Over the last few years, MSNBC refashioned itself as the progressive news alternative to networks like Fox and CNN by giving Keith Olbermann an opportunity to do actual journalism on television for a few years, and by putting people like Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz front and center. Even Chris Matthews, the human weathervane, appears to have gotten the memo. But I remember a phone call I got from an MSNBC producer in February of 2003. Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors had not been in Iraq for 100 hours when this woman called me on my cell, told me she’d read my book, and asked me to appear on the network.
There was, however, one caveat: she told me I was expected to argue that Blix and the inspectors were doing a terrible job and should be ignored, which just happened to be the exact line being peddled at the time by the Bush administration. I told the producer that I did not agree, that the inspectors needed to be given time to do their jobs, and that undermining them might lead to a devastating war. The MSNBC producer chuffed a cigarette-roughened laugh into my phone and hung up on me.
That happened – I remember the details not only because of how gruesome the conversation was, but because when she hung up on me, I almost lost control of my car and nearly wound up in the Charles River – and the fact of it tells you everything you need to know about MSNBC and the rest of the alphabet-soup cohort that is America’s “mainstream” news media. I did not do what that MSNBC producer asked me to, but you can bet all the money you have that she found someone who would a few phone calls later. You might have even seen it on TV.