Five Guys, Nothing Burgers & Lies: MSNBC Gets A Whiff Of Itself—And Loves It!
By Mark Cromer
The death of the Fox News Channel has been greatly exaggerated, or at least mildly overstated for the moment, but the years of its once seemingly insurmountable dominance of the cable news universe suddenly seem as old as last week’s newspaper.
And it was in last week’s editions of The New York Times that MSNBC strutted and cock-a-doodled like a barnyard rooster that had just finished a merciless run through the hen house and was greeting the rising sun with his own morning glory. In a full-page ad run in the A-section of the newspaper’s national edition, readers of the Old Gray Lady were greeted by five beaming mugs and the Billboard like bullet notification sandwiched in between them: ‘MSNBC is #1.’
The ad factually stated that MSNBC was “outperforming CNN and Fox News,” breaking its own viewership records and was the “most watched cable news network from 7 p.m. to Midnight.” And there were no tiny, faded asterisks hovering around those claims that would betray a more nuanced truth buried amid some qualifiers in three-point print at the bottom of the page.
Still, the ad heralded what is at best for MSNBC a tentative ascendance in a suddenly very fluid cable news market, a mercurial landscape of demographic audiences that are shifting nightly far more than they seem to be settling, a fact demonstrated by AdWeek’s ratings analysis on June 7 that put MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in the number one slot “for the second night in a row” but noted that FNC took the top spot for total prime time viewers.
That takes nothing away from Maddow, whose keen intellect and seemingly genuine friendly charm combined with an admirable tenaciousness has made her a serious news player in for the long haul, but it doesn’t change the reality that cable news ratings are indeed like pop charts and to that extent one should remember that in 1967 The Monkees outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones—combined.
It’s a rare legacy that’s built in a good year, let alone a few good months.
But rather than rain on MSNBC’s parade, it’s more appropriate (or at least more fun) to examine its bunting in The New York Times at least a little closer.
One need not have paused long over their coffee last week to notice something that had another network, newspaper or any other media outlet crowed over would have triggered the cultural foul sirens at MSNBC, which undoubtedly would have deployed all five of the talking heads featured in its ad wailing on their respective shows over the outrage of it all.
And that is the uniformly and near blinding fine whiteness of the five faces beaming from the network’s newsprint ad buy, with four of those faces belonging to what around MSNBC would now be described per the employee handbook as ‘biologically male at birth.’
Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever that MSNBC’s primetime roster is as racially diverse as BET, and much significantly more monochrome than that of FNC or CNN’s top of the ticket lineup. One should assume and as Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Brian Williams would most certainly argue: they earned their shows. They worked their asses off to achieve this latest pinnacle (or in Williams case, resurrection) of their careers.
The problem is neither their whiteness nor their striking success or even their understandable celebratory mood about suddenly looking like the cable news Seattle Slew in that Thoroughbred’s magical year of 1977 is the relevant issue.
No, the only thing that’s a tad askew with the picture MSNBC painted across The New York Times is the utter richness of the triple scoop of hypocrisy that was served up by a network that probably has ‘Check Your White Privilege At The Door’ signs posted all over 30 Rock, or wherever it is from which they actually broadcast their nightly bromides of the omnipresent danger of a still-too-white America.
Not that one could detect even the slightest whiff of irony from the smug mugs of Matthews and O’Donnell or the big smiles of Hayes and Maddow and certainly not the sublime satisfaction of former NBC Nightly News anchor Williams as he relished the sweet scent of rehabilitation wafting off his finger that was crooked under his nose.
There was none. They gloated with the straightest of faces. And such is the amazing magic of white liberals.
This is the network that has built its platform of counter-programming against FNC on a foundation of identifying, targeting and attacking the economic relevance and cultural presence of working white Americans across the vast swath of America that stretches between the seaboards; simultaneously belittling, degrading and ultimately denying the bedrock of their contribution to the American republic all while encouraging, arguing for and celebrating their literal elimination from the professional sectors and the public square as they cheerlead the relentless flows from foreign shores the replacement populations that have poured into the nation legally and illegally on the tide of mass immigration.
