The Media Hack List is Out

I like Alex Pareene’s annual list of media hacks. I like it because it’s as objective as such analyses can be, going after hacks on the right and the left, and because it also rightly goes after those middle-of-the-road, play-it-straight beltway analysts who can be relied on to say next to nothing and pretend it’s profound. This year’s list can be found here. I like the entry on MSNBC:

MSNBC, we’re told all the time, is the liberal Fox News. That’s reductive and stupid. It isn’t. MSNBC isn’t the liberal Fox News for two very important reasons: It usually demonstrates a greater respect for the truth than Fox News, and it’s not as good as Fox News. It’s not as good at being liberal as Fox is at being conservative. Fox is rigidly ideologically consistent, with its “straight news” programs echoing the same talking points and pushing the same slanted stories as its opinion shows. While there’s no doubt that MSNBC is more unapologetically liberal than it used to be, it’s still all over the place, with a conservative anchoring its flagship morning show, objective Beltway “straight news” proponents like Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell dominating in the daytime, and weekends full of … prison shows. But more important, it’s not as good as Fox at being compelling TV, which is why millions more people watch Fox every day. (There are demographic reasons for Fox’s advantage, too, but it’s still a huge number.)

There’s a reason Ed Schultz — the most Fox-like of MSNBC’s liberal hosts — has great ratings. That’s also what makes it so funny that MSNBC is supposedly planning on replacing him with Ezra Klein, which is like Fox deciding to replace Sean Hannity with Ross Douthat. Good for respectability. Bad for ratings…

I’ll give MSNBC its due: Chris Matthews is probably the worst interviewer on television but he is also undoubtedly one of its most fascinating and watchable personalities. Rachel Maddow is obviously and deservedly a national treasure. MSNBC’s new weekend morning programs, hosted by Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry, seem like a novel experiment in attempting to produce genuinely intelligent television using the medium of cable news and its popular tropes. “The Cycle” is exactly 25 percent great.

But existing in an uneasy alliance with the thoughtful young liberal MSNBC is the dumb MSNBC, of FIRED UP ED SCHULTZ and smug Martin Bashir. Lawrence O’Donnell seems to be trying to win a bet with someone that Piers Morgan isn’t the biggest asshole with his own TV show. And there’s “Morning Joe.”

“Morning Joe” is the world’s most self-satisfied television program. It is a place where Harold Ford Jr. is treated as a person whose insights and opinions are worthy of being taken seriously. It’s a show with so little respect for its viewers that Mark Halperin is asked on to explain politics every day.

“Morning Joe” is very sure that it is fun and outrageous, instead of depressing. They joke, or “joke,” about how they are all drinking alcohol at work, on TV! They banter! Sometimes someone swears!

Pretty much. Morning Joe is unwatchable. Ed Schultz is a blowhard who nearly always oversimplifies every issue. Maddow remains the best host of such a show on television by a wide margin. And O’Donnell, who had real promise, is clearly trying to put on his best Ed Schultz suit. The ratings may be better, but it becomes endlessly annoying to those who want anything other than a pep talk.

But his #1 hack is, quite rightly, Politico. And he lets them have it:

I have written tens of thousands of words on what, precisely, is wrong with Politico. But I can put the case much more simply here: It’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei.

VandeHei is the co-founder of Politico, and Allen is the organization’s biggest star. Each morning Allen collects a bunch of links to day-old news stories and emails them to thousands of people, and for this he is paid a fortune. VandeHei is the guy who gives Politico its obnoxious, pseudo-macho ethos, with the shouty memos and nonsense about “metabolism.” Allen exemplifies the sort of political journalist who thinks his job is faithfully reporting what mendacious professional liars tell him, while also usually protecting their identities. VandeHei thinks neutrality requires occupying a space precisely between Breitbart and the Huffington Post. Neither would probably understand if you tried to explain to them that supporting whatever any CEO says or effectively endorsing Erskine Bowles for president is actually a violation of political “neutrality.”

When you see a joint Allen-VandeHei byline, you can safely expect the worst. When fellow Politico big shots John Harris and Jonathan Martin write a piece, they report on politics. When Allen and VandeHei write, they craft narrative. If the narrative bears no little relation to reality, or is simply self-serving spin from a professional political operative, no matter: Now the narrative is “out there,” because Politico is proud of its ability to create its own buzz and then report on that buzz.

They get a few leaks, but only because they’re a reliable megaphone for beltway wisdom and can be counted on never to question their source. It’s what makes them a huge hack.

