In this morning’s New York Times, former CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter writes about the faux invincibility of cable news headliners such as Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon. He should know, having been ceremoniously dismissed by CNN in 2022. He predicts both Fox News and CNN will survive the “Monday Morning Massacre” of two of their most recognizable anchors.
Reading an insider’s take on the shakeup at the two networks reminded me why MSNBC has won my allegiance when it comes to political punditry. Or should I say three particular shows: Morning Joe, Deadline White House and The Beat. What do these three programs have in common? Not their Democratic or liberal bias since two of the three feature a former conservative Republican congressman (Joe Scarborough) and the communications director for George W. Bush (Nicolle Wallace). Only one, The Beat’s Ari Melber, was active in Democratic politics. He went back to school and earned his law degree at Cornell following John Kerry’s 2004 unsuccessful presidential bid during which Melber served as the campaign’s deputy political director in California.
What then do the three hosts have in common? Pretty simple. All have spent time in the arena. When Joe Scarborough rants House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is being held hostage by an extreme fringe of the Republican caucus, he know of what he speaks. He was a member of the 40 renegade GOP members elected in 1984, dubbed “the New Federalists,” who held Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker in their hands. As soon as Gingrich lost favor with these outsiders, his fate was sealed. When Scarborough explains how tough it was for Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to put together the coalition responsible for passing the Inflation Reduction Act last year, it rings true. He had a seat at the table for similar negotiations.
Wallace is equally qualified to enumerate the number of times the Trump administration crashed through legal and ethical guardrails she faced as she carried out her West Wing responsibilities. Just this week, during a discussion of the questionable ethics of Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, she shared her experience signing an annual financial disclosure statement which required the certification of the entries as true and accurate “under penalty of law.” She asked, “Why shouldn’t every federal official, especially someone with such constitutional power and a lifetime appointment, be held to the same standard I was?”
Melber brings his years as a First Amendment lawyer and time in a public defenders office to his analysis of the legal questions and procedures du jour. His continuing faith in the judiciary is the result of having practiced before judge after judge who put the law before personal considerations or ideologies. Even in those instances where a rogue judge makes headlines, as did U.S. district judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who would deny access to the FDA-approved drug mifepristone, Melber trusts the appeals process will rectify the situation. When he critiques a judge it is not based on ideology, but as guardian of an institution in which he had a professional and personal stake.
Aspiring aviators do not take flying lessons from someone who has never occupied a pilot’s seat. Cardiac patients facing a bypass do not trust a surgeon who only studied medicine but never held a scalpel. Nor would any voter rely on a 67 year old Senator from South Carolina, a bachelor with no children, for guidance on women’s reproductive health care. Oops, maybe that last one is not the best example.
Don’t get me wrong. I have great respect for political reporters such as the Times Susanne Craig who deciphered years of Donald Trump’s tax return to prove this supposed “self-made billionaire” was anything but one. Or ProPublica’s Joshua Kaplan who exposed the relationship between Justice Thomas and Harlan Crow. However, if you want to understand how the sausage is made in Washington, D.C. or state capitals, ask those who have actually turned the crank on the meat grinder. And have the scars to prove it.
For what it’s worth.