MSNBC Goes To Flint, Learns Nothing

Flint Michigan - Chris Hayes - Michael Moore


The Establishment Left’s strangely non-diminishing sense of entitlement was on full display in Flint, Michigan

Today, Chris Hayes of MSNBC broadcast a special live town hall from Flint, Michigan, the place made famous by the poisoning of its water supply and the near-criminal incompetence of some of the people responsible for the public’s safety. Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore has also made the Flint story a personal cause of his, and today both he and Chris Hayes were together, live before a local audience, to talk about national politics viewed through the prism of this beleaguered town.

At one point in the panel discussion, Hayes introduced a number of local people who were non-voters; people who either did not vote at all in the 2016 general election or who voted for down-ballot candidates but refused to cast a vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president.

Almost to a person, these non-voters talked about the fact that despite having been Obama voters in 2008 and 2012, they could not bring themselves to vote in 2016 when the Democrats offered no “inspiring” candidate. One got the sense that many of them may have gladly voted for Bernie Sanders, had the Clinton and Democratic Party machines not unfairly muscled the Vermont senator out of the race, though this was not explicitly stated by anyone during the segment.

For the life of him, Chris Hayes simply could not understand this position. It did not compute. At one point, he told one of the non-voting interviewees that MSNBC viewers were likely “throwing things at their televisions” in reaction to what he was saying. Hayes interrogated each guest as to how they could possibly have abstained from voting for Hillary Clinton when a Republican governor had presided over the poisoning of their town’s water supply. He implied that their desire for an “inspirational” presidential candidate was childish and irrational, and that the obvious choice would have been to swallow any misgivings and vote for the Democratic Party presidential nominee.

This exchange highlighted as clearly as anything else the divide within the American Left – the establishment, coastal Left and the once solid-Democrat heartland left-behinds, if you will. The likes of Chris Hayes (and that mainstream brand of left-wing thinking for which he is a mouthpiece) simply cannot understand why a rational voter would spurn the boring, uninspiring technocrat put forward by the Democrats when the consequence of not voting was the election of Donald Trump. Despite having heard testimony from many people about the long-standing issues and decline facing the town – issues which ate away at the community throughout President Obama’s two terms – Hayes was seemingly unable to understand that another continuity technocrat offering more of the same was the last thing that this community wanted or needed.

Michael Moore cut to the heart of the issue:

Why did people stay home knowing that the result was going to be possibly Donald J. Trump? That’s some serious anger at what the system has done to fail this city.


Like most people, I have my issues with Michael Moore. But credit where it is due – Moore was warning about the dangerous complacency of the Democrats and the visceral anger against the status quo in many communities at a time when establishment leftists were rolling out the grand coronation of Hillary Clinton, oblivious of (or unconcerned by) her utter lack of popularity among people who were sufficiently left-wing and non-racist to cast their prior votes for Barack Obama.

Nobody of any significance on the mainstream Left heeded Michael Moore’s warning to take the Donald Trump threat seriously before the election, and the past two years have been their reward. And even now, in the middle of a pilgrimage to a part of middle America which shrugged its shoulders and abandoned the Democratic Party in 2016, still the chief attitude is one of incredulity that people could have been so stupid / naive / selfish / childish / utopian (delete as applicable) as to demand a Democratic candidate in possession of a clear set of guiding principles and an understanding that globalization has been eating away at towns like Flint as surely as is their contaminated water.

Technocracy is not always a bad thing – at a time when regulations and systems of government are infinitely more complex through necessity, experts are needed to administer the system and keep the machinery of state running effectively. However, technocracy is not well-suited to navigating through periods of disruptive change or crisis. What works well when the economy is in steady-state and there are no significant changes afoot in society or industry does not work well when the economy is in difficulty or when huge realignments are taking place on the national and international level.

Conservative scaremongering about her supposed extreme socialism aside, Hillary Clinton was the quintessential technocratic candidate at a time when the people of Michigan and elsewhere needed a candidate who recognized that for them, the status quo was not something to celebrate and build upon; that the structural changes which had delivered nothing but good things for the likes of Chris Hayes and many of us “coastal elites” were not necessarily anything to celebrate in places like Flint.

