For All the Debate on Whether Fox News is Propaganda, What Should We Make of NBC News’ Extreme Left Op-Ed Vertical?


Propaganda is a hot topic this week. A New Yorker article has painted Fox News with the brush, and it has proliferated as a buzz word in non-Fox media.

People, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, have a lot of oddball uses for the word propaganda, and it is both too broad and too narrow in our daily parlance. In some formal ways it’s seen only as misinformation or PR on behalf of a head of state or the ruling party. In many informal and slang ways, it’s simply an insult for something you don’t like. But it should be seen as what it literally means, and that means it can be in service to more than just Donald Trump, for example.

In the United States, power is widely distributed, even more than we may think or was intended. It rests with the executive, legislative, and judicial of course, which by our governmental philosophy, means it rests with the people. But power rests also with large and influential entities like labor unions, membership organizations (NRA, AARP), with corporations, even with celebrities and the popular culture. More nebulously, power resides with and is exerted by what we all call political “movements.”

Even our use of the word “movement” is somewhat specific to our time and place in history, and doesn’t quite match the idea of a movement historically, but it’s enough to say that power is distributed and so also should be the notion of what constitutes propaganda. Not just slangily, but in a real sense. A directed and coordinated effort on behalf of a particular point of view which has power or is held by those with power.

All of which brings us to NBC THINK.

NBC’s THINK is a “vertical” to use the jargon. It’s a section of the NBC News footprint that is opinion-based. But more than that, it is opinion-biased, as we’re about to see.

Launched in 2017, NBC News touted the Think section as a way to give news consumers “a more varied and richer experience” at NBC’s properties. “We believe there is value in providing analysis and commentary that is based in expertise and personal experience,” wrote senior editor Meredith Bennett-Smith at the time.

The idea of the site as service is somewhat subsumed, however, by what it is in practice.

First daughter Ivanka Trump has contributed an op-ed to THINK. We can get that out of the way. Yes, there are opinions from the right, or from whatever you would call Ivanka. They have one-off op-eds and single serving contributions from time to time.

But the preponderance of the vertical is dedicated, quite explicitly, to leftist causes. The preponderance of articles, and particularly the ones from elected representatives, are from the Democrat or liberal perspective.

The op-ed section header specifically says covering topics “from social justice to clean water and women’s rights,” a sentence presented as a sweeping range but covering a very narrow set of specific political interests. “We cover everything from A to B” sort of mission. Z doesn’t come up that much. What does come up is a selection of topics that would be on any Occupy reading list or modern activist feminist rally. You will find Women’s March and #MeToo in abundance. Right to Life march not so much.

THINK lists among its goals “Transparency,” and in the site’s mission statement the editors say, “we will always make sure our readers know who our contributors are,” but go ahead and try to find out who their contributors are. There is no list. There is no directory. You cannot click on a set of names or authors. Yes, they describe a contributor when that person contributes, but there is almost no transparency regarding who are their day-to-writers, their regular or contracted contributors. You can see who writes the most by reading the Twitter feed or the front page, and that perceived staff is wildly Democrat focused. But to analyze the make-up, say for an article like this one you are reading, the research required is not light.

This isn’t to say that a op-ed site can’t have an editorial stance, or even that it’s not meant to be an apparent stance here at THINK (although it is not explicit), but it does raise the question of propaganda.

The site is rife with NBC News and MSNBC contributors and hosts. They write opinions here and then provide analysis on air. Colby Hall wrote Tuesday at Mediaite about the assembly line at Fox, in which an idea can originate in their opinion programming, get touted by the GOP and Trump, and subsequently reported by the news anchors under the rubric of reporting on… well, the news.

With THINK, there is a different but still real assembly line process, as the site curates mostly liberal and leftist thought from people who also work for the news division. For example, NBC Legal Analyst Glenn Kirschner is a prolific opinion contributor at THINK, and then appears on NBC and MSNBC’s news programs as an analyst.

The biggest topics, though, aren’t the political but the social, which can be seen as a more subtle form of propaganda for one of the biggest holders of power in the country, as outlined above. In writing on feminism, abortion, the environment, the economy, healthcare … the idealogical bend in the site is unmistakable. No “climate deniers” or anti-abortion activists needed in that vaguely discernible stable of “regular” or staff contributors. On almost any other issue that could be considered policy or simply a “social” issue, it is on and to and for the left, not the right.

Perhaps NBC isn’t working as propaganda for a president (well, not this president anyway), but under the guise of a diverse and thriving community of hot takes designed to challenge what you think or avoid preaching to the choir, it is in practice rather deliberately promoting and publicizing a very particular political point of view.

If that is a topic this week, and it is, it shouldn’t just be Fox News getting the microscope.

[Featured Image via parody]

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