When Cheerios ran a television commercial featuring a biracial family last June, YouTube blowback was "fierce, nasty and unusually racist," USA Today reported at the time. You'll notice that that description says nothing at all about the YouTube trolls' political affiliation. And there's no way to know, since comments that Cheerios vp-marketing Camille Gibson called "not all family friendly" caused the brand to disable commenting. It turned out those YouTube idiocrats spoke only for themselves, not Americans on the whole, since the spot scored significantly above norms for likeability in Ace Metrix consumer research.
Fast-forward to January, 2014, when Cheerios released a sequel to that commercial, scheduled to run in the Super Bowl telecast. This commercial, too, provoked a flood of YouTube comments (along with 2,125,853 views) and – surprise, surprise! – they're all racially positive.
Calling the kettle black
But there was one commenter who voiced ugly stereotyping sentiments on Twitter, and that was MSNBC.
At 7:06 PM, January 29, @msnbc tweeted, "Maybe the rightwing [sic] will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the new @Cheerios ad w/biracial family." This linked to an msnbc.com post by Gabriela Resto-Montero claiming, without factual basis, "The breakfast cereal's new Super Bowl ad features the same fictional biracial family that sparked a conservative backlash last year." It linked to a previous MSNBC post about the first commercial, characterizing the YouTube comments as referring to "Nazis, 'troglodytes,' and even 'racial genocide'" but not attributing them to conservatives. The post went on to note that "In addition to the backlash, however, the ad also inspired an outpouring of support. Positive comments outnumbered the negative by nearly 10-to-1, and the Cheerios Facebook page was flooded with praise."
It was a strange accusation, coming from the cable network whose weekend host, Melissa Harris-Perry, derided Mitt Romney for having an adopted African-American grandson. And conservatives didn't take it lying down.
Trumping the race card
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin leapt into the fray by tweeting, "Hey @msnbc jerks: This is #MyRightwingBiracialFamily. We love @cheerios. Enough with your race card crap."
The #MyRightwingBiracialFamily hasthag she started is trending big-time on Twitter and is filled with comments from and photos of conservative biracial families. Always happy to ding a cable rival, Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, Kelly File and The Five all gave shoutouts to it.
The day the tweet appeared, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus wrote MSNBC president Phil Griffin, protesting "demeaning attacks" that "have become a pattern" at MSNBC. "With increasing frequency," he wrote, "many of your hosts have personally denigrated and demeaned Americans -- especially conservative and Republican Americans -- without even attempting to further meaningful political dialogue."
Priebus also called for all frepublicans to boycott MSNBC programming, but when you consider how few viewers watch MSNBC (fewer than any cable news network except Al Jazeera America) and how few of those are likely to be Republicans to begin with, that wasn't much of a threat.
But it was enough to get Griffin to admit the tweet was "outrageous and unacceptable," fire its author, "personally apologize to Mr. Priebus and to everyone offended," and have the offending post "updated to remove erroneous language" (namely one word – "conservative").
A tempest in a cereal bowl
Two things are worth noting about this whole controversy.
The first is that the commercial which provoked it isn't the least bit provocative.
Like most sequels, it's not as good as the original. The first spot, at least, made a product point – that eating Cheerios is good for the heart – that the little girl dramatized buy spreading Cheerios all over her father's chest while he was napping. In the second, Cheerios are there just as a prop, as the father tells his daughter she's going to have a new brother and she negotiates for a new puppy. Bland, but cute.
The second is that this mild little commercial had the power to get people who earn their living denouncing what they see as racial stereotypoing and bigorty in others to reveal their true, er, colors.