By Arturo R. García
Last fall, MSNBC told Pat Buchanan to go have fun selling his new book. Today, it looks more likely the network changed the locks behind him.
The network’s president, Phil Griffin, was content to leave Buchanan twisting in the wind this past weekend, when he told The New York Times,“The ideas he put forth aren’t really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC.”
Of course, it’s been apparent for years that Buchanan’s views weren’t “appropriate” for any place outside of the right-wing fringe. But despite what Griffin said, his latest book might not have been the only factor in his apparent dismissal.
It’s not like Griffin had any room to be surprised by Buchanan’s latest round of printed bile, called Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? Really, it’s the same tune he’s been singing since the 1970s. Because not much separates this speech:
There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself. For this war is for the soul of America. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side. And so to the Buchanan Brigades out there, we have to come home and stand beside George Bush.
From this passage in Superpower:
If that is what a nation is, can we truly say America is still a nation? The European and Christian core of our country is shrinking. The birth rate of our native born has been below replacement level for decades. By 2020, deaths among white Americans will exceed births, while mass immigration is altering forever the face of America.
At every turn, Buchanan has blamed the same groups of people – immigrants, LGBT people, Jewish people – for, in his mind, sullying his idea of what America should be. During his political career, the press at large gave giving Buchanan a wide berth, according to Slate:
Since Buchanan first ran for president in 1992, the press has largely treated him as a legitimate candidate rather than an extremist canker on American politics, á la David Duke or Louis Farrakhan. Part of the explanation for this is that he’s one of us. Though few journalists have any sympathy for Buchanan’s views, some find it hard to reconcile evidence of his bigotry with the friendly guy they know. For those covering his campaigns, there are other disincentives. Once you brand him an anti-Semite, a racist, and a fascist, it’s not much fun riding around New Hampshire with him in a minivan. What’s more, there is a dimension of self-conscious theatricality to Buchanan’s performances that makes his views easier to dismiss. He’ll uncork a zinger about not buying any more chopsticks until the Chinese quit dumping cheap imports, and then cackle at his no-no. You can write this kind of thing off as just Buchanan tomfooling around and building his brand for TV, rather than dyed-in-the-wool bigotry.
And that column was written in 1999, three years before MSNBC and Griffin gave him a national platform, where he would go on to claim that America “has been a country built, basically, by white folks;” that “only white men” died in the Battle of Gettysburg; and so on.
So what changed? According to an InsideCableNews column at Mediaite, it sure wasn’t Buchanan – it was the platform around him:
On the other hand, MSNBC has changed. It openly courts Progressive views and news. It puts out job ads asking for candidates with a progressive news background. Its pundit host class is all progressive and the network lets them show up en masse at the White House for off the record get togethers. The network is openly and aggressively courting the African American viewing audience so much so that it now notes how big it is in African American viewership in its releases.
Add all these things together and you now have a scenario where MSNBC, which used to be able to handle a Pat Buchanan and his intransigent controversial views, can no longer afford to do so without alienating core constituencies it covets.
The theory makes more sense now than it would have a few years ago: even after Keith Olbermann’s acrimonious departure, MSNBC has rebuilt a good portion of its’ talk show brand around Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Chris Hayes, and has added Melissa Harris-Perry, even if it keeps Joe Scarborough around in the morning.
Unfortunately, the nature of cable punditry virtually guarantees that even if Buchanan gets tossed on his duff by MSNBC, some other network will scoop him up and tout him as being “hard-hitting” or whatever the euphemism du jour is for reactionary bigotry. But even if this respite is brief, hopefully it leads to something better for his (apparently) former employers.