Yes, Propaganda Does Make A Difference

Howard Krutz calls on Obama and Gore to stop whining about the right wing media:

Now it’s true that Fox or Limbaugh can boost or batter any lawmaker, and that they can help drive a controversy into the broader mainstream media. But we’re talking here about the president of the United States. He has an army, a navy and a bunch of nuclear weapons, not to mention an ability to command the airwaves at a moment’s notice. And he’s complaining about a cable channel and a radio talk-show host?

Sure, ultimately Obama is more powerful when it comes to going to war than Fox is, and Obama was able to win reelection because less than half the country believe the misinformation coming out of Fox and talk radio. That doesn’t alter the fact that having a propaganda network disguised as news does cause a substantial number of people to believe many things which are not true.

How many people vote for Republicans based upon blatantly untrue arguments such as that Republicans support small government or fiscal responsibility? How much more difficulty is it to bring about economic recovery when so many voters are misled by Republican Voodoo Economics? How much harder is it to deal with problems such as Climate Change and health care reform when so many people are fooled by right wing misinformation?

Would we have gone to war in Iraq if not for untrue Republican  propaganda claiming that Saddam threatened us with WMD and was involved in 9/11?  How many votes are affected by falsehoods such as that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a socialist? While Obama did win. would Kerry have won if not for the false claims of the Swift Boat Liars?

How many people are voting for Republicans, against their interests and the interests of the country, based upon fear and hatred instilled by right wing propaganda? Yes, this is not the same as having an army, navy, and nuclear weapons. but that doesn’t mean that the right wing noise machine is not a terrible weapon for evil.

Kurtz argues that “MSNBC can be counted on to defend the Democrats almost around the clock.” First this isn’t entirely true as MSNBC does have conservatives on the network, and MSNBC’s liberals have been known to criticize Obama, not being essentially a part of the party apparatus as Fox is. Beyond this, while MSNBC does frequently correct the misinformation presented by Fox or Rush Limbaugh, this does not reduce the damage caused by the right wing propagandists. Not many fans of Rush Limbaugh turn on MSNBC and change their views once exposed to the facts.

Kurtz has a strange rational for why the right wing media exists:

What liberals sometimes forget is that the conservative media took root because many Americans felt the fourth estate was too left-wing. ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post all strive for fairness, in my view, but there is little question that they have a social and cultural outlook that leans to the left. Collectively, they have far more weight than Fox, talk radio and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Much of the media (although no longer The Washington Post and broadcast networks) do lean towards the left socially and culturally, meaning they are more likely to  support the values of American liberty and Democracy while opposing the authoritarian mindset of the right. As Kurtz admits, they strive for fairness. How does this provide justification for the right wing in responding with media outlets which intentionally promote falsehoods disguised as news? It is difficult to measure which has more weight, but, as I pointed out above, their comparative influences does not diminish the harm done by the propaganda outlets of the right.

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Bruce Bartlett on Reality vs. The Conservative Movement

The conservative movement suffers from being dominated by extremists who drive out anyone who does not agree with all the counter-to-fact and irrational views which they now hold (which are very similar to the extremist views which William F. Buckley, Jr. purged from the conservative movement in the 1960′s.) Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the Reagan Administration, has found that it is not possible to simultaneously look at reality and be welcomed by other conservatives:

I’m not going to beat around the bush and pretend I don’t have a vested interest here. Frankly, I think I’m at ground zero in the saga of Republicans closing their eyes to any facts or evidence that conflict with their dogma. Rather than listen to me, they threw me under a bus. To this day, I don’t think they understand that my motives were to help them avoid the permanent decline that now seems inevitable.

Bartlett described his days in the conservative movement. His earliest disagreements were criticism of the second Bush administration, along with Congressional Republicans, from the right for their fiscal irresponsibility. This led to him writing the book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.  While MSNBC sometimes criticizes Obama from the left, the right wing noise machine didn’t have room for dissident views on the right:

Among the interesting reactions to my book is that I was banned from Fox News. My publicist was told that orders had come down from on high that it was to receive no publicity whatsoever, not even attacks. Whoever gave that order was smart; attacks from the right would have sold books. Being ignored was poison for sales.

