By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
11:21 AM EST, February 25, 2013
MSNBC has long been as bad as Fox News when it comes to ideological bias. But with the hiring of longtime Team Obama loyalists David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, it’s official: MSNBC is worse.
The cable channel that flies under the banner of NBC News is now all but a bona fide organ of state propaganda, an information channel that speaks in the same dominant voice as the folks running the government -- and tries to mask what it is up to.
I didn’t plan on getting all free-press-and-democracy amped up about the hirings until I saw Axelrod with Andrea Mitchell last week in his first appearance on MSNBC. It was Echo Chamber Politics 101 with Axelrod characterizing some Republicans in Congress as irrationally wanting the draconian cuts of the sequester –as “dangerous” as that thinking is.
Mitchell started out a remote interview with Axelrod, who was in Chicago, by asking about the sequester set to take effect Friday.
“Remember,” he says, “the cuts put into place were so odious it was thought no rational legislator, no rational government official, would allow it to happen.”
As Mitchell starts to pivot to another issue with a new question, Axelrod interrupts her with, “One more thing, Andrea. There is a belief among some Republicans in Congress that maybe this sequester’s all right. Maybe this is another way of shrinking government in a dramatic way. That’s a dangerous idea, but it’s not uncommon in some quarters on Capitol Hill.”
“No doubt,” Mitchell says, placing a cherry atop this propaganda sundae.
Rhetorical Criticism 101: Republican members of Congress are not rational, they have “dangerous” thoughts and they do “odious” things to the American people.
What is this if not exactly the spin Team Obama seemed to be working on all week? And the White House doesn’t even have to bring in a bunch of out-of-town anchormen for quickie interviews with Obama so that they can carry his message back to their local audiences in the heartland.
Now the message can go forth from the president’s mouth straight to our ears – via Axelrod, the so-called analyst, and MSNBC, the so-called news channel.
That is, by the way, the sane, reasonable, trustworthy president who is working around the clock to avoid sequestration and the hardships the alleged GOP champions of it in Congress would wreak on American life come Friday.
Howard Kurtz, Washington bureau chief for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, interviewed Axelrod and Gibbs about their new jobs. Both denied they would show bias or be surrogates for the president.
“I don’t see it either as being a cheerleader for the president or as a spokesman for the administration’s point of view,” Gibbs told Kurtz.
"My role is not that of a surrogate, but an analyst and commentator,” Axelrod said. “I'm proud of my work for and with the president. But in this role, I will offer observations, based on my experience over 35 years in journalism and politics, and will call them as I see them."
In fairness, Axelrod didn’t exactly serve as what Gibbs called a “spokesman for the administration’s point of view” in his first at bat for MSNBC.
He wasn’t that honest.
A spokesman is, at least, transparent about what she or he is up to – serving the interests of the person for whom she or he speaks.
As senior Obama campaign strategist, Axelrod worked in as rarified a realm as there is in Democratic electoral politics. But what makes him an expert of what some Republicans in Congress feel or don’t feel about the sequester and what kind of “dangerous” thoughts they hold? Why give him the floor to expound on that, and then slam dunk his answer with a big “no doubt”?
No, the information that he insisted on imparting to Mitchell is the same kind of oppositional attack-dog stuff Axelrod and Gibbs did when they were on the president’s payroll and went on Sunday morning TV shows to attack Mitt Romney. Or how about the campaign they led in 2009 to discredit Fox News?
And now, they are part of the “team,” as Mitchell put it, that competes with Fox – and serves as TV mouthpiece for the White House.
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