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MSNBC won’t cut ties to Sam Seder after all: succumbing to alt-right outrage was a “mistake”

A smear campaign targeting Seder accused him of joking about rape in a satirical tweet from 2009.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

In the wake of backlash for its decision to fire Majority Report podcast host Sam Seder over a deleted 2009 tweet, MSNBC has reversed the move, according to the Intercept.

“Sometimes you just get one wrong,” MSNBC president Phil Griffin told the Intercept in a statement on the reversal, “and that’s what happened here.”

The move comes after widespread public outcry over Seder’s firing, which apparently arose out of MSNBC’s initial failure to understand that Seder was being targeted by an alt-right troll campaign over the nature of the tweet.

The 2009 tweet, which was circulated by prominent alt-right figure and Pizzagate conspiracy purveyor Mike Cernovich, was a satirical comment on director Roman Polanski’s arrest by Swiss authorities in connection to charges that Polanski raped a minor in 1977, and subsequent defenses from Hollywood insiders whose arguments boiled down to the fact that Polanski has made great art.

After the tweet began recirculating, Seder deleted it — a move he later said he regretted:

Though the tweet was contextually satirical, Cernovich and his followers chose to read it as sincerely callous, and react accordingly. After Seder deleted the tweet on November 28, 2017, attempts by Cernovich and his alt-right followers to vilify him grew more intense. Numerous prominent alt-right figureheads, including Donald Trump Jr., tweeted criticisms of Seder and of MSNBC for continuing to employ him.

Eventually the complaints reached MSNBC, which told Seder on December 5, following an investigation by the Wrap, that it would not be renewing his contract. In a statement to the Washington Post, an unnamed MSNBC source defended the decision by noting, “It gives us pause when we see alt right figures whipping up attention about our action but the reality is Seder made a rape joke.”

There are a variety of ways to joke about rape, however — specifically, there are ways to satirize rape jokes in order to call attention to the monstrosity of rape and the defense thereof, rather than mocking survivors. Seder’s tweet, which mocks defenses of Polanski, is a clear example of the first category.

In protesting MSNBC’s decision, Seder told Errol Cockfield, MSNBC’s senior vice president of communications, that if it bowed to orchestrated, performative outrage from the alt-right, “you guys are going to be the story.”

And he was right. Amid a wave of public support for Seder, MSNBC took heat for being influenced by fringe extremists who were targeting mainstream journalists.

Some of Seder’s supporters also raised the point that Cernovich himself seems to be a proponent of terrible rape jokes — and perhaps a sincere rape apologist — in order to illustrate exactly what a bad-faith argument Cernovich was making.

And Seder himself was clear that he felt MSNBC had made a mistake.

MSNBC ultimately agreed, reversing its decision not to renew Seder’s contract.

“We made our initial decision for the right reasons,” Griffin stated to the Intercept on Thursday, “because we don’t consider rape to be a funny topic to be joked about. But we’ve heard the feedback, and we understand the point Sam was trying to make in that tweet was actually in line with our values, even though the language was not. Sam will be welcome on our air going forward.”

MSNBC insiders were reportedly disappointed with how the network’s decision about Seder was handled, with one anonymous employee calling it “weak” and “pathetic,” according to CNN.

Cernovich, meanwhile, told CNN he was going to backread the Twitter lists of other MSNBC employees in hopes of finding something as juicy as Seder’s eight-year-old tweet.

"The left isn't going to stop going through our tweets,” he said, “so we aren't going to stop going through theirs.”

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