More than one of the people interviewed on MSNBC who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election have themselves run for public office in the months since. There is no crisis of political engagement or motivation here. There was only a crisis of ignorance and arrogance among a party hierarchy which believed it could impose their preferred candidate and have people like the inhabitants of Flint, Michigan swallow their distaste and offer up their vote.

And after spending a day in Flint in the company of Michael Moore, I am not sure that Chris Hayes, his core audience or anyone within the Democratic Party leadership are any closer to grasping this essential fact.


Michael Moore - Chris Hayes - Flint

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Television News Royalty Receive A Dressing-Down From Donald Trump

Apparently the first post-election meeting between president-elect Donald Trump and the great and the good of America’s television news media did not go entirely smoothly.

The New York Post reports:

Donald Trump scolded media big shots during an off-the-record Trump Tower sitdown on Monday, sources told The Post.

“It was like a f–ing firing squad,” one source said of the encounter.

“Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.

“The meeting was a total disaster. The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down,” the source added.

A second source confirmed the fireworks.

“The meeting took place in a big board room and there were about 30 or 40 people, including the big news anchors from all the networks,” the other source said.

“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.

“Trump didn’t say [NBC reporter] Katy Tur by name, but talked about an NBC female correspondent who got it wrong, then he referred to a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary lost who hosted a debate – which was Martha Raddatz who was also in the room.”

The stunned reporters tried to get a word in edgewise to discuss access to a Trump Administration.

Wait, and we’re supposed to feel sorry for them?

The pampered Washington television news aristocracy deserve absolutely no sympathy, and while I would much rather they received their dressing down from somebody more worthy of dispensing it than Donald Trump, I can only be glad that the shining ones from CNN and MSNBC were hauled over the coals and made to feel a little bad by somebody.

It was their greed, incompetence, fawning deference to power/celebrity and desperate search for ratings that brought us president-elect Trump in the first place. If CBS’s Les Moonves hadn’t slobbered at the thought of the ratings his network could get just from playing endless rambling footage from Trump rallies during the Republican primaries, if CNN hadn’t been so obsessed with their technical gizmos and determined to report on the presidential debates as though they were heavyweight boxing matches, if MSNBC wasn’t so blatantly in the pocket of the Clinton campaign, then we might not be in this position right now. But they did, and so here we are.

And consequently, Jeff Zucker, Wolf Blitzer, Martha Raddatz, George Stephanopoulos, everyone at CNN and MSNBC and most of the people at FOX (save Chris Wallace, who anchored by far the best of the three presidential debates) fully deserved to receive the hairdryer treatment from somebody (as in being yelled at and belittled, not having their ridiculous TV news hairdos volumized even further).

We need a media that will stand up to power and celebrity and ask difficult questions rather than allowing candidates to trot out rehearsed soundbites, not a bunch of slavish court reporters who instantly switched from curtseying around House Clinton to making an unseemly pilgrimage to Trump Tower to ingratiate themselves with their new overlord.

Like many people, I am gravely concerned about Donald Trump’s attitude toward the media (both in terms of press freedom and the access which his administration is willing to give journalists), but one still has to smile at the likes of Wolf Blitzer being sent packing from Trump Tower with a flea in their ear.

Apparently it is the turn of the print media tomorrow. As a group, they didn’t fall asleep on the job quite as badly as the television guys, but many of them deserve a roasting too. This should be fun to watch.



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The Greatest Threat To American Democracy Is The Sensationalist, Ratings-Obsessed Television News Media

It took two monsters to create Donald Trump, Presidential Candidate Edition: the debased Republican Party of Sarah Palin, and the slavish, contemptible American television news media

After getting heartily sick of watching the British rolling news channels the past few weeks, I decided to spend the last couple of days watching CNN (the US version, not the godawful international version).

It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was almost enough to make one long for the BBC’s barely concealed hysteria at the thought of Brexit and being forcibly ripped apart from their beloved supranational European political union, or Sky’s never-ending quest to be the first news organisation to get their newscopter hovering directly above anything which may or may not turn out to be of interest.

Take today as an example.

For the past four hours, CNN has been reporting the “breaking news” that Donald Trump claims that his campaign has “never been more united” when various Republican talking heads that CNN was able to lure into the studio were willing to say the exact opposite – and hardly surprising, since their presidential candidate is is a proudly ignorant egomaniac with a borderline personality disorder.

