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Johnson writes: "In the past few years, the Democratic Party's rank and file have shifted left on major issues. From healthcare to legalization of drugs to taxes, the heart of the party has grown more progressive - and, in many instances, overtly socialist in nature."

Bret Stephens on MSNBC. (photo: MSNBC/FAIR)
Bret Stephens on MSNBC. (photo: MSNBC/FAIR)

As Democratic Voters Shift Left, 'Liberal Media' Keep Shifting Right

By Adam Johnson, FAIR

04 July 17


n the past few years, the Democratic Party’s rank and file have shifted left on major issues. From healthcare to legalization of drugs to taxes, the heart of the party has grown more progressive—and, in many instances, overtly socialist in nature. Forty-seven percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents now identify as both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal, up from 39 percent in 2008 and 30 percent in 2001.

In contrast, nominally liberal media—or major media whose editorial line is reliably pro-Democratic—have drifted rightward. On Wednesday, MSNBC announced it had hired torture-supporting, climate-denying, anti-Arab racist Bret Stephens, a recent hire at the New York Times opinion page. Stephens—whose very first article at the Times had to be corrected due to his misunderstanding of basic climate science—will be an “on-air contributor” for both MSNBC and NBC.

This pickup continues a conservative hiring spree at MSNBC, including former George Bush adviser Nicolle Wallace, right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt, old-school conservative Washington Post columnist George Will, and former Fox News stars Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly (though Van Susteren’s show has already been canceled due to comically low ratings).

Despite their ratings going up as their marquee liberal firebrands rail against Donald Trump on a day-to-day basis, MSNBC has decided not to double down on this approach, but rather is populating its 24-hour broadcast with an increasing number of Bush-era also-rans and ex–Fox News personalities. At the same time, the New York Times has added the far-right Stephens to its coveted and influential list of full-time columnists—joining fellow #nevertrump conservatives David Brooks and Ross Douthat.

As notable as their outreach to the right is these outlets’ resolute resistance to introducing any new voices to the left of the party’s corporate center. Forty-three percent of Democratic voters backed Bernie Sanders in the primary, yet the New York Times and MSNBC editorial teams don’t have one vocal Sanders supporter. Some, certainly, are sympathetic to him, such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, and the Times’ Charles Blow. But none openly back him in the way Paul Krugman, Gail Collins and Joy-Ann Reid (, 4/20/17) openly spin for his more centrist primary opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Indeed, MSNBC’s Reid spends an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter dragging the Vermont senator for being inadequately obsequious to the corporate wing of the party.)

Obviously, sitting around waiting for corporate-owned media to embrace subversive left political commentary—or even Sanders’ brand of soft European-style social democracy—is a fool’s errand, and one should be under no illusions this will ever happen. But the lack of any effort to represent a major sector of their audience is still worth pointing out. If the media were “all about the clicks” or “the views,” a major network would jump at the chance to at least have one token leftist to appeal to this underserved demographic. Yet they keep going in the other direction, hiring more right wingers without any apparent marketing reason to do so.

Shaping ideology and public opinion is less about the voices we hear, and more about those we don’t. The range of debate is set by liberal gatekeepers like the Times and MSNBC, and it’s clear, with each additional hire, the Overton window at these institutions won’t budge one inch to the left, regardless of how much their consumers do. One is left to conclude that MSNBC and the New York Times are not veering right despite Democratic voters’ increasing embrace of left policies; they’re doing so precisely because of it. your social media marketing partner


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+31 # ReconFire 2017-07-04 15:47
Dem. voters might be shifting left, but there hasn't been a liberal press for more than 35 yrs.(despite what Repugs. tell you). The media has through the years followed the Repug. party to the extreme right. The concentration of media outlets has made this much worse (thanks Reygun).
+12 # MidwestDick 2017-07-05 00:28
Reagan blew away the fairness doctrine, but Clinton signed the Communications act of 1996, which has led to unlimited monopoly power for right wing outlets in all the small and many of the large cities in America.
+4 # chapdrum 2017-07-05 16:33
Yeah, that Bill Clinton - heckuva Democrat.
+13 # Buddha 2017-07-05 10:14
But the "increasingly Left" voting block is being told over and over by the Center-Right Democratic Leadership that we need to rally behind them and their candidate-of-ch oice, because if we don't, the Far-Right wins. All Hail the American Duopoly of Money = Speech. We the people "move Left" (in reality, just rediscovering the proven policies of the New Deal), but we only get a voting choice between a Center-Right sell-out or a Far Right con-man both dancing to the same strings. Americans, we got played.
+9 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-04 17:45
This is an interesting and good article. But I think the use of terms like "liberal," "far right," and other labels are just too confusing. I also don't think the democratic party rank and file has been moving more progressive or even openly socialist. We on the left were persuaded by Obama in 2008 that he would represent us. So we were patient and silent. Obama betrayed us and we are patient and silent no more.

MSNBC, the NYTimes, Wapo and the rest of the "nominal liberal" media are really neo-liberal and neo-conservativ e; that is, they support corporate globalism, militarism, unregulated banking, and in short the whole agenda of the billionaire class. Both parties -- democrats and republicans -- are in line with the major media. What separates the parties and the major media is social issues. The NYTimes is all for gun control, Transgender bathroom use, identity politics, and the rest.

Media and politicians can be hard-right on political and economic issues and moderately liberal on social issues. That's what Hillary is. She is definitely not "more centrist." Hillary is harder right wing than Trump when it comes to war and banksterism.

