Is MSNBC Taking Programming Decisions from the White House?

(Was Cenk Uygur purged at the White House’s request?)

After years of mutual courtship, the White House may have consummated its marriage to MSNBC by canceling the program of the network’s most critical host. This unprecedented invasion of journalistic autonomy comes after years of MSNBC’s fawning coverage, promotion of the administration’s objectives, and receiving on-air prompts to guide its coverage to Obama’s greatest benefit.

Now that MSNBC has canceled his short-lived 6 p.m. program, Cenk Uygur is speaking out. Uygur, who continues to host The Young Turks program elsewhere, says the network chief told him in no uncertain terms he had to tailor his program to please “people in Washington.” The executive added MSNBC is composed of “insiders” and plays a vital role in “the Establishment.”

Uygur says at the beginning of his tenure at 6 p.m. — where he replaced Ed Schultz — Uygur “got pulled in” by “the head of MSNBC”:

He said, “I was just in Washington, and people in Washington tell me they’re concerned about your tone.”

…Then he gives me the second part of the speech. He said, “Hey listen, Cenk…I’d love to be an outsider. Outsiders are cool. But we’re not. We’re insiders. We are the Establishment.”

Uygur says the executive concluded by telling his newest protege, “Hey look, ya gotta tone it down.”

Cenk states he took this as a reference to his principled criticism of the Obama administration. Although he believes other hosts sometimes question the president from the Left, “I am by far the hardest on the Obama administration.”

He claims that, although he got good ratings, the network canceled his daily program because he refused to moderate his critiques.

He adds that he turned down what he describes as “a lot of money” to stay on as an MSNBC contributor, commenting on other programs.

“I’m not gonna do that,” he said. “There’s no way that I am going to control the content of the show and tone it down so ‘people in Washington’ are happy. Not gonna do it.”

His public commentary confirms what many long suspected: MSNBC coordinates its coverage of controversial issues with the White House, and the access is a two-way street that gives the Obama administration sweeping influence over the day-to-day operations of this “news” network.

The love affair has been in full-swing since MSNBC gave up the notion of becoming a Fox News clone and rebranded itself as a “progressive” news outlet. The newly elected Obama administration quickly let it be known the network’s affection is requited on Pennsylvania Avenue. In June 2009, Kareem Dale admitted, “At the White House, as we always like to say, ‘We love MSNBC.’”

When the White House unleashed its war against Fox News in the fall of 2009, it often claimed MSNBC was a hard news network. While Obama’s closest adviser, Valerie Jarrett, belittled FNC (“of course they’re biased”), she ducked a question about MSNBC’s bias when confronted by CNN’s Campbell Brown.

White House officials soon began sending multiple e-mails to MSNBC reporters while they were on the air.

In October 2009, Joe Scarborough was insufficiently reverent when Barack Obama won his Nobel Peace Prize. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie received an e-mail from an unnamed “senior White House official” that said, “Joe, stop being an a–hole.” (Guthrie said the official spelled out the profanity in the original.)

“The White House” e-mailed Scarborough’s co-host, Mika Brzezinski, in December 2009 to dispute one reporter’s characterization of a story.

Brzezinski got yet another e-mail “from the White House” live on the air in October 2010. Mika took the opportunity to repeat their talking points about unsubstantiated accusations that the GOP received foreign campaign contributions. The electronic message that Brzezinski dutifully read warned of “an unholy alliance between Washington and the Republicans and these big corporate special interests.”

Since its turn to the Left, MSNBC could be described as a network of Obama sycophants and Pat Buchanan. (Dylan Ratigan occasionally charts an independent course, as well.) But the echo chamber effect has intensified as the Obama administration found its positions repudiated by the American heartland.

Last September, the network teamed up with the White House to promote Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative. Valerie Jarrett, Susan Sher, and Melody Barnes appeared live on the air as the cast of Morning Joe walked the National Mall for the Bipartisan Health Challenge.

The network that made its name as a critic of the Iraq war rolled over for Obama’s unauthorized bombing of Libya.

The White House even appeared to intervene in MSNBC personnel matters. After Time magazine’s Mark Halperin called Obama “a d-ck” on the Morning Joe program, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said he contacted the network:

The comment that was made was inappropriate. It would be inappropriate to say that about any president of either party. On behalf of the White House I expressed that sentiment to executives at the network. I have no comment on whatever action that network – any network, any newspaper, whatever might take because that’s not for us to decide.

The network got the message loud and clear and (appropriately) suspended Halperin.

No one would disagree that Halperin’s profanity fit merited suspension. The question is the role of the White House in pressuring the network to silence an outspoken critic.

Cenk Uygur’s comments give considerable weight to the charge that MSNBC is a mouthpiece for “the Establishment” and doing the bidding of its current cappo, Boss Barry.