It’s official: Pat Buchanan has been fired from MSNBC. Mr. Buchanan broke the news with a blistering column that charged liberals with “blacklisting” him from the network. He wrote, “The modus operandi of these thought police … is to brand as racists and anti-Semites any writer who dares to venture outside the narrow corral in which they seek to confine debate. All the while prattling about their love of dissent and devotion to the First Amendment, they seek systematically to silence and censor dissent.” Pat Buchanan leaves MSNBC the same way he came in - in a firestorm of fighting talk.
The decision to dismiss Mr. Buchanan probably was more about money than politics. MSNBC is purposefully divorcing itself from popular opinion in order to corner the liberal market. The network wants to become the mirror opposite of Fox News: left-wing and unwatched. It’s a bad move for MSNBC and yet more bad news for American democracy.
Mr. Buchanan was suspended from the network in January at the request of the “progressive” group Color of Change, which also campaigned to have Glenn Beck thrown off Fox. Color of Change took issue with the pundit’s latest best-seller, “Suicide of a Superpower.” It’s a controversial text that contains such chapter titles as “The End of White America.” After Color of Change waged a heated campaign protesting Mr. Buchanan’s prime-time slot as an MSNBC contributor, network president Phil Griffin emailed the group to inform its members that he was giving in. The author was “suspended indefinitely.”
Mr. Griffin’s decision was peculiarly tardy, for he must have known what Mr. Buchanan’s reputation was when he hired him in 2002. Mr. Buchanan’s career spans three rabble-rousing presidential bids and nearly a dozen texts with very alarmist titles. Anyone who pens a book called “The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization” is hardly going to be Mr. Sensitive when it comes to discussing things like multiculturalism.
Nonetheless, MSNBC offered him a job because the network knew he’d be great for ratings. It helped that he combined extraordinary political experience (speechwriter for President Nixon, director of communications for President Reagan) with charm. In the course of writing a biography of Mr. Buchanan, I was struck by how many partisan liberals find him irresistible. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews told me: “With Pat, you’re arguing with a brilliant guy, not just a loudmouth celebrity. … He’s a funny, clever guy, and it’s hard for anyone to hate him.”
“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said all his liberal interns would cringe when told they would be meeting Pat Buchanan. “They’d say, ‘Isn’t he an awful person? He’s so right-wing.’ But after a couple of days with him, they’d all want to adopt him as their father.” Mr. Buchanan also was instrumental in advancing Rachel Maddow’s television career. She was a guest on a show Mr. Buchanan hosted, and he liked her so much that he recommended her for more work. Nowadays, she calls him “Uncle Pat.” It’s no exaggeration to say Mr. Buchanan was part of the MSNBC “family.”
So why drop him now? Because MSNBC is trying to establish itself as 100 percent liberal in an effort to corner the left-wing market, and Color of Change’s campaign threatened to tarnish that new image. Ordinarily, Mr. Buchanan would lobby and smooth his way out of the trouble that a book such as “Suicide of a Superpower” brought him. But he fell ill over Christmas and was unable to mount a fight back.
Many commentators have expressed horror at MSNBC’s capitulation to extortion, but they miss the point that the capitulation came so easily because it suits the network’s effort to monopolize liberal viewership. This development is bad for American democracy, for it will create a bifurcated media within which left and right increasingly have no dialogue on the same TV station and, thus, no idea what each other is thinking. The refusal by liberal outlets to air conservative views leads inexorably to myopic journalism that is cut off from mainstream opinion. Pat Buchanan will survive his ouster, but the quality of MSNBC’s output will take a terrible hit. Extreme liberals may rejoice, but the rest of us will be changing the channel.
Timothy Stanley, a historian at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University and a writer for the London Daily Telegraph, is author of the newly released, “Crusader: The Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan” (Thomas Dunne, Feb. 14).