MSNBC Can no Longer Claim to be a Legitimate News Network After Hiring Axelrod and Gibbs

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Gibbs, Obama and Axelrod in the White House

Can Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod really provide neutral political analysis?


Rachel Maddow has battled long and hard at MSNBC to maintain her network is a serious, objective news network. Responding to accusations that unlike Fox, MSNBC operates within the confines of journalistic integrity, Maddow has trashed claims of equivalency between the networks. Here was Maddow on her blog in 2010 ago laying out her case:

I know everyone likes to say, “Oh, cable news, it’s all the same. Fox and MSNBC — mirror images of each other. But if you look at the long history of Fox hosts not just giving money to candidates, but actively endorsing campaigns and raising millions of dollars for politicians and political parties — whether it’s Sean Hannity orGlenn Beck or Mike Huckabee — and you’ll see that we can lay that old false equivalency to rest forever. There are multiple people being paid by Fox News to essentially run for office as Republican candidates. If you count not just their hosts but their contributors, you’re looking at a significant portion of the entire Republican lineup of potential contenders for 2012.

They can do that because there’s no rule against that at Fox. Their network is run as a political operation. Ours isn’t. Yeah, Keith’s a liberal, and so am I. But we’re not a political operation — Fox is. We’re a news operation. The rules around here are part of how you know that.

Fast forward three years, and the network has just announced that it is hiring David Axelrod, the former White House senior advisor and senior strategist for President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, as a senior political analyst, alongside Robert Gibbs, Obama’s White House press secretary from 2009 to 2011, then senior campaign adviser for Obama’s re-election. By Maddow’s own standards, Axelrod and Gibbs not only endorsed Obama and helped raise millions of dollars for him, they actually officially worked to get him into office and were hired afterwards to keep him there. This does not square with Maddow’s assertion that MSNBC is “not a political operation”, despite Gibbs and Axelrod’s loud protests that they will be not be ‘Obama surrogates’ on the network (just as Karl Rove wasn’t shilling for Romney on Fox throughout the Presidential election last year…).

This isn’t an attack on Maddow – a commentator I have a lot of time for and takes her job extremely seriously. Maddow is no shill for the Obama administration and has repeatedly criticized him on a number of issues (drones being a recent one). But Maddow can not claim to be part of a news organization without an overt political agenda. We all know that MSNBC is a liberal media outlet (at least by American standards). All of the major hosts provide commentary from a traditional Liberal/Democrat point of view, and while it has some serious news shows, it has generally been massively supportive of the Obama administration. During the last week of the 2012 presidential campaign MSNBC took a dramatically negative tone toward Mitt Romney, with a Pew Poll finding that:

68 percent of MSNBC’s coverage of Romney was negative during from Oct. 29-Nov. 5, up from 57 percent in October. That doesn’t sound too surprising, except that Pew found 5 percent of MSNBC’s Romney coverage was positive from Oct. 1-28, while it found no positive coverage of Romney when it looked at the final week’s stories. It also found no negative coverage of Obama.

I’m sure if you looked at coverage we did here on the Banter, you’d find pretty much the same thing. The difference being 1. We admitted that we wanted Obama to get in (given the alternative) 2. We have never claimed to be a news operation. The reality is that outside of its commentary, MSNBC is supposed to cover politics objectively. And it doesn’t. Bringing on board two extremely senior Obama strategists and advisers to become ‘political analysts’ compounds the network’s identity as a giant PR wing of the Obama administration.

There is still a difference between MSNBC and Fox – but now that only reflects the difference between the Democrats and the Republican. One party is corrupt and almost entirely beholden to corporate interests, but operates within the realm of reality. The other is corrupt, entirely beholden to corporate interests and operates within a completely different universe. MSNBC still operates in a world where 2 + 2 = 4, but it should not be confused for a legitimate news network, particularly when you compare it to institutions like Al Jazeera and the BBC who would never hire the likes of Gibbs and Axelrod. It would be unthinkable that the BBC would pay a former government spokesperson to provide political commentary. While many of its programs invite politicians on for debate, they do so with the explicit understanding that they are unpaid and openly promoting a political agenda.

The hiring of Axelrod and Gibbs isn’t a massive departure from independent analysis – that was never the case at MSNBC. But at least it had a veneer of independence that set it apart from the Fox propaganda machine.

Both Axelrod and Gibbs spent many years working to get Obama elected, then re-elected, specializing in perfecting the President’s image with the American public through careful stagecraft and brilliant public relations strategies. To think that they’d put all that aside and neutrally observe the President going forward simply defies logic. Sure, they’ll provide interesting analysis, but don’t expect searing criticism on Obama’s drone wars, the NDAA or his ties to Wall St.

Rachel Maddow could once claim to be working for a real news network. But with the hiring of Gibbs and Axelrod, that claim rings hollow. Now MSNBC really is Fox New’s equivalent on the Left.



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  • Joe

    68% of MSNBC’s comments towards Romney were negative.
    How does that compare with 100% of Fox’s towards Obama?

  • Benthedailybanter

    I don’t ever watch ABC News. Stephanopoulos is a Democrat hack, not a serious correspondent. I don’t regard ABC as a serious news network either.

  • Sharin Khosa

    The many things going on in this world to report, you choose this?

