For a fleeting moment, there was hope.
When MSNBC host Alex Wagner’s guest Arsalan Iftikhar asserted last week that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was “trying to scrub some of the brown off his skin” in order to appeal to a GOP electorate, the 2012 flashbacks were overpowering.
It was this kind of depressingly pathological thinking that led MSNBC hosts and guests to dub words like “Chicago,” “apartment,” and “IRS” racist “dog whistles.” It was this kind of thinking that prompted MSNBC hosts to call Herman Cain and his supporters racially unenlightened, and made Chris Matthews question whether Mitt Romney harbored suspect thoughts that were exposed by his decision to challenge an African-American president.
It was poisonous. It was dangerous. And MSNBC’s decision to immediately ban Iftikhar from appearing on any more MSNBC programs suggested that NBC brass was aware that the behavior of their network’s personalities in that period was wrong.
And just when you thought the network had seen the light and was abandoning this trite agitprop, even the NBC’s reporters again play to type.
In a discussion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday, NBC Foreign Affairs Correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin was asked for his thoughts on the wildly popular film American Sniper. After conceding that the film is powerful, Mohyeldin was prompted to expand on his obvious reservations about the movie’s subject matter. He let the veil drop.
“When you juxtapose it with the real Chris Kyle, and the story, and what has emerged about what kind of personality he was in his own words,” Mohyeldin began, “A lot of stories about when he was back home in Texas. A lot of his own personal opinions about what he was doing in Iraq; how he viewed Iraqis. Some of what people have described as his racist tendencies toward Iraqis and Muslim as he was going on some of these, you know, killing sprees in Iraq on assignment.”
Jaws hit the floor. To describe the performance of a decorated combat veteran in a hostile theater as a killing spree is to confess a level of bias that is virtually disqualifying for a foreign affairs reporter. The stigma associated with serving as a sniper in a war is painful enough for proficient sharpshooters, but to directly equate the actions of those servicemen with the behavior of a mass murder is beyond the pale.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, indicating Kyle was racist because he viewed ununiformed insurgent combatants in a negative light is obscene. This is the same view articulated by those on the fringes of left-wing thought like Alternet’s Max Blumenthal who claimed that “racism” motivates American military personnel to execute their missions and prompts average Americans to applaud their actions. Kyle did, indeed, view those enemy fighters who would abuse children in the name of their cause as “evil” and was not afraid to say as much. If this qualifies as racism, then we have diluted the term to a point when it has become devoid of all meaning.
Mohyeldin is a good reporter. His knowledge of the Middle East is an asset, and his reporting for NBC News has often been invaluable in the past. But his penchant to indulge in commentary has led to problems before. When Mohyeldin was briefly removed from Gaza during the war last summer (likely due entirely to his network’s hunger for ratings), Mohyeldin added fuel to the rumors that he was being persecuted as a result of his sympathies for the Palestinian cause.
“Thank you to everyone’s support over the past few days,” Mohyeldin wrote on Facebook, adding that he was “proud of NBC’s continued commitment to cover the Palestinian side of the story.”
Maybe this reporter’s commentary today suggests that those who were suspicious of Mohyeldin’s ability to divorce his personal beliefs from the stories he was covering were right all along.