The Shuster fallout

Reaction continues to comments MSNBC's David Shuster made about Chelsea Clinton being "pimped out" on behalf of her mother's campaign.

Published February 11, 2008 11:57PM (EST)

David Shuster certainly didn't bargain for this. When the MSNBC reporter was guest-hosting on his network's "Tucker" last week, he was discussing Chelsea Clinton and her work on behalf of mother Hillary Clinton's campaign when he said, "[T]here's just something a little bit unseemly to me that Chelsea is out there calling up celebrities saying, 'Support my mom,' and apparently she's also calling these Super Delegates." Had he stopped there, Shuster might have stayed out of trouble. But he didn't; instead, he went on to ask, "Doesn't it seem like Chelsea is being pimped out in some weird sort of way?"

Initially, Shuster seemed to believe he was in the clear. In a series of e-mails with the Clinton camp, he defended his words. The next morning, though, he had to take to MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to apologize, which he did again once more that day. He was, additionally, suspended for the comment.

But it hasn't ended there. Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, called Hillary Clinton to personally apologize, but as the Clinton campaign continues to press MSNBC and Shuster, the controversy has not abated. On Saturday, Hillary Clinton released a letter she wrote to Capus. In it, she wrote, "I know that I am a public figure and that my daughter is playing a public role in my campaign. I am accustomed to criticism, certainly from MSNBC. I know that it goes with the territory.

"However, I became Chelsea's mother long before I ran for any office and I will always be a mom first and a public official second.

"Nothing justifies the kind of debasing language that David Shuster used and no temporary suspension or half-hearted apology is sufficient.

"I would urge you to look at the pattern of behavior on your network that seems to repeatedly lead to this sort of degrading language."

On Monday, others weighed in. On (rival network ABC's) "The View," Barbara Walters defended Shuster, saying of Clinton's letter, "It was as if she was advocating more than just his being suspended," then adding, "Perhaps I feel this because of the years, and all of you, we are live, sometimes you say something unfortunate. You apologize, he's getting suspended, he apologized, MSNBC apologized. Drop it already! It's OK. He made a mistake."

Also Monday, Slate's Daniel Gross wrote a guest post at Slate's "ladyblog," The XX Factor, defending Shuster and suggesting that the Clinton campaign was pressing the issue for political gain. (Gross is a friend of Shuster's, a fact he disclosed.)

"No matter how much the term pimp has become mainstreamed, it is was a poor choice of words. But the efforts to paint Shuster as a malicious misogynist are way off-base," Gross wrote. "Context, of course, is everything. As the Clinton campaign noted, there has been a 'pattern of behavior' of on-air hosts at MSNBC and other outlets making derogatory references to women in general, and to Hillary in particular. ... The cable news landscape is filled with men who let their bile-filled ids run rampant. ... But these clowns are largely condoned -- no, encouraged -- by their bosses. And they never apologize. And they're never suspended.

"Shuster, who has been suspended by MSNBC, apologized on the air -- twice. On Friday, he tried to apologize personally to Hillary and Chelsea -- on the phone and via e-mail -- but was rebuffed. ... In effect, a U.S. senator called for General Electric, a publicly held company with all sorts of interests in front of the government, to fire one of its employees.

"The Clintons' refusal to accept an apology is strange given that they are among our era's great forgivers. Hillary has forgiven Bill for the enormously public humiliations he inflicted on her and Chelsea in the late 1990s. All the Clintons have shown an ability gracefully to reconcile with their implacable foes. ... So, why are the Clintons, who have always excelled at burying the hatchet, now trying to bury it between my friend's shoulder blades? Well, it's a lot easier to be a mensch when you're winning than when you're losing. ... In recent weeks, umbrage has joined inevitability and experience as a recurring Clinton motif. And Shuster's misuse of a bit of slang has functioned as a heaping portion of that umbrage."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

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2008 Elections Hillary Rodham Clinton Msnbc War Room