How MSNBC Cinco de Mayo segment was 'disrespectful'

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MSNBC's Louis Burgdorg (left) wore a sombrero, drank tequila and played with a maraca on MSNBC's Way Too Early with anchor Thomas Roberts (right).

MSNBC staff went too far this week in what MSNBC later admitted in an apology was a “disrespectful” and “sarcastic” segment on Cinco de Mayo.

The May 5 segment, aired on MSNBC’s Way Too Early program, featured MSNBC’s Louis Burgdorg donning a sombrero and throwing back tequila shots and dancing with a maraca. During the segment, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts called Cinco de Mayo “an excuse to drink tequila on a Monday morning at work” for MSNBC’s Burgdorg.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ president, Hugo Balta, had slammed the segment in a statement yesterday but told iMediaEthics by phone today, “I’m grateful for the quick response from the MSNBC leadership, not only to my inquiries about the Cinco de Mayo segment, but also to the outrage from the Latino community in regards to the insensitive segment.”

Balta said he hopes this incident will serve as a learning experience for other newsrooms.

“Unfortunately, these types of mistakes do happen, and it’s important for those involved to take responsibility and be accountable for it,” he told iMediaEthics. “But the bigger picture is to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and that others learn from it.”

When asked if the NAHJ or he would be working with MSNBC to prevent future incidents, Balta said the organization isn’t currently involved but would be willing to help. The NAHJ has had a “good relationship” with NBC, he said. “I’m happy to say we’ve worked with them on internships and recruiting, and in regards to programming and content, we are available.”

Balta added that “it is fair to point out that MSNBC is not the only” network to have aired an inappropriate segment like the Cinco de Mayo one. He pointed to the importance of diversity in the newsroom to help newsrooms be “reflective of the community that they’re covering.”


MSNBC Apologizes

MSNBC published an apology on the website for its program Way Too Early with anchor Thomas Roberts. The apology stated:

“On Monday, Cinco De Mayo, ‘Way Too Early’ made sarcastic references to the way some Americans celebrate the holiday. It was not our intention to be disrespectful and we sincerely apologize for the ill-advised references.”

A similar apology was also read on air on May 6.


NAHJ calls the segment a ‘discriminatory stereotypical portrayal’

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ president Hugo Balta criticized the “discriminatory stereotypical portrayal” in a statement.

The statement, published on the NAHJ’s website, said in part:

“This is simply the worst example I have seen of a discriminatory stereotypical portrayal of any community by any media. The fact that this was done by a news organization is abominable.”

The statement goes on:

“It feeds to the ignorant misconceptions of a rich and proud people who unfortunately are too often portrayed as caricatures to be scoffed at.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) denounces the actions taken by the MSNBC journalists for their capricious actions, lack of judgment, insensitivity and attack of the Mexican community.”

Politico reported that MSNBC executive producer Alex Korson apologized to the NAHJ’s Balta.

Balta wrote on Facebook that Korson said there will be disciplinary action because of the segment and that “he and his team are reviewing the processes in place in order for an incident like this never to happen again.”



iMediaEthics is writing to MSNBC for comment.

UPDATE: 5/7/2014 12:24 PM EST Added in comments from Balta to iMediaEthics

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How MSNBC Cinco de Mayo segment was ‘disrespectful’

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