MSNBC Gets A Lesson In Dealing With Right-Wing Trolls


MSNBC has decided to rehire Sam Seder as a network contributor after it received substantial blowback for giving in to a relentless bad-faith campaign to fire Seder in which self-described “New Right” activist Mike Cernovich purposefully mispresented a joke to imply that Seder endorsed raping children.

Earlier this week, MSNBC fired Seder after Cernovich, a right-wing provocateur and conspiracy theorist who is convinced that global elites are secret pedophiles, claimed that a tweet Seder posted in 2009 that mocked liberals who were defending Roman Polanski against accusations of rape was actually a personal endorsement of rape. Cernovich targeted the network on social media and asked his fans to contact the network’s HR department and advertisers until Seder was fired. When news broke that MSNBC had decided not to renew Seder’s contract, Cernovich ran a victory lap and called his followers “heroes.”

But today, as first reported by The Intercept, MSNBC decided to re-hire Seder. MSNBC president Phil Griffin explained that after further examination of the claims Cernovich put forward, network officials came to realize “the point Sam was trying to make in that tweet was actually in line with our values, even though the language was not.”

“Sometimes you just get one wrong — and that’s what happened here,” Griffin told The Intercept.

For months, Cernovich has aggressively targeted journalists and commentators who he believes have unjustly smeared him by writing about his history of repulsive misogyny, “Pizzagate” truthering, and promotion of the racist “alt-right” movement, which he has since publicly disavowed. Cernovich claimed in a Periscope live stream yesterday that the real reason mainstream media reporters bring up his past remarks is “all blind hatred and jealousy for my tremendous success.”

“If the media cared, shouldn’t the media view me as a good role model for other people? Shouldn’t the media say, ‘You know what, it’s a great thing that Cernovich is able to admit you shouldn’t call people retarded. He’s saying that you shouldn’t do this. He admits that he was wrong when he said it and he wouldn’t do it.’ But they’ll never say that,” Cernovich said. “They’ll never say, ‘This is great. This shows that people are trying to get better. This shows that people can learn and grow from things they’ve said.’”

Cernovich’s attacks against established journalism outlets are not new or even particularly unique in a political environment where even the White House calls critical reporting “fake news.” But in the past few months, Cernovich and his ilk have begun to target individual journalists—rather than outlets—for one-off character assassinations. The far-right attempts to justify these attacks by comparing them to previous instances of its own media figures and activists losing jobs for genuinely offensive and bigoted comments.

This strategy began months ago, when Cernovich dangled the “Shitty Men in Media List” over reporters, threatening to publish the names in a document meant to protect women working in media. He has also recently targeted MSNBC host Joy Ann Reid for anti-gay comments she made years ago and targeted The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern for mocking the lisp in Cernovich’s voice. Once Cernovich picks a target, he generates social media outrage from his followers and directs them to submit formal complaints to media companies’ HR departments following a pre-written template.

Seder is only the beginning of Cernovich’s war against the establishment press. Cernovich claims to have a record of “over 100 far left wing journalists with fireable tweets,” compiled by a team that he told the Washington Post resembles Andrew Kaczynski’s researchers at CNN, whom he will begin pursuing in 2018.

Cernovich’s goal is to create lose-lose situations for media outlets that have reported on him. If a journalist is condemned or fired over past comments, Cernovich will declare victory against his critics and claim that his prior comments about the alt-right and sexually assaulting women should be forgiven because even media figures that criticize him have regretted things they have said or written. If a network does not fire a journalist, or media figures defend the old tweets that Cernovich digs up, he will claim a double standard exists and that he has exposed liberal bias.

Given the initial reactions, from Cernovich’s followers, it seems the attacks on MSNBC for supporting Seder are far from over, but the Seder debacle should serve as a cautionary tale for other news outlets that may come under fire next year as Cernovich launches his series of smear campaigns. It’s critical that networks understand the motivations and tactics Cernovich demonstrated in his attacks on Seder, such as presenting material in bad faith and pursuing formal administrative action, all for the sake of seeking revenge and furthering his own anti-media narrative. When Cernovich launches his future attacks on journalists, employers should approach them with extreme skepticism and caution.