Last Wednesday evening, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was sitting at home on his couch, scrolling through his Twitter feed on his iPad, when he ran across something that incensed him.
At 8:06 p.m. that night, the official Twitter account for MSNBC had just suggested conservatives would “hate” a Cheerios television spot featuring a young, biracial family.
Priebus saw the tweet right after it was published. His mind raced through a series of recent controversies from the network–host Melissa Harris-Perry mocking Mitt Romney for his adopted black grandchild, a lewd attack on Sarah Palin from the now-fired Martin Bashir, and an awkward attempt to score political points at the expense of a war hero in the audience at the State of the Union.
“I thought, ‘something’s gotta be done with this,'” Priebus said in a phone interview Tuesday. He quickly pinged his chief of staff, Mike Shields, and communications director, Sean Spicer, with an email. The three agreed Priebus would call MSNBC president Phil Griffin first thing tomorrow.
The next morning at 9:00 a.m., Priebus told Griffin’s assistant he was calling about “a tweet.”
“I’m certain they knew what I was referring to,” he laughs.
With no response from the network head, Priebus and his team began working on their plan–a boycott of the network for Republican guests until the network apologized and took “corrective action.”
It was a bold move for the Wisconsin native, but not the first time he had tussled with the mainstream media over bias. In August, he issued an ultimatum to CNN and MSNBC over their plans for a Hillary Clinton miniseries.
Priebus says he knew MSNBC would have to give in because first, they “couldn’t have sustained the publicity” of defending such a nasty shot at conservatives, and, two, the many hardworking journalists at NBC News, whose careers are intertwined with the antics of their sister network, would have thrown a fit.
Priebus’s RNC memo to fellow Republicans, first reported by Breitbart News at around 11:30 a.m., was more than just banning RNC staff from the network. Priebus also called on GOP elected officials and pundits to pull back from the network–and they did.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) were among two of the big names to tell MSNBC they would be following Priebus’ lead, sources close to the matter say. Blunt’s decision was particularly notable because of his close relationship with host Andrea Mitchell.
“There were shows on MSNBC where half or more of their surrogates were bled dry because of our call for a boycott,” Priebus said.
At around 3:00 p.m., Griffin caved–completely. He called Priebus to apologize, the network read the apology on the air, and they fired the staffer who wrote the tweet.
“He was obviously frustrated–not with me–but with the fact that he had to correct these kinds of things at the network. He was sincere, he was frustrated. But he did exactly what we asked to do in the letter,” Priebus said.
Besides setting MSNBC straight on their smear of the right, it was also a big win for Priebus, who was elected chairman of the Republican Party just over three years ago.
Fundraising numbers are good and much of the dysfunction of the Michael Steele era is disappearing from memory. Now Priebus is looking to take a more feisty role as chairman on behalf of the GOP. “It’s time too for me to be more outspoken, and I’m ready to do that. I’m prepared for what that brings,” he said.
As for MSNBC, they may have made up for the Cherrios Tweet, but the GOP’s issues with the network have not been solved.
“I enjoy going on shows like Morning Joe and the Daily Rundown. I think they’re good shows. But in the end they get poisoned with being on a network that spends most of the day hurling personal insults and completely biased liberal commentary,” Priebus said, adding that he has a “wait and see” attitude.