MSNBC To Continue Allowing a Corporate Spokesman On Air as a "Political Analyst"

by: David Sirota

Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 16:31


As a follow up to my post this morning, note that MSNBC just announced that it will continue promoting paid corporate PR consultant Richard Wolffe as a disinterested nonpartisan "political analyst." The network says it will disclose his employment with Public Strategies, but that it will continue using him as its "political analyst."

This is pretty gross. Sure, it's better that they give the audience some shred of disclosure, but they're not going to tell the audience which corporate clients he works for. More importantly, even with disclosure, MSNBC is effectively endorsing the concept of a paid corporate PR consultant appearing on television as a disinterested "political analyst" - a concept that is so completely antithetical to the most basic respect for journalism ethics.

I mean, are we really to believe there is such a dearth of actual, independent political analysts out there that the network is all but compelled to use a paid corporate PR consultant? Are we really to believe that people like Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald - just to name a few off the top of my head - aren't as qualified as Wolffe? Apparently so.

What would have been appropriate is for MSNBC to say they are not having on Richard Wolffe or any other paid corporate PR consultant in any capacity other than as a paid corporate PR consultant - and certainly not as a nonpartisan disinterested "political analyst." That might have let the world know MSNBC was serious about a minimal respect for journalism ethics. Instead, the network has endorsed the opposite.

Make no mistake: I appreciate MSNBC providing something of an ideological counterweight to Fox News. And as I mentioned before, we have evidence that there are clearly people at MSNBC like Rachel Maddow who understand that disrespecting basic journalism ethics is an insult to the audience and the journalism profession. Unfortunately, those people don't appear to be making the network-wide decisions - and this particular decision, regardless of it coming from a liberal network, is an insult to journalism.

Indeed, MSNBC's message to journalists and journalism organizations that take great pains/financial risks to avoid conflicts of interest and preserve their own independence/credibility is that those efforts are a waste because the network will happily give its airwaves to those with the most egregious conflicts of interest.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has a must-read update to his original post here. Check it out.

David Sirota :: MSNBC To Continue Allowing a Corporate Spokesman On Air as a "Political Analyst"

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General Electric Microsoft (4.00 / 2)
sees nothing wrong with suborning "journalists."  Of course not.  What's funny is those who expect differently.

i have to say that this doesn't strike me as such a big deal... (0.00 / 0)
or, maybe i should say: it strikes me as a much smaller deal than so much else, that it doesn't seem worth the energy of making a big deal about it.  

so he has a nebulous conflict of interest that doesn't appear to be influencing what he says on TV.  


I'll just repost what I wrote originally (4.00 / 2)
In short, its rarely about the direct conflict of interest, it's usually about the so-called "nebulous" conflict of interest:

Sure, examples like CBS's corporate management backing off 60 Minutes on the tobacco story and General Electric heavy-handedly intervening in MSNBC's news decisions are probably somewhat rare. And sure, Wolffe and Friedman (at least to my knowledge) never shilled directly for a client/business interest they were making money off of. However, the direct connect/interest undoubtedly shapes their content by the silent processes of story selection, omission and tone.

For every blatant example of a newsroom or a journalist brazenly shilling for their corporate master's bottom line, there are infinite examples of those newsrooms or journalists avoiding or omitting stories that might offend those masters' in the first place. Is it, for instance, really just a coincidence that the frightening effects of corporate agriculture have rarely been the topic of all those Sunday "news" shows whose sponsor are Archer Daniels Midland? Is it really just a coincidence that Friedman shills for corporations and the wealthy, when he is member of a billionaire family? Is it really just a coincidence that a newspaper like the Washington Post, which was trying to effectively sell its news coverage to corporate interests, generates stories that tend to be particularly soft on corporations and chock full of unchallenged corporate PR?



[ Parent ]
i read it the first time, and my response is still 'meh.' (0.00 / 0)
all of the examples just go to show that wolffe is not a particularly egregious case.  

