The new rules of politics, as demonstrated in the Duck Dynasty and Chick-fil-A and other debates, state that any call for a boycott is an intrusion on the First Amendment rights of the boycotted party. So why, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, do you hate MSNBC's free speech?
On Wednesday, the network tweeted a link to a new Cheerios ad featuring a biracial family. "Maybe the rightwing will hate it," the tweet read, "but everyone else will go awww." People were mad, understandably; not everyone who is conservative is racist and some liberals will probably not "go awww." MSNBC pulled the tweet, with a quick apology.
Priebus, never one to shy away from a battle he knows he already won, doubled down. Earlier Thursday, he sent the letter you can read at the bottom of this post (via Brietbart), demanding that MSNBC president Phil Griffin "personally and publicly apologize" for a "pattern of behavior" comprised of "petty and demeaning attacks." Until he does so, Priebus said, he has "banned all RNC staff from appearing on, associating with, or booking any RNC surrogates on MSNBC" and has "asked all Republican surrogates and officials" to do the same. (Surrogates in this sense means "people on TV to represent the party," not "substitute mothers.")
Last year, Priebus pushed for a boycott of the party's 2016 primary debates on two other networks. When NBC and CNN announced plans to run miniseries about the rise of Hillary Clinton, Priebus wrote them similar letters, expressing his "deep disappointment" in the decision to discuss the history of a well-known public figure. "Out of sense of fairness and in the interest of the political process," the party's Twitter account demanded, "cancel the Hillary infomercials!"
Contrast that with the response to A&E's extremely-short-lived suspension of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson after he made weird, gross comments about gay people. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal critiqued the suspension, writing, "I find a good bit of [what Robertson said] offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment." Because the First Amendment guarantees the right of all Americans to have their exploits broadcast on reality shows.
When the president of Chick-fil-A announced his opposition to same-sex marriage, a small boycott of the restaurant chain ensued. No less a personage than Sarah Palin weighed in. "[C]alling for the boycott has a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights," she said, saying that the company president was "basically getting crucified." Basically.
The RNC itself, the literal Republican party establishment, didn't draw the dumb boycotts-are-anti-free-speech angle. It was criticized for not backing Robertson, in fact. But it also hasn't been eager to help its surrogates like Palin and Jindal understand that the First Amendment isn't a club you can use to bat away some boycotts while encouraging others.
Here's the deal, for the millionth time: The RNC can score points by withholding speakers from MSNBC until it has a demand met; MSNBC can ignore that. NBC and CNN can run a Hillary mini-series (though neither is going to) at risk of the party moving its debates. People can boycott Chick-fil-A. A&E can fire Robertson. None of these things is a free speech issue. They are all just the political games that the First Amendment, God bless it, makes possible.
Update, 4:00 p.m.: MSNBC has apologized, according to CNN's Brian Stelter. Griffin's statement:
"The tweet last night was outrageous and unacceptable. We immediately acknowledged that it was offensive and wrong, apologized, and deleted it. We have dismissed the person responsible for the tweet.
I personally apologize to Mr. Priebus and to everyone offended. At MSNBC we believe in passionate, strong debate about the issues and we invite voices from all sides to participate. That will never change."
Free speech prevails. Or something.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.