MSNBC public editor: Accountability for everyone except MSNBC itself

Watching MSNBC in the hours since Wednesday’s mob attack on the Capitol has been dizzying.

The enormity of this history-rattling event was impossible to spin, downplay, or trivialize, even for cable news. And so the network’s coverage summarily imploded, splintering in real time, losing the glossy veneer of corporate imperturbability as its hosts veered wildly between prim expressions of astonishment, ostrich-like attempts at “business as usual,” and passionate demands for Trump’s immediate ouster.

Calls for “accountability” have come from nearly every talking head: congressmen, academics, retired generals, and the hosts themselves. In MSNBC parlance, “accountability” is a dignified-sounding word with no exact meaning. But IRL the word means facing consequences for your decisions and actions.

Real accountability, for MSNBC, means a clear and distinct demand for each of its hosts to come clean about his or her own complicity in building and enabling the increasingly violent and extremist Republican Party that led, inexorably, to the ruinous Trump administration. Joe Scarborough, for example, who on Thursday called for the president to be arrested, was not so long ago a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago, and a staunch ally of Trump the candidate in 2016, as CNN reported at the time:

Scarborough has spoken about Trump in increasingly glowing terms, praising him as “a masterful politician” and defending him against his political opponents and media critics. The Washington Post has noted that Trump has received “a tremendous degree of warmth from the [Scarborough] show,” and [said] that his appearances on the show, in person and over the phone, often feel like “a cozy social club.”

What would “accountability” look like for Scarborough and his cohost, Mika Brzezinski? What would it look like for Nicolle Wallace, whose work on behalf of George W. Bush in the Florida recount—a key moment in the degradation of the Republican Party—led to a high-profile job in Washington?

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True to form, Chuck Todd brought the most openly cynical and dim-witted take to the party. On Meet the Press Thursday, he spoke with Andrea Mitchell and Katy Tur about the possible motivations of Elaine Chao, Trump’s transportation secretary, who had announced her resignation. “I’m sort of torn on the effectiveness,” he began.

But let’s put yourself… I’m going to try to put myself in her shoes. And maybe you don’t have enough people to do the Twenty-fifth Amendment.… And you want to stand up, and do something, and say something.… But at the end of the day, is it still better symbolically to publicly rebuke him, even if it’s in the last thirteen days, even if it does look like you’re trying to launder yourself a bit, so that maybe you’ll be invited to a better law firm or a better cocktail party, but the rebuke may be still necessary anyway?

I have nothing whatsoever to add to that.

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Maria Bustillos is the founding editor of Popula, an alternative news and culture magazine. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Guardian.