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MSNBC Fights 'Pro-Obama' Perception Again; Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod Swear They'll Play Straight

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With the hiring of former White House officials Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod, MSNBC finds itself once again battling the perception that it is a staunchly "pro-Obama" network. On Thursday, Gibbs and Axelrod told CNN's Howard Kurtz that, though they spent many years fighting for and defending Obama, they will be independent-minded analysts.

The announcements over the past weeks that Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, and Axelrod -- one of Obama's closest and most senior advisers -- would be joining NBC News as contributors drew raised eyebrows from many commentators. The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, a frequent MSNBC critic, said it was further proof that the network is in the tank:

I suppose there's some commendable candor in hiring Obama's two most recognizably loyal aides in less than two weeks: any lingering doubt about its primary purpose as a network is dispelled, so that, I suppose, is good on some level (just as Fox's heavy reliance on long-time GOP operative Karl Rove had the same clarifying effect).

The Atlantic Wire's Connor Simpson summed up Axelrod's hiring this way: "The most White House-friendly network up and hired yet another former White House message man, David Axelrod."

The New York Times' Bill Carter compared the hiring to that of Karl Rove on Fox News.

Both Gibbs and Axelrod told Kurtz that they would call it like they saw it.

"I don't see it either as being a cheerleader for the president or as a spokesman for the administration's point of view," Gibbs said.

"My role is not that of a surrogate, but an analyst and commentator," Axelrod said. "I'm proud of my work for and with the president. But in this role, I will offer observations, based on my experience over 35 years in journalism and politics." He also noted that MSNBC has several Republicans in its stable.

MSNBC has been grappling with the notion that it is reflexively pro-Obama for years. In November, network president Phil Griffin told HuffPost's Michael Calderone, "This channel has never been the voice of Obama. Ever."

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