Oh, that liberal MSNBC…
Last week, Richard Wolffe, the former Newsweek White House correspondent who’s been a frequent commentator on MSNBC’s Countdown, guest-hosted the show while Keith Olbermann was on vacation.But as Glenn Greenwald pointed out over the weekend in a typically hard-hitting post, that’s the same Richard Wolffe who earlier this year signed on as a senior strategist with the corporate communications firm Public Strategies, advising several of the firm’s top clients from its Washington D.C. office.
Greenwald lays out the obvious problem with Wolffe’s dual role — which hasn’t been disclosed to MSNBC viewers:
Having Richard Wolffe host an MSNBC program — or serving as an almost daily “political analyst” — is exactly tantamount to MSNBC’s just turning over an hour every night to a corporate lobbyist. Wolffe’s role in life is to advance the P.R. interests of the corporations that pay him, including corporations with substantial interests in virtually every political issue that MSNBC and Countdown cover.
It’s worth noting that Wolffe’s guest hosting gig on Countdown appears to have gone smoothly last week, without generating any high-profile examples of pro-corporate bias.
Still, as Greenwald points out, Wolffe’s Public Strategies bio touts his MSNBC appearances, suggesting that the firm likely sees his enviable media megaphone as a key selling point to clients.
And it’s clear that those clients have major stakes in a host of issues in the news. Public Strategies, which is led by former Bush White House communications guru Dan Bartlett, boasts that its clientele includes “some of the world’s largest and best-known corporations,” and that “[m]uch of its practice involves managing high-stakes campaigns for corporate clients, anticipating and responding to crises.”
Wolffe himself said as much when he joined the firm. “Many of Public Strategies’ projects are at the center of the national dialogue and will provide a challenging new arena for me,” he crowed.
As a PR firm, Public Strategies doesn’t have to disclose who its clients are. But here’s one example: when the Bush administration got caught using “video news releases” supporting the Medicare drug bill, which were designed to mimic real news stories and often ended up on the air, the spotlight soon fell on the companies that acted as middlemen by distributing those fake news stories to network news feeds, mixed in with legitimate news. The leading practitioner of that racket, Medialink, hired Public Strategies in 2005 to help fight off any efforts by Congress to rein in such “news laundering.”
As Greenwald also notes, Wolffe has already gone on the record questioning the idea that journalists should be expected not to act as corporate shills. Politico recently reported:
“The idea that journalists are somehow not engaged in corporate activities is not really in touch with what’s going on. Every conversation with journalists is about business models and advertisers,” [Wolffe] said, recalling that, on the day after the 2008 election, Newsweek sent him to Detroit to deliver a speech to advertisers. “You tell me where the line is between business and journalism,” he said.
Neither Wolffe nor an MSNBC spokesman immediately responded to our requests for comment. We’ll update if they do.
Late Update: MSNBC tells us they’ll disclose Wolffe’s P.R. ties in the future.