by Libby Sternberg
You’ve probably seen this coming, MSNBC. After all, I’ve not been paying attention to you much lately. My interest in you has waned. I just don’t…care…any longer. And you’ve probably guessed that I’ve started seeing someone else. So I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise when I tell you…it’s over. We’re breaking up. I won’t be seeing you anymore, if I can help it.
No, no, don’t try to protest or woo me back. Don’t ask me to give you a second chance. Don’t even pretend that you’ll try harder, that you’ll give it another go. I know you can’t change what you really are, and as I got to know you better, I realized you’re just not the type I like to hang with. Accept it and move on is the best way. I already have.To be honest, I started hanging out with you a couple years ago under somewhat false pretenses. It wasn’t so much that I was attracted to you. I had something to prove. Or, at least, to analyze.
Your friends were all dissing my regular pal, FOX News, calling him names (“Faux News” seemed to be the most popular) and ridiculing him so much that I thought, “Am I like that about their best bud, MSNBC? Do I reflexively diss people and policies based solely on hearsay?”
You see, I didn’t think their criticism was based on watching FOX much. Often it sounded as if it came straight from the offices of professional FOX bashers like Media Matters and Talking Points Memo. And I didn’t want to be like that, echoing what my “fellow travelers” said about you. I wanted to get to know you myself.
So I set my kitchen TV to your channel. I flipped you on first thing in the a.m., tuning in to Morning Joe. Throughout the day, whenever I found myself within viewing or listening distance, I’d see you again – everything from Alex Wagner’s noon NOW to Andrea Mitchell to occasional moments of Martin Bashir (I’m sorry, MSNBC, but I couldn’t take much more than a few moments of him at any one time) through Chris Matthews’s Hardball. (Sorry again, but I couldn’t watch the sanctimonious Al Sharpton, the snarling Ed Schultz, or the too-clever-by-half Rachel Maddow regularly—those were bridges too far).
At first, it wasn’t really a hardship. I actually enjoyed the George Burns /Gracie Allen banter of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, and once—I do mean that literally, just once—I actually agreed with Chris Matthews.
But here’s why I just had to stop seeing you—you’ve gotten too mean and nasty. You’re just not nice to be around anymore, MSNBC. You’re cruel, and, yes, I’ll say it, often lacking in the smarts department.
You denigrate good people, smearing them with the worst epithets, when they dare to question or disagree with politicians you like on policy issues. You can’t seem to fathom that folks might have legitimate reasons to disagree. You search for malevolent motivations. A shrink might wonder if this points to deeply buried insecurities on your part, but I won’t go there.
Your hosts regularly shout down contrary voices. Scratch that. Let me get specific. Chris Matthews regularly shouts down contrary voices, hardly letting them get a word in edgewise, often bullying guests to the point that I’ve wondered why anyone with a differing point of view even bothers to go on his show when they know they will be verbally abused.
Oh, I know what you’ll say: all network news and opinion programs get things wrong--facts and/or tone, that is --from time to time. Believe me, as a center-right viewer, I get that. Mainstream media outlets regularly cover policy and political news that slants in one direction, leaving out important information. And to be fair, even my buddy FOX makes mistakes, too. So I’m not dropping you, MSNBC, just because you’re no different than the rest. I’m dropping you precisely because you are so different from the rest, especially from FOX, the network whose success I suspect you wanted to emulate.
You see, you don’t get FOX at all. FOX’s main news programs, particularly its six o’clock show, don’t rely on sarcasm, snark, mean-spirited name-calling, or a dyspeptic view of those not in the conservative ideological camp. Yes, the news shows will often cover stories conservatives are interested in. But they don’t cover them with a sneer or a leer or a moustache-twisting delight when liberals are under fire. They often, in fact, provide useful information not found elsewhere, whether it’s on the actual content (rather than just the politics) of the Affordable Care Act or the intricate details of the Benghazi and Fast and Furious scandals.
Before you say I’m being unfair and point to FOX’s opinion programming being just as biased and outlandish as you are, let me point out the obvious: opinion programming is opinion programming—it’s not news. Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity can do all the “bloviating” they want—they don’t anchor the news, and they especially don’t anchor breaking news, such as election results. No, the level-headed and even-handed Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and others lead the news programming. No reasonable person would ever compare the likes of them to the screeching banshees that make up your roster, MSNBC. I’m sorry for the insult, but I figure you can take it since you dish so much of it out.
So, in the interest of fairness, I gave it a try with you. I really did, MSNBC. I watched for more than a year. I even watched in another room when my husband couldn’t stand to listen to you anymore. But I’m afraid it’s over between us now. And, just so you don’t misunderstand, let me be perfectly clear on this point: It’s not me. It’s you.Libby Sternberg is a novelist.