- - Friday, January 31, 2014

The race card is the overworked joker in the deck of every media and political hack. When a Democratic partisan lays it on the table, the Republican instinct is to head for the exit, leaving his cards, chips and courage behind.

But not always, as the cable-news network MSNBC learned when it overplayed its hand the other day.

MSNBC is the go-to channel for race-baiting fans and enthusiasts. Its hosts vilify conservatives, rank-and-file Republicans, Tea Party activists and sometimes the Republican establishment, as racists all.

Last week, the network tweeted this: “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.” The commercial was scheduled for broadcast during the Super Bowl.

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, demanded a boycott, though if everyone boycotted MSNBC, it would be difficult to tell, since its ratings fall somewhere now in the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific, the deepest spot on earth.

“Until you personally and publicly apologize for this behavior,” wrote Mr. Priebus to Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, “I have banned all RNC staff from appearing on, associating with, or booking any RNC surrogates on MSNBC. I have asked Republican surrogates and officials to follow our lead.”

An apology delivered under threat is hardly an apology, but the network quickly caved, and the “apology” was quickly accepted.

The tweet was quickly deleted, and Mr. Griffin called Mr. Priebus to say he was as sorry as sorry could be. “We don’t expect their liberal bias to change,” Sean Spicer of the Republican committee said, “but we will call them out when political commentary devolves into personal and belittling attacks.”

The network’s racial game goes well beyond one malicious tweet. A few weeks ago, a network panel mocked the black child adopted by Mitt Romney’s son.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a “star” MSNBC commentator, first came to public notice with his claim in 1987 that Tawana Brawley was raped by six white men who scrawled racist slurs in feces on her body.

A jury concluded the incident was fabricated, and the Rev. Mr. Sharpton later had to pay damages to a prosecutor in the case he defamed, and the eminent divine was rewarded with his own show on MSNBC.

The incident is not likely to diffuse the network’s enthusiasm for race-baiting, but the newfound Republican eagerness to avenge the racial canard is welcome.