I like Alex Pareene’s annual list of media hacks. I like it because it’s as objective as such analyses can be, going after hacks on the right and the left, and because it also rightly goes after those middle-of-the-road, play-it-straight beltway analysts who can be relied on to say next to nothing and pretend it’s profound. This year’s list can be found here. I like the entry on MSNBC:
MSNBC, we’re told all the time, is the liberal Fox News. That’s reductive and stupid. It isn’t. MSNBC isn’t the liberal Fox News for two very important reasons: It usually demonstrates a greater respect for the truth than Fox News, and it’s not as good as Fox News. It’s not as good at being liberal as Fox is at being conservative. Fox is rigidly ideologically consistent, with its “straight news” programs echoing the same talking points and pushing the same slanted stories as its opinion shows. While there’s no doubt that MSNBC is more unapologetically liberal than it used to be, it’s still all over the place, with a conservative anchoring its flagship morning show, objective Beltway “straight news” proponents like Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell dominating in the daytime, and weekends full of … prison shows. But more important, it’s not as good as Fox at being compelling TV, which is why millions more people watch Fox every day. (There are demographic reasons for Fox’s advantage, too, but it’s still a huge number.)
There’s a reason Ed Schultz — the most Fox-like of MSNBC’s liberal hosts — has great ratings. That’s also what makes it so funny that MSNBC is supposedly planning on replacing him with Ezra Klein, which is like Fox deciding to replace Sean Hannity with Ross Douthat. Good for respectability. Bad for ratings…
I’ll give MSNBC its due: Chris Matthews is probably the worst interviewer on television but he is also undoubtedly one of its most fascinating and watchable personalities. Rachel Maddow is obviously and deservedly a national treasure. MSNBC’s new weekend morning programs, hosted by Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry, seem like a novel experiment in attempting to produce genuinely intelligent television using the medium of cable news and its popular tropes. “The Cycle” is exactly 25 percent great.
But existing in an uneasy alliance with the thoughtful young liberal MSNBC is the dumb MSNBC, of FIRED UP ED SCHULTZ and smug Martin Bashir. Lawrence O’Donnell seems to be trying to win a bet with someone that Piers Morgan isn’t the biggest asshole with his own TV show. And there’s “Morning Joe.”
“Morning Joe” is the world’s most self-satisfied television program. It is a place where Harold Ford Jr. is treated as a person whose insights and opinions are worthy of being taken seriously. It’s a show with so little respect for its viewers that Mark Halperin is asked on to explain politics every day.
“Morning Joe” is very sure that it is fun and outrageous, instead of depressing. They joke, or “joke,” about how they are all drinking alcohol at work, on TV! They banter! Sometimes someone swears!
Pretty much. Morning Joe is unwatchable. Ed Schultz is a blowhard who nearly always oversimplifies every issue. Maddow remains the best host of such a show on television by a wide margin. And O’Donnell, who had real promise, is clearly trying to put on his best Ed Schultz suit. The ratings may be better, but it becomes endlessly annoying to those who want anything other than a pep talk.
But his #1 hack is, quite rightly, Politico. And he lets them have it:
I have written tens of thousands of words on what, precisely, is wrong with Politico. But I can put the case much more simply here: It’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei.
VandeHei is the co-founder of Politico, and Allen is the organization’s biggest star. Each morning Allen collects a bunch of links to day-old news stories and emails them to thousands of people, and for this he is paid a fortune. VandeHei is the guy who gives Politico its obnoxious, pseudo-macho ethos, with the shouty memos and nonsense about “metabolism.” Allen exemplifies the sort of political journalist who thinks his job is faithfully reporting what mendacious professional liars tell him, while also usually protecting their identities. VandeHei thinks neutrality requires occupying a space precisely between Breitbart and the Huffington Post. Neither would probably understand if you tried to explain to them that supporting whatever any CEO says or effectively endorsing Erskine Bowles for president is actually a violation of political “neutrality.”
When you see a joint Allen-VandeHei byline, you can safely expect the worst. When fellow Politico big shots John Harris and Jonathan Martin write a piece, they report on politics. When Allen and VandeHei write, they craft narrative. If the narrative bears no little relation to reality, or is simply self-serving spin from a professional political operative, no matter: Now the narrative is “out there,” because Politico is proud of its ability to create its own buzz and then report on that buzz.
They get a few leaks, but only because they’re a reliable megaphone for beltway wisdom and can be counted on never to question their source. It’s what makes them a huge hack.