This couldn’t even be charitably described as “breaking news” when I first tuned in at around 8PM London time, and it certainly isn’t breaking news four hours later. But still, there it is: “Awaiting Trump Rally In Florida” proclaims the banner, while five disembodied talking heads float on a giant screen behind Wolf Blitzer, waiting to air their opinions.

What you notice watching American news – besides the constant advertisements for dubious pharmaceutical products whose long lists of compulsorily recited side-effects often outweigh their curative properties – is the degree to which everything, and I do mean everything, is about Donald Trump.

(At this point it is worth pointing out to uninitiated British readers that CNN is the closest you’ll get to “objective” cable news reporting in America, with fair ‘n balanced Fox News skewing firmly to the right and MSNBC leaning forward equally firmly left. Not being overt partisan shills for one or other of America’s two main political parties is a nightmare for CNN executives who need high ratings, and so in desperation CNN latches on to every single technical gimmick you can imagine – drone cameras! holograms! – in a desperate bid to make their offering more exciting to fickle viewers).

It is fair to say that were it not for the American television news media, Donald Trump would be filming a new season of The Apprentice and lending his name to another shoddily-made range of “luxury” businesswear right now, rather than facing Hillary Clinton as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

This blog has already raked the GOP over the coals for their pitiful part in these dismal proceedings. But in despairing at the intellectually and morally debased Republican Party we should not let the media off the hook.

For the fact is that America’s news networks failed to fulfil their democratic duty by treating a presidential election like it was sweeps week rather than a serious decision with long-term consequences for the future of the republic. Donald Trump makes a great television candidate because he is willing to do and say things – exciting, attention grabbing things – which no other candidate will say. Unfortunately, this nearly always involves Donald Trump being rude, immature, spiteful or wrong about something or someone. But the news networks don’t care. It makes for great TV. And so they show more and more Trump, and less and less of everyone else.

When the Republican Primary campaign was still being fought, at one point we reached the ludicrous position where Senator Marco Rubio made the tactical decision to emulate Donald Trump’s style and start making gratuitously offensive insults and statements of his own, just to try to wrest the attention of the television cameras away from Donald Trump for one wretched moment. Needless to say, it backfired – Rubio could never match Trump’s ability to mock and belittle people, and so he ended up tarnishing his own reputation while doing nothing to halt Trump’s rise.

Donald Trump - Ratings Machine - CBS - Les Moonves - CNN - Television News

My point, I suppose, is this.

There is nothing funny or entertaining about this American presidential election. Voters are faced with a rather dismal choice between a far from universally loved Democratic Party candidate on the one hand and an absolute megalomaniac on the other. And they have been put into this position of not having a decent choice between two valid, honourable but competing political philosophies largely thanks to the decision of the television networks last year to break into their regularly scheduled programming every time Donald Trump raised an eyebrow, while giving the other Republican candidates (let’s face it, many of whom were so hopeless that they really needed a media leg-up of their own) almost zero screen time.

The other candidates had to drop what they were doing and go to Washington or New York if they wanted to be featured on the Sunday shows. Trump was permitted to appear by satellite link or even telephone, so eager were American news executives for a bit of Trump’s verbal gold. And whenever Donald Trump has been interviewed, the questions have frequently been of the most depressingly softball variety. America does not have a Jeremy Paxman figure, or even an Evan Davis (God help them). Nor do they have as strong a tradition of confrontational political interviews as we have in Britain – the tradition of deference to authority is, rather counter-intuitively, very strong in America. And so during all of his unearned media time, Donald Trump has very rarely been faced with a single question which caused him to stumble, despite his lengthy back catalogue of cruel and ignorant public pronouncements. Rarer still has Trump faced a searching follow-up question when he replies with one of his repetitious, opaque defensive statements.

All of which makes Amy Goodman’s excoriation of the American news media very true, and rather refreshing:

The media manufactures consent – for war, for candidates in elections, by bringing you more, for example, of one person. Like Donald Trump. He is pumped into everyone’s home. He can just stay in a gold gilded mansion in New York or one of them in Florida. The rest of the candidates trudge from one state to another. Why does he get this unfiltered pipeline into everyone’s brain, into your eyes and to your consciousness?