I later learned that the order to ignore me extended throughout Rupert Murdoch’s empire. For example, I stopped being quoted in the Wall Street Journal.* Awhile back, a reporter who left the Journal confirmed to me that the paper had given her orders not to mention me. Other dissident conservatives, such as David Frum and Andrew Sullivan, have told me that they are banned from Fox as well. More epistemic closure.

Bartlett’s analysis of the economy after the economic crash found him agreeing with Paul Krugman, and disagreeing with the right’s mischaracterization of Obama as a socialist:

Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.

For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.

The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal—and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right.

He understands that the conservative echo chamber is largely responsible for Romney’s loss:

At least a few conservatives now recognize that Republicans suffer for epistemic closure. They were genuinely shocked at Romney’s loss because they ignored every poll not produced by a right-wing pollster such as Rasmussen or approved by right-wing pundits such as the perpetually wrong Dick Morris. Living in the Fox News cocoon, most Republicans had no clue that they were losing or that their ideas were both stupid and politically unpopular.

I am disinclined to think that Republicans are yet ready for a serious questioning of their philosophy or strategy. They comfort themselves with the fact that they held the House (due to gerrymandering) and think that just improving their get-out-the-vote system and throwing a few bones to the Latino community will fix their problem. There appears to be no recognition that their defects are far, far deeper and will require serious introspection and rethinking of how Republicans can win going forward. The alternative is permanent loss of the White House and probably the Senate as well, which means they can only temporarily block Democratic initiatives and never advance their own.

I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.

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The Right Wing Cocoon

After the election I wrote a lot about how the Republicans will have considerable difficulty winning a national election due to becoming out of touch with reality. The right has become anti-fact, anti-science, anti-reason, anti-history, and anti-economics.  Politico and The Washington Post looked at this problem on Monday. Politico concentrated on the right wing’s media cocoon:

Now, many young Republicans worry, they are the ones in the hermetically sealed bubble — except it’s not confined to geography but rather a self-selected media universe in which only their own views are reinforced and an alternate reality is reflected.

Hence the initial denial and subsequent shock on the right that the country would not only reelect President Barack Obama — but do so with 332 electoral votes.

“What Republicans did so successfully, starting with critiquing the media and then creating our own outlets, became a bubble onto itself,” said Ross Douthat, the 32-year-old New York Times columnist.

The right wing’s cocoon has been more counterproductive due to the publicity surrounding their most outlandish spokesmen:

…for nearly six years, since President Bush’s second term went south, Republicans have been effectively without a leader. And into that vacuum has stepped a series of conservative figures whose incentives in most cases are not to win votes but to make money and score ratings by being provocative and even outlandish.

“Their bottom line is their main goal, but that doesn’t mean they’re serving the population that buys their books,” said Domenech.

And this, say next-generation Republicans, is where cocoonism has been detrimental to the cause.

The tension between the profit- and ratings-driven right — call them entertainment-based conservatives — and conservatives focused on ideas (the thinkers) and winning (the operatives) has never been more evident.

The latter group worries that too many on the right are credulous about the former.

“Dick Morris is a joke to every smart conservative in Washington and most every smart conservative under the age of 40 in America,” said Douthat. “The problem is that most of the people watching Dick Morris don’t know that.”

The egghead-hack coalition believes that the entertainment-based conservatives create an atmosphere that enables flawed down-ballot candidates, creates a cartoonish presidential primary and blocks needed policy reforms, and generally leave an odor on the party that turns off swing voters.

It even fosters an atmosphere in which there’s a disconnect with the ostensible party leaders.

Consider: In the fall of the past two presidential campaigns, those in the conservative cocoon were talking about, respectively, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama as a black radical, and the seemingly impeachment-worthy scandal surrounding the deaths of U.S. officials in Libya. Meanwhile, on the actual campaign trail, John McCain and Mitt Romney showed little interest in even mentioning either topic.

