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MSNBC’s Alternative Universe
What passes for journalism on the network is downright silly.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews

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More than any other subject, apolitical sorts will ask me about Fox News. “Is it really crazy?” my British friends inquire, flashing the sort of smile that a botanist might exhibit while examining a newly discovered species of moss. “Is it, like, really right wing?”

The question has always slightly irritated me, showing as it does that the considerable success that the Left has had in demonizing its opposition extends even across the Atlantic. Certainly, both Fox’s commentary and its ostensibly straight reporting are marked by the right-leaning proclivities of its owners. But the notion that the network is unique in exhibiting bias is one of the more egregious planks of Western conventional wisdom — and especially so because it seems patently obvious to me that if one were to single out for palpable eccentricity a cable-news station in the United States, it would not be Fox. It would be MSNBC.

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Take a quick look at the numbers. A recent Pew study revealed that the supposedly neutral CNN spent 54 percent of its time broadcasting “news” and 46 percent of its time hosting “opinion.” Fox, by contrast, transmits 55 percent opinion and 45 percent news. But MSNBC — well, MSNBC consists of a remarkable 85 percent opinion and only 15 percent news. This has consequences. During the election, Pew added, the ratio of unfavorable to favorable treatment in stories about Mitt Romney on MSNBC was roughly 23-to-1, and the negative-to-positive ratio for Barack Obama on Fox News was 8-to-1.

“Biased” doesn’t cut it. To watch MSNBC for an afternoon is not so much to be given a slanted account of what is happening here in America, but instead to witness a series of discussions about current events in parallel America II — a rather silly place in which the political center of gravity and all things Good are defined by the preferences of the faculty at Berkeley and the comments section of the Daily Kos and in which anyone who dissents from this position is believed to possess two heads, a black heart, and a pocket copy of Mein Kampf.

America II, as anyone who watches the channel will discover rather swiftly, hosts a supermajority of well-meaning multi-culti, progressive types whose foolproof plans for explosive economic growth, uniform social justice, and general human utopia are constantly being undone by a blossoming white-supremacist movement, split apart by neo-secessionists, and existentially threatened by traitors whose defining characteristic is a never-quite-explained hatred for progress. America II features no gray areas whatsoever: All local variation is apartheid, each and every identification requirement is the second coming of Jim Crow, all criticism of the government is sedition. It’s exhausting.

Hour by tedious hour, America II is saved from its own worst instincts. What destroyed Detroit, a city that has been run into the ground by Democrats for half a century? “Republicans” and “capitalism,” naturally. A pressing question? “Are conservatives the new Confederates?” A topic worthy of Chris Matthews’s investigation? Whether Sarah Palin can actually read. It’s like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 — just less realistic.

Perhaps the most startling thing about the network is that one doesn’t need to even infer or twist anything in order to wallow in the gratifying stupefaction that its hosts just said what they just said. There is an entire cottage industry on the Internet that is dedicated to putting words in the mouths of cable news personalities — indeed, in recent weeks I have been featured in a couple of modest contributions myself. But with MSNBC, no such mendacity is necessary. No clever editing. No false contexts. One can just read the transcripts. They meant to say that.

After all, what would one possibly add to Martin Bashir’s suggestions that someone should defecate in Sarah Palin’s mouth, that conservatives are using the acronym “IRS” as a stand-in for “n***er,” or that Ted Cruz is the “David Koresh” of the Republican party? What could be achieved by sexing up Chris Matthews’s conviction that tea partiers “still count blacks as three-fifths” of a person, or that the perpetrators of 9/11 “just have a different perspective”? What might a worker bee charged with feeding the outrage machine do to make more impressive Joy Reid’s asseveration that Republicans are “resentful” of “post-1964 America,” or to improve upon Ed Schultz’s faith that “God supports Obamacare,” or to render more absurd Michael Eric Dyson’s contention that Eric Holder is “the chief lawgiver” and the “Moses of our time”?

The channel is a lazy intern’s dream. Recently, a guest called Tim Wise nonchalantly announced that Republicans have “essentially gone in as a white-nationalist, Afrikaner, Boer party.” It’s all there, clear as day. Just rip from the Internet and upload. Bingo! One gets the uncomfortable feeling that the minds behind the programming are so strongly wedded to the cartoon impression of what they believe Fox News to be — sorry, what they believe the “FAUX NEWS ECHO CHAMBER!” to be — that they cannot imagine running a television station without emulating it. MSNBC, it seems, is a reaction against a Fox that never really existed — a progressive version of the How Utterly Ridiculous Can One Become Before the Commercial Break? game that has long been played more devotedly in the fever swamps of the Left than by the conservatives they like to denounce.



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