A Real Shill: The Nation’s Ari Melber


A few days ago, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor/publisher of The Nation and winner of #BiggestLiberalAsshole2012 Heat 5, tweeted this:

Erin Burnett should go work for the Goldman Sachs consulting group– or moonlight for them while she’s doing anchor duty on cable tv.

If CNN anchor Burnett knew or cared who the fuck vanden Heuvel is, she might well reply that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. After all, who’s the bigger fraud here: a former Goldman Sachs financial analyst doing news for CNN or the fabulously rich heir to a dirty fortune doing partisan hackery as left-wing politics? In any event, vanden Heuvel should be careful with spitballs aimed at corporate and finance industry hacks, considering some of the people who work for her. Like Ari Melber, for instance.

According to his bio in The Nation, Melber is the magazine’s “net movement correspondent, covering politics, law, public policy and new media.” What the bio doesn’t say is that Melber is also an associate at Cahill, Gordon & Reindell, a large Manhattan law firm catering to the corporate sector and Wall Street, where he is a protégé of CG&R partner Floyd Abrams.

Abrams is a free speech legend, most famously for defending the New York Times’ right to publish the Pentagon Papers. But Abrams is increasingly more famous for defending the First Amendment rights of corporations, joining with Kenneth Starr, for example, to shoot down the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill; arguing before the Supreme Court in support of Citizens United; and as counsel for Standard & Poor, defending that company’s deliberately inflated bond ratings as protected free speech. In a New York Times profile, Abrams was quite candid about this work:

People sometimes have views of what side of issues I should be on that have little to do with reality. I don’t spend my life simply working for the A.C.L.U.

We don’t know what role Melber played in Standard & Poor’s bid to secure a First Amendment right to commit fraud, but an internet search reveals that he has helped Abrams with another disreputable client, the Motion Picture Association of America, preparing briefs in support of copyright infringement legislation that has been universally condemned by human rights and free speech advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch.

Below are three letters Abrams and Melber prepared for members of Congress in support of the legislative bêtes noires of internet freedom advocates: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) and The Protect IP Act, the successor to COICA.

Abrams and Melber also represent Time Warner and The National Cable & Telecommunications Association. In July of last year, they petitioned the FCC to let expire, on First Amendment grounds, the access rules requiring large, program-producing cable companies to lease those programs to smaller companies. Later in the year the FCC did, in fact, let the rules expire in what was considered a big win for the cable giants and no one else.

So, is there anything wrong with a rising liberal personality moonlighting as an errand boy for corporate dirtbags, especially when one of the dirtbags is the MPAA and the rising personality bills himself as a ‘net movement correspondent’? Well, Melber seems to think so.

On the laughably high-minded and tellingly brief “Disclosures” page of his website, he states:

I think that disclosures can advance transparency and enable readers to factor in additional information when assessing a writer’s work

– but then further on he coyly says

I am a practicing attorney, and do not publicly comment on or write about my clients.

In fact, you can search his entire web site and not even find the name of the firm he works for. Nor will you find it in his Nation bio. When Melber plays the generic, mediagenic partisan Democrat on MSNBC, CNBC or CNN, it is invariably as ‘correspondent for The Nation’, not attorney for CG&R.

But, you may ask, does Melber actually lie about anything? Does he promote the interests of his clients through his ‘journalism’ ? Well, yes and no. You can look through Melber’s unbearably banal work for The Nation — which consists mostly of conformist, partisan fluff — and you won’t find one mention of SOPA, COICA,  Protect IP, or the Motion Picture Association of America. In other words, Melber’s clients are the beneficiaries of a helpful silence. Remember the huge web blackout to protest SOPA? The Nation’s ‘net movement correspondent’ didn’t write about it. Remember when former Senator and MPAA CEO Chris Dodd blasted congress people for taking MPAA money and not delivering votes? Melber didn’t write about that either.

Then there’s that partisan fluff, which is a client service in its own right. Abrams/Melber client Time Warner was among the largest donors to Obama’s 2012 campaign. So was Comcast, which in addition to being a member company of the group for which Abrams and Melber petitioned the FCC, also co-owns MSNBC and CNBC, where Melber is a paid contributor. Obama’s big contributors surely appreciate such radical left journalism as Obama Campaign Launches Sexy Lena Dunham Ad and Report: In the Debates, Romney Broke the Rules More Than Obama. Underwhelmed readers should at least be pleased that, according to his online Disclosures, Melber does ‘not make financial donations to political candidates’ nor ‘work or consult for political candidates.’

Ok so this guy’s a bad joke. But they’re all jokes, right? The whole Nation magazine/GE Comcast/MSNBC hack daisy chain? Well, mostly yeah – with maybe a handful of exceptions at The Nation lending legitimacy to the rest. But with Melber, who is a shill in the most literal, classic sense, the joke is particularly broad and particularly bad. If some people still don’t get it, it’s because they don’t want to.


Since this was first published almost a year ago, Melber has updated his Disclosures page with this:

From 2009 to 2013, I was a practicing attorney. I am not currently practicing law on behalf of any clients, and I generally refrain from publicly commenting on, or writing about, my former clients in my role as an anchor and writer.

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33 Responses to A Real Shill: The Nation’s Ari Melber

  1. Can you, at least, please spell KVH’s name correctly?!?

  2. Dirty says:

    Excellent work. This is much better than Ames’ S.H.A.M.E. project.

  3. John Halle says:

    That’s really quite good. Thanks.

