Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

MSNBC Hosts Ignore Unionization Effort


A couple months ago, MSNBC host Ed Schultz ignited something resembling an online controversy by ducking some important questions about unionization efforts at Peacock Productions. Peacock Productions is the nonfiction production wing of NBC News and The Writer’s Guild of America-East (WGA-E) has been fighting for a union vote since 2012. They envision portable health insurance and overtime pay for staffers. The company’s most recent effort to quash agitation involves their claim that producers can’t actually vote, on whether to unionize, because they’re technically “supervisors.” This farcical suggestion was enough to delay the process and get the seemingly torpid National Labor Relations Board to investigate. The vote was held in June, but the Peacock Productions appeal has impounded the ballots.mediumblue.cover_5.06x7.81_EC-e1394643725270-291x450

In December, the AFL-CIO sent an open letter to MSNBC’s prominent hosts, hoping to drum up support for WGA-E’s efforts. “Since July 2012, producers and associate producers have worked with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) in order to organize a union and bargain with Peacock Productions. They have expressed real concern about access to affordable health insurance, declining pay rates, long hours and an overall feeling of job insecurity among even the most talented and qualified,” explained the letter, “Unfortunately, Peacock has not acted in good faith, as its parent company NBC has in the past. Instead, Peacock has fought against its workers’ rights, jeopardizing the livelihoods of the workers.”

The note was enough to get Chris Hayes (often defined by lefty critics of the network as MSNBC’s “notable exception”) to meet with the Peacock workers, but not enough to inspire a public endorsement from Hayes or any other host. While Hayes, Maddow, O’Donnell, and Sharpton remained silent, Schultz responded to a Salon inquiry on the subject, by choosing to focus on the fact that posted a similar petition, “ has never been an ally of Ed Schultz, why should I help you with a story? Give me a reason.”

Schultz’s evasiveness didn’t stop there. After people began questioning the fiery progressive’s silence on Twitter, he took to his radio show in an effort to set the record straight. He declared that he has always been a supporter of unions, but refused to mention Peacock workers specifically. He claimed that the online critiques of his stance were, merely, a product of “income envy,” hurled at him from jealous leftists. “There are going to be minions out there that are going to twist and turn and spin and have expectations without going to the source,” he explained, before continuing to talk about his support for labor in the vague terms. “Do you think the management and ownership know who Ed Schultz is?” he asked rhetorically. “Do you think they know what I stand for? Do they think they know what my position is? Of course they do.”

Shortly after this perplexing rant, he took an on-air call from labor reporter, Mike Elk, who asked him if he would make a statement in support of the workers. Within no time, Schultz had somehow steered his analysis to asides about how he dislikes journalist David Sirota. Schultz has continued to imply that he might be steering the direction of the proceedings, and that critics are unaware of his actions, but there’s no evidence to suggest any of this is true.

It’s easy, and enjoyable, to criticize Ed Schultz. He’s a right-wing blowhard who transformed himself into a liberal blowhard. He’s a man who travels around in a jet to give pep talks to unions. (He is paid thousands of dollars to do so and insists it all goes to charity.) He’s a media member who relentlessly shills for the Obama administration’s foreign policy. His diagnosis for every organized labor setback is a firm denunciation of the GOP, even when reflection is in order. After the failed attempt to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, he had little to say about how a legitimate people’s movement was co-opted by slick Democratic strategists. How could you blame him? It’s a culture he revels in.

However, as ridiculous as Schultz can be, he’s small potatoes. His name didn’t even come up when I talked to the Executive Director of the WGA-E, Lowell Peterson, who wanted to stress that, in the end, this isn’t about MSNBC, but about the workers. When I asked him what he thought was behind the silence of the hosts, he admitted he had no idea, but speculated that, “maybe the feel pressure from a corporate parent.”

This theory appears to be the most logical explanation, as it seems that the stars of MSNBC, at the very least, believe firmly in the liberal analysis they are paid to deliver; every host identified on the petition regularly celebrates unions on their program. A staple of nearly every network profile is the part where an MSNBC personality brushes away charges of the station being a Fox New for Democrats, by explaining that their commentary is never questioned or coached by higher-ups. These facts are generally juxtaposed with the propaganda of the right-wing media machine, which tends to be direct in its coercion.

This begs a question: if MSNBC hosts have never really been squeezed by their corporate overlords up until this point, is this the first time their voices have threatened Comcast’s bottom line? If so, what does this say about our country’s progressive media?

While a Schultz endorsement might not tip the scale, it’s hard to believe that support from Rachel Maddow would not. The union vote seems to be inevitable, but the process could no doubt be sped up if the network’s most prominent superstar endorsed the effort. Maddow, who makes $7 million a year, has spent the past two months droning on about The Fort Lee lane closure scandal, regularly excoriating Chris Christie for his alleged involvement. The focus is, no doubt, fueled by Christie’s 2016 presidential aspirations. In the end, Maddow’s time seems to be spent fighting battles for the Democratic Party as opposed to fighting battles for the workers outside her office.

Lean forward, indeed.

Michael Arria writes for Vice’s and is the author of the new CounterPunch book, Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC.

Michael Arria is the author of the new CounterPunch book, Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”