying politics.