TPP, MSNBC, Comcast and Using the Master’s Tools

Aug 4, 2015.

The headlines read “Donald Trump builds lead” . . . “No Plan B to Save Oceans” . . . Gwen Stafani and Gavin Rossdale Split” . . . “Puerto Rico Fails to Make $58 Million Debt Payment” Buried therein, news of Ed Schultz’s sacking from MSNBC, the “liberal” news network owned by Comcast. Comcast is lobbying hard for a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that favors the media giant. Ed Schultz was the only personality on cable news television to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

I don’t know whether, as some are alleging, Ed Schultz was let go from MSNBC solely or mainly due to his opposition to TPP. For all we know, it’s not the only reason. Schultz has a history of contention–however understandable on his part–with his corporate employers. But Lee Fang’s deep reporting about the connections between Comcast and the TPP, and the absence of any other commentators on cable news taking on the TPP, stand as noteworthy failures of mainstream media even without a “conspiracy” to oust Schultz.

Time Warner, Comcast, and Disney, despite failing to devote air time to the TPP trade deal, have registered lobbyists to promote the deal . . . A Media Matters report found that a “transcript search of the CBS Evening News, ABC’s World News Tonight, and NBC’s Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015, found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” The same report found that The Ed Show on MSNBC was the only cable news program to devote significant coverage to the issue. “During the same 18-month period, CNN and Fox News each mentioned the TPP during two broadcasts.”

The challenge is to identify why only Ed Schultz was talking about TPP in mainstream news media, and what structures are available to carry the message given the consolidation of the media industry by entities entirely tied to such trade deals.

Schultz has multiple means of remaining available for listening and viewing–he has a popular podcast. But with his voice gone, nobody (and I mean literally nobody) on any commercial network or cable news platform is taking a critical perspective on TPP. Ed was it. Schultz’s trashing of the TPP was legendary and known by all. Even Bernie Sanders saw fit to lament the cancellation.

What adds to the credibility of more suspicious narrative is that none of the other MSNBC hosts will even touch TPP–they certainly won’t criticize it, but they also won’t defend it. Schultz did 71 segments on TPP. He took Hillary Clinton to task for refusing to take positions on Keystone or the TPP.  Noteworthy to add, too, that Schultz changed his position on Keystone after his audience convinced him to–something people in his position do not normally do. Schultz also joined protesters in Madison, Wisconsin against Scott Walker’s anti-labor policies.

Activists have long heard, and only sometimes heeded, Audre Lorde’s warnings not to rely on “the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.” The warning does not always ring true; as Ani DiFranco reminded us years ago, “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” But in this case, reliance on MSNBC has done nothing for those whose political concerns extend into economic and structural change. The channel’s talking heads are defenders of a robustly inclusive status quo, finance-capitalism with a human face, hyper-bankocracy so long as it lacks Republican brutality. In terms of his ability to say what he wants to say, TPP or otherwise, Schultz is better off. And we are reminded again that where the struggle for financial democracy is concerned, our barriers are largely bipartisan.

Somebody should talk to Big Ed about public banks, actually.

Proponents of economic democracy and economic justice will learn from this kind of silencing. Bypassing Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and Rockefeller Center–and building new networks–remains our task.

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