Following MSNBC contributor Dr. Jason Johnson’s inflammatory remarks about supporters and campaign staffers of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the academic has been temporarily benched by the network, sources confirmed to The Daily Beast.
In recent months, Johnson—a regular fixture of the network’s Democratic primary analysis—has drawn considerable heat for his relentlessly anti-Sanders commentary on MSNBC, which has also come under fire from the left for its skeptical and largely negative coverage of the democratic-socialist senator.
During an interview last week on SiriusXM’s The Karen Hunter Show, Johnson claimed “racist white liberals” support Sanders and that the senator has done “nothing for intersectionality.”
The MSNBC contributor then took aim at the women of color who work for Sanders. “I don’t care how many people from the island of misfit black girls you throw out there to defend you,” Johnson exclaimed.
The remark prompted Sanders’ national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray to retort on Twitter: “I hope we can have political disputes without engaging in open racism and sexism. This misogynoir is disappointing, but not surprising from @DrJasonJohnson.”
Johnson’s over-the-top remarks also sparked wider calls for MSNBC to fire him, but the network has not officially responded.
Johnson’s temporary shelving included him not being involved in coverage of last weekend’s Nevada caucuses or the post-game coverage of Tuesday evening’s South Carolina debate, which aired on CBS. In an email to media outlets hyping its post-debate plans, Johnson’s name was nowhere to be found.
The punishment appears to have also cost Johnson his chance to be on-air during the network’s coverage of this past Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, which Sanders won in a landslide.
he pundit apocalypse has been gestating for a few weeks—but it took the shock waves from Bernie Sanders’s Nevada victory to fully set it off. As Sanders’s numbers were building in the caucuses, Chris Matthews made the following comparison during an analytical exchange with his colleague Brian Williams. “I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940,” said Matthews (you can see where this is headed), “and the general, Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over.’ And Churchill says, ‘How can it be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.’”
The blowback was swift. “Never thought part of my job would be pleading with a national news network to stop likening the campaign of a jewish presidential candidate whose family was wiped out by the nazis to the third reich,” tweeted Sanders’s communications director, Mike Casca, “but here we are.” By Monday morning, Matthews was facing calls for his head on a platter, with a #FireChrisMatthews hashtag gaining steam on Twitter.
As far as the possibility of Matthews resigning or being booted goes, that definitely isn’t happening. “They’re not taking Matthews off air over this,” one network insider told me. Rather, sources said he will address the controversy on the Monday night installment of Hardball. Several of them also emphasized that Matthews was not actually likening Sanders to the Nazis—he frequently tosses out historical and World War II references, and this one was perhaps a tone-deaf analogy in the heat of the moment. But if nothing else, the backlash seemed to crystallize just how hot the Sanders–MSNBC dynamic has become, as Tom Kludt explored last week for Vanity Fair. Matthews’s remarks came just one day after Page Six reported that Sanders himself took his grievances directly to MSNBC president Phil Griffin, reportedly telling him in a greenroom before the NBC debate in Nevada last week, “Phil, your network has not been playing a fair role in this campaign. I am upset. Is anything going to change?…I hope you will do better.”
Griffin is taking the complaints seriously, according to network sources. After Matthews’s comments on Saturday night, Griffin’s phone blew up with an angry reaction from the campaign. Griffin quickly discussed the matter with Matthews, who then interviewed campaign cochair Nina Turner on air minutes later. Sources also noted that MSNBC took Sanders’s El Paso and San Antonio rallies live on Saturday, and that Sanders people like campaign manager Faiz Shakir and former campaign manager Jeff Weaver both received airtime on Monday. “The Sanders team is in contact with our senior management,” one source said, “and they are heard. Phil is doing his best to give Bernie his due.”
Now, with Sanders looking more and more like the presumptive nominee, MSNBC’s coverage will have to shift to reflect that. “Will they bring in more contributors that are pro-Sanders? That’s where the chatter is,” another insider told me. “As a matter of news, you have to. Management is sensitive to it, that he is now very possibly gonna be the nominee. He’s winning.” I ran that notion past a network executive. “Yes, the race has changed over the last couple of weeks, and we are going to reflect that and make adjustments,” he said. “One easy way to do that is to seek out more smart, pro-Sanders voices from people who can make our coverage more insightful.” But, the executive added, “Their campaign, like any other, is due fair coverage, not fawning coverage.”
Despite all of the complaints to the network about their evident pearl-clutching, Joy Ann Reid just can’t reconcile the idea of a Bernie candidacy.
Still processing that @60minutes interview. Just as a political matter, a hard pivot away from Fidel Castro and the USSR would have been the wise move for Sanders, so he could capitalize on his big Nevada win, calm Democrats and build. That interview? Whew, well bye-bye Florida. https://t.co/r5yUx5QBgT