I’m not alone in being burned out on MSNBC. The complaints vary from “there’s too much opinion and not enough news,” to “I’m tired of the shrill, manic delivery of MSNBC hosts like Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and Melissa Harris-Perry.” Personally, I enjoy hyper-articulate, big-brained people, and I don’t mind opinion rather than straight news. And I admit that I have very much enjoyed some of their commentary. That said, I cut cable because I realized I had stopped watching MSNBC. Over the past year, I had gradually started getting all my news online and from more progressive sources. For me, the evening rehash of partisan politics wasn’t getting to the bottom of why the middle class has been, in Elizabeth Warren’s words, “hammered.”
Progressive vs. partisan news analysis
So, I started looking for progressive analysis—not partisan analysis but analysis from outside the system, from the left, such as it is. I now go to Truthdig, Naked Capitalism, and Americablog for my news and opinion. I read Ian Welsh, at ianwelsh.net and a variety of other left news commentary like Crooks and Liars, Firedoglake and Canada’s GlobalResearch . I still scan the New York Times and Huffington Post to keep up with headline news. But I don’t spend a lot of time there. I do read the Guardian, which unlike American corporate media companies has been guaranteed, by its owner, Scott Trust limited, financial and editorial independence in perpetuity.
I’m looking for news and opinion that questions, confronts, and exposes government institutions, politicians in both parties, and corporate entities that are at the source of the economic, environmental, educational, healthcare, military, and infrastructure problems we have today. It’s no mystery that the political/economic system we have is not working for the majority of Americans. Corporate media is a part of that system so, for me, it’s not really a reliable source for critique and analysis. At times good progressive reporting will leak through, but not often enough. And of course, progressive protests of all kinds against the political/economic system we have are rarely covered and often suppressed. Especially unwelcome are examples where people have taken their economic lives into their own hands in opposition to corporate or bank interests.
Liberal Democrats are afraid to be critical of Democrats, and especially of Obama, because they believe—against a mountain of evidence to the contrary—that Democrats are the party of ordinary Americans who are fighting the good fight against obstructionist Republicans. That’s the characterization you get on MSNBC. Yet, Democrats and Republicans are co-architects of our problems. Barack Obama has backed policies friendly to Wall Street that have led to the worst growth in income inequality in the history of the country.
How elected representatives and government cause income inequality
Ian Welsh describes how government has caused the income gap we have today:
Be clear that distribution of goods and money in an economy is almost entirely unrelated to any ethical idea of merit or deservedness. The bankers, amongst the best paid people in the world economy, destroyed far more money than they earned in the 00s, and yet are still paid billions of dollars in bonuses every year. They receive the money they do because they had the power to make the government make them whole after they lost everything, then the power to make the government make them even richer than before. They control a bundle of valuable rights from the state: the right to borrow at prime, the right to value assets to model (fantasy); the right to huge leverage; and the right lend, which is how money is actually created in our economy (aka. they can print money.)
This is why they’re rich: not because they produce net value: they destroy value; but because they have the power to make the government do what they want it to do and to make it not prosecute them when they break the laws, and even to change the laws so they can take even more money.
How corporate owned news limits debate
Noam Chomsky, in his book The Common Good, describes the role of corporate news outlets like MSNBC and CNN:
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.
The spectrum of acceptable opinion embraces banks, corporations, “free market” capitalism, the stock market, and the military industrial surveillance complex as fundamentally good, but in need of tweaking and regulation to make them all work better for everyone. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an example of a tweak to our still dysfunctional for-profit healthcare insurance system. Another is the watered down Dodd-Frank bill that failed to meaningfully reign in the reckless speculation on Wall Street or stem the growth of too-big-to-fail banks. The ACA crafted by Democrats and passed without a single Republican vote, and the toothless Dodd Frank bill passed by Democrats and Republicans, do not come close to delivering what the majority of people really need and want—single payer health care and an economic system that provides dignified work, safe housing and education for everyone. When Democratic senators, congressmen and a president allow themselves to be held captive by the rich and powerful, this is what you get.
The liberal corporate media usually lays all blame at the feet of Republican obstructionism. By doing so they conveniently avoid the long history of Democratic complicity in enacting destructive government policies that, first and foremost, like their Republican colleagues across the aisle, serve the wealthy and the powerful and wreak havoc on everyone else. Republicans ethics are beyond the pale. Democrats use populist rhetoric to get elected but are in bed with big money.
What does the pope have to do with it?
Pope Francis recently shocked the world with his genuinely progressive comments. The pope’s pontificating on on the capitalist myth of trickle down economics and the “sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system” was a stunning blow for the wealthy and powerful who have always counted on the Vatican for support, and a a much needed refresher for a public that has forgotten what truly populist, progressive analysis sounds like.
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
. . . some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”. . . . A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders.
If Obama, the Democratic leadership and all Democratic senators and congressmen adopted a “vigorous change of approach,” they would be taking to the microphones on a daily basis, demanding Medicare for all, calling for reigning in NSA surveillance and lowering student loan interest, or calling for raising the minimum wage and increasing social security benefits. After all, these policies are wildly popular with the electorate. With a few exceptions, like Bernie Sander, Alan Grayson and Elizabeth Warren, the lack of ethics and leadership in the Democratic Party has been the flip side of the coin of Republican obstructionism. But watching MSNBC, you wouldn’t know that.
The pope isn’t afraid to criticize American and European corporate controlled economic systems and the politicians and governments that support them, so why can’t the news media, including MSNBC, practice journalism as it should be practiced? That is, holding power to account in service to, and in defense of, the ordinary citizen.
What the world needs now is a deeper analysis of systemic problems that are threatening the United States and the world at large. And that means challenging the hold of the rich and powerful over our government. That reporting and analysis, in general, is not going to come from a media company owned by a large corporation.