By Aja Romano
A smear campaign targeting Seder accused him of joking about rape in a satirical tweet from 2009.
“Sometimes you just get one wrong,” MSNBC president Phil Griffin told the Intercept in a statement on the reversal, “and that’s what happened here.”
The move comes after widespread public outcry over Seder’s firing, which apparently arose out of MSNBC’s initial failure to understand that Seder was being targeted by an alt-right troll campaign over the nature of the tweet.
The 2009 tweet, which was circulated by prominent alt-right figure and Pizzagate conspiracy purveyor Mike Cernovich, was a satirical comment on director Roman Polanski’s arrest by Swiss authorities in connection to charges that Polanski raped a minor in 1977, and subsequent defenses from Hollywood insiders whose arguments boiled down to the fact that Polanski has made great art.
After the tweet began recirculating, Seder deleted it — a move he later said he regretted:
I was just asked if I regret my tweet from 2009. I regret laziness led me to delete it. I would never regret criticizing rape apologists.
— Sam Seder (@SamSeder) December 5, 2017
Though the tweet was contextually satirical, Cernovich and his followers chose to read it as sincerely callous, and react accordingly. After Seder deleted the tweet on November 28, 2017, attempts by Cernovich and his alt-right followers to vilify him grew more intense. Numerous prominent alt-right figureheads, including Donald Trump Jr., tweeted criticisms of Seder and of MSNBC for continuing to employ him.
Eventually the complaints reached MSNBC, which told Seder on December 5, following an investigation by the Wrap, that it would not be renewing his contract. In a statement to the Washington Post, an unnamed MSNBC source defended the decision by noting, “It gives us pause when we see alt right figures whipping up attention about our action but the reality is Seder made a rape joke.”
There are a variety of ways to joke about rape, however — specifically, there are ways to satirize rape jokes in order to call attention to the monstrosity of rape and the defense thereof, rather than mocking survivors. Seder’s tweet, which mocks defenses of Polanski, is a clear example of the first category.
In protesting MSNBC’s decision, Seder told Errol Cockfield, MSNBC’s senior vice president of communications, that if it bowed to orchestrated, performative outrage from the alt-right, “you guys are going to be the story.”
And he was right. Amid a wave of public support for Seder, MSNBC took heat for being influenced by fringe extremists who were targeting mainstream journalists.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) December 6, 2017
MSNBC made a mistake here. They should fix it by reversing their decision. That cynical misreadings of clearly satirical tweets should lead to people being fired is not a standard they want to set, or be held to in the future. https://t.co/dXWuQDA4XB
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) December 6, 2017
Also, I reiterate my longstanding position that people shouldn’t be fired for a tweet, *particularly* one that is obviously being read in manifestly bad faith.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) December 4, 2017
Some of Seder’s supporters also raised the point that Cernovich himself seems to be a proponent of terrible rape jokes — and perhaps a sincere rape apologist — in order to illustrate exactly what a bad-faith argument Cernovich was making.
This is who @MSNBC caved to when he and his followers bombarded them with tweets & emails of faux-outrage about an old, purposely misinterpreted, out- of-context tweet of Sam Seder’s.
— Victor Bergermeister Meisterberger IV (@VicBergerIV) December 5, 2017
And Seder himself was clear that he felt MSNBC had made a mistake.
Here’s @SamSeder‘s message for MSNBC after being fired: “I know you want to avoid controversy, you can’t do that in this day and age. If you try and run from something like this, you’re picking a side.” #AM2DM pic.twitter.com/a7id6Shjlg
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) December 6, 2017
MSNBC ultimately agreed, reversing its decision not to renew Seder’s contract.
“We made our initial decision for the right reasons,” Griffin stated to the Intercept on Thursday, “because we don’t consider rape to be a funny topic to be joked about. But we’ve heard the feedback, and we understand the point Sam was trying to make in that tweet was actually in line with our values, even though the language was not. Sam will be welcome on our air going forward.”
MSNBC insiders were reportedly disappointed with how the network’s decision about Seder was handled, with one anonymous employee calling it “weak” and “pathetic,” according to CNN.
Cernovich, meanwhile, told CNN he was going to backread the Twitter lists of other MSNBC employees in hopes of finding something as juicy as Seder’s eight-year-old tweet.
“The left isn’t going to stop going through our tweets,” he said, “so we aren’t going to stop going through theirs.”