MSNBC, Thomas Roberts Sorry for Offensive Cinco de Mayo Segment

There was outcry against the segment, which featured sombreros, maracas, and tequila in a way that some viewers thought reinforced stereotypes of Mexicans.

BY Trudy Ring

May 06 2014 6:11 PM ET

Louis Burgdorf (left) and Thomas Roberts observe Cinco de Mayo.

MSNBC has apologized for observing Cinco de Mayo in a way many viewers found offensive on out host Thomas Roberts’s Way Too Early program.

On Monday’s edition, correspondent Louis Burgdorf, who does a segment on the show called “The Cooler,” appeared in a sombrero and downed a shot of faux tequila, which Roberts called “go-go juice.” Later, Roberts danced around shaking a maraca. And at the end of the show, as Roberts explained the historical significance of Cinco de Mayo, which marks a victory by the Mexican army over French forces in 1862, Burgdorf came into view, wearing the sombrero, shaking a maraca, and again swilling “tequila.”

“It’s also an excuse to drink tequila on a Monday morning at work for Louis,” Roberts said. To Burgdorf, he added, “You have to drink the whole thing and eat the worm.”

Outcry against the segment was swift. Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, issued a statement saying, “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. This wasn’t a chance occurrence. This was a planned segment where many journalists 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.”

The Latino Rebels website posted this critique: “While we saw a lot of #CincoDeFallo moments yesterday, this segment from MSNBC outdoes them all. We don’t know what bothers us more: host Thomas Roberts mixing Cinco de Mayo history with jokes about drinking or it is some young (and white) guy in a sombrero goofing off with a tequila bottle and maracas? How about all of it? … Listen, we love a good joke, but that Cinco de Mayo segment was cheap and insulting.”

Today, an apology was posted to the show’s website. “On Monday, Cinco De Mayo, ‘Way Too Early’ made sarcastic references to the way some Americans celebrate the holiday,” it read. “It was not our intention to be disrespectful and we sincerely apologize for the ill-advised references.” Roberts and Burgdorf also tweeted the statement. An MSNBC spokeswoman told Politico there would be an on-air apology Wednesday.

Balta wrote on Facebook that he had spoken on the phone to executive producer Alex Korson, who apologized to him and promised the public apology. Korson “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,” Balta wrote. He said Korson also told him those involved would be disciplined and the network would take steps to guard against similar occurrences in the future.

Two clips of the Cinco de Mayo episode are below.

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