MSNBC continues its trip through the Looking-Glass into an alternative “Fox News Lite” world by parting ways with stellar progressive host Melissa Harris-Perry. In my new article, “Melissa Harris-Perry and the MSNBC Goose-step,” I analyze the parallels between Upton Sinclair’s muckracking “The Goose-step: A Study of American Education” and the modern impact of corporate power on media news coverage.
In “The Goose-step: A Study of American Education” (published in 1923), Upton Sinclair suggested that American university students were being trained to think in lockstep like German students indoctrinated with World War I era authoritarian Prussian culture. Sinclair, quoting from a report of the 1913 Pujo Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, described a system by which the three great banks in New York (J.P Morgan and Company, the First National Bank, and the National City Bank) with two trust companies (the Guaranty and the Equitable) under their control used “Interlocking Directorates” to manage the financial affairs and direct policies of one hundred and twelve key corporations of America. He wrote: “you might possibly think that our interlocking directors would be so busy with the task of managing our industries and our government that they would not have time to superintend our education; but that would be underestimating their diligence and foresight. They do the job and they do it personally, not trusting it to subordinates.” He detailed how the interlocking directorate heavily influenced higher education (e.g., the plutocratic class made up 56% of the membership of privately controlled boards of trustees and 68% of publically controlled boards of the 29 largest universities).
Sinclair had particular disdain for Columbia University, where he studied, and its president Nicholas Murray Butler. Butler conceptualized socialism as a “mob,” and he stated “in working out this program we must take care to protect ourselves against the mob.” Butler’s tenure as president was remarkable for how he “managed to expel or force to withdraw some two score men, including most of the best in the place.”
The parallels between corporate influence upon higher education and its stranglehold upon modern media news coverage are staggering. Take for example, MSNBC, which has systematically eliminated liberal voices from its programming. Now playing the role of Butler is MSNBC head Andrew Lack, who has overseen this purging of liberal voices in a transition to a more “hard news” setting. Ed Schultz and his persistence in covering the Trans-Pacific Partnership proved to be too much for a network so beholden to Big Pharma (note the staggering amount of advertisements for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Toe Fungus treatments on the network). Thus, “The Ed Show” was canceled in 2015.
MSNBC continues its trip through the Looking-Glass into an alternative “Fox News Lite” world by parting ways with stellar progressive host Melissa Harris-Perry. Dr. Harris-Perry, PhD, a distinguished Wake Forest University professor, fought for editorial control of her show and included commentary about Beyoncé’s “Formation” and race relations at a time when management pressed for strict primary season election cycle coverage. Her show served as a civic space where public intellectuals could discuss in earnest the tough issues facing society (e.g., race, gender, inequality) Harris-Perry recently wrote an email to her staff describing her disappointment in the side-lining of her show by MSNBC officials. She asserted that she would not go on the air just to “read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show Distinctive.” MSNBC punished Harris-Perry for refusing to “Goose-step” in formation (i.e., conform to the expectations of its interlocking directors). The network labeled Harris-Perry “challenging” and “unpredictable” and took her show of the air as a response to her critique.
Upton Sinclair asserted: “our educational system is not a public service, but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist.” Indeed, the media no longer serves to inform and challenge authority, rather it carries water for the elites. The Media-Presidential Election Industrial Complex won the battle against the MHP Show, leaving the air as one of the last vestiges of a promising era of progressive cable network television programming on MSNBC. However, a talent as supreme as Harris-Perry will win the war by continuing her scholarship as Wake Forest University’s first Maya Angelou Presidential Chair and, I predict, resurfacing on a rival network to continue her #Nerdland brand of fearless journalism.