Compromised Talking Heads

Image by Colin Lloyd.

War and Spy Masters for Democracy

It’s instructive to look behind the veil of people that liberal media bring forward as champions of democracy on cable news. Look at some of the imperial war and spy masters that MSNBC has long featured in denouncing the crimes of Donald Trump and his Republic-fascist allies as well as Vladimir Putin. “Left” MSNBC’s roster includes former Central Intelligence Director John Brennan, who oversaw and lied about the United States drone war program under Barack Obama. Another MSNBC favorite is Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who in 2013 perjuriously told a congressional committee hearing that the National Security Agency did not collect data on millions of Americans. Then there’s frequent MSNBC guest retired General Barry McCaffery, who ordered the criminal slaughter of retreating and surrendered Iraqi troops in after the ceasefire had been declared in Operation Desert Storm and who then failed to properly investigate his troops’ reported massacre of hundreds of Iraqi POWs.

MSNBC talking heads often bring on US House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-CA). A centrist Democrat who has accumulated a net worth of $60 million across a 22-year Congressional career, Schiff voted for the monumentally criminal, petro-imperialist, and mass-murderous US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He supported the US-backed Saudi Arabian invasion of Yemen in 2015, cause of an epic humanitarian disaster.

Neal Katyal: Corporate Rainmaker and Promoter of Christian Fascist “Justices”

An especially ubiquitous talking head on MSNBC these days is the big money attorney Neal Katyal, a self-described “extremist centrist.” Katyal waxes semi-eloquent on the many crimes and legal troubles of Trump and his allies while serving as the $2,465-an-hour lead attorney heading the sinister drug giant Johnson & Johnson’s maneuver to escape its obligation to properly compensate people suffering from cancer caused by company’s baby powder and other talc-based products. Under Katyal’s direction last October, J&J assigned tens of thousands of talc lawsuits to a new subsidiary, LTL Management LLC, and placed the invented firm in bankruptcy to protect the company’s leading investors from potentially damaging payouts.

According to Reuters, “Katyal’s hourly rate would rank among the highest publicly available figures in the legal industry…Lynn LoPucki, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law who tracks bankruptcy cases, said Monday that Katyal’s rate of nearly $2,500 is the highest he has seen.”

He makes more money in one hour than most of us make in a month thanks to his special skill of helping really rich folks stay that way. Known for his success representing corporate interests with the powerful law firm Hogan Lovell at the US Court of Appeals, Katyal is what is what corporate law circles call “a rainmaker” – a bringer of windfalls to big capital. He’s filed briefs that took anti-union positions in two Supreme Court cases, Janus v. AFSCME. and Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, both major wins for employers.

He’s an expert in (among other things) Chapter 11 corporate bankruptcy, whereby wealthy investors and top managers avoid personal financial penalty for their crimes and “mistakes.” It’s a Trump favorite: the former president has escaped personal liability and retained his fortune party through four major cases in the dark Chapter 11 arts: Taj Mahal Atlantic City in 1991, Trump Plaza Hotel Atlantic City in 1992, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts in 2004, and Trump Entertainment Resorts in 2009.

Soulless amorality is part of the game. In 2020, “Big Kat” – as Katyal is known in the legal profession – represented the two giant food companies Nestle and Cargill at the Supreme Court, defending them against a lawsuit over their aiding and abetting of child slavery in the Ivory Coast. His legal argument? That Nestle and Cargill should not be held liable for their use of child slave labor because the corporation that supplied Zyklon B to the Nazis to kill Jews and other minorities in extermination camps was not indicted at the Nuremberg trials.

I wonder if MSNBC hosts Joy Reid, Rachel Maddow, Stephanie “Class” Ruhle (who preceded her MSNBC employment by making millions in the parasitic global derivatives trade), or Lawrence O’Donnell want to bring that up the next time they decide to feature “Big Kat” on the dangers of Chapter 11 poster boy Donald Trump and Trumpian fascism.

Katyal’s “extremist centrism” leans Republifascist. He published a New York Times op-ed endorsing Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (the newspaper’s public editor criticized the op-ed for failing to disclose that Katyal had cases actively before the Court). He introduced Judge Gorsuch at his Senate confirmation hearing. And he gushed with praise for President Trump’s nomination of the accused rapist Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. During a panel on Kavanaugh’s nomination sponsored by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, Katyal claimed that “it’s very hard for anyone who has worked with him, appeared before him, to frankly say a bad word about him.”  In tweets cited by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to back Kavanaugh’s appointment, Katyal praised Kavanaugh’s “hardworking nature” and described Kavanaugh as “incredibly likeable” and “very gracious” while claiming that his “mentoring and guidance” of female law clerks was “a model for all of us in the legal profession.”