And the entertainers’ power isn’t just with gullible grass-roots activists who are likely to believe whatever nefarious rumor about Obama is forwarded to them in an e-mail chain — it’s with donors, too.

Outside of Washington, New York and state capitals, the big conservative givers are as likely to have read Ed Klein’s Obama book and seen Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary “2016,” and generally parrot whatever they just heard on Fox News as the old lady stuffing envelopes at county GOP headquarters.

The Washington Post argues that Red America must rethink what it knows about America, describing the thought of one Republican (who appears to have lived in the right wing cocoon):

She had devoted her life to causes she believed were at the heart of her faith and at the core of her Republican Party. She counseled young married families at church, spoke about right to life in area schools and became a stay-at-home mom with two daughters.

Now, in a single election night, parts of her country had legalized marijuana, approved gay marriage and resoundingly reelected a president who she worried would “accelerate our decline.”

While she took apart the office, a dozen friends and neighbors stopped by to share the same concerns.

“I just don’t get it,” the county sheriff said.

“I’m worried we won’t see another Republican president in our lifetime the way it’s going,” a GOP volunteer said.

“What country would want more years of this?” asked the newly elected alderman.

Cox shrugged back at them. “I don’t know anymore,” she said. “What the heck happened to the country? Who are we becoming?”

On Monday The New York Times had an article on the increased success of MSNBC as it developed an identity as the liberal counter-part to Fox. It would be misleading to compare them as mirror images of each other. MSNBC has filled prime time with liberal opinion shows. The major objection to Fox isn’t that they spend some of their day with conservative opinion shows but that the shows billed as news are also conservative opinion shows aired in a news format, distorting the news to perpetuate the conservative alternative reality. The prime time liberal opinion shows, while clearly biased in their presentation, are far more honest in presenting the facts. While Fox will distort the facts to support the conservative agenda, MSNBC anchors such as  Rachel Maddow will use the facts to debunk conservative arguments.

Many liberals would prefer that Fox be countered not by a network presenting liberal viewpoints but by objective, high quality news (a niche which CNN does a mediocre job of satisfying). NPR would be a better model. This attitude has helped to reduce the number of liberals who are in a liberal cocoon analogous to the far more prevalent conservative cocoon.

There is an advantage to the success of MSNBC as a liberal network. Getting people to think in terms of a liberal and a conservative network helps place Fox where it belongs. Identification of Fox as the conservative network weakens the idea that Fox is a real news outlet. Plus, if we are forced to have  left and right wing “news” networks, we might as well have a true liberal network. In the past I have often heard people speak of listening to both sides on television, but if they watched Fox there would be no balance from the left. Watching Fox and CNN just gives a far-right and center-right outlook. MSNBC is not my preferred model for countering Fox, but as this is what has developed I am happy to see that it is becoming more successful.

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Racist, Ant-Semitic, Homophobic Commentator Pat Buchanan Dumped By MSNBC

Pat Buchanan thinks he was forced out of MSNBC by the Jews, Gays, and other conspirators working in the dark. Let him think that. I find a little justice in knowing that Pat Buchanan will spend the rest of his life thinking that the Jews got him. That’s what he gets for spending so many years defending Nazi war criminals, and Hitler himself. Buchanan’s racism and anti-Semitism are well known. He doesn’t even seem to understand why people might object when he goes on the radio and claims homosexual acts are “unnatural and immoral.”He doesn’t seem to believe that he is homophobic, as he doesn’t understand that the views he has expressed for years are racist and anti-Semitic.

Hunter of Daily Kos sums up Buchanan’s column:

Pat then goes on to blame loudmouthed Obama supporters, homosexuals, Jews, and I don’t know, maybe werewolves. Yeah, let’s say werewolves.

