Melissa Harris-Perry is a Princeton and Tulane professor turned MSNBC host. She’s an intellectual, we are repeatedly told— one of “few academics [to] make that turn to become the host rather than the expert,” according to a 2012 NPR profile on her. She refers, with self-congratulation thinly disguised as self-deprecation, to her audience collectively as “nerdland.”
Harris-Perry is an unabashed fan of the exiting and scandal-hounded former Attorney General Eric Holder. The host makes clear in her public statements and writings on this administration that she feels a personal stake in the legacies of both President Obama and Holder because of their shared ideologies and African-American heritage. Harris-Perry’s mixed-race-and-religion upbringing reflects the complexities and beauty of American coexistence and pluralism and clearly inspired her founding of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South. Professor Harris-Parry interviewed Holder this week.
She asked him to quack like a duck.
“You know, we call you ‘The Duck’ in nerdland,” Harris-Perry said, referring to fans of her show.
“The duck?” Holder asked.
“We call you the duck.”
“We say you have a very sort of placid and even way of presenting, but you are just working for justice underneath,” Harris-Perry explained as Holder stroked his mustache.
She moved her arms and head vigorously to describe the underwater movement.
“Would you quack for us?” she then asked.
“Well, I’m not sure I’m going to do that,” Holder replied, smiling.
Holder said he liked the analogy, pointing to his upbringing.
“I was born and raised in New York City, in the 50s and 60s. And for an African-American guy, the thing was to be cool, you know? You gotta be cool,” he said.
“And so on the surface I like to think that’s the way I appear to be. But you’re absolutely right, those little duck feet are just moving as fast as they can underneath and things are going as fast as they can behind the scenes,” he added.
The Duck is a horrible nickname, but particularly for Holder, who is not renowned for being able to cover the fact that he’s “pissed off,” though he reveals in this interview that he thinks he’s great covering it.
I’m the last person to say every moment in every interview with a public figure has to be deadly serious, but really. Really. You’ve got a man sitting across from you who has been involved in literally deadly serious mistakes and scandals as Attorney General and you’re asking him to quack like a duck instead of answer for those things.
And, in yet another surprising turn, I think Holder did the right thing by refusing to quack. It may be the first time I ever have or ever will utter that phrase, but no, he should not have quacked like a duck in an interview. His defenders are embarrassing, even to him.
Naturally, Lady Thatcher did it better: