When asked last month about some homophobic writings from her long-since-shuttered blog, MSNBC host Joy Reid voiced little equivocation about their provenance. “I learned that an unknown, external party accessed and manipulated material from my now-defunct blog, The Reid Report, to include offensive and hateful references that are fabricated and run counter to my personal beliefs and ideology,” she said.
Then she was pressed to substantiate the hacking claims, and an entire internet of experts descended. Cybersecurity expert Jonathan Nichols advanced some arguments about how those nasty pieces of work were manipulated out of thin pixels. Then those claims collapsed. Those objectionable old posts that were allegedly the work of bad actors turned out to be lurking in some far-off archive - just sitting there.
On her program, “AM Joy,” on Saturday, Reid admitted that her case was in tatters. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of these posts. I hired cybersecurity experts to see if somebody had manipulated my words or my former blog and the reality is they have not been able to prove it,” she said. Such flimsiness notwithstanding, famous colleagues supported her:
“Everyone of us will walk in JoyAnnReid’s shoes some day - filled with remorse and regret over something we have said or done, but I predict that few will do so this eloquently. Sending support and admiration to you and your amazing panel and team”
- Nicolle Wallace
“Big Love to JoyAnnReidAND her brave panel for taking this issue head on and moving our understanding of LGBTQ issues forward”
- Ali Velshi
Even more noteworthy has been the non-response from the front office of MSNBC. From the start, the network has facilitated Reid’s attempt to explain herself, without actually saying too much on its own. For example, the company released to reporters copies of letters and statements from Nichols and Reid’s lawyer. In the aftermath of Reid’s Saturday explanation, we asked for a full-on, official MSNBC statement attributable to some big shot, and we failed to secure one.
Ask certain people, and Reid is a liar or even worse; ask other people, and Reid just didn’t recognize her scribblings from a decade ago; ask yet other people, and she’s still a hero.
From Glenn Greenwald:
“I believe Joy Reid is not anti-LGBT now & her apology is sincere. As I wrote from the start, we should celebrate those who come to see the error of their thinking & evolve. We all err. Politics is about persuading. Life is about learning. The issue has always been her honesty now
“The fact remains, Reid issued a statement this week that described a complex, nefarious hacking tale in order to deny her own words. She even asked the FBI to find the hackers. Multiple news outlets have shown the story is almost certainly a fabrication. Nothing excuses that.”
Whatever your inclinations, a good, hard look at the matter from Reid’s management would clear up some things, as the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik argues. And as far as we can see, no such effort is afoot.
Perhaps the company fears the results of any investigation. Think about how it would deal with any conclusion that Reid misled the public, after all. What would be the official response? Discipline her? Suspend her? Fire her? Leave her be?
The last of those options may be the only viable one from an organizational standpoint. Recall that every night on MSNBC, a broadcast-TV vet named Brian Williams anchors the show “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.” This fellow’s credentials for that seat consist of a silver tongue, immense writing skills, classic tube looks - and a past that includes serial fabrications/lies/misleading statements about his reportorial exploits, many of them uttered on late-night shows where he was eager to entertain the audience. An internal NBC News investigation found that Williams had uttered “inaccurate statements.” He was demoted from the anchor chair at “NBC Nightly News” and moved to MSNBC.
And there he now sits, the one-man honesty benchmark for an entire organization. As long as you keep your integrity above the Brian Williams level, you’re safe. And Joy Reid has done that, at least.
Erik Wemple is a columnist with The Washington Post.