Was Melissa Harris Perry’s ‘Scorched Earth’ Play the Best Move?

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY -- Pictured: Melissa Harris-Perry, Anchor -- Photo by: Heidi Gutman/MSNBC

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY — Pictured: Melissa Harris-Perry, Anchor — Photo by: Heidi Gutman/MSNBC

When I observed the news and commentary surrounding Melissa Harris Perry, I’m admit I had a mixture of feelings. I don’t think she’s always done a service to black women, especially with her position with Tanya Fields, mother of five children from multiple fathers she can barely feed. I read that she walked out on her show because she felt that the powers that be at MSNBC were trying to edge her out with election coverage and in prior weeks, asked her to ease of coverage of the political tone of Beyonce’s “Formation” Superbowl performance. She refused to do both, and walked out on her show is a very public way. She wrote an email to her staff that was eventually leaked with her blessing.

Here’s some of it:

The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.

Undoubtedly, television nurtures the egos of those of us who find ourselves in front of bright lights and big cameras. I am sure ego is informing my own pain in this moment, but there is a level of professional decency, respect, and communication that has been denied this show for years. And the utter insulting absurdity of the past few weeks exceeds anything I can countenance.

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. It is profoundly hurtful to realize that I work for people who find my considerable expertise and editorial judgment valueless to the coverage they are creating.

While MSNBC may believe that I am worthless, I know better. I know who I am. I know why MHP Show is unique and valuable. I will not sell short myself or this show. I am not hungry for empty airtime. I care only about substantive, meaningful, and autonomous work. When we can do that, I will return — not a moment earlier. I am deeply sorry for the ways that this decision makes life harder for all of you. You mean more to me than you can imagine.

Melissa’s fans in #Nerdland trended on Twitter with legions of people giving her “you go girl!” support. That’s easy to do, but are any of those people offering her a job on a major news network? Talk is cheap.

Is naming names and criticizing her former bosses in social media that was picked up in hundreds of news outlets a good chess move? I wonder. Future networks might look at this public temper tantrum as a hot potato. Bottom line, the MHP show was a platform provided by her employer. When you have a boss, you will never have complete autonomy. If you want to say what you want to say when and how you want to say it, you’re going to have to be the boss who pays to keep the lights on.

The New York Times has now announced that the show has been formally cancelled.

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