This weekend, Jim Rutenberg wrote in the New York Times that "in the last couple of years ... MSNBC, long struggling for an identity and lagging, established itself as a liberal alternative to Fox News Channel in prime time."
This seems to be a point of wide agreement, but the next time someone makes that comparison, ask: when was the last time Fox News gleefully thrashed conservatives, just for laughs? Because we see MSNBC doing that from time to time, most recently on Friday.
Faithful readers surely remember the Times' John Tierney and his visit to Zabar"s during the 2004 Republican National Convention, where he purported to be "looking for liberal New Yorkers who might be re-examining their consciences." Exactly why such shoppers should be "re-examining consciences," Tierney did not bother to say. (He also termed the city's Upper West Side "the neighborhood that has called itself 'the conscience of the nation,' " something that is clearly false, not to mention impossible, given that no neighborhood can call itself anything.) And dear readers, The New York Times was allegedly ground zero of the liberal media conspiracy. Four years later, MSNBC, which turns people apoplectic it is so outrageously, indefensibly liberal, sent its Morning Joe crew to Zabar's again -- dressing right-wing pundit Willie Geist in a McCain-Palin T-shirt to see if he could attract supporters. After this probing bit of journalism, Joe Scarborough, apparently a Tierney fan, concluded "I just hope some people on the Upper West Side will take a closer look at themselves."
For what? The same thing that rested in our consciences in 2004, apparently, that requires no explanation. There were no clues in the MSNBC segment -- every West Sider politely declined the offer to support McCain-Palin. They gave responses like "I don't hate you, but I wish you'd change your politics," and "you've got to go the East Side for this one," and "I do not. Thank you, though, for offering."
Since the piece was edited by MSNBC, this was apparently the worst these people could come up with. And yet stung by these verbal broadsides, these poor bubbies on the Morning Joe show where horrified. Mika Brzezinski, who I think is supposed to be the liberal one, said the video was "troubling." Mike Barnicle declared "that is an important cultural piece, and it proves why so many people are so right -- no pun intended -- to really loathe so many on the left. Those people are so close-minded." Scarborough piled on, noting "there's some really, really hostile people on the left who just think that they are intellectually superior." (Hey Mike, any plagiarists on those shopping lines?)
I really do struggle to match what's seen on the tape with the pundits' reactions; one is only left to assume that being liberal and saying so is a "troubling" sign of "close-mindedness" and "intellectual superiority." (Scarborough does narrow his criticism a bit, positing it was a unique New York problem. He believes that educated Obama voters in Nashville would be far more polite; unless they baked Geist a pie while declining to support McCain, I'm not sure how that could be. Also, the anchors don't ask the true inverse -- what do dedicated McCain-Palin voters have to say? Do they show signs of being close-minded? MSNBC could have picked anywhere -- say, Strongsville, Ohio, or Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Maybe next time.)
This exercise of venting deeply held animus toward liberals was free of any journalistic value by pundits with, let's say, questionable ownership of the intellectual high ground. This passes for the country's "liberal" news network, which is why I don't even watch the conservative one.
The report was also factually inaccurate. At the end of it, Scarborough tried to contrast these horrible Upper West Siders with residents of Nashville, whom he said would support McCain but in a nicer fashion. Well, fire the intern who allegedly does your research, bub. Nashville -- and Austin, by the way -- both went for Kerry and will go for Barack tomorrow. They are part of blue America, bub, and we have nothing for which to apologize, now that you and your right-wing friends are done screwing up our country.
What's more, I think it is implicitly anti-Semitic, though I don't think it's intentional. Think about it. All of the attacks leveled against liberal Upper West Siders can just as easily be labeled against Jews, who, as the old saying goes, "earn like Presbyterians but vote like Puerto Ricans." Zabar's, which, in addition to being the greatest supermarket on earth, is what we in my house affectionately call "Jew food." Who shops there? Everyone, but the majority of shoppers are Jewish Upper West Siders. Who lives on the Upper West Side? Well, largely Jews (and blacks, in the not-so-expensive parts). Who was interviewed by MSNBC? Well, not blacks ... I'd be willing to bet a healthy part of what I get paid here that if Morning Joe had asked these very same people whether Israel should be forced to give up its illegal settlements or end its expropriation of Jerusalem lands, they would have been just as unanimous in their rejection of the interviewer's questions. (And perhaps not so polite.) So what? What's wrong with strongly held views? Why is it illegitimate, somehow, to be a proud liberal any more than a proud Jew or a proud anything else? Shame on MSNBC for this stupid, narrow-minded and purposely divisive report. And Joe, maybe a Jew or two might be useful in your crew. After all, we do control the media ...