Andrew Lack, Way Off Track, Loves Himself Some Right-Wing Hacks

I bet you Sean Hannity’s next.

This week’s announcement that NBC News President Andrew Lack has hired Fox refugee George Will as an MSNBC commentator is not outrageous or infuriating. Actually, it’s morbidly funny–because Lack’s apparent strategy is a guaranteed flop.

It appears that Lack thinks he can attract Fox’s longtime viewers by flooding MSNBC with right-wing voices such as Hugh Hewitt and Fox outcasts such as Greta Van Susteren. The problem with this logic is that Fox’s viewers are loyal to Fox as a brand, not to individual hosts; it’s profoundly unlikely that Fox viewers would get up from the couch and flip over to MSNBC if the latter channel brought, say, Bill O’Reilly on board.

Seeing Will and other reactionaries on cable TV is the natural outcome of having cable news executives who are, at best, only mildly interested in airing programming progressives find favorable. Lack is obviously not looking for the next Rachel Maddow, apparently viewing the first one as a fluke: it’s hard to think of anyone in the upper levels of MSNBC (or CNN) who thinks Resistance TV is something to see. (Lack probably figures that if progressive-minded viewers don’t like seeing right-wing vagrants squatting in the House That Keith Olbermann Built, they can always watch, say, The Young Turks online.)

On some level, this news reaffirms the tragedy of former Vice President Al Gore’s decision to abandon Current TV nearly five years ago. Current had its flaws, but at the very least, it was under the control of someone who recognized that progressive viewers were an important demographic; it surely would have thrived as the voice of anti-Trump America.

I couldn’t help noting the irony of Gore’s observations about the Fourth Estate in an appearance at L.A.’s Greek Theatre a few days back:

“Every night on the news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation,” Al Gore said Saturday night when asked his opinion of how the news media reports on climate change. “And I’ll wait for the newscasters to connect the dots,” he continued, adding that they rarely do…

“We have a challenge in the U.S., where climate in the news in concerned,” said Gore. “First: The line between news and entertainment has become a very porous line.” He added: “Second reason is that there is a pretty powerful and wealthy special interest of carbon polluters that have spent billions of dollars over the past three decades putting out false information.”

Gore could have connected the climate dots on Current TV, calling out the folks “that have spent billions of dollars over the past three decades putting out false information” in a way that other cable channels were seemingly reluctant to. He could have pushed back against the blurring of the line between news and entertainment. Somebody needed to.

Alas, Current TV is no longer, and right-wing disinformation continues to dominate cable news. Who benefits? Donald Trump does, of course. By the time the 2020 presidential election rolls around, MSNBC and CNN will still be participating in a false-balance fiesta, allowing right-wingers to crowd out progressive perspectives and effectively make the case for a second Trump term, even if some of those right-wingers profess personal disdain for Trump (as Will does). It’s enough to make you turn the damn TV off.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.