David Axelrod joins NBC News: Is the White House running MSNBC?

Peter Weber
The Week
NBC and MSNBC have an increasingly large roster of former political players... from David Axelrod to Michael Steele.

Former press secretary Robert Gibbs also just joined the liberal cable news giant. And that's making some people suspicious...

On Tuesday, NBC News announced a new hire: David Axelrod, most recently chief strategist to President Obama's re-election campaign, is now a senior political analyst, slated to "contribute frequently across all broadcasts and platforms of both networks." Axelrod joins former Obama White House colleague Robert Gibbs, who was unveiled as a political contributor at the liberal-leaning NBC cable-news network MSNBC a week ago, as well as numerous other alumni of various White Houses who contribute regularly.

In one sense, this is pretty unremarkable in today's media market, says Bill Carter at The New York Times. "The path from political adviser to expert commentator on television has been well trod," notably in Fox News' hiring of Karl Rove, George W. Bush's Axelrod, but dating back to at least ABC News' decision to put Bill Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos — now host of Good Morning America — on the air. "And MSNBC already employs Steve Schmidt, the senior strategist for the losing campaign of Senator John McCain."

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Of course, not everyone agrees that this is par for the course. Indeed, "there's no more perfect complement to Politico's splashy feature... about Obama as the media's puppetmaster than finding out his top strategist will now be a salaried employee" of MSNBC, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. "When Chuck Todd's done, maybe they'll skip the middleman and hire Valerie Jarrett to be White House correspondent."

Well, to be fair, the White House couldn't control the timing of the Axelrod hire announcement, "on the same morning that the Politico report was boiling over," says Connor Simpson at The Atlantic Wire. But any way you look at it, the "spin zone" at "the most White House–friendly network" is "increasingly populated by guys who used to work in the White House." And you don't have to wear a tinfoil hat to suspect "that may all be part of the plan."

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MSNBC certainly knows its audience, though they would never admit it. And the administration certainly knows its message, its people, its social media, and its fading need for a White House press corps when it has guys like Axe and Gibbs to unofficially lean the right way on a left-leaning network. [Atlantic Wire]

You also don't have to get conspiratorial to see this as a bad omen, says David Ignatius at The Washington Post. Axelrod isn't the first presidential adviser hired to provide political analysis on air, but this trend is "obliterating the line between the political players and the people who are supposed to act as commentators and referees." NBC bragged about all the campaigns Axelrod has worked on, but "once upon a time, that would have been a disqualification for a news organization."

I was taught that there's a dividing line between politics and journalism and that people wouldn't trust the news media if they began to fuzz this boundary. And guess what? That bromide from a passing generation of newspaper editors and network executives was right. [Washington Post]

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