MSNBC has managed to spend the past several days angering and alienating its own audience, by breathlessly promoting a uniquely non-credible allegation against Joe Biden that it knows isn’t true. All you have to do is look across social media to see that the backlash has been swift and widespread. Yet MSNBC continues to keep gleefully digging its own grave as the weekend goes on.
Let’s be clear here. MSNBC isn’t doing this for reasons of integrity. Everyone at the network knows this is a phony scandal. They’re promoting it because they think it makes them look like they have integrity, and – more importantly for them – they think it’s helping to drive ratings. But if you look at social media, you see that the opposite is overwhelmingly true on both counts. So how can MSNBC be so tone-deaf about this?
It’s important to understand how political journalism operates. Most of the liberal-leaning newspapers and major liberal online news outlets rely on the free advertising they receive whenever MSNBC books their writers as guest panelists. So those news outlets are going to be hesitant to criticize MSNBC, for fear of losing their guest bookings. There’s no conspiracy at play. It’s just how the industry dynamic plays out – and the near total lack of journalistic criticism of MSNBC leaves the network blissfully oblivious whenever it’s alienating its own audience.
Consider this. When MSNBC host Chris Hayes falsely characterized the Biden allegation as “credible” and “corroborated” this week, viewers were so widely outraged, his name and the #FireChrisHayes hashtag trended on Twitter for nearly twenty-four hours. But not a single news outlet wrote about the backlash (except for The Hill, which wrote a joke of an article pretending that most people using the hashtag were defending Hayes).
No wonder Hayes ended up arrogantly mocking the #FireChrisHayes during his show the next night. This is a guy who has spent five years treating his show like one big Bernie Bro circle jerk, allowing his guests to dishonestly attack the Democrats on a regular basis, and no one in the political journalism industry has ever called him out for it. Instead they’re too busy kissing his backside, in the hope they’ll continue to get booked on MSNBC.
Mika Brzezinski did, by most accounts, a terrible job of interviewing Joe Biden this week. She asked the same questions over and over, even after Biden had thoroughly answered them. She ignored major details that make the allegation non-credible. She pushed the utterly bizarre notion that Biden himself was supposed to “believe” his accuser. Yet the media has shied away from criticizing Brzezinski’s performance, because they want to be guest panelists on MSNBC.
When Brzezinski encountered negative feedback on Twitter from some prominent political activists, she responded by blocking them. That’s her prerogative. But it further suggests that the total lack of criticism from the media has left MSNBC hosts so blissfully unaware of how widely resented their antics are, they think they can make it go away by blocking the non-journalists who do speak truth to them.
Another MSNBC host, Ali Velshi, saw his name trending atop Twitter today after he breathlessly promoted the phony Biden allegation. Nearly all of the feedback was negative. Yet none of this seems to have an effect on any of these hosts. Rachel Maddow, to her credit, appears to want nothing to do with this phony story. She’s too busy covering real stories about coronavirus nursing homes. Yet she’s generally the exception, and even though she has the highest ratings of anyone on the network, the other MSNBC hosts just can’t seem to figure out why she’s outpacing them.
The near total lack of criticism from the media has left these TV hosts with the impression that they can do no wrong. As MSNBC’s ratings invariably slip over this debacle, they’ll be left wondering why. After all, no one except their audience told them that they were getting it wrong – and why listen to them, when they can instead listen to their fellow political journalists fawning all over them?
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report