Late Developments at MSNBC May Trump Long-Standing Ethical Issues

Players in The Cable Game know there are rules…and there are rules. Some of the former are more observed in the breach, and some of the latter are just not spoken of. Things better left unsaid.

ThomasRobertsGraphicBlogYou’ve heard the rules about conflicts of interest, and every once in a while somebody will be forced to rattle off a “disclosure.” Chris Matthews spouts a few words about his wife running for the US House, and he can go right back to “covering” the elections as if he didn’t have a personal interest in seeing the Democrats take back the majority. But when dealing with one of the rules, it’s not necessary for the journalist to say anything at all. He can cover the topic, flip a switch and do commentary, go out and advocate for it, even become an outright activist. And not only can he skip making any disclosures, but nobody else will call him on it. That’s how you know you’re dealing not just with one of the rules, but one of the rules.

Today Thomas Roberts spent hours “covering” (i.e. supporting) the Supreme Court decision on marriage. It’s a perfectly defensible ruling, and one The Cable Gamer may even agree with. But we don’t recall that J-school class explaining the rules about “marriage equality” permitting journalists who ordinarily feign neutrality to openly support it, slant their coverage to favor it, and even lobby for it on and off the air. Yet here’s Thomas Roberts rallying the troops by telling them “we” still have work to do, and dismissing any questions of impartiality with a wave of his hand:

I’ve been confronted with issues with how to control any bias for a long time, but when it comes to discrimination or issues of inequality, I’ve always been a fan of shining bright lights in dark places.

Translation: there are rules for this topic, and the “media critics” all agree with me so I can be as one-sided as I please. Howard Kurtz noted today how the coverage on MSNBC was one supporter of the ruling after another, but even he avoided mention of the elephant in the room: the obvious, flagrant bias of the anchor.

But Thomas Roberts’ ethical issues are nothing new. And now there’s a new development on MSNBC’s plate: The Donald. NBC has decided to distance itself from Mr. Trump:

NBC is evaluating its commitment to the upcoming Miss USA pageant hours after Univision’s decision to drop the program over comments made by Donald Trump, a source tells The Hollywood Reporter.

CNN’s Brian Stelter goes into more detail:

For now, NBC’s only comment is a statement that distances itself from Trump, but doesn’t sever any relationship with him.

So as of now, the pageant is still on and NBC will carry it. And yet Mr. Stelter oddly leaves out the detail that gives this controversy particular relevance to The Cable Game:

MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts and “Dancing with the Stars” dancer Cheryl Burke will host this year’s pageant.

Yes, that’s our Thomas Roberts, fearless crusader on issues of bias, discrimination, and inequality. Hosting a Donald Trump pageant, even as his parent network seeks to distance itself from the event, while his MSNBC colleagues rip the businessman nightly, if not hourly. Assuming the NBC broadcast goes forward (that’s The Cable Gamer’s best guess at this point) does Thomas Roberts intend to stay on as a host? If so, will NBC—or MSNBC—permit him to do so? Will his Lean Forward colleagues and assorted media critics excoriate him for giving credibility to Evil Donald Trump? Or just look the other way?

The Cable Gamer finds it strange that nobody has raised any of these issues. That’s fine for Thomas Roberts—he hardly needs to answers questions nobody is asking. It’s just funny how nicely that works out for him.

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