Buchanan’s recent book may have been MSNBC’s excuse for finally taking him off the air for good, but it seems mostly to be a “final straw” sort of thing. Buchanan has been mourning the downfall of white America for a considerable time now, so this latest book was hardly new ground for him. He has been accused of anti-Semitism even by such conservative stalwarts as William F. Buckley, and got in hot water a few years ago for a bizarre column proposing that Hitler was misunderstood. No, his pissy statement sells himself rather short on the number of ridiculously bigoted things that would regularly come from his mouth. No matter what he said on air or off, though, the network would always prop him up in front of the television cameras.

 

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MSNBC Considering Dumping Pat Buchanan For Racist and Ant-Semitic Views In New Book

Patrick Buchanan is a racist, anti-Semite, and homophobe. In the past the best defense of him, which is hardly exonerating, has been that he personally does not hate all these people but  used the buzz words of those who do in order to attract conservative voters during his political career. His latest book, The Suicide of a Superpower reportedly expresses racist and anti-Semitic  views which are making it harder for NBC to justify keeping him on the air. Media Decoder reports that Buchanan’s future with MSNBC is now murky:

The days of Patrick J. Buchanan as a commentator on the news channel MSNBC may be over.

Phil Griffin, the president of the network, said in an interview here on Saturday that Mr. Buchanan might not be allowed to return to the channel because of the arguments in his most recent book, “Suicide of a Superpower,” which have been criticized by some civil rights organizations as racist and anti-Semitic.

Mr. Griffin said that Mr. Buchanan, who has not appeared on the network since he began a book tour in October, was still employed by MSNBC, but that his future with the channel was unresolved.

“Pat and I are going to meet soon and discuss it,” Mr. Griffin said. But he cited some of the arguments Mr. Buchanan made in the book as reason the commentator had not come back, even after his book tour ended.

“During the period of the book tour I asked him not to be on,” Mr. Griffin said. “Since then the issue has become the nature of some of the statements in the book.”

Mr. Buchanan argues in “Suicide of a Superpower” — which has the subtitle “Will America Survive to 2025?” — that the “European and Christian core of our country is shrinking,” which is damaging the nation “ethnically, culturally, morally, politically.” The book also contains a chapter titled “The End of White America.”

Mr. Griffin said, “The ideas he put forth aren’t really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC.” The network has set out to brand itself as a network designed to appeal to progressive and liberal viewers.

On his Web site, Mr. Buchanan reprints part of an essay from Chronicles magazine titled “The Mob vs. the Statesman” that defends the book: “For all the hue and cry over Buchanan’s supposed ‘hate,’ the emotion that runs through ‘Suicide of a Superpower’ is not hate, but love. Buchanan sees the country he grew up in and loved passing away, and he wants to raise his voice in its defense.”

Mr. Buchanan’s comments have led to protests from civil rights groups and the Anti-Defamation League. The A.D.L. sent Mr. Griffin a letter urging that MSNBC drop Mr. Buchanan.

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MSNBC Renews Contract With Rachel Maddow

MSNBC didn’t want to keep Keith Olbermann around, but they have a far better opinion of Rachel Maddow. MSNBC has extended her contract in a multi-year deal.

Keith Olbermann was responsible for Maddow getting her show at MSNBC. His talk of desiring to hire her to join him at Current might have led to her getting a better deal to remain at MSNBC.

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Mark Halperin Suspended From MSNBC, To Remain At Time Magazine After Calling Obama A Dick

Mark Halperin has been suspended by MSNBC after calling Barack Obama a dick on the air. Following is a transcript:

Joe Scarborough: Mark Halperin, What was the president’s strategy? We are coming up on a deadline and the president decided to please his base, push back against the Republicans.I guess the question is, we know a deal has to be done. Is this showmanship? A lot of times you go up there and both sides and they act tough so their base will be appeased, then they quietly work the deal behind the scenes.

Mark Halperin: Are we on the seven second delay?

Mika Brzezinski: Lordy.

Halperin: I wanted to characterize how the president behaved.

Scarborough: We have it. We can use it. Go for it. Let’s see what happens.

Brzezinski: We’re behind you, you fall down and we catch you.

