What Tiffany Cross' firing from MSNBC tells us about who and what news organizations will defend

MSNBC hired Cross for her "authentic Black voice." She told white people the truth about themselves. Now she's gone

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published November 12, 2022 11:00AM (EST)

Tiffany Cross, Host of MSNBC Cross Connection speaks onstage during The 2022 Concordia Annual Summit - Day 1 at Sheraton New York on September 19, 2022 in New York City. (Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
Tiffany Cross, Host of MSNBC Cross Connection speaks onstage during The 2022 Concordia Annual Summit - Day 1 at Sheraton New York on September 19, 2022 in New York City. (Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Nothing former MSNBC host Tiffany Cross said is incorrect. Many Black people, other non-white people and marginalized folks in general have enough experience with what happens when powerful white people decide they want something to see danger ahead.

When she is quoted saying, "They've never had a problem replacing the people who stand in their way," Cross could have been referring to the rapid gentrification of historically Black neighborhoods in large cities, or the Westward expansion of white settlers in the 19th century, or any element of colonialism.

The same is true of this quote: "White replacement can strangle culture. So yes, we should all be concerned about white replacement. It is, after all, a very threat to our survival here."

And when she jokingly likened Florida to a d**k during a recent appearance on Charlamagne Tha God's Comedy Central show "Hell of a Week" . . . OK, that may have been a bridge too far. But it seems to me that her unfiltered style served "The Cross Connection" well until recently.

No other cable news show regularly examined the many ways that white supremacy is embedded structurally and historically throughout American society. And this is precisely what she pledged to do when she was hired in 2020. "It's not enough to simply have a Black face on screen," she told The Washington Post. "An authentic Black voice is just as important."

Here's the thing about authenticity and realness when it comes to Black people with prominent positions in mainstream media, and Black women specifically: News organizations tend to support those voices until, for whatever reason, the cost of doing so becomes too high.  

In Cross' case, it seems the limit was a combination of her willingness to defend herself on the air and an unwillingness to edit her viewpoint in a way that didn't offend some viewers.

News organizations tend to support authentic voices until, for whatever reason, the cost doing so becomes too high.  

But that approach gained Cross a robust audience of Black viewers, many of them female, that made "The Cross Connection" MSNBC's highest-rated weekend show. It also marked her as an easier target for Fox News' Tucker Carlson, a man following the right wing media's tradition of going after Black women. In late October, Carlson devoted a stupendously ironic monologue to likening Cross' show to Hutu radio hosts who helped incite the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In his analogy, white Americans, who still make up the majority of the United States population by a wide margin, are the Tutsis — that African nation's ethnic minority.

As if anyone needs reminding, Carlson is Fox's chief proponent of the racist "great replacement" theory. "Tucker Carlson Tonight," one of the most popular unscripted reality shows in all of cable news, regularly platforms election conspiracy proponents, bigots and antisemites. And that makes Carlson referring to each of Cross' quotes as evidence that she's openly peddling racist hatred not merely rich but wealthy.

Problem is, none of the content in the clips he played cannot be backed up by any respectable history book, studies and work from other journalists.

His main clutch-the-pearls passage from "The Cross Connection," in which he accuses her of targeting white women, is the following:

Look, a lot of folks in that Capitol insurrection, some of these folks were white women and I know we're talking a lot about Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, but I do think that some of the white women who have adopted this ideology. Is America ready to face the fact that some of those folks look like people they have elevated and put on a pedestal of being untouchable? What do you say about this wing of white women who have been radicalized and are enablers to this very dangerous domestic terrorism movement that we've seen increase quite rapidly? 

"It's not just whites, it's white women!" Carlson bellows in his best shock-and-horror tone. "Their women are bad, too. Women, of course, are the key to reproducing the white race, which is clearly a threat, as she says again and again to you and your family."

Yes, that would be frightening . . . if a number of outlets, including this one and The Conversation, hadn't cited the prominent organizational roles white women played in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Hell, even if those folks had never stormed the Capitol Building, there's an entire book chronicling the history of white women upholding white supremacy in this country. It's written by a white woman.

This is not some type of "pot, meet kettle" chicanery. This is a case of Carlson taking aim at an MSNBC host he calculated would be most vulnerable — a Black woman who isn't Joy Reid, host of the weeknight prime-time news show "The ReidOut" — and MSNBC proved that calculus to be correct by firing Cross on Nov. 4.

The network hasn't given any official reason for canceling "The Cross Connection" just shy of its two-year anniversary, and the midterm elections, and letting the host's contract lapse. Instead, unnamed sources pointed reporters to various instances in which Cross's commentary failed to adhere to the network's editorial standards.

Tiffany D. CrossTiffany D. Cross of The Beat DC speaks on stage during Texas Conference For Women 2019 at Austin Convention Center on October 24, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Texas Conference for Women 2019)

For example, when Megyn Kelly tried to jump on the "Tiffany Cross is a racist" bandwagon, Cross reminded her viewers that Kelly was fired from NBC for suggesting that applying blackface as a Halloween costume isn't racist by sarcastically referring to her as "a blackface expert." Some might call that standing up for yourself.

When reports circulated that Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former communications aide in Donald Trump's White House, would be the new co-host on "The View," Cross roasted ABC for offering public redemption to a Trump crony who was loyal right up until he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol Building. Which is precisely what several TV critics, including this one, warned people that a major media corporation would do.

