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MSNBC Aligns With Objectives of the State

Celebrated liberal news outlet MSNBC made some new hires, a couple weeks ago one of them being Mother Jones blogger Adam Serwer. According to TVNewser’s Alex Weprin “MSNBC.com is staffing up ahead of a major relaunch later this year. The relaunched site will focus on the world of politics and the personalities that populate MSNBC’s programming. There will also, however, be plenty of political news and information.”

Recently journalist Charles Davis tweeted about an online run-in he once had with Serwer. Disturbed by the military culture that had permeated a women’s soccer game, he blogged, “No other country on Earth, barring perhaps North Korea, worships its military in such a prevalent, mindless and such seemingly oblivious fashion as the good ‘ol USA.”

This perturbed MSNBC’s new hire, who was writing for the American Prospect at the time, and prompted him to post this comment “We should support servicemembers unconditionally because their service is unconditional, and I have yet to hear a rational argument for why allowing servicemembers to disregard civilian authority over the military is a good idea, which is essentially what calling for civil disobedience by servicemembers is.”

Serwer continued:

“What if General Petraeus decides that the Afghan surge isn’t big enough, so he’s morally obligated to take over and make the decision for himself, to save us from ourselves? He’s morally obligated to protect his country in the way he thinks is best right? Who cares what the law says?

The whole point of civilian control is to ensure that the people with guns don’t get to do whatever they want, that the power given them can only be used with the consent of the political branches, elected by the people. And if you don’t think that power is being used properly, than you can change that through the political process.”

Davis responded on his blog:

“But no one’s arguing, of course, that soldiers should merely do whatever they feel. The argument, at least as I have made it, is that killing people is wrong, except in instances of absolute self-defense, no matter what politician or politically appointed court sanctions it. Now, abiding by one’s conscience is typically consistent with the whole not murdering people thing — poor foreigner or not — but where it differs, it’s subservient to that latter, foundational principal of any truly civilized society. Again, the argument is that people ought to defy orders to kill — and ostracize, rather than worship, the institutions tasked with carrying out the state-sponsored carnage — not that they should kill more people if they feel like it.

And instead of wading through a corrupt political process designed to thwart change and serve the needs of the powerful, the legitimacy of which Serwer asserts but does not bother to demonstrate, it’s the responsibility of all human beings with a capacity for moral thought, be they uniformed or not, to reject blind obedience authority and the ‘legal’ facade it provides to immoral acts. The idea that only the political process is an acceptable means of challenging injustice treats the average person as but an unthinking cog in the machinery of the state, bound to abide by whatever ‘lawful’ edicts their rulers issue, a worldview that does not allow for principled civil disobedience. We, soldier and citizen, are not entitled to determine what’s right and wrong, whether it be a preemptive war or, say, the institution of slavery — that’s left to legislatures.”

It’s probably worth noting that Serwer’s entire response to all of Davis’ comments was, “We do have some job openings, but nothing quite as prestigious as writing for Code Pink, I’m sad to say.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that someone at MSNBC had worked out a bizarre calculus regarding his or her relationship to the state. For example, during the recent ten-year anniversary of the Iraq War, Ezra Klein (who economist Doug Henwood has referred to as a, “Neoliberal über-dweeb”) explained that his support of the Bush administration’s invasion was predicated on an “analytical failure.”  “It wasn’t worth doing precisely because the odds were high that we couldn’t do it right,” wrote Klein.

The bizarre and robotic nature of this “apology” aside, the political theorist Corey Robin immediately spotted something fishy in Klein’s grammar, “Klein doesn’t think a state invaded another state; he thinks ‘we’ went to war. He identifies with the state. Whether he’s supporting or dissenting from a policy, he sees himself as part of it. He sees himself on the jeeps with the troops. That’s why his calls for skepticism, for not taking things on authority, ring so hollow. In the end, he’s on the team. Or the jeep.”

After the tragic Trayvon Martin murder, Touré appeared on Piers Morgan’s program and took him to task for his interview with the family of Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. One of Touré ‘s main problems with the interview seemed to be Morgan’s inability to understand how American journalism functioned. “What you understand as challenging, perhaps, maybe that’s what goes in England. That’s not what we do in terms of challenging in America…I would have liked to see him pushed and challenged, more followup, more pushback, more research to understand.”

Of all the things to criticize Piers Morgan for, the veracity of the American media in comparison to England’s is, probably, one of the least sensible. Later, when Touré sparked something of a controversy by arguing that President Obama had the right to assassinate an American citizen, he demonstrated very little of his aforementioned pushback. On a panel discussing drone strikes, the media personality seemed completely unaware that the administration had killed a 16-year-old kid: “What do you mean a 16-year old who is killed? I’m not talking about civilians.” After Steve Kornacki and S.E. Cupp explained to Touré who Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was, he shrugged, “If people are working against America, then they need to die.”

The political theorist Falguni Sheth connected the dots between the two situations, “There is a certain nativist, if not xenophobic, consistency on Touré’s part. Rightfully insisting on paying attention to the racist context surrounding Martin’s death, he nevertheless challenges Morgan’s attitudes on the grounds that Morgan is not “from here.” For all of Touré’s understanding about the racial context of unfair murders, he appears to be ignorant of and indifferent to the fact that a young Muslim (American) boy was killed by a drone under the auspices of the POTUS. We see a similar nativism in Touré’s sentiments about restricting due process to “Americans”—even after he learns that Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki IS American.”

Aligning themselves with the objectives of the state is always an easier task for liberals when the leader is a Democrat, it requires much less cognitive dissonance on the part of the pundit. In his book In his book, Killer Politics: How Big Money and Bad Politics Are Destroying the Great American Middle Class, MSNBC host Ed Schultz quotes Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech before opining, “…I do not believe that preemptive war with Iraq was justified. I think it was a blunder that set a dangerous modern-day precedent for preemptive war and seriously damaged U.S. credibility around the world-something only time and credible action in the future can mitigate. History alone knows how this war will play out. What we can be certain about is that Bush’s Iraq folly placed a tremendous financial burden on the nation that has critically weakened us both militarily and financially.”

Jesus. I wonder what it did to Iraq.

Things have, of course, shifted in the last five years and, thus, certain pronouns can be embraced without caveats. As Rachel Maddow explained to her viewing audience after the disastrous NATO intervention in Libya, “President Obama announced his own military intervention, but he pointedly declined the opportunity to do it in a way that US presidents usually do. Obama has foresworn “the chest-thumping commander-in-chief theater that goes with military intervention of any kind…that in itself is a fascinating and rather blunt demonstration of just how much this presidency is not like that of George W. Bush.”

I think Serwer is going to fit right in.

Michael Arria writes for Vice’s Motherboard.tv.

More articles by:

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

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