This past July, MSNBC daytime news anchor Thomas Roberts said then-Republican presidential candidate Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann would "extinguish" gay people. In September he said GOP candidates want to go back to a time when "slavery was cool." This past December, Roberts reported that the Romney campaign was using the same slogan as the KKK did during the 1920s, a report that linked back to a mock political ad youtube video unaffiliated with the Romney campaign.
And now, Roberts is tangled in controversy once again over an interview stunt and comments he made about a scheduled guest, calling further attention to questions regarding journalistic objectivity at MSNBC.
Here's what happened.
On Wednesday, Roberts seemed to combine his over-the-top aggression towards same-sex marriage opponents with a recent and chastised stunt by MSNBC personality Lawrence O'Donnell, asking questions to an empty chair where Roberts claimed National Organization for Marriage (NOM) spokeswoman Maggie Gallagher was supposed to sit before canceling her appearance last minute.
With Gallagher's absence, Roberts, who is an openly gay man and outspoken LGBT advocate, conducted the segment with same-sex marriage supporter Wayne Besen on NOM's alleged tactics to wedge ethnic minorities against same-sex marriage supporters based off recently revealed internal documents.
The news anchor opened the segment describing "just how down and dirty opponents of marriage equality are willing to get in their fight to stop it," and said he planned to ask Gallagher "how do you deny these documents as proving that the National Organization for Marriage is race-baiting, trying to ensure bigotry and homophobia?" At the end of the segment, Roberts again said that Gallagher "decided not to show up for this interview" and thanked Besen for coming on and "keeping your word."
Like with the Romney KKK incident, Roberts once again failed to followup with his sources.
“MYSTERY solved… @maggiemarriage was in a studio ready for our #nom interview it was just the wrong studio booked improperly on @msnbc_booking IT WAS OUR MISTAKE and she has an open invite for the show,” Roberts tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “Our sincerest apologies.”
To many in the journalism industry, however, that apology is not enough. The blog Inside Cable News writes:
"This segment wasn’t just handled wrong it was criminally handled wrong. There is no justification for what Roberts did on the air. None. Zero. It was over the top and inappropriate. The proper way to handle it is to say that a guest was scheduled to appear but couldn’t make it in time and we hope they will appear in the future. Then you move on and don’t refer to it again. Given that you don’t know what actually happened you must err on the side of caution…for reasons that now seem all too obvious given that it was MSNBC booking that screwed up."
"This is supposed to be MSNBC’s non-POV straight news time, not Lawrence O’Donnell’s POV primetime where the rules are different and O’Donnell can get away with mocking an empty chair.
If I sound angry here, it is because I am. I have watched MSNBC since the day it launched and, not mincing words or understating the situation, this is the worst display of journalistic unprofessionalism I have ever seen on its newscasts. To say it’s an embarrassment is doing a disservice. By rights Roberts should be suspended as it totally undermines MSNBC and NBC News and is no better than David Shuster’s “pimped out” comment regarding Chelsea Clinton for which Shuster got a small “vacation” for.
That is if MSNBC still wants to stand for news and journalistic values from 9-3 anymore."
On Friday, Gallagher and MSNBC booking got on the same page and the NOM spokeswoman spoke with Roberts. Take a look at the video:
Broadcast journalism or 2 on 1 crossfire? You be the judge.