Focused through the lens of MSNBC, to be white in America today is, by very definition, to be a person of interest, one of which a cloud of historic suspicion hangs perpetually over like Damocles sword, inheritors of a bounty they are charged with doing nothing to earn but rather are now accomplice in its theft and thus must now live in a constant state of fear if they dare seek a claim to it.
The network that launched in the high summer of 1996—the same year that FNC debuted—an amalgamation of the Peacock Network and Microsoft (it’s now a wholly NBC enterprise) would not be recognized in the MSNBC of today, as in its earlier years it featured in its daily fare some notable conservative voices for critical ballast, including iconic paleoconservative Patrick J. Buchanan, though his renegade status as the happy warrior who sealed President George H. W. Bush’s electoral doom in 1992 by drawing serious political blood during the primary campaign that fateful year likely made him a more palatable presence, along with his intellectual depth and his curriculum vitae stretching back to his heyday in the Nixon White House that added some serious gravitas to its news analysis.
But developing, refining and then peddling on the open market of ideas a weaponized version of white guilt has been MSNBC’s stock in trade for the better part of its lifespan now. When venerable radio host Don Imus, who was cashiered from the network’s morning show lineup in 2007 for crude and racially-toned riffing about the Rutgers University woman’s basketball team, MSNBC rushed in a panel of replacements that would eventually become today’s Morning Joe show. During one memorably telling moment in the immediate aftermath of Imus’s canning, MSNBC turned to Mike Barnicle for perspective on just what white Americans were thinking about the brouhaha. Barnicle of course was a longtime neighbor and confident of Sen. Ted Kennedy in Hyannis Port and a former columnist for The Boston Globe who was shown the door at the newspaper in the late 1990s after charges that he had plagiarized comic George Carlin led to an editorial investigation that determined Barnicle had fabricated wholesale a story about a white family coming to the financial aid of a black family during both families struggle with children that had cancer.
In other words, his own newspaper determined that Barnicle had made up a story it published about a guilt-ridden white family paying reparations of a sort to a black family.
So naturally he was just the right journalist to ask what working white America were thinking—though it’s amazing they bothered to even ask at all—and Barnicle didn’t waste a moment before slipping into a rambling digression about how he used to drive around Boston late at night after getting off work at the paper and see black youth out in the streets and wonder and worry whether whites were doing enough to help them. Obviously Barnicle had his finger on working white America’s pulse, surely that’s just what was keeping them up at night as well, unless they were working the swing or graveyard shifts at their manufacturing plants that were on the verge of shutting down and sweating what they were going to do for their own kids, but Barnicle didn’t seem to give that a passing thought.
Five years later, in early 2012, Buchanan was cut loose from MSNBC by its President Phil Griffin after Buchanan’s 2011 bestseller Suicide Of A Superpower, a tome which he dedicated to ‘The Old Right’ and one that vividly detailed the arterial bleed-out of skilled-wage manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010, proved too politically incorrect for the author to remain on staff at the network.
As to just how verboten even factually chronicling the economic hammer blows that blue collar Americans and whites in particular were suffering (in primarily the presidential years of Bush II, it should be noted) as states like Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey lost upwards of half of their manufacturing base had become at MSNBC, network chieftain Griffin sniffed to reporters “I don’t think the ideas that he put forth in Suicide Of A Superpower are appropriate for the national dialogue, much less on MSNBC.”
A scant five years later and the ‘ideas’ that Buchanan had proffered proved to be at the very core of what carried Donald J. Trump into the White House, exploded the Democrats long-fracturing coalition into shards and turned the coastal elitist construct of the country on its head.
