Firing Tiffany Cross shows what MSNBC thinks about its Black viewers
OPINION: Why did MSNBC replace the host of one of its most successful shows? Here’s one not-so-great replacement theory.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
“Respect” is an oxymoron.
It is a noun and a verb. For one to give respect, lose respect or even pay their respect, they must first have respect. In fact, when someone in African America begins a conversation with “no disrespect…” or ends a sentence with the word “respectfully,” you can be sure they have very little respect for the person to whom they are talking. Respect is not said; it is shown.
On Friday, just days before one of the most important elections in a generation, MSNBC fired Tiffany Cross, essentially telling its Black viewers: “No disrespect, but we don’t respect you.
Before we begin, this opinion column, let’s get a few facts out of the way:
- I was a frequent guest on The Cross Connection: In case you think I might be biased, I should also note that I was a frequent guest on other MSNBC shows hosted by people who still work at the channel.
- Cross was not fired for her performance: In less than two years, The Cross Connection had MSNBC’s highest-rated weekend program and the best-performing show in the key 25-54 demographic, according to Mediaite.
- Cross was not fired for not doing what she promised: From the beginning, Cross promised an unapologetically outspoken program that reflected the sentiments of America’s multicultural democracy.
- Women and Black viewers loved Tiffany Cross: An internal MSNBC memo boasted that Cross’ audience was “55% female and 35% African American.” She was the second-most-watched weekend cable news show in America behind Al Sharpton’s “Politics Nation.”
- Conservative right-wingers hated Tiffany Cross: Tucker Carlson accused her of trying to start a white genocide. Megyn Kelly called her a “dumbass.” And upon hearing the news, the Wicked Witch of the Whites tweeted this:
Literally no one will miss her. https://t.co/c2xHaSOKBV— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) November 4, 2022
These facts explain why Tiffany Cross used her platform to feature a diverse array of voices that are usually absent from cable news coverage, including trans women, native Americans and an African American elf who disparaged Caucasian Santa Claus (no disrespect to Megyn Kelly). When Tiffany Cross called out Clarence Thomas, she was echoing the sentiments of her audience. When she suggested that whites should “sit out” the debate over Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, she was just saying what many of her viewers thought (By the way, this is not my interpretation; I was actually part of that panel discussion). She was doing exactly what she told MSNBC she’d do when they hired her.
Of course, people will argue that MSNBC has a Black woman as president, so they can’t be racist. But that’s not quite how media, television or America works. There’s no way that Rashida Jones unilaterally made the decision to fire the head of one of its most successful shows without the approval or command of the white man who serves as chairman of NBCUniversal, his white CEO or the chairman of its NBCUniversal News Group. And even if she did, having a Black woman president doesn’t absolve the network of racism. When this country had a Black president, did America stop being racist?
Still, Cross is a Black woman who works on a network run by white people whose main goal is to sell a white product to white people. Before hiring Cross and Joy Reid to helm their own shows, MSNBC’s viewership was nearly as white as Fox News. The network was right to try to grow its viewership by hiring someone who could garner a Black audience. And it actually worked.
But that’s not what MSNBC wants.
Just take a look at the hodgepodge of white mediocrity gathered around the table of any random airing of “Morning Joe,” and you’ll notice an astonishing lack of Joy Reid-ness or Tiffany Cross-ing. Then again, why would the network’s flagship morning show include its only Black primetime anchor or its most successful weekend host when they can get Donny Deutch, the poster child of white privilege, to say things? Who needs to hear what Black people with actual backgrounds in journalism think? Between Mika Brzezinski’s incoherent babbling and Joe Scarborough’s breathless, rambling demagoguery, where would they find the time?
But that’s not why Cross was fired.
“There has been speculation that Cross’ relationship with MSNBC was becoming frayed,” Variety reports. Apparently, the executives were “concerned about the anchor’s willingness to address statements made by cable-news hosts on other networks and indulging in commentary executives felt did not meet the standards of MSNBC or NBC News.” Cross was fired because she was “controversial.” She was fired because she was outspoken. She was fired saying what her audience thinks. She lost her job because she did exactly what she said she’d do.
When MSNBC hired Tiffany Cross, they got an authentic Black voice and everything that follows. They bragged about their Black audience and their women viewers. Cross helped them shoot past CNN and prevented competitors like the Black News Channel from gaining a toehold in Black households. They loved the ratings, the advertising dollars and new viewers who were traditionally absent from the cable news industry. In fact, MSNBC’s only problem with Tiffany Cross seems to be that she was Tiffany Cross.
Nearly two years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cross about her new show. I began by noting “the misplaced assumption that the recent focus on inclusion is a quasi-benevolent gift to Black people…Even the most progressive individuals believe that ‘diversity hires’ help Black employees, when, in reality, it is white people who get most of the benefit because input from a diverse array of voices usually improves the product.”
“The days of our community being marginalized are over,” Cross said during our interview announcing her show. “Some networks still treat communities of color as though we’re the potato. But I am here to declare, unapologetically, that we are the steak, not the potato.”
MSNBC apparently loved everything this Black woman did. They just hated her unapologetic Blackness.
Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2022.
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