During its last session, the Gorsuch-Kavanaugh (and Alito, Thomas, and Coney-Barrett) Court smacked majority public opinion in the face by: shooting down women’s half-century constitutional right to an abortion (the first time a constitutional right had been thoroughly reversed in US history); taking away the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to regulate carbon emissions; rolling back arrestees’ Miranda rights; crippling Indian Country’s right to prosecute white people; chipping away at public gun safety in a nation plagued by epidemic mass firearms violence.

The Court June 24th anti-abortion Dobbs v. Jackson decision violated longstanding legal precedent and arguably overturned previously normative rule of law considerations by failing to make any serious stare decisis case (there was none to be made) for showing what historical circumstances had changed to justify undoing previously settled law.

By signing on to the bloody end of Roe v. Wade in crass defiance of what they claimed in their Senate confirmation hearings (same with the open Handmaid Amy Coney-Barrett, Trump’s third appointee), the two right-wing “justices” Katyal helped shepherd into high state power have inflicted on untold millions of US-American women and girls the sexist and medical horror that I described at length in my last Substack.

“Big Kat” might not be the best person to promote democracy and the rule of law against fascism.

Not-So “Pro-Choice” MSNBC Darling Patrick Ryan

But let’s venture well down the ruling class feeding chain to examine the curious case of Patrick Ryan, a proud officer-level Iraq Invasion veteran and dedicated, Georgetown University-certified imperial strategist who last August won a special Congressional election (after two previous tries) in New York’s Hudson Valley. MSNBC’s Reid, who makes regular but generally passing and vague references to Republican fascism (normalizing that existential menace to “American democracy” by failing to dig in on the meaning of the term and treating fascism as just another part of why we need to vote against “those crazy Republicans”[1]), loved that the anti-progressive Third Way Democrat Ryan appeared to have used pro-abortion backlash against Dobbs v. Jackson to win his seat in a “bellwether” contested district.

Reid and other MSNBC talking heads’ gushing accolades for the young imperialist naturally included no reference to the cynicism of a Democratic Party that refused to significantly resist in advance the well-telegraphed Dobbs decision. The refusal reflected the dismal Dems’ cynical calculation that the ruling would redound to their electoral advantage in the coming mid-term elections.

The liberal cable Ryan cheerleaders also made no mention of what the Hudson Valley resident and prolific anti-imperialist podcaster Eric Draitser rightly calls Clark’s history as “an intelligence spook & snitch whose every professional move is aimed at attacking the Left.” A 2018 Intercept investigation by Lee Fang reported that in 2011, Ryan, then employed by a snooping firm called Berico Technologies:

“compiled a plan to create a real-time surveillance operation of left-wing groups and labor unions, hoping business lobbyists would pay top dollar to monitor and disrupt the actions of activist groups across the country. The proposal included the idea to spy on the families of high-profile Democratic activists and plant fake documents with labor unions in a bid to discredit them. The pitch, a joint venture with a now-defunct company called HBGary Federal and the Peter Thiel-backed company Palantir Technologies, however, crumbled in 2011 after it was exposed in a series of news reports.”

Ryan subsequently signed on with Dataminr, a “data analytics company” that used “financial support from the CIA’s venture capital arm” to help the FBI, LAPD, NYPD, and other law enforcement agencies track the activities of Black Lives Matter. A Dataminr email to the LAPD boasted that its anti-left “social media tracking tools” were “highly valued by our clients at FBI CTD, NYPD, DoD and all ‘big five’ intel agencies.”

“Pro-choice” MSNBC darling Patrick Clark has a long history of working for capital and the police and surveillance state to deny ordinary US people the choice to live in a decent society where worker and civil rights are honored and advanced.

Ryan’s “history of spying on progressive groups” (Fang) has of course been omitted from the personal bios he has presented to voters and from the profiles of Ryan that Joy Reid and other imperial progressives have advanced on cable television.

“Our Patriotism as Americans”

Never underestimate the bellicose nationalism of the liberal class. Interviewing Ryan after his narrow “pro-choice” triumph, “progressive” MSNBC host Simone Sanders thanked him for his “powerful and extremely effective” comments after he blurted out this nauseating reflection on his engagement in the colossally criminal, mass-homicidal invasion of Iraq:

“I put my life on the line in combat, 27 months, two deployments for fundamental rights and freedoms. …and I lost good friends. I lost one of my soldiers… I believe patriotism is about pushing to make our country better, not leaving anybody behind, and pride in the collective. Those are core democratic values. It’s time to reassert our patriotism as Americans.

Ryan “lost” one of “his” soldiers. Well, Iraq lost hundreds of thousands of people to the lawless and imperialist US assault that Ryan feels good about helping lead and which he absurdly identifies with “fundamental rights and freedoms.” We can trust that his notion of “the collective” is about nationality, not humanity as such, as is indicated by his glowing references to “our country” and “patriotism as Americans.”

One almost has to wonder if his language qualifies as “semi-fascism”!