The "Let's castrate Florida" comment is raw — and again, MSNBC has not officially stated this was the reason she was let go. But let us put it into perspective, aside from pointing out that Cross is the millionth person to pull off some version of that punchline. (Heck, thanks to the proliferation of a popular social media meme, the people of the world have watched Bugs Bunny saw off the United States' problematic dangle on a regular basis since 1949.)

Some voices in the media are more readily sidelined or silenced while others will simply be suspended and forgiven.

Brian Williams straight up fabricated a personal account from the Iraq War that he retold over the years. For that, he was suspended before being removed as NBC's nightly news anchor only to resurface at MSNBC not long after that, eventually getting his own show, "The 11th Hour."

Chris Matthews thrived for years as the host of "Hardball" despite demonstrating overtly sexist behavior off screen and on, including joking about putting a date rape drug in Hillary Clinton's water before she sat down for an interview.

Keith Olbermann's polarizing tenure at MSNBC is defined by him being a confrontational quote generator taking on the likes of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, about which he remarked in 2007, "Al Qaeda really hurt us, but not as much as Rupert Murdoch has hurt us, particularly in the case of Fox News. Fox News is worse than Al Qaeda – worse for our society. It's as dangerous as the Ku Klux Klan ever was."

MSNBC let him go in 2011, but guess what? Keith was right about that, too.

But as we've already established, some voices in the media are more readily sidelined or silenced while others will simply be suspended and forgiven.

MSNBC hired Cross back in 2020, the year of America's racial reckoning, when many prominent corporations were taking a hard look at themselves, especially NBC.

NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde responded by making a pledge to build a "50 percent diverse" workforce across his division, starting with promoting "AM Joy" host Joy Reid to the prime-time slot vacated by Chris Matthews.

Reid's elevation was the most prominent evidence of Conde's seriousness, leaving open the Saturday and Sunday slots in which she used to feature conversations about race and class that most news shows weren't having.

Melissa Harris-Perry, Reid's weekend show predecessor who hosts the WNYC public radio broadcast and podcast "The Takeaway," also made an intentional effort to feature more diverse perspectives that any other show on cable or broadcast news.

MSNBC sidelined Harris-Perry's program and enlisted other talent to cover the 2016 election, often treating her and her show as an afterthought, as she testified in an email to her staff that you can still find on Medium. That led an unnamed network executive to characterize her as a "challenging and unpredictable personality."

I have stayed in the same hotels where MSNBC has been broadcasting in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina, yet I have been shut out from coverage. I have a PhD in political science and have taught American voting and elections at some of the nation's top universities for nearly two decades, yet I have been deemed less worthy to weigh in than relative novices and certified liars. I have hosted a weekly program on this network for four years and contributed to election coverage on this network for nearly eight years, but no one on the third floor has even returned an email, called me, or initiated or responded to any communication of any kind from me for nearly a month.

This occurred under Conde's predecessor Andy Lack, before discussions about structural white supremacy became part of the national conversation. For a few months. To silence meaningful conversation about that or anything concerning racial inequality, the far right re-weaponized the term, lumping it in with other supposed liberal plots to make white Americans feel ashamed about who they are by, among other things, suggesting they grapple with history.

Not many mainstream series continued to examine the concept with honesty and intelligence along with tackling other current events. "The Cross Connection" was one of the very few that did. Not simply that, it regularly explored the ways that white supremacy damages everyone who isn't economically privileged or politically favored, not simply Black folks.

One of what would end up being among the final segments of "The Cross Connection" enlists Georgetown tax professor Dorothy Brown to explain how corporate profiteering and share buybacks are driving up prices for everyone who doesn't own stocks, which accounts for about half of Americans.

"It's really about a select few: the wealthy and white Americans are benefiting from this," Brown says, which again, is corroborated by many academic studies about the wealth gap between white families and Black families.

Brown's book is called "The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans – and How We Can Fix It."

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MSNBC may find other ways of covering the topics Cross championed and, one hopes, another host who makes a point of calling attention to crucial voices and stories that don't necessarily drive the prime-time news cycle. However, as Harris-Perry pointed out recently, it is chilling to view Cross' firing as a business-as-usual matter, as Variety's coverage implies.

The story notes how replaceable she is by floating the names of several candidates for her Saturday morning slot, including former White House press secretary and white woman Jen Psaki. If MSNBC were to follow that through, it would only prove the point eloquently made by The Nation's Elie Mystal in a Twitter thread summing up what journalists of color know.

"There is a cost to taking on racists while Black. Every Black person I know knows this cost," he wrote. "They navigate it at work, and in their professional circles. From the start of my career, a lot of Black professionals have liked me because I say to their bosses what they cannot."

That cost, Mystal says, isn't dealing with the Carlsons and Kellys among us. It's dealing with the news organizations and other powerful entities who are afraid of taking them on. "Telling the truth about white people to white people can exact a terrible price on one's career and opportunities," he says.

Someone must for the health of society and this democracy. The question will always be how large of a megaphone they'll receive . . . and how long they'll have it until somebody pushes management to pull the plug.


By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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Commentary Fox News Joy Reid Media Msnbc Racism Tiffany Cross Tucker Carlson White Supremacy