We’ve seen some strange things on MSNBC’s newly inaugurated “hard news block.” Yesterday the desperate cable channel took another step away from its announced move toward dayside journalism as one of their opinion hosts masqueraded as a news anchor.
“Lean Forward” no longer appears on the screen, but it’s still there in spirit. The 3:00 pm hour was hosted (“anchored” is too respectable a term) by Ari Melber, previous holder of a liberal chair on The Cycle and fill-in host for the likes of Lawrence O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow. But yesterday, with a wave of Andy Lack’s hand, opinionizer Ari Melber was transformed into a hard news anchor.
What sort of problems does this raise for MSNBC? In The Cable Game you don’t want to lose the trust of your viewers; when they tune in for hard news they expect to get it. Yesterday Melber spent an entire block on the Iran deal, most of that in an interview with a former Republican Senator. Yes you read that right, a Republican on MSNBC. But don’t call Robert Ripley just yet—it was Richard Lugar, who just happens to support the Iran deal. And so does Ari Melber.
After Lugar gave a lengthy discourse on why without the deal there’s nothing to stop Iran from building the bomb, MSNBC’s hard news anchor responded:
ARI MELBER: Right. I mean, that’s the argument that when you put aside the rhetoric and the bluster, not completing this deal would actually in a way be soft on Iran.
No partisan wording there, right? Mr. Melber went on to read a quote from—who else?—Richard Lugar. To end the suspense, yes, he agreed with himself. A question from Melber:
MELBER: When Senator Schumer and some of your former Republican colleagues say otherwise, are they sort of discounting the fact that this takes a lot of different countries to get it done?
MELBER: And so when you look across some of the Republican opposition, do you think a lot of it is simply that there is intense partisan opposition to this President and that a Republican President who struck the same deal…would have more support from the GOP to do essentially the same thing?
Objection, Mr. Melber. If you try any harder to lead the witness you’ll need a baton. This is what happens when opinionizers play at journalism. When their buddies are at the plate every pitch is a softball.
One more thing. Ari Melber is not just a lefty opinionizer; he’s an activist who not only supported Democrats running for office but worked on their campaigns. One of them was John Kerry—who just happens to have brokered the Iran deal that Melber and Lugar were promoting. In fact Melber was on the national staff of Kerry’s Senate campaign.
Why weren’t viewers told? Isn’t it relevant to MSNBC viewers expecting “hard news” in the 3:00 pm hour? Do we no longer care about conflicts of interest?
Why was there no disclosure?