In the good old days of 2009, when public figures felt (slightly) less shame about warmly embracing sexual predators, a number of filmmakers and celebrities came forth to say that Roman Polanski deserved lenience in part because of his artistic contributions. Apparently revolted by this obscene logic, the comedian and radio host Sam Seder tweeted, “Don’t care re Polanski, but I hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/a great sense of mise en scene.” Cut to 2017: MSNBC just announced that it was severing its relationship with Seder, a network contributor, because a number of extreme right-wingers (including the ubiquitous troll Mike Cernovich) had attacked him for the tweet, which they disingenuously said was a defense of horrific behavior against women.
I spoke by phone with Seder recently in the hopes of exploring his experience and why MSNBC caved to pressure. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Isaac Chotiner: Oh, what should I say for your bio besides comedian and radio host? Anything?
Sam Seder: Former MSNBC contributor?
Starting with the jokes. Good. So how did you feel when you found out about this, and how long was it from when you found out there was trouble to when you learned you were not going to continue as a contributor?
The first I heard of it was about 6:30 p.m., Tuesday night, Nov. 28. I remember it because I was in the supermarket getting some paper plates for my birthday dinner.
This is sad already.
I believe I have been fired. The last thing I heard from MSNBC was a text about what they were going to tell the reporter from the Wrap.
So what did you hear after the first call and before the text?
I received a message on Wednesday of last week, in the midafternoon, that I was being let go. Subsequent to that, I was told that I could not be told of my status. Subsequent to that, I was told that my contract was expiring [in February], and my relationship with them was as a per-appearance contributor.
And you have no more scheduled appearances, right?
I never had scheduled appearances. My contract does not specify who can fire me or by what means. I requested an email, and asked what my status was, and was told they had no answer for me. So to be honest with you, I don’t know what the legal status is.
Have you talked to people at MSNBC, friends or whoever, about why they did this?
The only sense I have—and nobody has addressed this specifically in terms of the people I know there—is that it is clear to me, based on the message I received Wednesday, that time was of the essence. So much so that they had to leave it on my voicemail. This was right after Seb Gorka and Donald Trump Jr. retweeted one of Cernovich’s bots. To me it suggests that the issue was not the tweet itself but whether there would be some type of media story about it.
Your assumption is that the people at MSNBC understood the tweet was a joke, and not just a joke but a joke criticizing people who would defend child rapists, and that were responding to the backlash, rather than being offended by your tweet.
I don’t know if I would describe it as a joke per se, in terms of its construction, but it was definitely satire. And everything else I would agree with in your statement.
Do you have any insight into things going on at MSNBC?
It’s fairly apparent that there has been a desire to change the nature of the programming to one that features more Republicans, or establishment Republican types. That is obvious to anyone who watches. They are clearly trying to reposition themselves. I think it is a fair assessment that I was, upon my firing, the most left contributor that they had. I don’t think that’s why they fired me, but I think it made me a lot more disposable.
How much abuse have you been getting online?
Virtually none. Here is the dirty little secret: If you go back and look at how many tweets there were on Sunday, pushing this smear by Cernovich, you will see, I think, that there were virtually zero. If there were any, I would take that Twitter handle and I would put it into the following web-based browser: Botcheck.me. There is no Cernovich army.
Except the White House. Just that detail.
Right. He is not leading an army.
How much income are you losing?
From the MSNBC stuff, not much. From potential ads that I lose, because he or one of his followers, sent one email to my advertisers [for my radio show and podcast], that I don’t know yet. Marc Maron tweeted out that anyone who drops Seder’s show can expect not to go on mine. And I suspect some of those advertisers are realizing that there is no way to avoid this controversy. There is only picking a side.
I will say the same thing for my podcast, even though the advertisers are surely laughing given the size of my audience.
I’ll take it.
So you are a comedian. Have you been looking at the funny side and having some laughs?
Oh yeah. The beauty of this thing is that I clearly got under Cernovich’s skin. I am not that big of a fish to bag, frankly. And that guy is about to understand the concept of being a victim of your own success, because now my job is to host my podcast and my radio show. And my audience has stepped up. I may lose some advertisers or pack them up, but there is absolutely no leverage he has over me now.
Until he is made CIA director.
I said now. Part of my GoFundMe is going to commission a three-minute documentary on him. People don’t know that much about him, and we are going to make sure the next time he does this, that every news outlet has the access to know who it is that they are validating.
I thought you were going to say that this all gave you more time to sit around and watch Roman Polanski movies.
Good filmmaker; bad rapist.