Halperin: I thought he was a dick yesterday.

Scarborough: Delay that. delay that. what are you doing? i can’t believe — Iwas joking. Don’t do that. Did we delay that?

Halperin: I said it. I hope it worked.

Scarborough: My mom is watching! We’ll know whether it worked or not.

Halperin did apologize for this remark.

Time Magazine has not suspended Halperin but did issue this response:

“Mark Halperin’s comments on air this morning were inappropriate and in no way reflective of Time’s views. We have issued a warning to him that such behavior is unacceptable. Mark has appropriately apologized on air, via Twitter and on The Page.

I”m not terribly upset about a conservative pundit calling Obama a dick. I’m sure the president can handle such insults. The  bigger problem with Halperin is that he has had a long career promoting conservative memes, usually a bit more subtly, while being billed as an objective reporter. Hopefully the result of this will be that more people will be aware of his bias.  Plus, once his contract ends with MSNBC, I’m sure there will always be a spot waiting for him at Fox.

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Keith Olbermann Out At MSNBC

Two months after having been suspended by MSNBC, Keith Olbermann has announced that tonight was his last show. Video hereCNN reports:

Keith Olbermann is leaving MSNBC, the “Countdown” host announced on his show Friday night.

The liberal commentator told viewers he had been informed “this was going to be the last edition” of his show, but offered no further details.

NBC/Universal confirmed the news in a statement Friday night.

“MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast
of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” will be this evening. MSNBC thanks
Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in
his future endeavors.”

Olbermann made the announcement in his typical deadpan style, evoking scenes from the film “Network” and thanking viewers for keeping him on the air for eight years.

“In the mundane world of television goodbyes, reality is laughably uncooperative,” Olbermann said before launching into a story about his exit from ESPN 13 years ago.

“As God as my witness, in the commercial break just before the emotional moment, the producer got into my earpiece and he said, ‘um, can you cut it down to 15 seconds so we get in this tennis result from Stuttgart,’” he said, half-smiling, pausing for composure.

“So I’m grateful I have a little more time to sign off here. Regardless this is the last edition of ‘Countdown.’”

There were no comments on future plans but  Media Decoder reports that “one term of his settlement will keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time.” They also report that Lawrence O’Donnell’s show will replace Countdown at 8 p.m. and Ed Schultz will move to 10 p.m.

Update:

My response on Facebook & Twitter:

Anyone want to start a rumor that Keith Olbermann left MSNBC to become White House Press Secretary, and watch some conservative heads explode?

The idea (regarding the rumor) and the underlying idea (Olbermann as press secretary) received a lot of favorable comments. There’s even media support from the idea. Among my Facebook friends giving this a “Like” on Facebook was Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune.

Update II:

Also got Rick Roll’d over this on Twitter.

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Stephen Colbert Interviewed Out of Character

Steven Colbert assisted Reddit in a fund raiser for DonorsChoose by agreeing to do an interview out of his television character if $500,000 was raised. I’ve reprinted some of the questions here beginning  with his comments on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (text of his legendary talk here).

To this day I’m convinced that your appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was because the Bush Administration didn’t understand your show.

Did they? What happened behind the scenes there? Was it more “non-alcoholic beer in the Roosevelt Room” or “Dick Cheney peppering your limo with bird-shot as you beat a hasty retreat?”

I was as surprised as the next guy that I was invited to roast the President and the press corps that spring.

Here’s how it works. The White House Press Association (or some name close to that) actually does the inviting, not the President or White House. The president of the press association that year was a man named, I believe, Mark Smith, I think from the AP. He invited me. When all was said and done, I wrote to thank him and said I hoped I hadn’t made trouble for him. He said there was zero fallout.

