Posted 3 years ago on Aug. 24, 2012, 7:38 p.m. EST by PeterKropotkin
from Oakland, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
By Glen Greenwald
In January, Bill Clinton turned on MSNBC for what seems to have been the first time in awhile and shared his reaction to what he saw in an interview with Esquire:
"I was just watching MSNBC, and they had a woman that used to work for me and a couple of other people on there, and they were talking about the Republican primary. And I was laughing. I said, 'Boy, it really has become our version of Fox.'"
For several reasons, it is hyperbole to posit a complete equivalence between the two cable outlets. For one, MSNBC still provides some independent and intellectually honest journalism. For another, at least until this election year, even its most prominent hosts sometimes voiced harsh criticism of Obama of the type that Fox never allowed toward Bush. Beyond that, MSNBC devotes three hours each morning to a show hosted by a former rightwing GOP congressman and his cavalcade of vapid "centrist" establishment journalists such as Mark Halperin (then again, Fox features the idiosyncratic and unpredictable Shepard Smith each night). And MSNBC still has quite a ways to go before it matches Fox's demonstrated willingness to spew outright falsehoods in pursuit of its partisan agenda.
All that acknowledged, there is more than a small amount of truth to Clinton's comparison. Like Fox in its Bush-cheering heyday, the vast bulk of MSNBC's programming is devoted to one core message: American politics is understood as a Manichean battle between Good and Evil; the Republicans are the Evil, and the Obama-led Democrats are the Good. One is very hard-pressed outside of the few exceptions I noted to find any deviation from this painfully simplistic, partisan apparatchik script. It's a virtually non-stop outlet for DNC talking points. Like rightwing viewers of Fox, loyal Obama supporters and Democrats know one thing for certain: when they tune into MSNBC for most hours of the day, they will have their political beliefs flattered and will be made to feel good and noble about their partisan allegiance.
All of that is fine and largely unobjectionable: given Fox's existence, there's no reason Democrats shouldn't have their own television gathering place, for the sake of balance if nothing else. But the problem is that MSNBC is now aggressively importing many of the worst tactics that make Fox such a repellent and destructive blight on our political landscape. And as their palpable desperation to push Obama over the finish line intensifies, so does their willingness to wield these tactics without limits or shame.
Thursday provided one of the most pernicious examples yet. Afternoon host Martin Bashir was interviewing a GOP strategist, Trey Hardin (the video is embedded below). The subject of this interview was a newly formed group of military veterans who are harshly criticizing the Obama administration for its serial leaking of classified information about military operations when doing so politically benefits Obama.
To begin the interview, Bashir showed video of Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey as he criticized this veterans' group on the ground that members of the military should remain apolitical. Gen Dempsey's complaint was odd since the obligation to be apolitical generally rests with active-duty service members, not former ones (as the group's founder correctly said in replying to the general: "He's active duty; we are not. We're now citizens and we have a first amendment right to be able to speak out").
When the video ended, Bashir asked Hardin for his reaction to Gen Dempsey's criticisms of the veterans group, and Hardin began replying with this very mild statement about Dempsey: "First of all, he serves President Obama right now, so it's not a surprising comment." Bashir immediately erupted in a ball of fiery rage, cutting Hardin off, refusing to let him speak, repeatedly demanding an apology for this grievous assault on the integrity of a military man, and then – when Hardin failed sufficiently to grovel for the crime of speaking ill of Gen Dempsey – Bashir kicked Hardin off the show by abruptly ending the interview.
Apparently on MSNBC now, at least on this show, it is verboten to speak critically of a military official (at least one who is defending President Obama). Just think about the fact that the person enforcing this no-criticism-of-military-officials rule considers himself, and is held out to be, a "journalist". You could practically hear Bashir crisply and obediently saluting as he accused Hardin of the crime of disrespect to a general; here is just some of what he shouted, literally, each time Hardin tried to move on:
"I'm sorry, I cannot allow you to cast such a contemptuous aspersion against a senior military officer by demeaning his service to this country. Will you please take that comment back? … Sir, he serves the United States of America."
"A contemptuous aspersion against a senior military officer"! "Demeaning his service to this country." These are the prohibited thought crimes as decreed by a "journalist" on a progressive cable network. All that because Hardin had the temerity merely to point out that as a direct subordinate of Obama's who works with him on a daily basis, Dempsey has an interest in defending him from political attacks – that he's not some unimpeachable Oracle of Truth before whose very pronouncements we must all bow. Not even the Spanish Inquisition entailed such delicate, hair-trigger recriminations for blasphemy as the one that set off this MSNBC host yesterday on his little patriotism enforcement crusade.
This steadfast devotion to the political glorification of the Democratic party leader, at the expense of any pretense of journalism, has been evident at MSNBC for quite some time. Most remarkably: last July, 60 Minutes reported that Al Sharpton "has decided not to criticize the president about anything" – a vow that should be the ultimate disqualifying attribute for working in journalism: how can someone be employed as a political commentator if they vow never to criticize the president under any circumstances? But shortly thereafter, Sharpton was hired by MSNBC to host a prime-time show, replacing a host, Cenk Uygur, who had frequently criticized Obama from the left. Apparently, at MSNBC, a vow never to criticize the nation's most powerful political official is not disqualifying to be hired as a journalist; to the contrary, it's a resume asset.
In February, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter went on MSNBC and mocked Mitt Romney for stating that before deciding whether he had the legal authority to launch an attack on Iran, he would consult with administration lawyers on that question. To smiling MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, Cutter remarked: "that does not make a commander-in-chief, somebody who has to check with his lawyers." So it's no longer Karl Rove, Sarah Palin and the RNC that are the featured venues for mocking the notion that a president should comply with the law before using military force: this is now standard fare at MSNBC, courtesy of Obama campaign aides who, when they appear there, are treated more politely than the British Queen on a state visit to Canada.
As is true for Obama policies themselves – from due-process-free assassinations to compulsive secrecy to indefinite detention and beyond – the adoption of these tactics by MSNBC converts them from from rightwing afflictions into standard, uncontroversial orthodoxy. It's not just on Fox News, but now also on MSNBC, where speaking critically of a military official, even in the mildest of tones, is treated like it's some sort of grave crime against the state: one that results in sanctimonious outbursts, manipulative appeals to patriotism, and the casting of the offender out of decent company. That this demand for reverence of military officials comes someone holding themselves out as a journalist – on a progressive network no less (Lean Forward!) – makes it all the more disturbing.