MSNBC Apologies for Ignorant Cinco de Mayo Celebrations

By Chris Hoenig

The staff of MSNBC’s Way Too Early is apologizing for an on-camera display of insensitivity and ignorance on Monday, which was Cinco de Mayo.

The show opened with dancing and maraca-shaking host Thomas Roberts. “Welcome to Way Too Early, the show that loves Cinco de Mayo even though we only speak Spanish un poco,” he said, suggesting his audience should make a drinking game out of the day’s program. “We’re going to work on that throughout the show. And we want you to take a shot of tequila every time we talk about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”

Another segment featured reporter Louis Bergdorf, who paused to take a shot of tequila before going through the headlines, dropping in an “Ol!” for good measure. Bergdorf was later seen dancing through the shot several times in another segment, wearing a sombrero and swigging a bottle of tequila.

“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,” Huga Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), wrote in a statement. “This wasn’t a chance occurrence. This was a planned segment where many decision makers at MSNBC’s Way Too Early program agreed on the content and execution which concluded on what was seen nationwide.

“It feeds to the ignorant misconceptions of a rich and proud people who unfortunately are too often portrayed as caricatures to be scoffed at.”

BuzzFeed chronicled more of the on-cam antics, such as an attempt to discuss the history of Cinco de Mayo, including the fact that “it’s also an excuse to drink tequila on a Monday morning at work for Louis.”

“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,” MSNBC said in a statement online on Tuesday.

Wednesday morning, Bergdorf and Roberts apologized on-air. “After 20 years in this business, anyone who knows me knows where I stand on diversity and inclusion. So, to those I let down or feel betrayed, I hear you and I’m sorry,” Roberts said after reading the earlier published statement on-camera.

“I want to express my sincere apologies, as well,” Bergdorf added. “It was never my intention to offend anyone, and if I didand I know I didI’m very sorry.

On his Facebook page, Balta said that he spoke by phone with Alex Korson, who oversees Way Too Early, about Monday’s show. “He apologized for the segment; assured me that while the props were planned, the anchors took it upon themselves to put them on and act in the manner they did,” he wrote. “He expressed his remorse at how the producers allowed the segment and behavior to continue.”

While Balta said that he was told all those involved with the segment would be disciplined, Roberts’ and Bergdorf’s on-camera apologies on Wednesday appeared to show that no suspensions would be forthcoming.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the May 5, 1862, victory of poorly equipped Mestizo and Zapotec forces against the French, who had invaded Mexico a year earlier after the Mexican government temporarily stopped repayments of war debts to European allies. The French had initially invaded with Spanish and English soldiers, but remained when the others withdrew in an attempt to set up a monarchy and limit U.S. power in North America.

For many non-Latinos in the United States, however, the day is just an excuse to eat Mexican food and drink tequila and margaritas. “If you went to any bar tonight and said, ‘What’s this day about’ they would be clueless, and you can’t blame the alcohol consumption either,” Carlos Tortolero, President of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, told USA TODAY Network.

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