You can dress up the talking heads at MSNBC to make them look mainstream. You can also put glasses on a cat.
But sooner or later the cat will knock off the glasses, lick its butt and look at you as if to say: “What? You got a problem with cleanliness?”
This comparison is not meant to belittle the need for a makeover at the cable news network. For commercial success, MSNBC must spin the extreme left-wing rhetoric of its hosts to make them appear like normal folk who, gosh darn it, speak for ordinary Americans.
But it’s a puss ‘n’ glasses chore. Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Ed Shultz and Lawrence O’Donnell belong on “The Andy Griffith Show,” all right — in that alternate universe where Charles Manson plays Floyd the barber.
MSNBC calls its makeover campaign “Lean Forward.” It features smartly edited clips from the network’s commentators meant to make you think that MSNBC is a reasonable news outlet looking out for the little guy.
I watched the network last week so you wouldn’t have to. Allow me to review the effort so far, cat by cat, and offer a comment or two.
Ed Schultz: Ed nurses a cup of coffee at a roadside cafe somewhere. He yells to no one in particular: “I cannot believe this is happening in my lifetime.” He mutters about the unfairness of it all, heightening his state of agitation, then chuckles, “I need two shows.”
If MSNBC’s goal was to make Ed Shultz sound like a demented circus clown, well, mission accomplished.
Andrea Mitchell: Instead of extolling Mitchell’s journalism expertise and experience, MSNBC has her talking about her gender and how it was tough (before electricity, I guess) for a woman to break into television journalism. It’s sad to see journalism — even MSNBC’s brand of left-wing advocacy — reduced to that kind of patronizing pap.
Lawrence O’Donnell: The camera shows a pensive O’Donnell with his oh-so-sensitive eyes looking almost pained to explain the truth to the unwashed masses. He tells us that immigration is good. And we must realize (as he already has through superior intellect and enlightenment) that immigration is an “added value.”
If legal immigration were the question, that would be the correct answer. However, what vexes America today is illegal immigration. Larry doesn’t explain how a 50-kid kindergarten class with 35 illegal or anchor-baby children is an “added value.” I wait for O’Donnell to mention fixing the Mexican border. But the oracle goes silent.
Chris Matthews: The old dog of MSNBC sits on a park bench. He looks bemused and, perhaps, not quite sure where he’s at. Then he blurts (as only Chris Matthews can) that the one thing we “owe” lonely and scared soldiers in Afghanistan is to pay “fair taxes.”
Huh? What does that mean, if anything? But, alas, this string of words floats unexplained into the purgatory of stillborn Matthews-isms.
Rachel Maddow: If talking first and thinking later were a sport, Rachel would be the all-star for Team MSNBC.
Rachel’s commercial has her at the river side of Hoover Dam wearing a clunky blue construction helmet. She points up to the giant dam and says we must build more projects like it. Is she kidding? If Hoover Dam, with its sweeping environmental consequences, were attempted today, the American left would fight it like it were about to trigger the Mayan apocalypse.
Which, of course, goes to why MSNBC needs a makeover in the first place. For heaven’s sake, al-Qaida sees MSNBC as an ideological ally! Last week, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius got his hands on a report taken from Osama bin Laden’s compound. It was written by American-born jihadist Adam Gadahn, who styled himself as the terrorist chief’s media adviser. Gadahn liked MSNBC and was all broken up when Keith Olbermann was fired by the network.
Maybe the network can enlist Al Sharpton to turn that anecdote into a promotional spot. That’s bound to resonate with working families.
Lean forward, America. Watch MSNBC’s cats wear glasses. Pay no attention to that other thing cats do.
Sherman Frederick writes a column for Stephens Media. He is former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame. Read his blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/sherm.