MSNBC: Killing Us Softly with Their Thong

On today’s Morning Joe on MSNBC, Willie Geist ran, as he normally does, a segment called “News You Can’t Use”: a lighthearted, sometimes-snarky look at a smattering of the silly-but-entertaining news stories of the day. This morning’s segment was at once especially memorable and especially can’t-usable: it involved fifty-two-year-old Macrida Patterson, an L.A.-based Department of Transportation worker, who is suing Victoria’s Secret. Specifically because, she alleges, her cornea was scratched after a defective metal fastener broke on her Victoria’s Secret thong.

“You ask for filth; I give you filth,” Geist told his co-anchors with a wry smile.

The mechanics of the underwear-to-eye trajectory remain murky—we’ve tried to figure it out, to no avail—but rest assured that the Morning Joe team found much amusement in the whole story. And particularly (meta-media-commentary alert!) in their own choice of b-roll in the segment: a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. (“It’s our file thong footage,” Geist declared, with said wry smile.)

What’s wrong with all that, you may ask? The answer, I’d say: very little. It’s a good story, news-you-can’t-use-wise, just random enough to be funny and just innocuous enough to render the funniness acceptable. There’s always room for a bit of levity in a newscast, particularly when that newscast takes place early in the morning, before we’ve all been jolted fully awake by our real morning joe.

Here’s the thing, though: MSNBC’s thong song didn’t end with the “News You Can’t Use” segment. It continued into the next news hour—the straight-news, serious hour, ostensibly—its reporting fleshed out, if you will, with an interview with Patterson herself (accompanied by her lawyer, Jason Buccat, who seemed to be trying really hard not to burst out laughing). Over the course of the day, some intern apparently found a picture of the particular type of thong in question; soon, we were treated to a full-screen version of that image, ponderously Ken Burns Effect-ed for Added Drama.

Thus began MSNBC’s thong day’s journey into night: the network re-aired the new-and-improved (but still inane) thong segment over and over and over throughout the day, couching the story’s evolving headlines between coverage of the Midwest floods and Obama’s decision to opt out of public funding of his campaign:

When thongs attack!
Lingerie gone wrong
Thongs gone wrong

Now, to be fair, other networks covered the story, as well; this wasn’t an MSNBC exclusive. But what gets us here is the irony of MSNBC’s poking fun at its own reporting of the story in the morning…and then, later on, reporting that story as a real news item. We’re all for news you can’t use; we’re less enthusiastic when sharing a can’t-use story takes time and resources away from the news you actually, you know, can use.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.