MSNBC and the host of "The Cycle," the unfortunately (in this case) named Krystal Ball, got badly pranked Thursday afternoon when a man claiming to be a member of the military in Ukraine and an eye-witness to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. The host forgot one basic rule of journalism: Always listen closely to what the interviewee has to say...
Krystal Ball introduced the call as an “MSNBC exclusive,” Politico reported July 17. The caller was supposedly witness to the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jet over the Ukraine-Russia border, an incident later confirmed as a act by ground forces using a surface-to-air missile. At the time of Ball's show, however, that had not been established and was only conjecture. Initial reports were still filtering in from various sources and, as is always the case with breaking news, the rush to get an "exclusive" was in full competition mode.
“Let’s turn now to an MSNBC exclusive. U.S. Staff Sergeant Michael Boyd, he is at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine and he says he saw a missile in the air hit the plane, he is on the phone with us,” she said.
And from there on out everything went awry. Of course, Ball, her namesake notwithstanding, did not know that it was going to do so...
The caller could be heard on the live broadcast: “Well I was looking out the window and I saw a projectile flying in the sky and it would appear the plane was shot down by a blast of wind from Howard Stern’s ass."
But Ball didn't pick up on what the caller had said. It is as yet unclear if she couldn't actually hear the caller or if she was concentrating on framing her next question, but she did not get that the caller was joking and that she -- and, by extension, MSNBC -- was being pranked.
Ball obliviously asked, “So it would appear the plane was shot down, can you tell us anything more from your military training of sort of missile system that may have been coming from?”
“Well you’re a dumbass aren’t ya?” the caller quickly responed.
To the viewer, it becomes obvious that Krystal Ball has become confused by the caller's words. She then asked, “I’m sorry sir?”
There followed a pause, then Ball said the show was going to take a break. Upon return, Krystal Ball told her viewers that the phone caller heard prior to commercial break was not been an actual eyewitness.
“We thought we had an eyewitness on the scene, that individual was not actually an eyewitness,” she said.
But if Ball thought that that would be the end of the story, she was quickly proven wrong.
Over at Fox News Channel, "The O'Reilly Factor" host Bill O'Reilly decided to go after their left-leaning counterpart. According to Mediaite, when speaking with contributor Bernard Goldberg, O'Reilly said Krystal Ball couldn't have heard the comment by the caller prior to her second question. He said that “nobody in their right mind would continue a phone call with somebody who uttered that crudity… even somebody as inexperienced as that woman.”
Goldberg disagreed, saying he thought Ball simply wasn't listening correctly. Still, both agreed that whoever was allowed the caller through in the first place should be fired.
Then Goldberg tossed a zinger at Ball: "This woman makes Ron Burgundy look like Walter Cronkite.”
In the end, both Goldberg and O'Reilly, agreeing that Ball wasn't actually a journalist, pondered the question of why MSNBC would allow breaking news to be handled by a political pundit.
It is doubtful that Krystal Ball and/or MSNBC's embarrassment will be allowed to be short-lived. There's talk show comedians and hosts, not to mention Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who still haven't had a crack at the on-air incident. But predicting their mockery doesn't take much extrapolation, and one certainly doesn't need a, well, you know... a crystal ball to see that future.