As for the backstage aspects of the night, the President has a nice, small gathering in a room near the banquet hall. The presidential seal is etched into the granite on the floor. A few news anchors, football greats, cabinet members and advisors (I remember Rove and Chertoff, there were others I think), Rich Dahm, Allison Silverman, my brothers and sisters and mom, my wife Evie, and the President and Mrs. Bush. Let me say that the President could not have been nicer, especially to my mother. I have some lovely pictures of her with him. The President and I had a brief conversation before we went on stage. There were in total maybe 60 people at the party, many of whom I should remember more about, but I was pretty focused on my job that night. There was no backstage event after the dinner, but several parties around town.

I had my family up to our room for a drink then hit a party, don’t remember which one. We all had a great time. but I had no sense of public reaction until Monday at work.

On the complications of doing all interviews in character:

Do you sometimes wish you could not be in character for some interviews? Being in character, do you feel that it prevents some people from coming on the show?

Well these questions are really related. I’ll say that from my end of the interview, I often have a guest whose subject I happen to know a thing or two about, and I want to engage them intelligently, but I am an aggressively ignorant character. That is frustrating. Of course knowing their subject lets me make the dumbest possible characterizations of their position or idea. If you ever see me truly being vigorously dense with a guest, I probably know something of his or her subject. And as I said, yes, the character aspect may give some people pause.

In response to another question, Colbert also stated that, “No one doesn’t know I’m in character. I tell everyone first.” Of course it could also be said that the anchors on Fox and MSNBC’s opinion shows are also playing a character:

Jon Stewart’s interview on Rachel Maddow highlighted Jon’s philosophy on the difference between his role and the role of news people like Rachel Maddow.

What, in your mind, is the difference between your responsibility or job and the responsibility or job of a news anchor or 24 hour news host / personality? Do you feel you’re fulfilling your role? Do you feel they’re fulfilling theirs?

Thanks for doing what you do. You’re a funny, funny man.

I think Jon’s appearance on Rachel highlighted his ability to be pretty sharp after vomiting for eight hours.

As for the 24 cable hosts / personalities fulfilling their roles, you bet they do — as those roles are defined by their companies. If not, they are fired. The fact that the roles they fulfill are hard to recognize anymore, and have little to do with informing us, but are instead used to emotionally “engage” us with their brand personas, means I have a steady stream of material.

I too would be fired if I wasn’t fulfilling my role as defined by my company. Happily they define that as comedy, and I agree. I have no real responsibility beyond working hard on jokes.

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Jimmy Carter Accuses Fox Of Distorting The News

Jimmy Carter is clearly correct in accusing Fox commentators of deliberately distorting the news:

Jimmy Carter said Sunday that Fox News commentators including Glenn Beck have “deliberately distorted” the news.

Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday, the former Democratic president took aim at the cable news channel climate, often a target for President Obama as well who says he tries to avoid the cable chatter.

“The talk shows with Glenn Beck and others on Fox News, I think, have deliberately distorted the news. And it’s become highly competitive,” Carter said. “And my Republican friends say that MSNBC might be just as biased on the other side in supporting the Democratic Party, the liberal element.” 

Discussing only the commentators misses the real problem. The problem is not only that Fox commentators such as Glenn Beck distort the news but that the the shows billed as news as opposed to commentary repeat the same distortions.

The situation at MSNBC is quite different even if the evening commentators may be as biased in the opposite direction. One difference is that, while they have a clear liberal ideological bias, MSNBC’s commentators do not see their job as promoting the Democratic Party as Fox promotes Republican candidates. MSNBC’s liberal commentators are often critical of the Democratic Party.

While MSNBC’s opinion shows are  biased, the information the opinions are based upon and information discussed is far more accurate than the supposedly equivalent shows on Fox.  MSNBC does not deliberatly promote deliberate misinformation as Fox does.

Another key difference is that the bias of the evening commentators is not carried around the clock. MSNBC has a conservative host during the morning hours. During most of the day they have legitimate news shows which do not repeat the views of the evening commentators the way Fox repeats distortions in their news.

The difference comes from how the stations were established. Fox was deliberately founded by Republican supporters with the intention of using the channel to distort the news to move the country towards the right. MSNBC is run by Republican supporters who found they can make more money by putting on liberals in the evening.

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