Steve Horn

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  • Thank you to everyone for taking part in this dialogue. And thanks to Michael for writing a book that makes the space for such a dialogue. Hope to see you all in forthcoming Salons!

  • Last thought from me: support independent media. Give money to The Real News Network, FireDogLake, TruthOut, Jacobin, CounterPunch, etc. Michael’s book is yet another lesson of what the difference is between the indy media and the corporate media and its lackeys.

  • Phil Griffin’s background is actually pretty telling. Not at all ideological, perhaps liberal at best. But a long time corporate media dude.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Griffin

    Did you find his background too boring to give it much space in your book, even though he’s one of the founders of MSNBC? And what are the actual origins of the initial idea of MSNBC back in the 90s?

  • What about the newest kid on the block, Steve Kornacki? Where does he fit in this MSNBC puzzle? Why’s he appropriate for Brand MSNBC, but not Olbermann?

  • Was there any inclination that Olbermann has the capacity to be critical of Obama and the Dems? I sort of recall him doing some stuff critical of Obama on issues of war and civil liberties back in 2009 (and same for Rachel Maddow a bit on indefinite detention).

    I remember both of them definitely used to have Jonathan Turley on the show, who is very independent and critical of Obama. Would you say in a certain year, perhaps 2010 for midterms, things changed perhaps for a long time to come in MSNBC in that it became a pure mouthpiece for the Dems?

    And am I wrong in thinking Olbermann had some sort of independent streak inside of him? Granted, I was like 20-21 years old at the time!

  • Actually, Ed Schutz is an interesting example, pulling in big bucks from Big Labor.

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2013/12/msnbcs-ed-schultz-paid-by-unions-in-last-two-years-179498.html

    Then there’s the labor union contract dispute happening inside of MSNBC/NBC in which none of the “Lean Forward” progressive hosts have taken the side of labor over at MSNBC. One would have to say that the dispute sort of says quite a bit of what we need to know about MSNBC, no?

    http://www.salon.com/2013/12/13/my_critics_have_income_envy_ed_schultz_unloads_after_backlash_to_his_union_quote/

    http://www.salon.com/2013/12/12/exclusive_chris_hayes_attends_secret_nbc_union_meeting/

    http://www.salon.com/2013/12/18/fear_and_concern_keeping_msnbc_hosts_quiet_in_union_dispute_afl_cio_suggests/

    Also, why didn’t Al Sharpton play a more prominent role in your book?

  • Another thing to put on the table is your look into the legal career of Ari Melber and conflicts of interests at-play there, essentially a repeat of that Richard Wolfe link you posted.

    Is there more stuff like that at-play at MSNBC, such blatant conflicts of interests for hosts? For example, Chris Hayes’ wife and brother both work for Obama. Some of the contributors on contract like David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs both used to work for Obama.

    But are there any other interesting situations like that at-play? And have you noticed if MSNBC often has guests on the show without fully disclosing who these people are and who pays their bills/puts bread on their tables?

  • The late historian Chalmers Johnson once said he reads The New York Times not for what’s in it, but for what’s not in it and how things are framed. Is there a value for MSNBC in that for those on the left (and in general, critical thinkers), akin to what Johnson said about The Times?

    And how about you, where do you get your news/what type of stuff do you spend your time reading to get up to speed on the issues?

  • Michael, do you think any other publisher besides CounterPunch Books would’ve published such a book?

  • Another thing I want to put on the table for this discussion is that, actually. We are basically seeing a corporate liberal clone of what the right-wing has done, dating back to the Powell Memo of 1971.

    This is unpacked in Matt Bai’s book called “The Argument.”

    Maybe the most important question, though, is why is the Left so far behind the learning curve here on these important issues and why is this so seldom discussed in any meaningful, substantive way? To me, these are huge media questions that rise to the level of what Gramsci wrote about so many years ago in discussing “hegemonic ideas.”

  • Yes, I think this book does raise troubling questions about independent media (and extreme lack thereof) in the US.

    If MSNBC is the “feeder network” and “crown jewel” of sorts for big-namers in the “progressive media,” then what does it say to you about the current state of building a real independent media?

    In other words, is the original Mother Jones rolling in her grave and are we long past the glory days of Ramparts Magazine? Or has the Internet helped serve as an equalizing force of sorts for true indy reporters?

  • That’s why I asked about coercion though. One has to think after reading Barstow’s investigations that there’s more of that at-play at MSNBC (and the others). You don’t think so, though? Obviously it’s not just a grand conspiracy and there’s plenty of True Believers who work at MSNBC (not only the big-name hosts, obviously, too), but one has to think there’s plenty of interesting documents out there too that those of us on the outside of the network will never see.

