On Tuesday, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell addressed the controversy surrounding the airing of a misleadingly edited clip of Mitt Romney by not addressing it. Mitchell played the entirety of the clip in question while being careful not to address the scandal that erupted after she aired a cut off version of that same clip yesterday. While Mitchell may view this as sufficient, it is not. Some have celebrated Mitchell’s holding firm in the face of criticism, but this is a misguided reaction. What’s more, this episode will not fade in relevance nearly as soon as it could have if Mitchell had simply apologized up front.RELATED: Memo to NBC: What the hell is wrong with you?
“Score a victory for the mainstream press over right-wing pressure,” writes Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher on Tuesday about Mitchell’s non-apology. “Let that be a lesson to mainstream journalists who jump to kill the right-wing noise whenever they don’t think a report is sufficiently biased in their guy’s favor. Sometimes, noise is just noise.”
On Monday, Mitchell aired a clip of Romney on the stump that was taken out of context — with the intention, some have alleged, of damaging the GOP candidate. The clip was edited to suggest Romney was flabbergasted by the “amazing” touch screen ordering system in the convenience store chain WaWa. What MSNBC cut off was Romney’s same-breath praise of the innovative ability of the private sector to create the no-longer-novel touch screens — that was what was “amazing.”
The blogosphere came alive with outrage. It was a conservative blogger who identified the misleading edit and the story quickly spread across the internet like wildfire.
What was most misleading, however, is the gleeful interpretation that Mitchell and Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza offered — that this gaffe was Romney’s “grocery store moment.” They found this out-of-context quote equivalent to a 1992 campaign stop that President George H. W. Bush made to a local grocery store where he was confused by their price scanning technology. That incident was used by his opposition to paint Bush as old, out-of-touch and befuddled by even the most mundane aspects of American life.
Christopher notes that even that event was exaggerated; Bush was not “amazed” by the scanners, but the incident fit a narrative that the Clinton campaign was actively attempting to establish – that Bush was out of his depth in the Presidency and a hostage to events. Fair or no, politics is a blood sport and politicizing that incident was within bounds.
Just as Romney’s quote, out of context, would be fair game for President Barack Obama‘s campaign to use and/or misuse as they see fit. They have done as much before; the Obama reelection team made great hay of Romney’s “I like to fire people who provide services to me” quote, negating to include that the quote was within the context of a critique of the mandates within the health care reform law.
In late April, When Fox News Channel’s Steve Doocy mischaracterized a statement made by Obama on the campaign trail about not being born with a “silver spoon in his mouth” and twisted it into an attack on Romney, he and his network were called out on it. Doocy issued an apology, albeit a passing one, the following day.
While partisans who find Fox News programming revolting and offensive may have derived a certain amount of glee from Doocy’s backtracking, few would argue that the story survived his apology. It died a near instant death.
While Mitchell digging in her heals may satisfy liberal partisan instincts to find fights around every corner, this is a losing battle in the end. The trivial episode will haunt the credibility of Mitchell and her network, where a quick apology – even a disingenuous one – would have killed the story.
Even liberal commentators can see the forest for the trees on this one. Liberal broadcaster David Shuster tweeted at Mitchell on Tuesday, wondering why she did not address the issue on everyone’s mind, “Andrea, what the hell?”
The correct response to this controversy could not be more obvious. Why Mitchell avoided quick and painless apology eludes even her former MSNBC colleague.
When news networks, eager to drive the narrative, overreach and stretch the truth, an apology is always the correct course. Even if the individual doing the apology chafes at the reasoning behind it. MSNBC, and Mitchell herself, should have followed suit — the story would have died on the vine.
Now, the anger in the blogosphere will only grow and it has yet to be determined when the anger surrounding this offense will subside. I would be willing to bet that won’t be nearly as soon as if Mitchell had just swallowed her pride and said that one simple, little word.