It matters. The Tyndall Center did a report in 2015, they looked at the whole year, and they found Donald Trump got 23 times the coverage of, say, Bernie Sanders. They found ABC World News Tonight did something like 81 minutes on Donald Trump and I think they gave Bernie Sanders 20 seconds.

[.] In this high-tech digital age, with high-definition television, digital radio, all we get is static, that veil of distortion and lies and misrepresentations and half truths that obscure reality, when what we need the media to give us is the dictionary definition of static. Criticism. Opposition. Unwanted interference. We need a media that covers power, not covers for power. We need a media that is the fourth estate, not for the state. And we need a media which covers the movements that create static and make history.

Obviously Goodman’s interest was promoting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders (the video was made several months ago before he officially dropped out of the Democratic primary contest), but her critique of the wildly excessive time and attention lavished on Donald Trump by the television news media is dead accurate.

As a Brexit campaigner during the EU referendum, representing an organisation (The Leave Alliance) which was the only group to actually offer a comprehensive Brexit plan yet struggled to get any meaningful media attention, all of these same criticisms apply to the British media too. It’s nice to know that these problems are universally felt on either side of the Atlantic, I guess.

As a small campaign organisation it was almost impossible to get our word out when the television news was racing to cover every last syllable which dribbled from the mouth of Boris Johnson, while our own esteemed experts – including one of Britain’s foremost authorities on the EU – struggled to get journalists to show up to a launch event right in their own Westminster back yard.

Nobody expects perfection from the media. Media companies have to pay the bills too, and often keep shareholders happy. But for so long as telegenic ignoramuses dictate television (and print) coverage to the extent that they do, our democracy will remain vulnerable to demagogues like Donald Trump.

On election night in America, we will see (as we always do) the great and the good of American TV journalism pat themselves on the back and endlessly congratulate themselves about the moving spectacle of democracy which they are helping to transmit to a grateful nation. Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Wolf Blitzer, Diane Sawyer, Lester Holt, Dana Bash, Joe Scarborough, Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Greta van Susteren, Andrea Mitchell and all the rest of them will be churning out platitudes about the beauty of democracy faster than you can stick knitting needles in your ears.

This year, they might consider dwelling on the role they have played in debasing and jeopardising that democracy in the tawdry pursuit of ratings.


Donald Trump - Make America Great Again

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 21 – Monetising Identity Politics With A Safe Space Coffee Shop


If safe space dwelling students don’t want to enter the grown-up job market and workplace when they graduate, they may simply create their own parallel Identity Politics economy

Until now, the one source of comfort to those of us alarmed by the rise in student illiberalism and authoritarianism on university campuses in Britain and America has been the fact that those tyrannical student activists will soon face a day of reckoning when they graduate and find themselves in a job market which has no interest in nurturing their fragile egos.

Sadly, that source of comfort is now being taken away from us. Because a former academic from Winchester, Virginia has found a way to successfully monetise the safe space concept with a coffee shop designed for “marginalized populations”.

Your4State reports:

A new coffee shop in the city of Winchester is one of many, but its owners say the open and safe environment it provides is the only one of its kind in the city.

According to Victoria Kidd, part-owner of the Hideaway Cafe, coffee is not an “accessory beverage,” and grabbing your cup of joe requires a journey to reach your ideal destination.

“You’re looking for a coffee house that offers you a great atmosphere and offers you a great product served by people who care about your opinion of the coffee and care about your experience here,” Kidd said.

For Kidd and her wife, Christy, the journey to open the perfect coffee house started in July when they thought of the safe-space concept for the Hideaway Cafe.

Because why leave safe spaces and infantilised life behind at graduation when you can continue behaving in the same sheltered, censorious way right through adult life?

(No press reports as yet give any detail as to precisely what policies or behaviour codes will make the Hideaway Cafe a safe space, or how the safe space will be enforced).

Of course, the cafe’s proprietor fits the exact profile that one would expect:

“Well I never thought I’d be in coffee,” [Dr. Jess] Clawson admitted.  “I have a Ph.D. in education. I’m an education historian, so I thought I would be teaching college right now and on the tenure track.”

