Written by Daniel Greenfield
Liberal media succeeds best when it isn’t identified as such. The reason for that can be seen in numerous polls where Americans of both parties identify themselves with conservative values.
The left is adept at selling its agenda through biased mainstream media coverage, but when it discards the disguise of objectivity on radio or television the end result is shrill, irritating and off-putting.
The playwright and director David Mamet achieved an epiphany while listening to NPR. Unfortunately for NPR the epiphany was that he was no longer a liberal. “I felt my facial muscles tightening,” he described, “and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the f___ up."
The unfiltered left with its onslaught of sanctimonious bleating often brings out that reaction.
It’s why Air America not only couldn’t compete with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other conservative talk radio hosts, but it couldn’t even remain solvent. MSNBC, the bastard child of a ridiculous union between Microsoft and NBC, spent years drifting in search of an identity only to become the new Air America.
Why does the left, which is so adept at putting its agenda across in mainstream media outlets fail spectacularly when it puts away the disguise and begins saying what it really thinks?
George Orwell described the phenomenon in his book The Road to Wigan Pier. The behavior he is describing is so familiar that it’s worth pausing to remember that it was written 77 years ago in 1937.
“I do not think the Socialist need make any sacrifice of essentials, but certainly he will have to make a great sacrifice of externals,” Orwell wrote, explaining why the left was failing to make headway with more sensible people. “If only the sandals and the pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaler… sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly!”
Earlier, Orwell had denounced them as “vegetarians with wilting beards... earnest ladies in sandals, shock-headed Marxists chewing polysyllables, escaped Quakers, birth-control fanatics.”
Orwell would have found MSNBC familiar, not just because of its inversion of language and perpetual politicization of everything, but that same inbred club of irritating fanatics holding forth to a small audience that agrees dogmatically with their obsessions in every regard.
After drifting without an identity, MSNBC was reborn as a liberal news network and then finally as a network of sandal wearing transgender vegans and shock-headed Marxists chewing polysyllables.
Orwell was encouraging the left to get in tune with the working class, but MSNBC has gone in the opposite direction, shoving out hacks like Ed Schultz and Alec Baldwin, who for all their faults were somewhat more relatable than Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Ronan Farrow. Joe Scarborough is talking about running for office which will leave Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton as the only high profile MSNBC yappers who couldn’t be mistaken for Pajama Boy in a dark ObamaCare briefing.
MSNBC reinvented itself around Rachel Maddow. Its new talkers, Chris Hayes and Ronan Farrow, are cut from the same cloth, delivering nasal lectures with a tone somewhere between passive aggressive argument and ironic detachment. Imagine Air America crossbred with NPR and then mated with Pitchfork Magazine. Their horrible abortion would be MSNBC’s bland hipster ethos of earnest liberals earnestly talking down to their audience while Al Sharpton tries to figure out how a teleprompter works.
The Maddow MSNBC is a leftist student newspaper stridently denouncing racism, sexism, homophobia, claustrophobia, transphobia, pipelines, microaggressions, white privilege, cherry pies, political incorrectness, model trains and obesity. Unlike the left’s highly successful mainstream media apparatus, it is overcrowded with professors of political correctness and Twitter activists who can’t talk to people, only at people, who assume that everyone who matters already agrees with them and that this self-important population is already watching MSNBC.
In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell wrote, “the mere words 'Socialism' and 'Communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”
This magnetic force draws MSNBC’s audience of transgender activists, white privilege professors, terrorist supporters, Israel boycotters, women-of-color microaggression Tumblr bloggers, Whole Foods shoppers going from their egalitarian yoga class to their amnesty protest while sipping a Fair Trade wheatgrass drink and listening to a Decembrists’ song.
Meanwhile everyone outside that drum circle is left out.
MSNBC has lost the ability to talk to ordinary people. Even other liberals are beginning to evince a distaste for it. The hipster breakdown of MSNBC has bigger implications for the left. Behind the scenes, the Obama campaign looked a lot like MSNBC. The original Obama campaign was better known as the Howard Dean campaign, but even Democrats found Dean ridiculously irritating.
Obama was the perfect front man because he had the wiring of a Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes, but when audiences showed up, they didn’t see a man in retro glasses sneering at them because they don’t understand what the asterisk in trans* stands for.
In his time as community organizer, Obama had learned to do what Orwell had advised the left to learn to do and what the average progressive has never learned to do, talk to ordinary people without making them react as if they were listening to a particularly annoying NPR broadcast. Obama Inc. may have been indistinguishable from the new MSNBC behind the scenes, but it had a human face on it.
Two terms of Obama have given the left an unreasonable degree of confidence in their ideology, but it wasn’t their ideology that won two elections. Polls show that most Americans are not especially fond of what the left stands for, but they do vote for candidates who appear to care about them. The left didn’t win on the issues. It won because it found a good front man for its bad issues who would keep finding entertaining ways to distract the public from the complete implosion of his progressive policies.
The left confused political victories with ideological victories. It assumed that because Americans had been manipulated into temporarily liking Obama, that they also liked everything that the left stood for. MSNBC is what the left actually stands for and it’s a miserable catalogue of petty fascism by control freaks whose only knowledge of life comes through the lens of their favorite pseudo-Marxist theories.
The undisguised left cannot win an election outside of its safe territories where its politicians huddle in padded corners with bearded activists deciding whether they should ban donuts, plastic bags or politically incorrect pop songs next. In these territories where the Subaru station wagon is king, where everyone wears outdoor hiking gear everywhere they go and talk about mulching and recycling as if these were spiritual activities, MSNBC streams over every Roku box.
Occasionally a parka wearer driving a Subaru will find his facial muscles twitching and the words beginning to form in his mind, “Shut the f___ up”; but then his life partner will intervene and he will be taken away for a three week course of wheatgrass juice colonic therapy that will leave him a proper Pajama Boy again.
Outside MSNBCland, the left remains unlikable; its army of activists infiltrates and takes over, but without a charming front man to juggle some torches and distract the crowds from the unemployment rate and their staggering health care premiums, the campaign folds like Howard Dean after a bottle of tequila.
MSNBC has decided that it’s safe to go Full Rachel Maddow and Full Howard Dean. That is a mistake for which the left will pay the price where it always does, in the hearts of its countrymen who frown and change the channel.
Americans do not particularly care for the ideology that consumes the professional leftist. Why are they so suspicious of dogma? It is because they know that a man cannot serve two masters.
Either he is an elected official who answers to the voters or he is an ideologue who answers to his professors of political correctness, to the dead masters who put down the theories by which everyone ought to run their life and to the narrow circle of leftists who treat every disagreement as an offense.
That is why even career leftists like Obama will attempt to pass themselves off as practical men, bipartisan types who are not bound by dogma. They understand that to identify as a rigid fanatic is political suicide. MSNBC’s Phil Griffin is still attempting to claim that his network is non-ideological when its own website identifies it as a “progressive community”.
Griffin has lost control of his network to Rachel Maddow the way that the Democratic Party has lost control of its identity to the left and the way that the moderate left has lost control to the far left. Maddow and her twee clones have won the civil war at MSNBC, but lost the battle.
The left has come out of the closet as the “tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair” that Orwell identified in The Road to Wigan Pier; a control freak suffering from a “hypertrophied sense of order” driven “to reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard.”
Americans find that type of Socialist, whether he calls himself a progressive or a liberal, about as appealing as they do MSNBC.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century. He blogs at Sultan Knish