FDL Book Salon Welcomes Michael Arria, Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC
Michael Arria’s Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC — published by CounterPunch Books — was a courageous one to write. It means many doors will now likely be slammed in Arria’s face for places to publish, including those of progressive bastions such as The Nation and Mother Jones, both of which are excoriated in the book.
Using vignettes and case studies, Arria’s book tells the story of many liberal’s favorite cable news network: MSNBC. Chronicling the likes of Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Melissa Harris-Perry, a bit of Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann, the book offers the very first critical examination, in book form, of the “Lean Forward” network.
As Arria notes, it is easy to mock and ridicule Fox News and the corporate conservative media. “For years now, Fox News has been beaming out images of people falling into orchestra pits, red meat for its rabid base, as well as liberals who love to hate on it.”
Indeed, an entire “progressive movement” (related: a token of success in said movement is an appearance on MSNBC) echo chamber has been created around bashing media meant for consumption for conservatives.
Look no further than to the work of Media Matters for America as an Exhibit A, whose researchers and founder David Brock also happens to run a Democratic Party Super-PAC called American Bridge PAC. There are of course many Exhibit B’s, C’s, D’s, etc.
Implicit in this right-wing media bashing by groups like Media Matters is what’s missing: any critical examination whatsoever of channels like MSNBC. By definition, they can’t do that because they are mouthpieces of the Democratic Party, which of course is financed by the same elite interests as the Republican Party.
Arria’s book, though, blows the lid off of this taboo and pries open a critical dialogue.
A good short read, certainly, what makes it stand out is lack of sugar-coating and its no-holds-barred approach. He spares no criticism, not even of many liberal Democratic’s big man on-campus: Chris Hayes, who Arria refers to on his chapter covering him as the “exception and the rule.”
Maddow too, who appears to be who Hayes has modeled himself after in style and delivery — though while also sometimes feigning being a radical — is spared no criticism. With her rise to fame and fortune (all MSNBC show hosts are paid egregious salaries, including Maddow) coinciding with the rise to fame and power of Barack Obama in 2008, Maddow’s story says much about MSNBC in the age of Obama.
Arria writes, “The MSNBC brand, ignited by Olbermann and furthered by the election of 2008, had fully taken form with Maddow as its primary representative.”
Of course, that is what makes both Obama, Maddow, Hayes and MSNBC at-large so potent: they are corporate brands, useful mascots if you will, for multinational corporate power. And as Arria points out, what that also means is — by extension — imperial power. MSNBC has been a key driver of promoting regime change in Libya, of pushing for intervention in Syria, and of general silence on the issues of empire in so many other spheres.
Fodder for a follow-up book is how the “progressive media” situates itself as a feeder network of sorts for MSNBC. MSNBC is not just about bloviating talking heads like Maddow, Hayes, Schultz and others offering hollow analyses that do not challenge the fundamental dictates of multinational corporate power. Rather, every show on the 24/7 network has producers that book guests, and as Arria makes clear, guests invited onto the show generally only offer points-of-view within narrow and acceptable confines.
Which brings us to a more troubling question: if Medium Blue colors the politics of MSNBC, what color is the much-ballyhooed “progressive media”?
As the case studies of Adam Serwer, Melissa Harris-Parry and Chris Hayes reveal, another book could be written about this topic in of itself. Perhaps it will be Arria who writes it.