MSNBC Flashback: “I’d Vote for Donald Trump if We Have a Socialist”

Let’s go back three and a half years in the MSNBC archives Speaking of MSNBC promoting “extremist centrists” who fear and loathe the left even in mild forms, let us never forget how the network’s center-right “Morning Joe” team brought on a bumbling, silver-spooned advertising executive to warn America about the dreaded Dano-Bolshevist menace posed by the notorious radical flamethrower Bernie Sanders.

In March of 2019, the corporate shill Donny Deutsch spoke with rare class-conscious capitalist candor about the presidential candidacy of the “socialist” Sanders, who earned ruling class contempt by having the unmitigated gall to run in at least semi-sincere accord with majority public opinion on things like Single Payer, student debt relief, progressive taxation, workers’ rights and the climate. Deutsch told MSNBC morning hosts (and former Trump friends) Joe Scarborough (a former two-term Republican Congressman) and Mika Brzezinski (daughter of the top US Cold Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski) that he’d take a second fascist Trump term before he’d accept a first Sanders one. A silver-spooned oligarch with a net worth over $200 million, Deutsch blathered as follows in response to the extremist centrist Scarborough’s warning that the Democrats would “lose in a landslide” unless they granted proper fealty to capitalism by rejecting Sanders as the presidential candidate:

“Joe, I’m gonna take it one step further, because this is how dangerous socialism is. I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being…I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist…because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.  I love Denmark, but that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side, please step away from the socialism.”

That wild morning rant spoke volumes. Deutsch, like many other corporate Democrats would have preferred losing a second time to the Republifascist right over losing to the mildly progressive social-democratish neo-New Deal left in his own party. Even as he likened Trump voters to Nazis, the “liberal” Deutsch voiced his readiness to back the orange-hued cancer over anyone who tried to make America more “like Denmark.” Deutsch told Democratic voters to “step away from the socialism” as if the neo-New Dealer Sanders advocated the (in fact long overdue) socialization and nationalization of the United States’ leading means of production, distribution and investment.

How comically appropriate it was that Deutsch initially called the USA “this company.”

“Not Denmark” on the Road to Being More like Nazi Germany

“We are not Denmark.” Indeed “this company, country” is quite a different nation state, full of all kinds of “great things that still have to have binders put on the side” (whatever that exactly means). Here are some interesting national comparisons:

* Lifespan: Denmark: 79.6 years for males and 83.6 years for females vs. USA: 74.5 years for males and 80.2 years for females.

* Infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births: Denmark, 3.13 vs. USA, 5.44.

* Health insurance coverage: Denmark: 100%, vs. USA, 91.2%

* Percentage of populace living on less than $5.50 per day: Denmark, 1%, vs. USA, 4%

* Number of people incarcerated per 100,000 people: USA, 629 (highest in world with more than 2 million prisoners) vs. Denmark, 72 (with just over 4,000 prisoners).

* Murders by firearms per million: Denmark, 2.6 people vs. USA, 32.57 people.

* Obesity rate: Denmark, 19.7% vs. US, 36.2%.

* Wealth inequality Gini Index: Denmark, 28.3 vs. USA, 41.4.

* Happiness Score: Denmark, 7.62, number two in the world, vs. USA: 6.94, number nineteen in the world.

Here we are three and a half years after MSNBC talking heads Scarborough and Deutsch raised alarms about the Dano-Stalinist Hell posed by Big Bad Bernie, with their old Big Business boy Biden sitting perilously atop the rotting ship of bourgeois democracy. The “inauthentic opposition” Democrats’ steady and ongoing captivity and allegiance to concentrated wealth and power and global empire is holding firm. The iron grip of capitalism-imperialism on the nation’s not-so leftmost major party helps de-legitimize that party and its affiliated media’s small-d democratic posturing, undermining their qualifications and authority as serious critics of the real fascist menace that has taken hold atop and at the base of the nation’s rightmost major party, which appears poised to make America more like Nazi Germany in 2024-25 and beyond.

At the end of the day, MSNBC/“MSDNC’s” promotion of fake, hopelessly compromised democracy champions who are really agents of empire and inequality – people like John Brennan, James Clapper, Barry McCaffery, Adam Schiff, Neal Katyal, Patrick Ryan, Donny Deutsch, and Stephanie Ruhle – is symptomatic of an underlying structural and systemic problem that requires not just better talking heads but popular revolution nothing less.

*Note to readers: time considerations do not always permit me to comprehensively hyperlink my typically longer essays. Readers with source questions are free to write me at


+1. Without serious and focused discussion of what fascism is, past and present, and the role of both the nation’s dominant parties and the country’s broader structures and institutions of oppression and hierarchy in bringing the terrible political pathology to chilling life atop one of the two major parties in the US, increased mass media use of the word “fascism” could easily become a form of banalizing normalization – a way of making fascism just another ridiculous aspect of US political culture like people voting for candidates based on who they’d most like to have a beer with.

This commentary appeared on The Paul Street Report.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).