Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

MSNBC – the anti-FOX….but is that a good thing?

I have a confession to make: I no longer use MSNBC as my primary source of cable news coverage unlike most of my fellow loyal progressives.  I have become increasingly uncomfortable in recent years as MSNBC has shifted all of their opinion shows to the left in response to the sharp rise of Fox News and its unrivaled success by skewing its news coverage predominantly conservative.  But it took me starting this blog to confirm what I had subconsciously known for some time.  That is, I tune in to MSNBC to garner their take on the daily news because it is comfortable and familiar.  Put another way, I know that I am going to largely agree with Rachael Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell.  But then I began to ponder this question: how do we learn, challenge ourselves and expand our understanding of a particular issue if we only seek out like-minded opinions? 

During the Bush years, liberals and progressives, myself included, desperately needed a forum through which our collective frustrations could be vented.  This desire for progressives came to fruition in the form of MSNBC’s most highly rated and signature show during the Bush years – “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann.  Mr. Olbermann undressed the Bush Administration like a ruthless lawyer before the jury.  He was meticulous, well-prepared, armed with facts and extremely articulate in his nightly verbal lashing of Bush Administration policies.  I watched because I perceived Keith Olbermann to be smart, often funny, politically shrewd and, most importantly, right.       

I also value the opinion of Rachel Maddow whom, like Mr. Olbermann (though less caustic), is extremely smart, well-prepared and calculated in her arguments against conservative policies.  In addition, Lawrence O’Donnell – who replaced Keith Olbermann after his contract wasn’t renewed in January – provides an interesting insider prospective having served as an important senior aide to the powerful former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan as well as a writer for the political drama The West Wing.  I have never had much use for Chris Matthews as he seems much more interested in hearing himself talk than informing viewers.  And MSNBC caps each night with Ed Schultz who is certainly passionate about the middle class and progressive issues but lacks any interesting qualities and borders on theatrical.  

But generally speaking, it is not the anchors with whom I take umbrage.  The major problem I have with all of these shows is the lack of divergent opinions.  Rarely on these shows have I heard a conservative voice to provide the opposition point of view.  Perhaps it is difficult to book conservative pundits or congressional Republicans given MSNBC’s newfound reputation as being hostile to their views.  But how can a show have a serious discussion concerning a specific issue if it can’t find guests to defend each side of the debate?

I have long railed against Fox News for being the quasi communications arm of the Republican Party.  Fox is undoubtedly partisan and, to their credit, they don’t really try to hide it.  I imagine that even Fox employees often enjoy a good, hearty laugh over a beer (probably imported) when they recite their slogan “Fair and Balanced.”  I had a hearty laugh myself as I watched every single Fox commentator blow the proverbial gasket recently over the hip hop singer Common being invited to perform at the White House.  The collective attempts by Fox News pundits to caricature Common as some thuggish rapper are wildly and absurdly inaccurate.  I should know; I’m proud to say that Common was a frequent guest crooning from the speakers of my college dorm and thuggish rapper he is not.

It is also comical to watch in vain as Sean Hannity tries to put together a rational argument based on something other than pure emotion and vindictiveness against the president.  In a major step forward for Fox News, however, Glenn Beck – the pathologically irrational firebrand – completed his final show last week which was, as usual, filled with blatant inaccuracies, erroneous logic and, in typical Beck fashion, childish behavior as he continued his spat with Jon Stewart even as he exited stage right.  Can progressives continue to rightly discredit Fox News as illegitimate (considering it seems to have employed most former and current Republican candidates for president) if we too have our own network – whether real or perceived?

If conservatives only watch Fox News for their news analysis, they are dumber for it.  But if progressives only watch MSNBC, aren’t we making the same mistake for which we criticize conservatives?  In my view, it is outlandishly narcissistic to assume that we progressives hold the correct position on every policy issue.  There are nuances and intricacies to each policy debate that we should seek to explore and understand.  Republicans are bound to be right some of the time too.  We should at least have the courtesy and integrity to listen to their positions.  Doing so will only enhance our ability to ultimately win the debate.  How can you consistently win if you don’t intimately understand the thought processes and strategies of your opponent?

So I would encourage and challenge progressives to turn the dial over to Fox News from time to time (muting the volume doesn’t count).  Get a firm grasp of how Republicans and conservatives perceive a particular issue – and how progressives might best combat the conservative strategy.    And, of course, sprinkle in some MSNBC – there is nothing wrong with getting your Maddow fix.  You can even check out “Hardball” if you’re willing to listen to Chris Matthews debate himself.   

But, in addition, I suggest giving CNN a try.  While I acknowledge that Wolf Blitzer is so astoundingly boring it often seems as if he is trying to put himself to sleep and John King is as bland as Blitzer is boring, CNN has carved out a nice niche as the truly fair and balanced network.  As such, each segment of debate has both conservative and liberal (and any other) views fully represented.  Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike do not hesitate to appear on CNN shows as there is an inherent understanding of fairness and equal time.  And word has it that Anderson Cooper is moving to the 8 pm timeslot in favor of Eliot Spitzer which should help ratings in the primetime hour.  While CNN certainly has its flaws – boredom not the least of which among them – it should certainly be sprinkled in to your cable news diet in order to provide that seemingly elusive fairness and balance.          

Is it a good thing that two of the three major cable news channels are so clearly identifiable with one of the political parties?  I recognize that at our nation’s founding almost all newspapers had political agendas and were, in fact, biased.  This trend continued throughout much of our history.  But I can’t help but think that what Fox and MSNBC have created can only lead to the further dumbing down of our politics.  Furthermore, I would contend that this situation only exacerbates the polarization and divisiveness in our politics.  The irony is that CNN has lagged behind the other two in ratings and revenue since its decision to remain largely unbiased.  Apparently, most viewers migrate to the network that will make them feel most comfortable and challenge them least.  Our real challenge, then, is to not fall into the trap.

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Fox News, Glenn Beck, Media, MSNBC, Politics, Rachael Maddow | , , , , , | 6 Comments