Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dissin' The Reverend Al ... And MSNBC's Fake Liberal Bias

The Reverend Al debuted as an "official" MSNBC host yesterday flipping some critics who had called him "stiff" and "robotic" by vowing to "say what I mean, and mean what I say." That's the sensible Big Eddie approach, who went through some of the same growing pains transitioning from radio to TV. Better to let Eddie be Big Eddie. Same for the Reverend Al. He'll find his stride.

Which brings me to a rather hilarious New York Times zing (not quite hit) piece on the Reverend Al. It was written by Alessandra Stanley who does "The Culture at Large" beat for the Times. The impression I got from Alessandra's article was that (a) she is not an MSNBC viewer, (b) she has an anti- (as opposed to non-) liberal bias, and (c) maybe she should be covering the wine and cheese beat or the "literal" dog and pony shows at Madison Square Garden rather than political media. Because when it comes to politics and its media beat, Alessandra is out of her depth. Here are a few of the amusing assumptions Ms Stanley makes about what she calls the Reverend Al's "cable news pulpit:"
"[W]hat he means to say is in lockstep with every other MSNBC evening program, making the stretch between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. a nonstop lecture on liberal values and what is wrong with the Republican Party."
Excuse me!? A "lecture" on liberal values? About what "is wrong with the Republican Party"? First of all, Alessandra, to the extent MSNBC espouses "liberal" (I, and the MSNBC audience, would call them "American") values; if not MSNBC, then who? The Times? There's only so much Paul Krugman can do and say. Oh yeah, and the Times editorials, when saying sensible things, must be pushing "liberal values."

Second, Ms Stanley, in case you haven't noticed, MSNBC hosts and guests are as bitingly critical of the Democratic Party as they are of the GOP. If there's more Republican Party criticism, that's because Republicans lie much more than Democrats (that's an empirical fact — I'm talking about policy, not personal scandals). Further, they tried to shut down the government, brought us to the brink of default, rejected President Obama's "Grand Bargain" which, pay attention Ms Stanley, liberals and progressives viewed as total capitulation to Republicans on Tea Party values, reject science, from global warming to evolution, incessantly mix religion and politics in truly disturbing ways, and are embarked on a radical right wing anti-American agenda in the states — barely covered by the Times — a grand right wing experiment to eliminate the New Deal, from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid to unions and collective bargaining. Every single poll of the "American people" — another Republican talking point lie wildly enhancing the narrow base supporting their policies — indicates large majorities of Americans reject this radical right wing Republican power grab.

If not MSNBC, then who, Ms Stanley? CNN? CNBC, which spawned the decidedly non-liberal libertarian populist Dylan Ratigan, who has a penchant for sophistry and generalizations about all "politicians," as if both parties have equivalent sins? Ratigan and Moron Joe are simply Republicans in libertarian clothing. (Libertarians are Republicans less the religious and Neo-Con bellicose ideology. Period. And yeah, they want to get laid and hang out with Dylan, too.) Yet they anchor shows on MSNBC. Ratigan idolizes reactionary Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who said President Obama's "intent is to create dependency because it worked so well for him, as an African-American male" who received "tremendous advantage from a lot of these programs." And Coburn was trying to say something nice.

It amazes me that this Southern wingnut gets a platform on MSNBC. But he has it to spout his nonsense and lies, from Moron Joe to Ratigan to Matthews, and everywhere else ... although when the clock strikes six (on the East coast) the bullshit stops at the program's edge, and Coburn likely goes "into the zone." Or Rachel will do something awesome, like her priceless impression of a ditzy "emotional" woman, which is how Coburn condescendingly characterized her. (I don't know why that segment was mysteriously disappeared — it's the single most hilarious thing Rachel has ever done.)

I'm not so surprised that a Southern senator would be such a backward antedelluvian, even in the 21st century, nor that folks who live or work in Manhattan (Ratigan and Moron Joe) should accept this backward thinking as the "new normal." Because, well, they're not liberals. Talk about flyover territory — this is invasion of the wingnuts in Midtown Manhattan, where Fox makes its home, coexisting with MSNBC, NBC, and the Times, in evident cross-pollination. Chuck Todd (another conservative mole, certainly a member of the Idiot Punditocracy) let his guard down, making a snarky remark about the "liberal elites" in the D.C.-New York corridor. From where I stand, the "liberals" at MSNBC are embattled, surrounded on all sides by wingnuts, in their own private little Alamo.

