Conservative analyst Pat Buchanan Thursday night confirmed what some in the worlds of politics and cable TV believed to be true for months: He hadn't just been suspended by MSNBC in the wake of his latest controversial book, he was through and would never be back on the cable channel again.
“My days as a political analyst at MSNBC have come to an end,” Buchanan wrote Thursday in a post at The American Conservative. “After 10 enjoyable years, I am departing, after an incessant clamor from the left that to permit me continued access to the microphones of MSNBC would be an outrage against decency, and dangerous.”
Buchanan had been suspended since shortly after the October publication of his book, “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”.
“The ideas he put forth aren’t really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC,” Phil Griffin, president of the NBC-owned channel, said in announcing the suspension.
Those critical of Buchanan's book charged it with being homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic -- charges leveled against Buchanan before in his controversial career on cable TV.
But here are a few thoughts that might provide some clarity and context for the emotions connected to Buchanan's firing. I focus only on his cable TV career -- not his political activities.
First, some analysts have characterized Buchanan's relationship with MSNBC in recent years as being out of step - suggesting that played a role in his firing.
What they mean is that in 2002, MSNBC was more of a journalistic enterprise rather than the propagandistic, left-wing echo chamber it has become in recent years. The idea is that there was less and less room in that highly-politicized space for his conservative views, and he was a victim of the leftist ideology.
But that's simply wrong.
Buchanan played a useful role on MSNBC familiar to anyone who has studied techniques of propaganda: He was the ugly foil. In this case, he was held up as the nasty, mean-spirited face of conservative values. He was a straw man, a punching bag. And the more he snarled and the closer he came to hate speech, the more he confirmed the worst stereotypes that liberals believed about the right. The further MSNBC moved to the left, the more useful he actually became in that role.
The role he played on MSNBC was similar to the one Dick Morris initially played on Fox News. And with Morris, conservatives got the added bonus of feeling morally superior to this depraved one-time Clinton adviser who now begged for admission to their club and the Holy Kingdom of Roger Ailes.
The role Buchanan and Morris played is straight out of the Middle Ages, which is how primitive and ignorant our cable-TV, political discourse has become these days.
The other big thing to understand is that this isn't really a free speech issue, and it defintely isn't First Amendment despite Buchanan's rhetoric of having been "blacklisted."
This is an employer-employee contract issue, and MSNBC has every right in the world to fire Buchanan.
In fact, while I am on the subject of folks talking about free speech and the First Amendment when neither is relevant, the much-discussed matter in Baltimore this week of a Towson University coach telling members of his team they can't tweet is the same deal. It has nothing directly to do with the First Amendment.
I would look to contract law or employee-employer relationships (if the kids are on scholarship) for a proper context in this debate. But it's the same deal: the coach has every right to tell kids on his team whether or not they can tweet.
But back to Buchanan. If you want to see him as a victim, fine. But understand this: Buchanan has made a career over the last two decades in cable TV of pushing the boundaries of inflammatory speech. Don't decry the toxic level of discourse on cable TV today and defend this guy.
He helped create it and made a nice living doing so. Buchanan has been bad for the media -- and the country -- for a long time.