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  • scienceavenger

    I guess I must be doing something right: those getting panned are unwatched or unknown to me. My wife knows its the end of the Lawrence O’Donnell show when she hears my nightly “fuck off Ed” as Schultz starts his. I watch O’Donnell precisely because he’s an in-your-face asshole, there being so few of those on the left. I find his cheerleading and self-indulgence (if he shows one more scene from “The West Wing”…) more than offset by his insights into political strategy.

  • Michael Heath

    Alex Parene writes:

    . . . MSNBC is supposedly planning on replacing [Ed Schultz] with Ezra Klein, which is like Fox deciding to replace Sean Hannity with Ross Douthat.

    Ross Douthat is not analogous to conservatism relative to what Ezra Klein does, which is provide the perspective of relevant experts.

    Mr. Douthat is a reactionary apologist who awkwardly attempts to create a veneer of credibility around conservatives and their causes. Mr. Klein instead does the hard work of retrieving the necessary set of premises required to sufficiently understand policy prescriptions considered by the powers that be, often using charts and other graphical presentations. Klein sometimes also develops an explanatory framework which favors liberals or moderates, which is increasingly easier to do given liberals and moderates are biased towards experts rather than ideology.

    No conservative analogue to Ezra Klein come to mind, which is illustrative of a major defect with conservatism.

  • Rip Steakface

    Ed Schultz does piss me off, severely. Bashir is just plain boring with his antics, and Chris Matthews has a well-earned reputation.

    Yes, Rachel Maddow is a goddamn genius, and their early-morning weekend shows are pretty good. Lawrence O’Donnell is usually tolerable, thanks to basically being a wannabe Keith Olbermann (hosted Countdown quite a few times back in the day), though his Schultz-ier segments also piss me off.

    MSNBC is more similar to the Huffington Post than an inverted Fox News. A good portion of mediocrity, a few shining gems, and a big chunk of splattery, liquid crap on half the time.

  • No mention of Al Sharpton? There isn’t anyone who Is a worse host.

  • I would love to see Schultz replaced by Ezra Klein. Imagine that, a network news show that actually focuses on policy details and why they matter.

  • Ed Brayton “I would love to see Schultz replaced by Ezra Klein. Imagine that, a network news show that actually focuses on policy details and why they matter.”

    Pah! Typical Liberal!

  • jws1

    I watch O’Donnell’s show from time to time. I’ve seen the Schultz program before, too. Never had a problem confusing the two.

  • Dennis N

    The analysis is spot on. Maddow and Up are just about the only political television I watch, and they never fail to deliver smart segments and discussion. I worry that for this they will get cancelled.

  • “which is like Fox deciding to replace Sean Hannity with Ross Douthat. Good for respectability.”

    Douthhat–douchebag? both two syllables, coincidence? I think not.

    Michael Heath pretty much hit on what’s wrong with that comparison. I just wish he might have said it with a bit more hyperbolic invective.

    Mr. Heath (every time I write that, “Mr. Heath”, it makes me think of the Beatle’s “Taxman”–wow, wotta fuckin’ album that “Revolver” was, but I digress) if you would like to do so, you may e-mail any comments in which you would like to slag someone to me and I will be happy to do a little “tune up” on them, It’s just my way of saying, “thanks” for all of the hard work you do and for your voluntarily exposing yourself to levels of ReiKKKwing indignorance, the long term side-effects of which have yet to be discovered. so that we don’t have to.

  • twincats

    I guess I need a liberal cheerleader more than I thought since I watch O’Donnell more often than not. Rachel Maddow is my favorite and I like her regular subs Ezra Klein and Chris Hays a lot as well. (I don’t watch TV in the morining and don’t have time to DVR any more political shows but I’ll have to make room on my DVR for Ezra if he gets Ed’s spot.) As hard as Rachel shills for Ed Schultz, I just can’t go there. He’s just too bombastic and through-the-looking-glass Fox for me.

    Was there no mention of the folk on Current TV? If you want to know how to do bombastic, no one does it better than Cenk Ugyur. Eliot Spitzer is a bit dry but very clear and concise. I usually skip Jennifer Granholm unless John Fugelsang is subbing because she tend to talk over guests and I tend to miss a lot due to hearing problems.

  • Pieter B, FCD

    When Ed Schultz was on the radio I used to prank a co-worker by switching his lab radio from Limbaugh to Schultz while he was back in his office. Upon his return it once took almost a half-hour for him to notice.