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Feb 26 2013

Greenwald Blasts NBC for Hiring Obama Advisers

Glenn Greenwald has an absolutely scathing column about NBC hiring former Obama advisers David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs as contributors and what this says about the sad state of our sycophantic media. While noting that there are exceptions — Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow are sometimes highly critical of the Obama administration — he points out just how bad things have gotten on MSNBC in particular:

Last month, MSNBC‘s Al Sharpton conducted a spirited debate about whether Obama belongs on Mount Rushmore or instead deserves a separate monument to his greatness (just weeks before replacing frequent Obama critic Cenk Uygur as MSNBC host, Sharpton publicly vowed never to criticize Barack Obama under any circumstances: a vow he has faithfully maintained). Earlier that day on the same network, a solemn discussion was held, in response to complaints from MSNBC viewers, about whether it is permissible to ever allow Barack Obama’s name to pass through one’s lips without prefacing it with an honorific such as “President” or “the Honorable” or perhaps “His Excellency” (that really did happen).

Yesterday, Chris Matthews – who infamously confessed that listening to Obama (sorry: President Obama) gives him a “thrill going up his leg” -hosted another discussion, this one involving former Obama campaign aide and MSNBC contributor Joy Reid, about whether the Honorable President should be mounted on Mount Rushmore (Matthews restrained himself by explaining that “I’m not talking about Mt. Rushmore but perhaps the level right below it”, but then shared this fantasy: “If [Obama] were hearing us talking about him maybe mounting Mount Rushmore, getting up there with the great presidents…what would he be thinking? ‘That’s exactly what I’m doing?’”). A Pew poll found that in the week leading up to the 2012 election, MSNBC did not air a single story critical of the President or a single positive story about Romney – not a single one – even as Fox aired a few negative ones about Romney and a few positive ones about Obama. Meanwhile, Obama campaign aides who appeared on MSNBC were typicallytreated with greater deference than that shown to the British Queen when one of her most adoring subjects is in her presence for the first time.

But he’s just getting warmed up. He saves the real venom for the hiring of Gibbs and Axelrod:

I wonder: does someone who goes from being an Obama White House spokesman and Obama campaign official to being an MSNBC contributor even notice that they changed jobs?…

Impressively, David Axelrod left the White House and actually managed to find the only place on earth arguably more devoted to Barack Obama. Finally, American citizens will now be able to hear what journalism has for too long so vindictively denied them: a vibrant debate between Gibbs and Axelrod on how great Obama really is.

Ouch. But not far off, really. As he says, it really indicates just how much the media today operates largely as stenographers rather than journalists, accurately taking down and reporting back the party line from both sides with very little critical analysis. Noting the recent complaints from the White House press corps not having enough access to Obama (access that they would only use to ask softball questions and to which they would get answers that everyone knows is bullshit), he concludes:

Notably, these “frustrated” White House journalists now complaining about a lack of “transparency” aren’t objecting to Obama’s concealment of multiple legal documents which purport to authorize radical powers he claims or to his war on whistleblowers. Instead, they’re objecting that the White House doesn’t “cooperate” with them enough (Obama officials release official photos and quotes through social media rather than to reporters) and they don’t get to see the president enough or sit with him for interviews.

That you can cover what political officials do more effectively when you act adversarially and without their “cooperation” doesn’t seem to occur to them. Moreover, getting to sit for personal interviews with the president usually produces anything but adversarial questioning. As even Politico admits: “some reporters inevitably worry access or the chance of a presidential interview will decrease if they get in the face of this White House.” And indeed, see what happened in 2008 when Politico’s own Mike Allen interviewed George Bush with questions so vapid and reverent that it would have shamed his profession if it were capable of that. Or just review the questions asked of Obama the last time he sat for an “interview”, this one with the founder of My.BarackObama.com Chris Hughes, who just purchased the New Republic.

