NEW YORK—MSNBC’s controversial decision to sever ties with commentator Sam Seder over a satirical tweet issued nearly a decade ago presents serious concerns for the future of free expression in the era of digital media coupled with political polarization, said PEN America in a statement today.

On Monday, The Wrap reported that MSNBC would not renew it contract with Seder, which expires in February, after far-right media personality and “pizza-gate” conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich dredged up a 2009 tweet by Seder satirizing the hesitation expressed by many in Hollywood over the arrest of film director Roman Polanski, who 30 years earlier had been convicted on charges of sexually abusing a 13-year-old. Polanksi had fled the country before sentencing.

On Tuesday, Cernovich told CNN that the decision had emboldened him to go through the tweets of other MSNBC employees.

“MSNBC’s decision to break with Sam Seder over an eight-year-old tweet fits a troubling recent pattern of harsh punishments invoked by media companies for employees’ speech,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “MSNBC has further blurred the lines of acceptable speech in a move that will undoubtedly inspire self-censorship in its employees, other reporters, and even aspiring young journalists who will learn to refrain from speaking freely on digital platforms in fear that any comment made in the future, or in the decade since social media sites started archiving our every public thought, could be used to end their careers. In caving to a sinister campaign by an extreme right activist and peddler of fake news, MSNBC has signaled to provocateurs that, with a little research, they can quickly and easily shut down nearly any voice that challenges their opinions and ideas. PEN America urges MSNBC to withdraw this ill-advised decision against Seder and to promptly clarify its social media policy and expectations for all employees going forward.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected], +1.646.981.0685