I watch my news on MSNBC.
In the mornings I like "Morning Joe" because conservative Joe Scarborough and liberal Mika Brzezinski speak their biased hearts, yet are willing to call out inconsistencies and stupidities in their own parties.
In the evenings, I tolerate the caricatures that Rachel Madow and Chris Hayes (sometimes interchangeable from their glasses on down) have become, because they’re liberals who sometimes dig deeper into headline news and because, well, they’re smart. (Catch Rachel Madow on any show but her own and she’s a star, so much more powerful and impassioned than her I’m-so-cute-and-interesting-[and falsely humble] TV persona.)
I put up with Chris Mathews who delivers monologues instead of interviews during his interviews, and shills his books during his monologues.
I try to stay patient as Lawrence O’Donnel enunciates every single word, turning twenty minutes of material into an hour.
I’m a liberal and prefer my TV media liberal. And I certainly prefer MSNBC’s hosts to CNN’s more-conservative takes on the news. Perhaps what I like best about MSNBC is that each host has a sense of humor, can laugh openly, can take a breath and crack a joke. That’s not the case with CNN’s dour Wolf Blitzer or buttoned-up John King. I’ll give Anderson Cooper a bye for two reasons: People stop me on the street thinking I’m him, and, far more important, he can laugh at himself and others.
A sense of humor — I’m starting to think that’s the real litmus test when separating liberals from conservatives. Have you ever seen Mitch McConnell’s pursed lips smile? Have you ever heard Rush Limbaugh laugh a genuine, non-sneering laugh? Have you ever noticed what really makes that famous politically-split couple, James Carville and Mary Matalin, so different? Answer — one laughs a lot, the other perpetually scowls.
But when Cruz and Kasich got KO’d by Donald Trump, well inside the distance, MSNBC lost its sense of humor. Sure, there were lecherously-playful comments about Melania’s runway walk toward the podium where Trump would declare victory in Indiana. There were comments about the spokesmodels behind him.
Still, the predominant emotion at MSNBC wasn’t humor, wasn’t an absurdist’s delight in this new reality, a blustering reality star with the ego the size of Manhattan had become the Republican nominee. Instead, there was outrage. Instead there was incredulity and even shock. Instead, there was a reiterative listing of all the things Trump has supposedly done so wrong, so stupidly, so irresponsibly. He was labelled a hater and a racist. He was labelled a man who knows nothing about politics. He was labelled, even as he won, a loser and liability. And, by insinuation, all the people who voted for him were fools.
Here’s the rub: MSNBC is as responsible as anyone for Donald Trump’s victory. The coverage of The Don was non-stop. The discussion about The Don was non-stop. When The Don held a rally, MSNBC was there more than any other network. The reason is crass-clear — MSNBC wanted the ratings. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to criticize and make fun of than to compliment and analyze. (I’m guilty as charged in my first paragraphs here.)
Had MSNBC been principled, had they truly wanted to make a unified effort to stop Trump (which would have reflected their political views, which I’m sure, each MSNBC host would tell you, are based on principle) then they would have put their coverage where their collective mouth was. They would have limited Trump coverage. They would have given their air time to Hillary and Bernie and to some of the larger political issues that this country faces.
Several news stories that highlighted the dangers of free trade might have cut into Trump’s appeal. In-depth reporting on bankruptcies might have helped the cause. A more timely look at the history of Trump’s recently-anointed campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s relationship to Vladimir Putin might have highlighted the hypocrisy of Trump’s isolationist rants.
Instead, it was Trump-time all the time on MSNBC.
They made a choice: they covered Trump for ratings; they traded integrity for a bigger piece of the viewing pie. There’s a political word for this, a word we hear very often these days — it’s called pandering. MSNBC revealed itself as the Hillary Clinton of news stations.
I’ll keep watching MSNBC. Just like too many democrats will vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election. There’s no better alternative.
But MSNBC should come clean. MSNBC’s talking heads should remove their false masks of outrage and incredulity. They know the truth. They helped make Donald Trump possible. And, for them, that should be no laughing matter.
Adam Berlin is the author of "Both Members of the Club" (winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), "The Number of Missing,” "Belmondo Style" (winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award), and “Headlock." He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-edits "J Journal: New Writing on Justice" (AdamBerlin.com). For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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