Still, MSNBC is going a few steps further. Most shows there are suffused with former DNC spokespeople, Obama aides and other types whose overarching political mission is a defense of the president. I suppose there’s some commendable candor in hiring Obama’s two most recognizably loyal aides in less than two weeks: any lingering doubt about its primary purpose as a network is dispelled, so that, I suppose, is good on some level (just as Fox’s heavy reliance on long-time GOP operative Karl Rove had the same clarifying effect)…

But whatever one wants to call this, “journalism” is the wrong label. Even ideologically-friendly media outlets which claim that mantle should be devoted to accountability and treating those who wield power adversarially, not flattering the preexisting beliefs of their audience and relentlessly glorifying political leaders. Presidents have actual press secretaries and Party spokespeople for that.

Let me propose a basic rule: If you’re a journalist and you are getting politically convenient leaks from the White House or are lucky enough to be chosen to have an audience with the president — any president — that’s almost a sure sign that you’re not doing your job. If those in power, regardless of party, do not view you as hostile to their interests, you’re being a stenographer instead of a journalist.

When I was the editor of the Michigan Messenger, I fielded some very angry calls from the spokespeople for politicians from both parties, furious that we had reported something that made them look bad, or that we were sniffing around a story they didn’t like. I took that as proof that we were doing something right.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Alverant

    Not to fall into the “both sides do it” trap, but how did he feel about Faux News hiring people like Ollie North or Sarah Palin?

  2. 2
    matty1

    Once more, this is how it’s done

  3. 3
    slc1

    As an example of the shallowness, we have the lame stream media complaining that they weren’t invited to observe the golf outing Obama had with Tiger Woods.

  4. 4
    scienceavenger

    A Pew poll found that in the week leading up to the 2012 election, MSNBC did not air a single story critical of the President or a single positive story about Romney – not a single one – even as Fox aired a few negative ones about Romney and a few positive ones about Obama.

    Meh, same old false-equivalence question-begging garbage that the weaker side always trots out. My pat response: what should the proportion of positive/negative stories be about the candidates and why that number? [deer in the headlights]

    Yeah, the media was far more criticial of Romney, because there was far more to be critical about. Period.

  5. 5
    Pierce R. Butler

    Are the Clintons just waiting for a high-enough offer to become MSNBC correspondents?

  6. 6
    baal

    NBC merited the blast from Greenwald but I see the problem more as another example of the oligarchy. Were the new outfits smaller and independent (i.e. competing), we might get more effort from them to do investigative journalism. As proof of principle, I offer Rolling Stone. Since it’s smallish and stand alone, it can have Matt Taibbi doing explainer stories on the banking fiasco of 2008/9. The big media corps barely touched the story in comparison.

  7. 7
    ashleybell

    I’m with ScienceAvenger on this one. What good thing WAS there to say about Romney that MSNBC missed?… The crap about being a good provider for his family? Loves dogs… no…wait

  8. 8
    ashleybell

    Plus Rachel has been covering the DRONE issue, longer than the other networks (US). I’d like to see her go after the NSA, but no one else is doing that either, except Amy Goodman….

  9. 9
    greenspine

    Okay, so even if there was literally nothing good to say about Romney or his positions or his campaign, how do you address the other side of the issue? Were there zero legitimate criticisms of Obama that NBC could have brought to bear, if they were interested in presenting truth rather than ideology? Maybe a little retrospective on his first four years that mentioned drone strikes or State Secrets Privilege or Bradely Manning?

    I don’t care about proportions of good-to-bad reporting, I care about hearing the things that matter. Greenwald is right in that NBC failed catastrophically in that regard.

  10. 10
    Ichthyic

    Chris Matthews – who infamously confessed that listening to Obama (sorry: President Obama) gives him a “thrill going up his leg”

    I would love to be a fly on the wall in the oval office when Obama heard that.

  11. 11
    Dennis N

    As someone who only watches Up w/ Chris Hayes and Maddow, I’m not offended by the criticism. I will say, Lock Up was over the top in its criticism of Romney, though.

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