Edward R. Murrow spoke truth to power when, in 1954, he attacked Senator Joe McCarthy on his program, See It Now. For too long, McCarthy had gone unchecked by the media as he attacked the foundations of our democracy. Murrow is rightly lionized for his crusade against the Senator, who was censured by the Senate the same year as the broadcast, but it did not come without a steep price for his career. After losing his sponsor, CBS President Bill Paley relegated Murrow's show to appearing on weekends. Thanks to a revolving door of sponsors coming and going, necessitating frequent hiatuses, it got the nickname "See It Now and Then."
News organizations, which exist as for-profit institutions, will always lean on the conservative side, even when they promote liberal values, but by doing so they turn off their viewers and corrupt themselves. When Les Moonves said last year that Donald Trump was “[bad] for America but damn good for CBS,” he baldly admitted that it was OK to give endless airtime to a demagogue if it meant more money to air more NCIS spin-offs. This has given liberals and Resistance supporters, who demand in this troubled time that news anchors provide us with the same editorial judgment Murrow used, few options to turn to – and that leads us to what’s happening at MSNBC.
Since 2003, when the Bush Administration declared war in Iraq and most of America’s news organizations just went along with it, MSNBC stood alone in challenging the President’s reckless decision. With anchors and correspondents who make up, demographically, the news network equivalent to the cast of Hamilton, they have remained steadfast as a bastion for liberals. Currently they air the two highest-rated news programs in the country, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, both of which I watch almost every day.
O’Donnell, one of America’s most trusted anchors, has provided grade-A commentary against Trump since the beginning. I remember this past summer being chilled to the bone by his analysis of how the nuclear codes work, and how dangerous it would be to give them to the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, and his breakdown of Trump’s “She deserved it” remarks against Rosie O’Donnell in the first debate remains the most sobering explanation I have yet heard about how men who beat women rationalize their actions.
He has also been a force speaking out about the entertainment industry, both what it does right and wrong. As a former West Wing writer and actor (he played Jed Bartlett’s father in the flashbacks of “Two Cathedrals,” considered by many to be the series’ greatest episode), he has an authority on this that no other MSNBC anchor can claim. Obviously, he endeared me to him even more at the end of 2015 when he named Lin-Manuel Miranda as his person of the year, but if you haven’t seen it yet, his address on #Oscarssowhite is as great an explanation of the subtleties behind how and why Academy members watch (or don’t watch) the DVDs they’re sent.
And yet, with only a few weeks left on his contract, MSNBC has not announced whether or not they will renew The Last Word, leading O’Donnell to tweet this today:
Many fans suspected that this meant the axe had finally come down, and tweeted their support back at him:
This wide public support should allow O’Donnell to keep his job, but since Andy Lack became chairman, MSNBC has been re-branding itself as Fox News for smart people. Take a look at its most recent hires: Megyn Kelly, Nicolle Wallace, Hugh Hewitt, and George Will. Greta Van Susteren has her own show at 6 PM, but her ratings are in the toilet. If the right people were in charge, she’d go the way of Dan Abrams, and Joy Ann Reid, who has been killing it in the ratings, would have her own primetime slot. But Lack would rather the network appeal to white, heartland America – and the PR fiasco of Today’s Tamron Hall quitting after Kelly was hired has led Black Twitter to dub the network Missing National Black Correspondents.
It's not just Lack’s detestation of the network he’s running that has led to this rumor. It’s something even more sinister, reported on yesterday by HuffPost’s Yashar Ali: Trump himself wants O’Donnell gone. Think about that: the sitting President of the United States demands the removal of a news anchor he doesn’t like. Richard Nixon may have included reporters on his infamous Enemies List, but he didn’t use back channels to negotiate their removals.
I have heard through sources with connections that Comcast has been trying to get into the cell phone business. Once Trump was elected, they thought that with the NBC connection, the merger would be fast-tracked for government approval, but Trump is threatening to hold the deal hostage unless they remove O'Donnell. This schoolyard bully should never have been allowed to have so much power, but he's already humiliated his entire political party - why stop now when he can also have John the Baptist's severed head on a plate?
This is an insult to the loyal men and women of color, LGBTQ communities, and sane liberals everywhere who have taken refuge in MSNBC’s commentaries, and the people of all races and orientations who have built made the network the number one destination for the 66 million who voted for Hillary. Lack’s attempt to remove Lawrence O’Donnell is his way of telling us that we don’t matter because we’re not the “real America,” who he wants tuning in to his Fox and Friends 2: Electric Boogaloo. It’s up to us now to bombard the network in any way we can to keep Lawrence, as well as correspondents like David Corn, Joan Walsh, and Eugene Robinson, in order to keep the fourth estate as a check on the President's power, and not a propaganda bullhorn.
And Mr. Lack, if you’re so desperate to fire someone, couldn't you just get rid of Chuck Todd? No one would miss him.