According to Clawson, graduate school prepared her to co-own a coffee house.

She said the level of intensity in her master’s work translated well to creating drinks quickly and accurately.

She also mentioned that her dissertation was on the emergence of LGBT student visibility on Florida college campuses in the 70s and 80s.

Given her background, Clawson said she couldn’t refuse to be a part of the “safe space” business, which she said has been a long time coming.

Finding surprisingly little demand for her peerless knowledge of the LGBT university scene in 1970s Florida, Jess Clawson was forced to improvise and tenuously reapply her academic skills to the field of handcrafting caffeinated beverages. And so the Hideaway Cafe now exists to do for supposedly mature adults what campus safe spaces do for decidedly immature students – provide an intellectual cave where occupants can literally hide from scary ideas and the big bad world.

The Hideaway Cafe is not the first such institution to transform itself into a safe space venue. A coffee house at Claremont McKenna College did the same thing, though only on an ad hoc basis, and within an academic campus setting:

Safe spaces for minority students have appeared on the campuses of other Claremont Colleges as well. Last week, the Motley Coffeehouse at Scripps College issued a statement on its official Facebook page, “The Motley sitting room will be open tonight from 6-10 only for people of color and allies that they invite. Please feel free to come and use the space for whatever you need – decompress, discuss, grieve, plan, support each other, etc. In solidarity.”

But neither is Hideaway Cafe the first to bring the safe space concept to the outside world. Last year, Starbucks in Seattle announced that its stores would be working with the city police to turn their locations into safe places where victims of homophobic “hate crime” could wait until the police arrive.

Pink News reports:

The coffee chain has provided special training to its more than 2,000 Starbucks employees across 97 shops, training them to offer help to those who have been victims of hate crimes.

The initiative came about via a partnership with the Seattle Police Department, with special rainbow-coloured ‘SPD Safe Space’ stickers indicating each shop’s status. Staff will contact the authorities, ensuring victims are safe and allowing them to remain on the premises until police arrive.

The bold initiative is the first such take-up of a scheme by the chain, but Starbucks indicated that it would work with police departments elsewhere to set up ‘safe spaces’ in more cities.

This is somewhat less offensive – although the definition of “hate crime” is very vague and encapsulates many things which should probably be classified as protected free speech, at least the Starbucks safe spaces are reactive rather than anticipatory. They exist to help people who have been the victims of unpleasant homphobic experiences rather than seeking to restrict speech within the store lest somebody be offended.

But whether it is the Hideaway Cafe, the coffee shop at Claremont McKenna or your friendly local Starbucks, what is clear is that the idea of providing infantilising places of refuge for grown adults has escaped the college campus and is starting to be taken up in wider society – more ammunition for those of us who are constantly asked why we spend time fixating on something often portrayed as a niche student issue which poses no risk to wider society.

However, it cannot be said often enough that these censorious young generation now at university did not materialise out of thin air. Their self-centred outlook and inability to process contradictory or offensive ideas is very much a product of their environment and upbringing, and older people – including the liberal university administrators now being hounded and forced out of their jobs by emboldened student activists – bear much of the blame for having created a therapeutic culture and a climate which does not value free speech and is happy to place restrictions on freedom of expression for the comfort of others.

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi goes further and suggests that older Americans are actually guilty of creating the first safe spaces and intellectual bubbles, long before they started appearing on college campuses.

Money quote:

But conservatives who get hysterical about the “delicate snowflakes” on campus should take a look at their own media-consumption habits. It’s hard to imagine anything funnier than a 70-year-old who watches 90 hours of Fox News a week and then rails against college kids who are afraid of new ideas.

But it’s not just Fox viewers. Most of the cable TV news industry is just a series of safe spaces. There are conservative channels and liberal channels, all of them huge seas of more or less unanimous opinion. Viewers tune in, suckle their thumbs, and wait to have their own opinions vomited back at them.

The commercial formula at the all-liberals-suck channel is the same as the one at the all-Republicans-are-boneheads channel. People in this country tend to follow politics in the same way they follow sports teams. They don’t think, they root.

The campus safe space movement is often derided as evidence of a rise of a newly censorious political left, a movement that’s ideological in character. And who knows, maybe that’s true. I don’t spend enough time on campuses to know.