Ms Stanley could be one of those Ratigan groupies who believes there's altogether too much liberal bias at MSNBC — maybe Krugman said an unkind word to her about something stupid she wrote? —like this:
MSNBC long ago cast itself as the liberal counterpoint to Fox News.
Excuse me!? Let's do a reality check here. For all of its faults, MSNBC is a legitimate news channel. Fox is not. Fox is a propaganda mouthpiece for the right and the Republican Party. Significantly, it is MSNBC policy to source its attributions — right there at the bottom of the screen — so if they make the occasional mistake, they'll own up to it right away as part of normal news reporting. Fox flat-out makes stuff up. It's well documented. Their anchors take marching orders, and talking points, from Roger Ailes. Just the other day, Keith ran a Worst Persons segment of Fox anchors up and down the lineup saying the exact same words about President Obama's vacation: "I don't begrudge" the President taking a vacation, but blah-blah-cheap shots. It's astonishing to actually see Fox propaganda broken down to its component parts. It's like a word map; they use certain words repetitively to pound the viewers' subsconscious. Is it any wonder that Fox viewers are the least informed of all? For practical political purposes, they're brainwashed zombies.

Fox employs a stable of Republican politicians and operatives mixed with pea-brained leggy blondes masquerading as "anchors." The MSNBC suits tried going the Fox route — because someone, probably meddlesome Marbles Mouth, said they needed a Republican "perspective" — by hiring GOP hack Michael Steele, an utter trainwreck. Here in a sense MSNBC reminds me of the Democratic Party: a bunch of wussies playing on the enemy's territory. If they think this will help ratings — WhiteHouseThink — they're flat-out wrong. From a competitive angle, Steele is proving himself to be a Fox asset. He's havin' them all for lunch, just by getting the time to spout Republican talking points behind enemy lines. Even the staid and dull Ed Rendell can't put up with Steele's bullshit, and ends up getting into an argument. As I noted before, it's "Firing Line" revisited. Great move, suits.

Everyone's favorite fill-in anchor, sweet Melissa, was punished for being too nice to Steele. When she plaintively suggested some variation on 'why can't we (Democrats and Republicans) all get along', Steele threatened to send her kids "some literature." We're not talking Maya Angelou poetry, mind you, but rather Republican propaganda. Isn't it just like Republicans to think nothing of indoctrinating children early? Melissa was heard audibly groaning in the background. Live and learn, Melissa. I rest my case.

Now let's compare lineups to see just how much of a "counterpoint" to Fox MSNBC is. 'Moron Joe' is charitably considered by some the thinking person's 'Fox and Friends'. I wouldn't, but it's a question of degree, I suppose. Fox has all morons and wingnuts. MSNBC has them too ... and Mika, who happens to be a smart, classy lady. But she can't carry the show. Then there's Chuckie — we know about him. Andrea is a nice lady, but hardly a liberal. She's married to old-time objectivist Alan Greenspan.

The best that can be said about Andrea, and even Chris Matthews, is that they represent the D.C. corporate news "establishment." Cenk Uygur, the high ratings rising star replaced by Sharpton, spilled the beans on MSNBC's "establishment" (read that, "corporatist") credentials. Cenk's independence and harsh, but fair, criticism of President Obama made the MSNBC suits uneasy. Now we have the "lean forward" crowd (even the President used the slogan in a serious and different context in a recent speech — if it was a coincidence, it was still bizarre) giving the President a pass. Hell, I get it. It's hard to be critical when the President calls Big Eddie "Schultzie" and has everyone over to partake of delicious White House treats at the buffet table. (Credit to Big Eddie for criticizing President Obama anyway; but it's hard not to pull one's punches when you drink from the White House punch bowl.)

NBC/MSNBC have close ties to POLITICO, which is the epitome of inside-the-Beltway connected corporate media. The liberal outliers at POLITICO, WaPo, and of course The Nation/Mother Jones, are at a distinct numerical disadvantage which they make up with brilliance. Ezra Klein and Chris Hayes (who is getting his own MSNBC gig — good move, suits) are peerless, but rarely seen on Andrea Mitchell. Andrea reflects the Beltway consensus, via POLITICO, which is conservative, elitist, corporatist groupthink. Chris Matthews tries hard, to his credit, to break out of the Beltway gravitational pull, but it keeps dragging him back in.

