“Three Shirts to the Wind” Murphy Brown Examines the Media’s Role in Elevating Extremist Views

"Don't you Giuliani me." This week's episode of Murphy Brown moralizes on the culpability of the press in "normalizing" extremist political figures.

Murphy (Candice Bergen) is going to get her shot at the Shannon conversation — with Shannon himself. Murphy must decide whether to accept the interview in the interest of higher ratings or refuse to “normalize” Shannon on her network. In a competitive 24-hour news cycle, will the Murphy take the high road or go for higher ratings?

Original series cast member Charles Kimbrough returns as Jim Dial to help Murphy make the decision. He describes the type of “false equivalency” that frequents the real-world news cycle. A recent example of false equivalence was the comparison made by President Donald Trump of the protesters in Charlottesville, South Carolina in August of 2017. Trump equated the white supremacists on one side with the so-called “alt-left” on the other, going so far as to say that “you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.” The president’s comments were echo-ed by news networks far and wide, amplifying the opinion. He put a hate group and a peaceful protest in the same category, and many news networks worsened the false equivalency when they gave the two sides equal coverage and thereby equal credence.

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Murphy chose integrity by refusing to interview Shannon on her show, despite his baiting. Shannon ends up ambushing Murphy at the bar anyway. Murphy tells him off. She articulates with perhaps a little too much polish exactly what many liberal Americans could say to the rising totalitarian, isolationist, and often blatantly racist wave of conservative politicians. “You and your friends, you’re all dinosaurs,” Murphy tells him, “this is your last gasp.”

As it turns out, someone taped Murphy’s tirade, so her sharp dressing-down of Shannon becomes public after all. It’s murky what moral is to be taken from this take-down. Does the show expect news media to ignore extremists, in the hopes of quelling their popularity? There is a distinct difference between debate and debasement, as the opening scene of Avery desperately trying to get the public to stop yelling at each other. But even though Murphy declines to interview Shannon on her show, she still gets to relish in the success giving Shannon a strongly worded “shame on you.”

The reboot of Murphy Brown continues to probe difficult topics, and ask more of our news environment. But as this episode shows, even Murphy Brown herself doesn’t have all the answers.

Murphy Brown continues Thursday nights at 9:30 ET on CBS.

Photos and video credit courtesy of CBS. 

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