'If a news outlet cannot make the assessment of what the reality is in that moment, then there is only fake news and this society's in big trouble'
Progressive talk show host and pundit Sam Seder is speaking out after MSNBC decided against renewing his contract as a contributor, in the wake of right-wing media resurfacing a controversial joke Seder tweeted in 2009 about rape accusations made against Roman Polanski.
Seder’s ouster from MSNBC was first reported on Monday by The Wrap, and Seder says that he officially learned of MSNBC’s final decision only after a request for comment from a writer for the publication.
Speaking to EW, Seder recited a message sent from MSNBC’s public relations department to him on Monday morning, about the then-pending piece. Per Seder, it was written as follows:
Sam, there’s an imminent story from The Wrap about your status with us. We’ve told them the facts: You have a paid-per-appearance relationship with us; you have no scheduled appearances; and your contract is ending in February.
A source familiar with the matter confirmed to EW the veracity of the message. The source also said Seder was informed of the network’s decision prior to The Wrap publishing its story and that he was asked to provide a written defense of the tweet, which he agreed to and which MSNBC reviewed before making a final decision. Seder claimed he had previously received a voicemail last week that informed him MSNBC was “severing” the relationship, but never received a follow-up.
Seder further claimed the last time the network contacted him was via that somewhat vague message from the PR department. “I have not heard from anybody,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “My contract does not stipulate how I am to be contacted. I had never met this PR guy before. I don’t know if the PR guy can fire me from MSNBC or the guy who works with the commissary or what. I don’t know.”
Seder’s tweet, which has since been deleted, became newly controversial after Mike Cernovich, a far-right, pro-President Trump activist, recirculated it recently. “Don’t care re Polanski, but I hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/a great sense of mise en scene,” Seder tweeted in 2009. Calls from the political right for Seder to be fired escalated after Cernovich’s post, while Seder called the outrage around it a “smear” and “willful misinterpretation” on his radio show, The Majority Report, last week, explaining that his 2009 comments were meant to satirize liberals’ reluctance to condemn Polanski. (In 1977, Polanski was charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He pled guilty to the charge of statutory rape.)
Seder asserted that “no one” who deemed his nearly decade-old tweet offensive and worthy of consequences read it in good faith. “You cannot avoid controversy in this day and age — you really only can pick sides,” he said to EW. “In this instance, the sides were between an obvious, willful misinterpretation of what I wrote and, really, an honest assessment of what the meaning of what I wrote was.” He then reiterated that “there is no one of good faith who misinterpreted that tweet,” and added his only regret was deleting it, a “lazy” decision he made after Twitter users he thought were “bots” began retweeting it.
Seder, among others, called out treatment of him by Cernovich and others as hypocritical as so many Republicans continue to support Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexually assaulting and molesting underage girls, for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat. (Moore has denied the allegations.) “The story stands on its own and the Tweet stands on its own, doesn’t matter who finds it or tips someone off,” Cernovich wrote after news of Seder’s exit broke, and in response to various criticisms. “This is Journalism 101. Please try it sometime.” Cernovich has promoted conspiracy theories such as “Pizzagate,” the debunked theory that Democratic Party officials were involved in a child-sex ring, and once tweeted that “diversity is code for white genocide,” as noted by the Anti-Defamation League. Recently, Cernovich provided BuzzFeed with documentation of sexual harassment claims against Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who resigned Tuesday.
Seder, who is on his third annual contract and began appearing on MSNBC in 2004, described himself as the “most left-leaning” contributor left at the network. He argued MSNBC is repositioning itself to feature more conservative views and Republican commentators, and that his politics rendered him “more disposable” than others. Still, he called the situation around his exit “disturbing” and expressed concern at MSNBC’s handling of it.
“We tune in to news companies for them to give us some sense of grounded assessment of what the truth is,” he said. “If MSNBC cannot make an assessment of what words mean, but are cowed by a man who has a reputation … If a news outlet cannot make the assessment of what the reality is in that moment, then there is only ‘fake news’ and this society’s in big trouble.”
Seder’s departure also comes in the wake of a second scandal involving an MSNBC employee’s past comments. Joy Reid, host of the popular weekend morning program AM Joy, recently apologized for a series of blog posts written between 2007-2009 about Charlie Crist, which were homophobic and offensive in nature. “This note is my apology to all who are disappointed by the content of blogs I wrote a decade ago, for which my choice of words and tone have legitimately been criticized,” she wrote in a statement to EW. “As a writer, I pride myself on a facility with language — an economy of words or at least some wisdom in the selection. However, that clearly has not always been the case.”
Reid’s future at the network is unclear, though MSNBC has not indicated any disciplinary action. Her colleague, Chris Hayes, recently spoke out in support of her, tweeting, “[Reid] is a phenomenal colleague who I’m lucky to work with.” Subsequently, Hayes, presumably referencing Seder’s exit, implored “everyone” to subscribe to The Majority Report and lamented, “The entire culture and our politics are now dominated by people who have weaponized bad faith and shamelessness.”