As It Happens

MSNBC pundit Sam Seder on being fired — then re-hired — over satirical Polanski tweet

How a right-wing conspiracy theorist got a left-wing commentator sacked over an old tweet about Roman Polanski — and why MSNBC eventually changed its mind.
(The Majority Report/YouTube)

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Sam Seder says MSNBC reversing its decision to fire him over an eight-year-old tweet is victory for journalists, his fans and everybody who's tired of the far-right "attacking the idea of reality."

The comedian, podcaster and left-wing comedian briefly was sacked this week from his role as an MSNBC contributor after right-wing conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich unearthed a 2009 tweet Seder posted about Roman Polanksi.

"Don't care re Polanski," Seder tweeted. "but i hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/a great sense of mise en scene."

Seder says he was lampooning the hundreds of film industry workers who signed a petition in support of the Rosemary's Baby director, who was convicted in 1977 of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

On Thursday, the news media company reversed course and re-hired the pundit. 

Seder spoke to As It Happens guest host Jim Brown on Friday about his roller coaster week. Here's part of that conversation.

How did you get the news that MSNBC had reversed its decision to fire you?

I had just come out a subway actually and saw that [MSNBC president Phil Griffin] had left a message on my phone. I called him up and he said, "We got it wrong and we'd like you back."

Mike Cernovich attends at a rally about free speech outside of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

How did you react?

I was happy about it.

I think MSNBC — like a lot of other media outlets, at least in this country — are just not prepared for this type of situation.

They have the assets and the resources to deal with it, but I think mentally ... the media at large is still catching up with both the phenomena of new technology in the form of social media and the phenomena of a machine that will crank out lies and smears for its political purposes.

What was your intent when you wrote that [tweet]?

Roman Polanski was convicted of raping a child. He left the country when he was afraid that his plea deal was going to get rejected by a judge. And I found it disgusting that people would apologize or be apologists for child rape because the guy was a talented filmmaker. And I was using a piece of satire to express that.

The since-deleted 2009 tweet that got Sam Seder briefly fired.

So how do we get to a place where a major company like MSNBC can be afraid of what's clearly a wilful misreading of a tweet?

I imagine you're following the news in this country. There's the alt-right, and frankly, the broader right. I mean, the conservative movement in this country has been selling a pack of lies for a long time.

But the alt-right can sell lies, but MSNBC doesn't have to buy them.

I agree with you. And I don't know that they were buying the lie as much as they thought that they didn't know the best course to chart when dealing with controversy.

There's been this sort of attitude in media in the past in this country that it's not our job to fall on one side or the other. But what I'm suggesting is that in this day and age, there is no deciding not to fall on one side of the other. You're going to be on a side, so you've got to lean in and choose the right one.

After MSNBC made the decision to fire you, they were criticized on all sides of the spectrum. I mean, didn't you get letters of support from Fox News commentators?

I got some tweets from Fox News commentators. But I think, in many respects, it was a victory for three different communities.

I have a very loyal audience on my podcast called The Majority Report which I do every day, and they were out there defending me.

You had people invested particularly, like journalists, because they are going through this every day, where their management is not defending them or giving them the benefit of the doubt, or they have to worry about being attacked for tweets and for things that really don't have anything to do with their job.

There was also another community out there of people in this country who are tired of the alt-right, and the broader right in general, attacking the idea of reality, and attacking the idea of simple norms. You and I, we read this tweet and it's clear it is satire. But a guy like Mike Cernovich, you know, he's pretending it's not. And then he gets retweeted by Seb Gorka and Donald Trump Jr. 

Donald Trump Jr., the U.S. president's son and adviser, retweeted Fox pundit Sebastian Gorka accusing Seder of 'condoning rape.' (Twitter)

Phil Griffin, he released a statement. He started it off by saying, "Sometimes you just get one wrong and that's what happened here." But then later he acknowledged that the point you were trying to make in this tweet was "actually in line" with the values of MSNBC, but he said the language is not in line with those values. Do you think you could have gotten your message across using different language?

I have no regrets about that tweet at all. And if I have any regrets, it's that I deleted it. If I had known that Mike Cernovich was trying to smear me with it, I would have pinned it right at the top of my feed.