MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell crossed the line between advocacy journalism and guilt by association last week when he accused the National Restaurant Association (NRA) of protecting Herman Cain from sexual harassment charges. O’Donnell’s anti-private-employer ideology pre-empted any responsibility on his part to get the facts straight before calling on the “Occupy Washington D.C.” mob to converge on the NRA’s building and boycott its members. That the NRA, a mainstream business organization, did absolutely nothing to protect the presidential candidate from his accusers didn’t matter.
The state of “gotcha journalism” has reached a new low in American public life, and it’s not serving anyone’s interest except for the Lawrence O’Donnells looking to stir up their constituents with false accusations. This type of guilt by association was once called MyCarthyism.
On “The Last Word” last Thursday, O’Donnell used the sexual harassment allegations against the candidate to slam the NRA, a trade group which represents more than 380,000 foodservice businesses employing 12.8 million people, about 9 percent of the total American work force. O’Donnell introduced the segment saying the secrets of the accusations against Cain in 1999 when he was president of the NRA are being held in the confines of the NRA.
O’Donnell didn’t wait to learn whether or not Cain’s accusers wanted confidences revealed before calling for a boycott of NRA member companies unless NRA released the accusers from their confidentiality obligations.
“If they don’t do the right thing, do I hear boycott anyone?” O’Donnell asks, looking into the camera. He then shows a picture and announces the address of the organization’s Washington, D.C. office and advises his audience the building is a mere five blocks away from the “Occupy Washington D.C.” demonstration.
He warns the NRA if they don’t decide to “do the right thing,” a “firestorm will be visited upon them.” Don’t hesitate, he urges his listeners, after all, most of what America’s restaurants provide is “junk food.”
After issuing his marching orders, O’Donnell interviews the Washington Journal’s Chris Frates for the inside scoop on the NRA. We learn the NRA contributes more money to Republicans than Democrats and opposes MSNBC-favored causes such as raising the minimum wage, higher taxes, smoking bans and stricter drunk driving rules.
Hence, the source of O’Donnell’s beef with the NRA is finally revealed in full. The NRA is an association that represents the interest of employers, who by O’Donnell’s measure are the bad guys in today’s troubled America.
That the NRA actually played any role in muzzling Herman Cain’s accusers is left to the imagination.
The NRA’s role in the Cain allegations story faded the next day when an accuser’s lawyer announced she had no desire to go public. The NRA had waived the confidentiality requirements if the accuser had wished to comment.
But not before O’Donnell got in his licks against an organization whose public policy positions he detests.
Before finishing, O’Donnell cites Starbucks as a liable NRA member: “If Starbucks wants to avoid a boycott, Starbucks should state in a letter to Dawn Sweeney (NRA’s CEO) telling her to do the right thing.”
As for why Starbucks is deserving of such mention, he doesn’t explain. Perhaps the success of a company built by a man who began life in a New York public housing project is crime enough for O’Donnell.
The fact of the matter is that a more exemplary corporate citizen than Starbucks would be hard to find. One that O’Donnell’s employer, MSNBC, couldn’t hope to match. Starbucks has prided itself on offering generous employee benefits package. It has spearheaded numerous ecological and environmental initiatives. It has pioneered ethical sourcing of products, including “free trade” coffee that promotes a livable wage for coffee laborers.
More recently, Starbucks announced its “Create Jobs for USA,” to help create and sustain jobs in underserved communities throughout the U.S., which it seeded with a $5 million donation.
And Starbucks has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain.
The vilification of Main Street has become standard fare for some sensationalist media personalities. Reason and civility are nowhere on their radar screen, let alone any interest in reporting facts.
The NRA is a 92-year-old trade association whose activities extend far beyond government lobbying. It promotes the professionalism of the restaurant industry in many ways, and it has taken a proactive role in promoting health and nutrition. Perhaps its signature achievement is establishing safe food handling standards through its “ServeSafe” certification program.
As Americans are called to civic duty in more aspects of their daily lives in these trying times, they can consider which products and services cater to reason and civility.
At the sight of a mud-slinging sensationalist like Lawrence O’Donnell, they can change the channel.
About the Author
Elliot Maras is editor of Automatic Merchandiser Magazine, a national trade publication for the vending, refreshment services and on-site foodservices industries.