Some of us have been highly critical of the trend in media toward “echo-journalism” where cable networks tailor their coverage to reinforce and repeat the expectations of their viewers. Few hosts are willing to admit to the formula coverage, though there have been telling moments. None have been open than Lawrence O’Donnell on The Al Franken Podcast when he declared that MCNBC was completely over the need to present two sides of coverage on Trump because defenders of Trump are “liars” and “I don’t bring on a liar.” It is that simple. The other side is just lies so only our side needs to be reported.
As someone who once worked for NBC and MSNBC (and has appeared on O’Donnell’s show), I was astonished by the statement. I always found him to be an intelligent and perceptive person in our past dealings. He should not want to work in a mere media echo chamber.
I am not sure what is more chilling: the suggestion that CNN is too far to Trump or the declaration that MSNBC has now abandoned even the pretense of balance. O’Donnell’s statement drew no correction or rebuke from NBC or MSNBC. He was responding to a statement by Franken that CNN is a network which “[plays] it down the middle, except we hate Trump.” That was at least a recognition of the bias at CNN, but strangely O’Donnell did not view it biased enough. Indeed, he suggests that CNN is preferred by Trump because it gives a balanced view but MSNBC discards with any such pretense:
AL FRANKEN: So, I want to ask you about cable news because you’ve got CNN, which is sort of, “We’re playing it down the middle except we hate Trump.”
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: No, they don’t. One third of the people on their payroll love Trump. So, you’re guaranteed on any hour of CNN to, minimum, one third of the programming will be supportive of Trump. Someone on their payroll saying, “Here’s why Trump is right.”
FRANKEN: Well, they bring someone on to do that. Their hosts don’t do that.
O’DONNELL: Their hosts don’t. But that’s one of the reasons Trump kind of wants you do watch CNN instead of MSNBC.
O’DONNELL: Because he knows on MSNBC there will be no one defending him because we don’t bring on liars. I don’t bring on a liar. I won’t do that. And there’s no one on CNN —
FRANKEN: Are you saying that to defend Trump, you have to lie?
O’DONNELL: Yes, absolutely.
FRANKEN: Of course. Of course.
O’DONNELL: How else do you defend a liar, a pathological liar who lies about everything? You have to lie. So, CNN has people on the payroll who they basically pay to tell their lies to the CNN audience in the middle of, you know, a CNN hour for some number of minutes.
FRANKEN: So, you’re the progressive station. Fair to say?
O’DONNELL: Yeah, I’ll take that. I believe that what I do in my hour, what Rachel does, what Chris Hayes does, we discuss everything in a completely honest way and that sounds partisan in today’s era because the Republican Party is just non-stop lying.
There was a time when MSNBC would have been quick to correct such statements, including the idea that the entire network is there for one part of the electorate.
I recently wrote a column noting this one-sided approach to stories like attacking Republican senators for defending Trump before the trial but not Democratic senators for pronouncing his guilt. Thus, in a column on such statements, MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Vance objected only that “some of the jurors have already committed to vote for the defendant.” The reshaping of MSNBC as pure partisan advocacy has led to serious misjudgments like the airing of an unvetted allegation recently against President Trump. O’Donnell apologized for that story on the air. O’Donnell often takes jabs at Fox News for being one-sided but it appears that his objection is not with any bias but the wrong bias. In reality, Fox News routinely has far more diversity of opinion than MSNBC, including considerable criticism of Trump who has repeatedly lashed out at the network. Hosts like Chris Wallace has delivered some of the most stinging interviews with the President.
This is why this country is so rigidly divided. Media hosts now proudly declare that they will tailor the news to fit their view of truth and bar those who disagree as liars. In this case, a viewer can sit and watch O’Donnell and not hear a single thing that challenges their assumptions or bias. No wonder people are so angry when they only receive news in such media silos maintained by hosts like O’Donnell.