Commentary: Melissa Harris-Perry Apologizes in an Overblown Issue

Guests on the MSNBC joked about Mitt Romney’s African-American grandchild and the aftershocks have been needlessly fierce.

Posted: 01/06/2014 05:29 PM EST
Commentary: Melissa Harris-Perry Apologizes In An Overblown Issue

In a move that attracted great media attention, Melissa Harris-Perry, the brilliant, envelope-pushing academic figure and host of an MSNBC television show, has offered an emotional apology for comments made during her program regarding the African-American grandchild of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

One of the incredibly striking aspects of this event is how much more attention she received from her apology than from the comments that were alleged to be offensive. The supporters have included an unusual cast of defenders, none more curious than Glenn Beck, the right-wing television commentator.

Let’s step back for just a moment. In a segment on her show, Harris-Perry was sitting with a panel of comedians and asked them for captions ideas for a photo of the large Romney family with the newly-adopted Black grandchild, Kiernan, sitting on the right lap of the former presidential nominee.

Comedian Dean Obeidallah suggested that the photograph “really sums up the diversity of the Republican party” while another guest, comedic actress, Pia Glenn, sang a song from Sesame Street: "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others."

For her part, Harris-Perry described the young child as “gorgeous” and added that he might grow up and marry the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. This is hardly offensive banter on her part. It rises nowhere near the inflammatory musings of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, who suggested in an interview that gay Americans practiced a lifestyle akin to bestiality, that African-Americans were far more content during segregation and that men would do well to marry girls who are age 15 and 16.

Yet, the right-wing figures have lambasted her for the content of the segment. Yet, anyone who knows – or has watched – Harris-Perry’s show knows that she had no intention of being offensive. She is a great advocate on behalf of families whom society has deemed as nontraditional.

But within days after the segment was on the air, Harris-Perry offered a tearful apology, saying that her show had violated a standard of respect by bringing in children of public figures as an object of discussion.

"Whatever the intent was, the reality is that the segment proceeded in a way that was offensive, and showing the photo in that context of the segment was poor judgment," she said. "So, without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family." She added that there should be celebration and respect for families who have formed through trans-racial adoption.

As surreal has it feels to say, Glenn Beck has a point. “She apologizes — for what? It was a break with comedians. Yes, it wasn’t nice. Yes, it was hurtful and divisive if that was the intent, but it clearly was not. There are many dishonest, arrogant, and destructive people on MSNBC, but I really don’t think that this, by any means, was an example of a person like that.”

It would be best for people to simply admit that this was a segment that perhaps dipped only slightly into sensitive territory, but that no harm was done in the end.  In short, we should take the position that Romney assumed.

"I think her apology was clearly heartfelt, and we accept that," Romney said, in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

He added that the folks at MSNBC had made a mistake. “They've apologized for it. And that's all you can ask for. I am going to move on from that. I'm sure they want to move on from it."

Indeed, we all should.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks. 

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

(Photo: MSNBC)

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