Lawrence O'Donnell had the New Republic's Julia Ioffe on his show last night to discuss Russia's harboring of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, but instead of letting her speak, the MSNBC host "interrupted and harangued and mansplained ... he O'Reilly'd at me," Ioffe later wrote. Ioffe spent three years in Moscow reporting for the New Yorker and Foreign Policy magazines, and is a native Russian speaker -- she's an expert. O'Donnell is not, nor does he claim to be, but in his defense, he is a man.
Ioffe was nominally on the show to discuss President Obama's decision to cancel a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladamir Putin over the Snowden saga and whether that was a good idea. Ioffe thinks it was, but we don't learn that from the segment, or much else about the issue, because instead of letting her get to any of her 11 points on Putin, O'Donnell interrupts to take issue with the fact that Ioffe doesn't believe that Putin controls "every breath" that Snowden takes on Russian soil.
It's more complicated than that, Ioffe tried to explain, but O'Donnell wasn't interested in nuance. It's not even clear what his own views are, as he only seemed interested in attacking Ioffe. "Julia, Julia, Julia. You aren't seriously suggesting ..." began one question. "Julia, you're getting absurd now," began another. "I don't want to get caught up on this for too long," O'Donnell continued, before taking more time to browbeat the former Moscow correspondent on why her deeply informed understanding of Russian politics doesn't comply with his black-and-white stereotype.
As Noah Rothman points out, this moment was a rare opportunity to inform Americans about the political dynamics inside Russia, one of the U.S.'s chief international rivals, so it was a bit of a missed opportunity. O'Donnell, to his credit, later tweeted Ioffe's original article and called it the "best thing" he read on the subject. He continued, "Julia, we disagreed about Putin's powers. Then you were offered and got The Last Word on the subject. Thanks for joining us."
When Lawrence O'Donnell devoted 10 minutes of his show last month to attacking me and Salon for daring to write a story that wasn't about Lawrence O'Donnell, Alex Pareene mused, "I just want to say now that I am really excited for the 'The Newsroom' version of this story, in which the alpha male anchor heroically browbeats someone -- it will be a young woman, obviously." It turns out we didn't even need to wait for the Sorkinized version of this one.