Indeed, these "liberal" analysts — adding √©minences grise Howard Fineman, Gene Robinson, and E.J. Dionne — are golden. What Alessandra calls a "lecture" on liberal values, the viewers will call the truth. The truth hurts, Alessandra, especially when you're predisposed against it. Because it isn't only about liberal values, but the truth about what these Republicans are doing to our country. Here are some of Alessandra's quibbles with MSNBC:
And in the evening at least, MSNBC is less a news provider than a carousel of liberal opinion — potential conflicts of interest are swept aside in the swirl of excitable guests.

Unfortunately, so is conflict. There is almost no real debate on any of these evening shows: a conservative is brought on and put on the spot, then in a different segment two people who agree with the host on a given issue answer the host’s questions, usually, with words like “you’re so right.”
Two words: Michael Steele. This guy has really turned otherwise thoughtful discussions into partisan pow-wows. 'Nuff said. Aside from that, Alessandra is full of shit. Show me where there's "a carousel of liberal opinion" as opposed to analysis and commentary. There is a difference. And there is a distinction to be made between "political analysts" and policy experts. Rachel generally features the latter, unless she's strictly talking politics. The same goes for Lawrence and Big Eddie.

Ms Stanley seems to be arguing for some sort of equivalence in presenting both sides of the argument — as if ... as if the Republican hard right positions are anything but insane. Alessandra reminds me of the clueless Judy Woodruff of the PBS corporate News Hour trying to make sense of the insanity and extremism of the Tea Party.

If I were to quibble with the Reverend Al show, it's the quantity of wingnuts they bring in — from the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis, who later whines no fair, three against one! Bwaaaah! [insert infant bawling soundtrack], to Tea Party Reps. and the roadkill yellow stripe members of some atrocious political yuppie movement called "No Labels." Not a fan of the format which assumes that, somehow, opinions of the right and far right aren't adequately represented. This is a carryover from Cenk's show, who I think was badly influenced by Ratigan, and I hope it changes.

Tell you what, Alessandra: The moment MSNBC has Noam Chomsky or Amy Goodman on to talk politics and current events, then we can revisit; with wine and brie. In the meantime, complaining that some guest actually agrees with the host's observation is an absurd non sequitur. Make up your mind, Ms Stanley. Do you want conflict and "excitable" (hmm ... is this code or something?) guests, or general consensus and good analysis? Some interviews end in consensus, others do not. That's simply the nature of debating the issues. Not all MSNBC segments are of a debate format; in fact most are informational, because there's none of it on Fox, and less at the Times with articles like Ms Stanley's. And what are these "potential conflicts of interest"? Be specific, Alessandra. You must be referring to Fox, where presidential aspirants and political operatives are paid "political analysts." They give the honest ones, at MSNBC, a bad name.

In politics and associated media, there are always second and third acts. Ms Stanley keeps bringing up the Reverend Al's way back past for no discernible reason other than to try and embarass him. Here she finally gets specific, but strikes out anyway:
On Monday, Mr. Sharpton followed the patented formula, bringing in two experts who agreed with him that recent efforts in North Carolina and other states to stiffen voter-identity requirements and restrict early voting would mostly affect those minorities and younger voters who turned out in record numbers for Barack Obama in 2008. Mr. Sharpton called it a “poll tax by another name.”

It’s an interesting issue, and not one that other MSNBC talk shows have addressed with the same degree of passion, but it would have been helpful to viewers to also learn how proponents of voting restrictions justify the legislation.
No it wouldn't, Alessandra. What do you take the viewers for — idiots like you? We already know what their counter-arguments are: They're based on sowing fear — fear of the "illegal immigrant" somehow defrauding the voters, fear of blacks and latinos getting the vote, wrapped around the basic catch-all "voter fraud." There is no counter-argument. The statistics indicate voter fraud has been negligible to none. It's a naked power grab by Republicans. We're waaaay ahead of you, Alessandra. I don't know about "passion" but Rachel Maddow has done exhaustive, comprehensive stories on this very topic, which I've seen no other network cover, nor, dare I say, the Times. (I believe I check [google] more often than Ms Stanley who clearly is fibbing when she says the issue is "not one that other MSNBC talk shows have addressed.")

Finally, to claim liberal bias for a network whose Primetime hosts are, to varying degrees, in the tank for center-right President Obama — is ridiculous. The Times' standards are slipping, strangely.

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