But the safe space movement among the somewhat older members of the commercial media has virtually nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with money.

The political punditry business is all about riling up an ad-consuming, subscription-buying demographic. We’re paid by the eyeball, and you don’t attract eyes by sticking fingers in them. So opinion-makers on both sides quickly learn to stay in their lanes.

If your job is throwing meat to wingers, you’re not going to suddenly start admitting Mexicans are people or criticizing the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

And Taibbi’s conclusion:

The modern American media consumer has a genuine mania for orthodoxy. We’ve habituated readers and viewers not just to expect content that caters to all their opinions down the line, but also to expect and demand a completely binary representation of the political landscape: blue and red, Us and Them.

Consumers on both sides don’t like pundits whose views are all over the place. They want white hats and black hats, allies and enemies, even though in real life most people are not wholly one thing or another. And when one of the performers steps off-script, it’s a “problem.”

To me this is consumerism, not political correctness. Capitalism in this country has become so awesomely efficient at target-scratching every conceivable consumer itch that it’s raised a generation of people with no tolerance for discomfort, particularly the intellectual kind.

There are so many products available now that customers have learned to demand that every single purchase choice they make be perfectly satisfying. People want nacho chips that taste awesome every time, and they want pundits who agree with them every time. They don’t want to fork over time or money to be told they’re wrong or uninformed any more than they want to eat a salad.

This is a very valid point. For what are Fox News and MSNBC if not media-based safe spaces for adults who live in their own ideological bubbles, rarely socialising or venturing otuside their own circle, and whose news consumption is driven less by a desire to hear the facts and reach their own conclusion than the lazy desire to have existing suspicions and prejudices constantly reinforced?

One can certainly criticise the illiberalism of today’s college students for seeking out safe spaces and pressuring their university administrations to enforce harsh new speech and behavioural codes on campus, but one cannot blame the students alone.

Growing up in an MSNBC or Fox News household where the other side are routinely demonised as being evil, traitorous, un-American or oppressive means that many students may arrive at university without ever having been in close quarters with somebody with a different political philosophy. And just as they experience the first twinges of surprise and discomfort at the discovery of non like-minded people, the campus Identity Politics brigade rides to the rescue, telling them that they are right to be upset, that they are uniquely oppressed and that they require ideologically policed safe spaces just to get through the traumatic years which await them at university. It is a toxic message, but a very powerful and compelling one for many young adults.

So by all means let’s criticise instances of campus authoritarianism when they occur. It is important that we continue shining a spotlight on these incidents and helping liberty-minded students push back and wrest control of their campuses away from the priests and priestesses of the cult of Identity Politics.

But we should not be so smug as to think that we who have left university (or who never went) are in any way superior. For it turns out that older generations have been monetising the idea of safe spaces for years before the Hideaway Cafe even opened for business, and many of us have been unwittingly helping them to do so.


More Tales from the Safe Space here.


Safe Space Notice - 2

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The Fox-ification of MSNBC


US comedian Bill Maher is publicly ending his romance with the MSNBC news network.

The liberal entertainer and commentator, an unapologetic supporter of President Obama and donator to his Super-PAC, has finally been persuaded to look for love elsewhere because even though they share a similar core ideology, MSNBC has become too strident and partisan in its approach to delivering the news. In short, he claims, MSNBC is becoming Fox News:

Whatever we had is not working any more. You’re obviously interested in another man: Chris Christie. You’re obsessed with him. So I wanted you to hear it from me first. I’m going to start seeing other news organizations. I’ll miss what we had. It was a rocket ship ride. We were both passionate flaming liberals and we didn’t care what the world thought of us. It was a glorious time. We finished each other’s Sarah Palin jokes. But now we never talk about any of the things we used to talk about: global warming, gun control, poverty… All because Chris Christie came along and put you under his spell. 

Look at yourself. You’re turning into Fox News. Bridgegate has become your Benghazi, and this isn’t easy to say, but you and I are no longer on the same news cycle. Sure, you read me the results of a recent Gallup poll, but you never really ask me how I’m feeling. It’s not you, it’s… Chris Christie.

While the reality is not quite so black-and-white, it is certainly true that MSNBC’s programming has suffered lately as editorial focus (particularly in January) seized on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s political travails at the expense of almost everything else, abandoning any significant discussion of public policy in favour of personality-based and partisan attacks.

