On Tuesday, MSNBC host Ed Schultz referred to radio show host Laura Ingraham as a “slut.” In fact, the word flowed so effortlessly off his tongue, he referred to her as a “slut” twice in two sentences! Yesterday, Schultz made an on-air apology and took a self-imposed one-week suspension without pay.
But Schultz’s short work leave is hardly fodder for revelry. Schultz is but an annoying gnat in the misogynistic cesspool that is MSNBC. Under MSNBC President Phil Griffin, who has had executive oversight of MSNBC since 2006, the cable network has displayed a consistent disdain and disrespect for women in leadership and public life. Which is why we the people, we the viewers, must demand that Griffin immediately institute corporate governance in the area of sexism — or, barring that, be terminated from his oversight position.
Sexist behavior is hardly new news at MSNBC. During the 2008 election, MSNBC was the leading culprit in overt sexism — the channel was filled with poster-boys of sexism: Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, David Shuster, Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle. There was fallout: millions of viewers stopped watching! These viewers migrated to networks that evolved after 2008 — becoming more sensitized and aware of sexism.
But not MSNBC.
Under Griffin’s leadership, the cable network has continued its unabated disdain for women leaders. From “a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it” (Olbermann) to “balloon head” (Matthews) to “If Palin wasn’t hot would we be talking about her?” (Deutsch). It’s like 2008 never even happened. Well, sorry, Mr. Griffin: it did!
It’s time that MSNBC stop its on-air reign of terror against women leaders. Schultz’s latest slur is simply the most recent evidence of a toxic corporate environment where sexism has been allowed to fester unabated. When male hosts and commentators use these derogatory and degrading terms about women with such ease, we can imagine the work environment at MSNBC. (Personal anecdote: when I appeared on a network, the young woman who escorted me to the make-up artist had just recently left Olbermann’s staff — she liked her new job much better — Olbermann was apparently belligerent and degrading to his female staffers).
MSNBC’s Griffin must immediately institute corporate governance in the area of sexism. Specifically, MSNBC should immediately establish and mandate an in-house educational training course on sexism. All employees and regular on-air guests should be required to attend. MSNBC should establish an in-house no-tolerance policy for gender bias (direct impact on pay and promotions). MSNBC should also adopt a zero-tolerance policy for on-air sexist commentary — meaning this: control your words or be fired.
Simply put: issues are fair game, sexism is not. Evaluate candidates and leaders on their positions and performance. Demeaning women or trying to make them into sexual objects is bad for our country, and as ratings show, bad for business.
Please sign this petition calling on Griffin to mandate sexism sensitivity training or step down. The petition will also be sent to NBC Universal’s Board of Directors, which is composed of (you guessed it) solely white men!
Amy Siskind is the President and Co-Founder of The New Agenda, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.