Opinion by: Krystal Ball
This weekend, after having been completely slighted in two different debates, Andrew Yang finally put his foot down with MSNBC. First, he made this comment in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer:
But then he went even further, laying out the network’s dismissive and contemptuous treatment of him and launching a boycott MSNBC movement in a series of tweets.
He said in part:
“Was asked to appear on @msnbc this weekend — and told them that I’d be happy to after they apologize on-air, discuss and include our campaign consistent with our polling, and allow surrogates from our campaign as they do other candidates’. They think we need them. We don’t.”
He went on to lay out exactly what justified his boycott.
“They’ve omitted me from their graphics 12+ times, called me John Yang on air, and given me a fraction of the speaking time over two debates despite my polling higher than other candidates on stage. At some point you have to call it.”
In other words, he brought receipts and the internet responded. #Boycottmsnbc trended on Twitter. And in a very real sense this was a watershed moment for the network. I don’t think you can possibly overstate how big a deal it is for a serious contender in the Democratic primary to boycott the network that is most directly associated with the Democratic party and lazily referred to as “liberal” or left-leaning. It took courage for Yang and I’m sure was extremely uncomfortable for a network that seeks to be the destination for left of center America. The truth is though, that Yang’s move simply laid bare a fissure that’s been a long time coming.
MSNBC has officially lost the left.
Now look, the extent to which MSNBC was ever really of the left is questionable. At bottom, it’s always been a corporate capitalist enterprise that happened to stumble on Keith Olbermann and find that rage against the Bush administration made for a successful business model. Disgust for W and the neo-cons was a unifying force on the left and Keith was fiery and unapologetic.
The Obama years were slightly more complicated. That’s the era actually when I was at MSNBC and there was a whole lot of uncritical team blue Obama cheerleading that I admittedly participated in much too often. I did speak out on TPP and keystone and the banking bailouts but I was particularly trusting on the national security state and in buying the binary narrative that the Republicans were always generally bad and the Democrats were always generally good. But the Republicans did conduct themselves poorly enough during those years to be a fairly unifying force as well.
The larger fissures really started to show during the 2016 primary. I kicked off the primary season with a monologue begging Hillary not to run because she was too closely tied to the elites who had created massive inequality. Some of you probably saw that monologue. Let’s just say it wasn’t received very well. Ironically, MSNBC’s own Steve Kornacki was maybe the first to predict the rise of Bernie. Before he started having massive crowds and before the millions of donations flowed in from across the nation, Steve intuited that there was a desire for an alternative to Hillary and that the early primary states, especially Vermont-neighboring New Hampshire, were good for Bernie. But beyond Steve’s work, the network never took Bernie seriously or covered him like a real challenge to Hillary.
NBC News President Andy Lack who, full disclosure, is the guy who fired me, came in in 2015 with a mission to ditch the liberal lean of the network. I guess it was uncomfortable for him and the other execs at cocktail parties to be associated with a network where labor unions might be mentioned positively and trade deals negatively. They excised pro-working class voices like Ed Schultz from the network. Ideologically centrist journalists from NBC News were brought in to take over for more left-leaning opinion shows. They went on a right-wing hiring spree of Bush era neocons.
This lineup change positioned them perfectly for their current Trump era incarnation where they are essentially a mouthpiece of the national security state, purveyors of the elite approved critique of Trump centering around his unseemly personality and disrespect for “norms,” and a bastion of the discredited neoliberal establishment.
They have gone all in on a fundamentally anti-progressive narrative that a). Spends all day every day fixated on excuses for why Hillary lost to the guy they promised would lose. That would be Comey excuses and Russiagate and Ukrainegate as an extension of Russiagate. b). Fixates on “Trump is bad” as the end all be all of political analysis. Everything that is going wrong in the country and the world is centered on him and him alone because to evaluate the underlying circumstances that brought us Trump would be to question the undying wisdom of that Democratic elite. The people who created the underlying conditions that brought us Trump definitely do not want to talk about those underlying conditions that brought us Trump. and c). They basically devoted the network to the lionization of Bush-era neo-con Republicans and the national security blob. Nicole Wallace, Steve Schmidt, John Brennan, Malcolm Nance etc.
Meanwhile, the network is absolutely shameless in the way that it covers the 3 anti-establishment candidates, Bernie, Tulsi, and Yang. Every interview with Tulsi must include the obligatory “Assad apologist” question and conspiracies about her running third party or being a Russian asset abound. In these times recently did an analysis of Bernie’s primetime coverage on the network and found that he is mentioned 1/3 as often as Biden and far more negatively than any other candidate.
Take a look at this graphic. The green is positive mentions and the black is negative. Some shows covered Bernie in an almost exclusively negative light.
Guys like Donny Deutch spend every morning talking about how Trump is the end of the republic but then say they would vote for Trump over Bernie. That’s without even mentioning the amount of industry approved right-wing talking points that are regularly rolled out to attack progressive priorities like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. This is not liberal and it’s certainly not the left. There is nothing intellectual or principled or progressive about simply reflexively opposing Trump and worshiping the Republicans who oppose him when they have never reckoned with their own role from deregulation to zombie Reaganism to the Iraq war that helped create this mess. The one thing they all have in common, the neoliberals and wealthy executives and Bush neo-cons is a vested interest in pretending that everything was fine before Trump and everything will be fine again after Trump.
So that brings me back to Andrew Yang. Some of you will object to calling him progressive. That’s fine. But there’s no doubt his ideas fall outside of the spectrum of pre-approved acceptable ideas. And there’s also no doubt that his candidacy challenges those in the party who want to maintain control over the acceptable pathways and trajectories to power. If Andrew Yang can be successful already besting senators, governors, and congressmen, then the party is exposed as the impotent, hollowed out shell that it actually is. So, don’t get your hopes up that Andrew apology from MSNBC coming any time soon. After all, why apologize when they are doing exactly what they intended to do? The Trump era has been clarifying in so many ways. I think every real progressive now knows that MSNBC is not their friend. And as Yang put it so cuttingly: “They think we need them. We don’t.
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