Sure, Chris Christie may yet be proven to be at fault in the Bridgegate scandal, and the network’s intrepid main anchor and personality, Rachel Maddow, was covering the story long before it exploded into the national consciousness. But the degree to which the network then seized on the issue, to a far greater extent than other news networks, shows the Fox mentality starting to manifest itself in a very real way at MSNBC.

Bill Maher has long been able to draw laughs from his audience by pointing out the formulaic approach to journalism that lies behind the success of Fox News, as shown in this typical excerpt:


Here is the key quote:

They [Fox News and other populist right wing media outlets] have discovered that there is a fortune to be made keeping a small portion of America under the illusion that they are always under attack, from Mexicans or ACORN or Planned Parenthood or gays or takers or global warming hoaxers…it doesn’t matter. They don’t want a majority, they want a mailing list. A list of the kind of gullible Honey Boo-Boos out there who think that there’s a war on Christmas, and that the socialist policies of our Kenyan president have been so disastrous that the end of the world is coming.

The fact that Maher now sees parallels in MSNBC’s programming should concern anyone who has an interest in promoting a free and principled media providing a service essential to democracy over an array of narrowly-targeted niche outlets, each making their money by reinforcing the existing fears and prejudices of their respective audiences.

And the extent of MSNBC’s decline does not stop there. Any reader of MSNBC’s facebook account would struggle sometimes to distinguish it from President Obama’s. They trumpet the same initiatives, promote the same causes, celebrate (or invite their readers to celebrate) the same successes.

And, increasingly, they are starting to get touchy when called out on it:


Ultimately, the problem extends far beyond Fox News and MSNBC who are only the latest media organisation trying to emulate Fox’s success. The real problem occurs when any news outlet decides that its primary purpose for being is to help “balance the debate” in response to perceived slanting or bias from elsewhere.

The Fox News Channel proclaims itself to be “Fair and Balanced”. But when probed further about specific instances of right-wing bias on-air, Fox’s journalists, editorial staff and managers do not rush to draw public attention to the Fox News editorial guidelines or their policy on political impartiality. Instead, they draw attention to what they see as the liberal bias of the “mainstream media” and describe their role as being to correct the bias by offering an alternative point of view.

But as soon as you start seeing yourself as a counterweight to something else, you can no longer plausibly claim to inhabit the centre. This is what has now happened to MSNBC. That network watched for a long time as Fox News grew, prospered and humiliated them in the ratings by offering their viewers a diet of politically conservative-skewed infotainment, and now appears to have decided to copy and emulate large sections of their business plan, likely out of a twin desire to reap the same success and to give liberal voices an equally brash, punchy voice. Thus, their motto “Lean Forward”, is becoming increasingly descriptive of what they do, and not for the better.

Progressive opinions and ideas can expect to be given more airtime and favourable editorial consideration on MSNBC, while dissenting conservative voices will be fewer and further between. It is true that many of the new generation of Republicans, hailing from conservative gerrymandered districts and used to sympathetic media, are virtually incapable of taking part in real fact and reason-based debate, and shy away from MSNBC anyway. But even more so than has already been the case, when conservatives do feature on MSNBC it will more likely be as the targets of scandal-related investigative journalism along the lines of Bridgegate.

This is not a positive trend. Were it to continue, the only feature of MSNBC preferable to Fox News will be the honesty of their motto. “Lean Forward” at least strongly hints at the network’s political leanings, whereas “Fair and Balanced” is a running joke in the media world, so clearly does it contradict Fox News’ real motives.

There is probably an initial rush of euphoria to be had, discovering and catering to a new, thus far neglected market of strident and angry liberals who are happy to be fed the Obama administration line. And it may be some time until the network misses the favour of Bill Maher and others who are happy to wear their liberalism on their sleeve, but do not wish to be condescended to by being fed a heavily curated and redacted leftward spin on the news.

But, if they do not change course, the time will come when MSNBC regrets taking the low road. Bill Maher was not the first to compare MSNBC to Fox, and he won’t be the last. Perhaps when the two brands become equally synonymous with partisan propaganda, the executives in charge will realise what they have done.