[ Parent ]
Here's why... (0.00 / 0)
Reports like this show MSNBC to be nothing more than a mirror-image of Faux News... But with one HUGE exception. While truly progressive media outlets like Pacifica Radio & this blog don't get into these twisted corporate relationships and seriously promote progressive values, MSNBC seems to be more like a "Democrat lite" network that sometimes allows progressive voices (like Rachel Maddow) to get out, but other times has corporate shills give us the same ol' s**t that all the other networks give, but with replacing blind Bush cheerleading for sometimes Obama cheerleading (so long as he's not "too liberal").

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

[ Parent ]
yes, the rot goes much deeper than wollfe. (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
Fine (4.00 / 2)
Well, it's fine for you not to give a flying shit about journalism...but there are those of us who do. Indeed, if you don't care - then why the fuck are you spending your time not only reading about it, but commenting on it?

Hmm...


[ Parent ]
nice: a 'shit' and a 'fuck' for saying 'meh' (0.00 / 0)
(and if you don't value feedback from readers, including feedback that says: 'maybe, with your megaphone, the progressive movement would be better served if you put your limited energies elsewhere', that is helpful for us all to know, i suppose).  

[ Parent ]
It would be interesting to try and start referring to corporations by who is in control (4.00 / 1)
IE instead of MSNBC refer to it as GE
Disney instead of ABC
Newscorp instead of fox.
Time warner instead of cnn.

The Ochs-Sulzberger family instead of nytimes.

This would provide more accuracy and understanding in this world of mergers and takeovers.  Referring to specific bought brands as if they still exist is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion.

http://transgendermom.blogspot....


I like that idea! (0.00 / 0)
and will start using that approach.

[ Parent ]
MSNBC as presently constituted is just a stopgap (4.00 / 1)
Its being owned, and having its editorial policy set, by GE, fatally damages its reliability as a serious and nonpartisan news and opinion outlet. Even allowing for Olbermann, Maddow, Schultz, Lawrence O'Donnell, Robinson, etc., we have solid confirmation here that there is editorial manipulation going on, making its output inherently untrustworthy.

So at best, until media outlets emerge that don't operate under such constraints, it's a stopgap in terms of getting accurate, relevant and substantial news and opinion, and I'd take everything coming from it with a grain of salt. Even from the good hosts, who may well be forced to withold certain news items, or not speak openly about certain issues.

One has to wonder, in fact, if all this might not be coming out right now in order to damage its liberal hosts by putting doubts into peoples' heads about, just as the health reform debate gets into high gear, and the right gets its pushback campaign into full mode.

Remember, GE's media outlets serve its parent corporation in two ways. One, by generating profit, and two, by protecting its interests. The first is purely market-driven, which is why we have shows like Keith's, Rachel's and Ed's. There's money to be made these days in liberal-leaning news shows, because there's an audience for them.

The second comes down to not trashing GE and its business interests, or policies and even ideas that it benefits from, and at times even promoting them. They doubtless have number crunchers who run metrics for all this, and no editorial line will be allowed on its channels or shows for very long if they're seen as hurting its overall bottom line, through either set of product lines (i.e. media, or GE's other lines of business).

We need newer media outlets that don't necessarily have liberal hosts, so long as they do quality journalism--as well as genuinely liberal ones to do the opinion stuff--but which aren't constrained by corporate policy and interests, as NBC et al clearly are. And we need for them to go mainstream. Most people have never heard of Amy Goodman or Democracy Now.

That has to change. Hopefully, technologies like the internet, 3G/4G wireless broadband, netbooks, tablets, Hulu, and the convergence of PC's, cell phones, PDA's and TVs, will enable that, and smart liberal-leaning entrepeneurs will make it happen. Soon. Real soon.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton


That's the same Richard Wolffe who.... (0.00 / 0)
said George W. Bush "charmed the pants off" the press corps in 2000. That suggests a very specific weakness of the press and Wolffe.

Professional, disinterested? I don't think so..........


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