There’s a morning show on MSNBC called Morning Joe that epitomizes everything that’s wrong with political journalism today. The founding fathers intended for journalists to be the dissenters. The misfits and miscreants who establishment politicians dreaded bumping into. The ones who pestered the politicians for interviews in the hallways of things they weren’t invited to, the ones who asked questions that endangered the powerful people and dominant corporations whenever fit, the ones who told us what we didn’t want to hear about our government—and the government certainly didn’t want us to hear about them—with zero regard for how angry it would make the reigning powers. There’s a reason journalism is the only professional industry that’s explicitly protected in the constitution, and it’s because the founding fathers planned for journalists to piss powerful people off. A lot. They wanted them to. Doing so—and bringing that info back to us so we could demand change from anyone who we decided wasn’t representing our interests—was the mechanism that would allow democracy to sustain itself.
Flash forward to Morning Joe where the cohosts vacation with the Koch Brothers, for instance; profess their close friendships and extracurricular social experiences with an absurd number powerful politicians they report on, for instance; praise every general that they invite on the show for their discipline and bravery without ever once asking them a tough question about the shady things the US does abroad under their watch, for instance. This holds true for both their Democratic and Republican guests. What they all have in common is that they’re powerful people from the status quo. And never once do Joe or Mika put any of them on the spot in a way that would actually make them upset for more than five minutes. How could they? They’re going to see them at a cocktail party this weekend. How could any of us do that to our friends?
They were recently impersonated on Saturday Night Live and when they got engaged, Vanity Fair did a cover spread on them.
The last thing I have to add about Morning Joe is that I am very addicted to it.
I watch it all the time. Like, multiple times per week. I love it. It’s a sensory type of love. When I watch Joe and Mika sipping venti Starbucks drinks against a blue-sky dawn Rockefeller Plaza, my morning feels official. It feels good. It feels like I’m waking up to America. Their close relationships with the majority of the powerful political guests they’re supposed to be holding accountable? All the more satisfying vibe-wise: it makes me feel warm and cozy that they have this clubby rapport with so many of these people who intimidate me. The powerful people seem to enjoy Joe and Mika as much as Joe and Mika enjoy them, and in a fucked up way, I don’t want them to break that by asking them a confrontational question because that would be tense and icky. Compare that to Amy Goodman, who runs the brilliant and necessary anti-establishment show Democracy Now! that literally does the opposite of everything I just described. She was the only broadcast television journalist who covered Standing Rock from Standing Rock, and a warrant was put out for her arrest for doing so. She’s the solution to everything I’m talking about, she has zero corporate owners, she is what the founding fathers intended when they described the relationship between journalism and democracy, and I only watch her for five minutes at a time max. Her show—in spite of reaching millions of viewers every week—has the production value of a bored 13-year-old boy whose mom forced him to make it after school because she’s friends with the host. Amy keeps her hair grey instead of dying it, the intro credits give off a distinct 1997 vibe, and the theme song reminds me of being forced to read Time Magazine for Kids as a fifth grader in morning advisory. Again, she is the solution to every problem I just described. She is the alternative we need. And I’ve been so trained by The Today Show and Morning Joe to see her brand of news as “unofficial” that I do: I see it as unofficial. It’s cellular-level subconscious. It’s worlds apart from my rational beliefs about what our democracy needs in order to continue and that’s what’s so scary.
What’s the cost of being trained this way? What are we unknowingly drowning out because it doesn’t feel official enough? Why am I more turned off by Amy Goodman’s theme song than I am by Morning Joe bowing at the heels of the Koch Brothers, the billionaire brothers who flush money into media conglomerates to keep them from reporting on climate change and singlehandedly fund radical senate candidates from states they have never been to who promise to give bigger tax breaks to the top one percent, support corporations that outsource jobs abroad, and pretend like they doubt global warming is a thing that humans are creating? (By the way…now seems like a good time to add that Morning Joe is not a Republican show. It’s on MSNBC. One of the cohosts is a “moderate Democrat” and one is a “moderate Republican” and they spend a ton of time each morning bashing Donald Trump. What they share in common, with each other and with most of the political news programs on either side of the aisle, is corporatism.) And I sure do love watching them. “Morning Joe” is a super cozy name and I may or may not have a weird thing for Joe Scarborough.
Ever since we were four, the happiest, brightest representations of American news and entertainment have been brought to us by AT&T, McDonalds, and General Electric. And the sets look freaking dope because of it. So now, as my subconscious revolts when confronted with their poorly-lit alternatives, it’s kind of like…no duh.
But that’s what Time Warner Cable (the owner of CNN) and Comcast (the owner of MSNBC and NBC) want us to do. If we intuitively equate ‘credible news’ with bright and shiny cable shows featuring star anchors, then Amy Goodman and The Young Turks could be screaming at the top of their lungs about the information the mainstream media isn’t telling us and we won’t let it sink in. We enable them to have de facto message control and they don’t even have to tamper with the first amendment. “Information is the currency of our democracy,” Thomas Jefferson is rumored to have said. We’re now living in an age where we have access to more information than ever before. Some of it’s fake, and we’re rightfully rejecting it. But along with those calls to be a ‘responsible consumer of news’, no one’s mentioning the travesty of all the real news that’s available but assumed to not be worthy of circulation. How much longer can we continue to be a democracy if we only know what the nation’s most powerful leaders and corporations are okay with us knowing?
I don’t know how to train my brain to stop equating Rockefeller Plaza with trustworthiness, but I do have a YouTube account and the ability to make a podcast or a WordPress blog for free. And so do you. We can request an interview with anyone we’re bold enough to ask. Dick Clark is dead. Ryan Seacrest is boring as shit. The Today Show viewers are getting older every year, but the internet exists and all of us have access to a pool of limitless information and seven billion people if we choose to redirect a fraction of our time consuming media into making something instead. By all means, reject fake news. But maybe we each ought to use one of the platforms available to us to spread the unspoken truth around us. Isn’t it funny how at the exact time when our civic democracy is hanging by a thread, the playing field has never been more level for spreading any message we want regardless of what the gatekeepers think?