Liberal Media Shifts to the Right as Conservative Syndicates Seizing Control of Local News
July 9, 2017 Kelsey Sutton / MIC & Daniel Kreps / Rolling Stone & Adam Johnson / FAIR
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist from the New York Times, has joined MSNBC and NBC as an on-air contributor. The network, which has been on a conservative hiring spree. In the past several months, MSNBC hired conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, a former spokesperson for George W. Bush who worked on the 2008 McCain/Palin presidential campaign. John Oliver, alarmed at the troubling conservative takeover of news outlets, has warned of "potential problems in corporate consolidation of local news."
MSNBC Hires Conservative Columnist Bret Stephens Kelsey Sutton / MIC
(June 28, 2017) -- Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist from the New York Times, has joined MSNBC and NBC as an on-air contributor. MSNBC show host Nicolle Wallace announced the news on her program on Wednesday afternoon when Stephens joined the show to discuss health care.
"We're so, so, so lucky and happy to have you," Wallace said.
Stephens, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for commentary while he was at the Wall Street Journal, will remain a columnist at the Times.
Stevens joins another stable of new contributors and hosts recently hired by the network, which has been on something of a conservative hiring spree. In the past several months, MSNBC brought on the conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, along with Wallace, a former spokesperson for President George W. Bush and who worked for John McCain and Sarah Palin's 2008 presidential campaign. In January, MSNBC brought in ex-Fox News host Greta Van Susteren to host a 6 p.m. program.
Stephens has been heavily criticized for many of his views, particularly his stance on climate change. The Times' decision to hire Stephens in April caused an uproar, and the newspaper reportedly lost subscribers after his first column was published.
(July 4, 2017) -- John Oliver looked at the troubling conservative takeover of unbiased local news broadcasts on Last Week Tonight.
"Our main story tonight concerns the potential problems in corporate consolidation of local news, don't you dare change the channel," Oliver warned.
"Sinclair [Broadcast Group] may be the most influential media company that you've never heard of: Not only are they the largest owner of local TV stations in the country, they could soon get ever bigger," Oliver said, referring to Sinclair's $4 billion acquisition of Tribune Media's 42 local stations.
Last Week Tonight discovered that when you combine the most watched nightly newscasts on Sinclair/Tribune stations in their largest market, the average total viewership is 2.2 million households, which easily trumps any nightly news shows on Fox News.
Oliver's issue with Sinclair is that they feed their stations conservative-leaning opinion segments, including one hosted by noted lying Trump associate Boris Epstein.
"If the opinions were confined just to the commentary and the ad breaks, that would be one thing," Oliver said. "But Sinclair can sometimes dictate the content of the local newscast as well, and in contrast with Fox News -- a basically conservative outlet where you know what you're getting -- with Sinclair, they're injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors."
Oliver showed a montage of Sinclair-owned newscasts reading a company-issued script in defense of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Often, these scripts and segments -- including Epstein and the fearmongering "Terrorist Alert Desk" -- are "must-runs" that Sinclair demands make it to the broadcast.
Some of the Sinclair stations are rebelling against their parent company, like Seattle's KOMO, who air the more controversial "must-runs" in the 4 a.m. hour. However, the Tribune merger threatens to spread the company's agenda even further into more markets.
Last Week Tonight then aired a "must-run" -- starring The Sopranos' Steve Schirippa -- that Tribune companies can broadcast to warn their viewers of the impending Sinclair takeover. "If this becomes a Sinclair station, good luck with that shit," the actor says.
(June 30, 2017) -- In the past few years, the Democratic Party's rank and file have shifted left on major issues. From healthcare to legalization of drugs to taxes, the heart of the party has grown more progressive -- and, in many instances, overtly socialist in nature. Forty-seven percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents now identify as both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal, up from 39 percent in 2008 and 30 percent in 2001.
In contrast, nominally liberal media -- or major media whose editorial line is reliably pro-Democratic -- have drifted rightward. On Wednesday, MSNBC announced it had hired torture-supporting, climate-denying, anti-Arab racist Bret Stephens, a recent hire at the New York Times opinion page. Stephens -- whose very first article at the Times had to be corrected due to his misunderstanding of basic climate science -- will be an "on-air contributor" for both MSNBC and NBC.
This pickup continues a conservative hiring spree at MSNBC, including former George Bush adviser Nicolle Wallace, right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt, old-school conservative Washington Post columnist George Will, and former Fox News stars Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly (though Van Susteren's show has already been canceled due to comically low ratings).
Despite their ratings going up as their marquee liberal firebrands rail against Donald Trump on a day-to-day basis, MSNBC has decided not to double down on this approach, but rather is populating its 24-hour broadcast with an increasing number of Bush-era also-rans and ex-Fox News personalities. At the same time, the New York Times has added the far-right Stephens to its coveted and influential list of full-time columnists -- joining fellow #nevertrump conservatives David Brooks and Ross Douthat.
As notable as their outreach to the right is these outlets' resolute resistance to introducing any new voices to the left of the party's corporate center. Forty-three percent of Democratic voters backed Bernie Sanders in the primary, yet the New York Times and MSNBC editorial teams don't have one vocal Sanders supporter.
Some, certainly, are sympathetic to him, such as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, and the Times' Charles Blow. But none openly back him in the way Paul Krugman, Gail Collins and Joy-Ann Reid (FAIR.org, 4/20/17) openly spin for his more centrist primary opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Indeed, MSNBC's Reid spends an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter dragging the Vermont senator for being inadequately obsequious to the corporate wing of the party.)
Obviously, sitting around waiting for corporate-owned media to embrace subversive left political commentary -- or even Sanders' brand of soft European-style social democracy -- is a fool's errand, and one should be under no illusions this will ever happen. But the lack of any effort to represent a major sector of their audience is still worth pointing out.
If the media were "all about the clicks" or "the views," a major network would jump at the chance to at least have one token leftist to appeal to this underserved demographic. Yet they keep going in the other direction, hiring more right-wingers without any apparent marketing reason to do so.
Shaping ideology and public opinion is less about the voices we hear, and more about those we don't. The range of debate is set by liberal gatekeepers like the Times and MSNBC, and it's clear, with each additional hire, the Overton window at these institutions won't budge one inch to the left, regardless of how much their consumers do.
One is left to conclude that MSNBC and the New York Times are not veering right despite Democratic voters' increasing embrace of left policies; they're doing so precisely because of it.
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