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MSNBC Wasn't the Liberal Answer To Fox News (But It Kind of Is Now)

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I'll make this quick because it's Friday and I have no desire to work late tonight.

MSNBC's heading faster and faster down a dangerous road and it needs to put the brakes on. Now.

For a couple of years now the network has been fielding accusations of being the liberal answer to Fox News and for a couple of years now I've defended it as being nothing of the sort. While Fox News has had a top-down political mandate from the start, one that's not only allowed to but is expected to directly impact every single facet of its coverage, MSNBC has always been in a more precarious position journalistically. That's because MS has always had to answer to the NBC News mothership, which is insistent on balance and objectivity to a fault. NBC is so dedicated to the notion of non-bias that it will proudly behave as if all political stories have two equal sides, essentially turning its journalists into little more than stenographers dutifully reporting the conventional wisdom from whichever side of the aisle they happen to be assigned to -- and MSNBC had to at least nominally toe that company line because not to would hurt NBC News's reputation as a whole.

Yes, there were a lot of programs on MSNBC that leaned left, particularly in the prime time opinion block, but the shows were basically hosted by progressives who provided a leftward slant rather than having that leftward slant dictated to them from on-high.

But lately a lot has changed at MS. The dayside block of shows, which for the most part used to consist of well-balanced, straightforward news, has now had a giant pile of pure left-leaning provocation dropped right in the middle of it in the form of Alex Wagner's daily troll-fest, Now. Then a couple of weeks ago it was announced that the network was bringing Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod aboard as paid contributors, essentially throwing any illusion of fairness right out the 3rd floor window of 30 Rock. For the record, no news organization anywhere should employ any member or former member of a sitting president's administration. That's journalism 101. Finally, a couple of nights ago MS seemed to go fully down the rabbit hole by either mocking for a scant few seconds or entirely ignoring Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster over the nomination of John Brennan as CIA chief.

Look, Paul's a self-righteous little turd and his filibuster wasn't much more than a grandiose publicity stunt aimed at improving his Q-Score and grabbing tightly onto an anti-Obama issue that might actually have legs, rather than the usual right-wing cacophony of made-up nonsense. But that said, the filibuster deserved coverage. O'Donnell gave it a few minutes and Maddow, predictably, was all about due diligence but for the most part everyone else pretended it wasn't happening. For 13 hours. That's the kind of crap Fox News pulls when someone not on its side makes news that can't instantly be painted as bad for the country. Perfect example: Just recently Fox hyped the hell out of the Robert Menendez Dominican prostitute "scandal" but when the whole thing fell apart it ignored it completely, not even bothering to inform its audience that the initial report was horseshit. That kind of thing isn't simply bad journalism, it's bad for the country because it reinforces, more and more and more, each side's epistemic bubble. The job of a news outlet is to provide an unflinching look at the stories of the day and to broadcast or report only echo chamber items is a gross dereliction of duty.

MSNBC still tops Fox News in that it relies much more heavily on facts and independent reasoning than its nemesis. Its stable of conservative personalities is also far more robust than the typically ineffectual tomato cans Fox trots out as red meat for its right-wing prize fighters. But it's becoming increasingly hard to defend MSNBC as being something other than what its critics have long called it: the liberal Fox News.

And that's really depressing.