The oligarchs rule America. They own the media. The media has their position. The rank and file of the democratic party is waking up after 8 long years of Obama-coma. I'm not sure where it will go. But as this article shows, the major media are gearing up to fight us.
+9 # babaregi 2017-07-04 21:14
The mainstream media that you're so concerned about is losing viewership. For example, Fox is watched by the older generation which will soon be dead.

Corporate owned media is desperate for ratings and they know that their viewers want to be entertained after coming home, tired, from work.

The MSM is a dinosaur heading for the tar pits.

The Internet is where increasing numbers of people are going when they want to get the facts.
+5 # mim 2017-07-05 00:06
"One is left to conclude that MSNBC and the New York Times are not veering right despite Democratic voters’ increasing embrace of left policies; they’re doing so precisely because of it."

We desperately need to hear more about this, even if answers are hard to come by. Are the "liberal media" trying to appease Trump and his henchmen? This comes precisely when the Times has eliminated the position of public editor.

And oh, Adam Johnson, you say that Bret Stephens is "climate-denyin g"? He thinks there's no such thing as climate?
+3 # RnR 2017-07-05 07:23
MSNBC is a corporate entity just like any of them. They posture "liberal" until it seems "liberal" is winning...then run back into their cave of fascism.

Regarding Greta - she was fired because her persona was not sufficiently "confrontationa l" - the entire world is shitting itself because Trump is ramping up hate crimes/hatred in general and MSNBC fires someone because they're not confrontational enough.

Time for them to be investigated... I'd love it *lmao*
+1 # Texas Aggie 2017-07-05 08:44
These boys play the long game. They don't care about not making as much money now as they could as long as in the future, they can put in a right wing corporatist (aka fascist) government. Then they can print money to their hearts' desire.
+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-05 08:58
"The range of debate is set by liberal gatekeepers like the Times and MSNBC, and it’s clear, with each additional hire, the Overton window at these institutions won’t budge one inch to the left, regardless of how much their consumers do."

This is exactly right, only I would not call them "liberal" gatekeepers. The use of Liberal to describe media like the NYT or Wapo was introduced by William F. Buckley as a way of steering these papers harder to the right. He questioned their neutrailty. Then it was picked up by AM hate radio like Limbaugh. In truth the NYT, Wapo, MSNBC are corporate and neo-conservativ e. They love big business and war.

Putin has released his agenda for his meeting with Trump. Putin's main goal is to "educate" Trump on the world. That's a really good think. Trump needs a voice of sanity in his ear. But what will the mainstream lying press say about this meeting. It will all be about the "conflict," "the drama," and the "scandal" of the elected president of the US meeting the man who rigged the elections for him. What bullshit.
+8 # librarian1984 2017-07-05 09:33
Excellent observations and a chilling conclusion: this is no accident.

There IS fake news but it's coming from CNN, NYT, WaPo, MSDNC et al. The article doesn't use the word 'propaganda' but that's what it is. Our press is a tool of the establishment, feeding US pablum but, more importantly, NOT COVERING essential stories.

Watch who's hired -- or fired -- but also note who's advertising. The plethora of Koch Industry ads on MSDNC is as troubling as their getting rid of Cenk Uygur. As soon as someone speaks the truth they're fired. But Maddow still has a show -- and makes $30,000 a day. (Maybe MSDNC could let each of us sell out one day a year for $30k? I'm game.)

WaPo's PropOrNot list of 'fake news' named great non-msm sources like truthout and the Intercept -- while it's 'reputable' outlets like the NYT and CNN that are pro-war and pro-corporate fronts -- whose job isn't to inform but to convince.

With the msm well under its thumb the establishment went after al Jazeera and RT. RT *does* have some goofy shows -- but they also air Thom Hartmann, Chris Hedges, Ed Schultz and Lee Camp. Why aren't they on 'progressive' MSDNC? Sanders won 42+% of DP votes -- but NOT ONE supporter has a show!

Al Jazeera is gone, RT and the internet are under attack. As a citizen it's frightening to see how the state works to control what we see and hear -- but knowing they do is important.

Internet and social media are the future of 'real' news.
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-05 10:36
librarian -- good comments. We are truly entering a dangerous era, and the fake news about Russia rigging the election is the pretext for the massive changes in our media system. All of the right wing corporations -- Google, NYTimes, CIA, and private defense ontractors -- are developing algorithms which will sift through the entire internet looking for "fake news."

What will be considered "fake news"? Any story, idea, fact, interpretation that does not coincide with the story, ideas, facts, or interpretations presented by the mainstream news, esp. the NYTimes, Wapo, ABC, NBC, and a few selected others. They will be by force the "truth" of all events in the world.

Orwell Rolls Over in His Grave. This is the ministry of truth on steroids.

And it is such irony -- the great purveyors of fake news will be the standard by which everyone else is censored as fake news.
+1 # RLF 2017-07-08 06:21
We have been seeing NPR and PBS take large sums from the Koch brothers. As incomes of the middle class go down, support for these has gone down and they make up for it with right wing donations and increasingly right friendly stories and structures (all stories have more right wing interviewees and end with a right wing last word). They excuse it by saying that we have to get beyond the divide between the parties but that is crap. We can't make the right more reasonable by dispersing their lies more...and they are just an organized set of lies that have been created for 50 years by the Heritage Foundation and their ilk which get huge subsidies from the right and corporate America. False equivalence is NOT fairness.

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