    • Benthedailybanter

      And you choose to read it….

  • Aaron Litz

    I’m torn between my desire for MSNBC to be a legitimately neutral news organization, and my desire for a sane, intelligent, Liberal counter to Fox News’ solid wall totally reality denying, anti-science Conservatism, not to mention the multitude of putrid, vile, hate-spewing Right-Wing radio shows on the air that claim to have no bias.

    But even though I agree that MSNBC obviously has a Liberal slant, I don’t think that it has anywhere NEAR the level of bias that Fox News has.

    And on a personal note, I just want to thank all of the commenters on this article for being grown-ups and not descending into referring to Republicans as “Rethuglicans” or to Fox News as “Faux News” or anything else of the sort I see all too often. That’s a Rush Limbaugh-type trick, and it’s something we as Liberals, the more intelligent group, should be above. Every time I see someone write “Repiglickan” or similar it makes my skin crawl, and reminds me of nothing but Limbaugh-style “Feminazi” or “DemocRAT” name-calling. Whenever a Liberal on a website lowers him or herself to name-calling it demeans all of us, lowering us to the level of Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. Do we really want to be on the same level as Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter?

    We are above that. Let’s all keep proving it like we did here.

    Thank you for being adults.

    • Dennis

      You have seriously got to be kidding me. Is this your first visit to this website?

    • Morty Shatz

      You have serious issues. You need a doctor. Time to man up and put big boy panties on.

    • Steven Skelton

      I’m no liberal, but I enjoy a grown up conversation. I like this site because there is a lot less of that here.

    • Benthedailybanter

      Bravo Aaron. Well said.

  • MrDHalen

    MSNBC is not the equivalent to Fox News. I’m sorry Ben, it just isn’t. Given the successful damage Fox News and Hate Radio has done to our electorate over the last 10 to 15 years, I welcome progressive voices being heard over the airwaves. As many as possible.

    • John Foley

      But aren’t you just proving Ben’s point for him? You’ve readily admitted that MSNBC is a haven for progressive voices. Which is totally fine, of course. It’s just not unbiased and can’t make that claim.
      Ben isn’t saying that progressives are wrong, just that a network with such a strong progressive slant can no longer claim to be unbiased.

      • Benthedailybanter

        Yes, nailed it John. Summed up my thoughts exactly.

        • MrDHalen

          You should change the title to “Maddow” can no longer claim to work for a “News Network”, considering it’s her opinion you talked about. Plus MSNBC was plastering “Lean Forward” all over their ads the entire election cycle, so it looks like they’re not pretending to balanced.

      • MrDHalen

        No, I’m saying that our national media conversation has been pulled so far to the right, that an organization that actually operates in the middle is now seen as being “Left”. I watch MSNBC and see a middle of the road with left & right opinions being equally broadcast during “opinion” shows. MSNBC also invites (which often get ignored) “known” conservatives on to discuss and debate topics. When watching MSNBC “news” reports, I don’t see a left bias. When I watch Fox News “news” reports, I feel a right bias.

    • Benthedailybanter

      Look, I’m a progressive too, I just think MSNBC shouldn’t pretend to be a news network. I agree with much of what the hosts say, and I’m a fan of Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow, But there’s little to no objective reporting, just a lot of opinion. They’re all sane at MSNBC (unlike Fox) but it’s so overtly pro Obama that it can’t be deemed a serious news source. Just call it something else.

      • MrDHalen

        MSNBC does fill there daily programing with a lot of opinion shows. I’m not an expert on media companies, but my guess is that economics are what’s driving “opinion of” news over “just info” news.

        I think the brains over at MSNBC see NBC News as their pure news outlet. Maddow’s opinion is her opinion, but calling MSNBC the same as Fox News sound like someone saying elected Democrats and Republicans are just two sides of the same coin and they’re not. There is a real difference between the two, but ignoring it is exactly what Republicans want us to do.

      • 16shellsfroma30aught6

        Can any network be deemed a “serious” news source? If they aren’t rabidly pro- or anti-Obama, they are rabidly Broderist both-sides-do-it. All American TV news is basically useless for information, so I’ll take the one that best reflects reality (i.e. a progressive slant).

  • allanbrauer

    Michael Steele. Steve Schmidt. Heard of them?

    • John Foley

      Yeah, but Michael Steele is basically the Republican version of Bob Beckel.
      And Schmidt has been excommunicated for talking shit about Sarah Palin. He was cast out of the Big Tent, never to return.

      • Rollo Tamasi

        And the 3 hours of former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough? The Co-host of The Cycle, S.E. Cupp? You got some false equivalences for those too?

        I hate when liberals try to make this strained argument about MSNBC and Fox. They only do it, sanctimoniously, to pat themselves on the back and say: “See, I criticize it on the left and the right.”

        Pat yourself on the back all you want, it’s still not true. MSNBC is not the the left’s version of Fox News.

        • John Foley

          You GO, girl.

      • i_a_c

        I wish Bob Beckel were one-tenth the statesman Michael Steele is.
        I’m not kidding. Steele has intelligence and knowledge of politics, even though I disagree with him 90% of the time. Beckel resembles the caricature of liberals that Fox News and talk radio have concocted.


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