  • Are we sure there’s not coercion at-play, even the soft power version? In other words, MSNBC hosts must understand the old German proverb: “Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing.”

    Maddow is an interesting case study though and I’m glad you included her because it brings up the topic that comes up in your book about the rise and fall of Air America. What the hell happened to Air America and how key was it to the rise of MSNBC?

  • Absolutely re: rent-a-generals. Michael, are you familiar with the “Pentagon Pundits” scandal that unfolded during the Bush Administration days? MSNBC (along with Fox and CNN) were complicit in essentially propagating PSYOPs on the American public, with no consequence.

    Once I learned about this scandal, I felt like I knew a lot of what I needed to know about whose interests all of these networks served. Here’s a link for those interested, David Barstow of The New York Times won a Pulitzer for his reporting on the story.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/us/20generals.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/washington/30general.html?pagewanted=all

  • Yes, and people like Doug Henwood and Liza Featherstone have also gotten The Nation’s axe. You don’t see much in the way of radicalism these days in The Nation, but plenty of email blasts from the DCCC and plenty of pieces critical of Paul Ryan from the likes of John Nichols.

    What would be fascinating to uncover, I think, is contractual agreements between MSNBC and The Nation/Mother Jones, as well as contractual agreements between MSNBC and The Dems.

    Which brings me to the next question, too: why’d you decide to do this more so as a narrative story and less so as a muckraking investigation that sought to dig up documents and smoking guns about MSNBC’s rise to power? How’d you come to make that decision?

  • But just as bad, we often see partisan opposition research masquerading as honest, ethical watch-dogging. That is the stuff of legend for MSNBC, it continues to offer a myth, fable, narrative, etc. that one side is completely evil (the GOP) and the other side benevolent (the donkeys).

    So, it’s not the substance itself often, but the context. I think that’s the key theme of Michael’s book, which comes out to play a bit in his last chapter on the betrayal of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, whose stories do not fit within the partisan box networks like MSNBC and Fox News offer.

  • Thanks for coming to the Salon, Brandon! I echo that question and want to take it a bit deeper.

    Your book talks about the rise of journalists/writers/commentators like Ezra Klein, Chris Hayes, Melissa Harris-Perry and Adam Serwer (the latter two now work at MSNBC, the former who is an MSNBC commentator), who got their starts in the liberal/progressive media.

    It seems like something that could’ve gotten more inquiry or deserves a follow up book or long investigative piece is how the progressive media essentially serves as a feeder network for a channel like MSNBC, which provides regular commentary in the way that serves the corporate interests that MSNBC represents.

    You see people like Ari Berman, Katrian Vanden Huevel, David Corn, etc. all on the network on a regular basis, which begs the question: does the concept of “Medium Blue” and this faux-populism ultimately in service to multinational corporate interests extend to what we normally conceive as the so-called “progressive media”? After all, Mother Jones, The Nation and others regularly spam my email inbox with advertisements for the Democratic Party.

    So the question is, at the end of the day are these feeder media any better than MSNBC?

  • Molly, that’s actually something I have a quick opinion on. I think MSNBC is brilliant at covering important stories, but it’s what they omit that’s key. The Rand Paul story is important, the Bridgegate story is important, etc. But it’s what they omit and don’t cover that matters.

    MSNBC, in my opinion, can be thought of more as an opposition research center on behalf of the Democratic Party in service to electing Dems. Both parties are funded ultimately by the same corporate interests, thus this service MSNBC (a corporation) provides to the Dems works in lock-step with corporate interests.

    That is why the framing of basically every story on MSNBC is in terms of Dems vs. Republicans, rather than deeper, structural questions, which are never on the table for the network. That narrative serves the interests of corporate-owned media and more at-large, multinational corporate interests.

    Long story short, it’s the context of this Rand Paul story that matters, not the story in of itself. It’s how they framed it on MSNBC and how they obsess over stories like Bridgegate, which is no accident, despite the fact we don’t have smoking gun memos to prove how there’s a methodology behind this madness in how things are covered.

  • Great to be here! Always good to host these and have the chance to read good books by great authors like Michael.

    Michael, welcome to FDL Book Salon. Let’s open it up with MSNBC’s latest scandal. That is, the Rula Jebreal situation on the Israel/Palestine front and Gaza coming under attack by the IDF, armed with US weaponry.

    Are you at all surprised by her getting the boot and how does this ongoing stand-off fit within what can be found within your book, “Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC”?

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