Melissa Harris-Perry refuses to host her MSNBC show this weekend, walking off the set Friday over, well, no one is quite sure. Harris-Perry, a political commentator, hosts a weekend news and opinion show, named after her, where much of her focus lands on African-American politics. In favor of election coverage, her program was preempted for the last two weeks, putting the pout into Perry.
Reports MSN on Feb. 26: “Melissa Harris-Perry may be too progressive for the new MSNBC. The anchor, who has hosted a weekend program on the NBC Universal-owned cable-news outlet since 2012, said she will not host her show this weekend in what appears to be a significant difference of opinion regarding her role at the network.”
Harris-Perry, whose two-hour show airs on both Saturdays and Sunday at 10:00 a.m., sent a letter to a Jamil Smith, an original producer of her show, and asked that she load it to Medium.com.
Harris-Perry writes that it is “deeply moving” that some have “missed working with me even a fraction of how much I’ve missed working with all of you.” Yet, she says she has “no intention of hosting this weekend,” despite the fact her name and show are listed on the “spreadsheet” that is submitted to the network for the weekend lineup.
Putting me on air seems to be a decision being made solely to save face because there is a growing chorus of questions from our viewers about my notable absence from MSNBC coverage. Social media has noted the dramatic change in editorial tone and racial composition of MSNBC’s on-air coverage. In addition, Dylan Byers of CNN has made repeated inquiries with MSNBC’s leadership and with me about the show and what appears to be its cancellation. I have not responded to reporters or social media inquiries. However, I am not willing to appear on air in order to quell concerns about the disappearance of our show and our voice.
Here is the reality: our show was taken — without comment or discussion or notice — in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.
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.
In a statement, MSNBC responded with: “In this exciting and unpredictable presidential primary season, many of our daytime programs have been temporarily upended by breaking political coverage, including Melissa Harris-Perry. This reaction is really surprising, confusing and disappointing.”
Harris-Perry later spoke to the NY Times to clarify that despite her insinuations, she doesn’t believe it’s about her race. In her letter, the host called out NBC News chairman, Andrew Lack, and MSNBC president, Phil Griffin, as being the likely decision makers that sidelined her show. Stating that they do not “own” her is seen as many to be a reference to slavery. Ms. Harris-Perry is black, and Mr. Lack and Mr. Griffin are both white.
“I don’t know if there is a personal racial component,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is doing something mean to me because I’m a black person.”
The Melissa Harris-Perry Show first aired in 2012, and is known for its inclusion of underrepresented commentators while addressing social injustices and issues in diversity. The 42-year-old Harris-Perry has dropped the show from her Twitter bio – perhaps a harbinger of what’s to come.
In April of last year, it was reported Melissa and her husband, James Perry, owed about $70,000 to the IRS. The Service filed a Notice of Federal Tax Lien, which made the debt available on public record. Harris-Perry said they had paid back approximately $22,000 on the 2013 tax debt, but that “personal crises” had prevented them from doing more.
The host is under contract with MSNBC, and it’s unclear if the Melissa Harris-Perry show has or will be cancelled, or if she plans on returning.