Interestingly, as the ideological purification and political harmonizing of the programming at MSNBC has been forged into a predictably rigid alignment, FNC has experienced a most unexpected series of unfortunate events as old Rupe Murdoch green-lighted the hits on Rog Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and then surrendered the cockpit to his kids James and Lachlan, as they were apparently getting too old for their lemonade stand, and they’ve promptly set about rolling the plane and depressurizing the cabin as they gleefully flick toggles, pull throttles and push buttons to marvel at all the flashing lights and alarms. The plane may not yet be plummeting into a death spiral, but shareholders with a window seat can surely see the rivets starting to pop and hear that fateful grind of the jackscrew stripping out in the tail.
Yet there may have been some measure of cold comfort over at FNC as they watched Megyn Kelly, the attorney turned reporter turned anchor that transitioned into a Manhattan model before bailing out of the network that made her ‘a star’ debut her NBC show with the ultimate 2017 ‘get’ on Sunday with an interview of Vlad ‘The Impaler’ Putin, a sit down that Putin turned into a ‘got’ as he mopped the floor with her. One could almost see through her eerie stone veneer the sheer panic that gripped her as she realized she was no longer sitting behind a Lucite desk on her old FNC show in a short and tight dress that the producers could cut to as they cued her ‘now uncross and then cross your legs again! Come on, lift the tush and giggle!’
And CNN? The pioneering enterprise that visionary Ted Turner launched in 1980 to smirks from the broadcast giants of CBS, ABC and NBC which quickly turned to stunned disbelief and then near panic as the years rolled by and the uninvited upstart’s ‘The Most Trusted Name In News’ slogan began to ring true around the time of the first Gulf War (think Peter Arnett, Bernard Shaw and Christiane Amanpour), well, the former cable powerhouse has been reduced of late to David Gergen’s throat-clearing mumbles and social media trending of Anderson Cooper’s eye-rolling and Kathy Griffin’s self-decapitation. (Note: There’s at least even money on that Griffin will indeed be back on CNN for New Year’s Eve in six months for an even a more vapid spectacle than it has been in the past, with Cooper mugging perhaps this time more painfully as her incredulous foil.)
So MSNBC is rightfully proud of its relatively sudden fast break into the top of the ratings, whether it proves to be a fleeting visit or not.
But as they look to their side view mirrors to see where FNC and CNN may be, the primetime stars of MSNBC may want to consider the high octane fuel they’ve been running on for years, the ethnocentric nitro they’ve been topping off with and what it eventually will spell for them.
And they need only read the recent essay published by Piper Harron, a black professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a political fellow traveler of the MSNBC A-Team, whose aptly entitled ‘Get Out The Way’ (in suitable urban vernacular to affirm her street cred, which happens to be straight outta Princeton) opens with a matter of fact declaration to what may as well be Matthews, Hayes, Maddow, O’Donnell and Williams: “Not to alarm you, but I probably want you to quit your job, or at least take a demotion. Statistically speaking, you are probably taking up room that should go to someone else. If you are a white cis man (meaning you identify as male and you were assigned male at birth) you almost certainly should resign from your position of power. That’s right, please quit…and make sure you are replaced by a woman of color or a trans person.”
Or perhaps they should just watch the unfolding mob intimidation rolling across the radical Left ashram of bucolic Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington, where packs of ‘students’ have unleashed a wave of threatened violence targeting white professors on campus, advancing Harron’s declaration into direct action, cornering white professors across the campus and calling them ‘pieces of shit’ and demanding they quit—all captured on iPhone video of course, as they’re proud of their Great Leap Forward.
But even more informative is the stunned looks of the professors as they submissively stand there in disbelief, waiting passively to be consumed by the creatures they helped create. They can’t believe they are being eaten, too.
So drink up, #MSNBCsowhite, and party hard.
Because sooner or later—and almost certainly sooner—they’ll be coming for you as well. And babbling all you want about the Russians, Trump or even faux self-flagellation over your rise to the top won’t mean a damn thing to the crowd approaching your dressing rooms.
Get a whiff of that.