  4. John Halle says:

    Also, it’s Jule Styne (not Jules Stein) and mob connections notwithstanding (don’t know about these) he is one of the better known songwriters of his generation-so would have been rolling in dough from residuals from these.

    • ohtarzie says:

      No, you’ve got the wrong guy. I have the right guy. Founder of MCA. Google before ‘splaining.

      Jules C. Stein on Wikipedia

      Glad I need not ask what possible relevance those royalties have.

      • John Halle says:

        Quite so. I’ve assumed it was the other guy all these years. And, as you say, quite likely he was mobbed up. Royalties coming in over the transom would make mob acquired lucre unnecessary-consistent with your point about KvdH vs. Erin Burnett above. All fortunes are, of course, based on crimes as Balzac says. Again, thanks. Good work.

  5. Kat says:

    Good stuff. His Nation pic is all studied casualness, while the mug presented on the Forward network brings to mind Charles Krauthammer.

  6. Kat says:

    Oh, and kind of an aside: the Lena Dunham ad piece– edgy!
    This part is great Dunham riffs that “your first time” should be with “someone who cares whether you get health insurance, and specifically whether you get birth control.” On Thursday night, that someone launched an overtly feminist attack on Republicans. Riding Air Force One en route to campaign events, President Obama told NBC News that Republicans’ recent remarks on abortion show that “you don’t want politicians, the majority of them male, making a series of decisions about women’s healthcare issues.
    Yes, would that include male politicians who permanently deny medicaid funding for abortion (something that was available in some places in the pre Roe era) and support parental notification for sales of plan B?

  7. The big problem I have with all these people, and it extends back to your Hayes piece, is that they were all “to the manor, born.” They all went to haughty-taughty private schools and such. I wonder how much time they spend with people that don’t have 7-figure, and up, net-worth.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Yeah, I completely agree and have thought about writing a follow-up piece to the same effect. Melber’s legal work is ALMOST, but not quite, beside the point. The class interests of both he and his cohorts temper their usefulness as critics of power, whether or not they are corporate errand runners on the side.

      The Nation, in particular, is just a hothouse of mostly white, mostly wealthy Ivy Leaguers. That this is not seen as a problem by most people, even their critics, is indicative of the extent to which class is just erased from American left politics.

      • I once tweeted at KVH and asked how non-wealthy interns were supposed to be able to afford to intern at a place like The Nation. I never got an answer back. Stuff like that really bothers me, Rich people can advocate policies that help middle and working class people out. They aren’t as interested in sharing actual, or perceived, power.

      • ohtarzie says:

        True about how they are unwilling to share power, but then, liberalism has never been about distributing power. Liberalism absorbs dissent on behalf of the status quo. At this point, they barely advocate policies “that help middle and working class people out”. They pay lip service and wring their hands theatrically every time the Democrats ‘capitulate.’ Ugh. Nothing good will come of it.

      • You know what I’d like to see? Hayes, or any of the MSNBC shows, have on Glen Ford, or anyone else from BAR. That would be interesting.

      • ohtarzie says:

        Yeah, but it won’t happen. Ford hates Obama and does not believe in voting. That’s just way off the reservation. The absence of people like him is by design. It’s not an oversight. I can see Hayes having him on once maybe to burnish his own cred and tightly controlling the segment. Ford and similar people periodically get used that way by Amy Goodman, who is another smooth operator. She invites some Obot on with them and lets the Obot bully their way through the conversation. This game is rigged. It’s a simulation. Not real. Don’t ever expect a leopard to change its spots.

      • Ouch! I thought Amy Goodman was better than that. Sadly, while DN! is available on cable where I live, it’s not on at a good time for me to watch regularly. I don’t think Ford is all that radical. He just sees the obvious. There is a reason why Bob Rubin(and his bag men like Geither) have the President’s ear. He, like Clinton, is just another servant of the plutocracy.

      • ohtarzie says:

        No Ford isn’t that radical when looking at the whole political spectrum. But disliking Obama from the left and opposing coalition with the Democratic Party are virtually unsayable.

    • Kat says:

      You get the feeling that sure, these folks will acknowledge that they’ve had some advantages but in their hearts they know that they are the cream that rises to the top.

      • Sure. Just look at guys like Yglesias and Ezra Klein. I just love how both are pretty damn stupid and yet get billed as wonks. Yglesias’ hobby horse was Michelle Rhee. Pretty disgusting from a guy who probably has never set foot in a public school, unless he was speaking at some college somewhere. And Klein? Treating the Zombie-eyed Granny-starver as a serious wonk even after Krgthulu debunked Ryan’s bullshit? Come on, man!!

      • ohtarzie says:

        So degrading that this is our intelligentsia. It’s horrible.

  8. Kat says:

    No shit, Phil. By Yglesias’s telling the real tragedy is that there simply aren’t enough ivy league graduates going into teaching. He seems to be under the impression that an ivy league education makes you qualified for just about any job.
    These people have all the fucking answers. I haven’t read Chris Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites but from what I’ve read about it he doesn’t really have a beef with the whole concept of meritocracy. (does he know the origins of the word?). What he wants is just better people telling you what to do.
    Bringing this back to KVH, this is perfectly illustrated by a tweet by her– Obama should appoint Mayor Bloomberg to a commission on gun control or some such nonsense. This is a guy who presides over a city with enormous gaps in wealth, but his greatest concern appears to be regulating the private behavior of citizens, for you know– their own good.

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  16. bucket head says:

    What a great piece. Not being among the greatly intellectual or savvy, most of us welcome reporting that shines light in dark spaces. I don’t know how you guys have the wherewithal and resources to manage such research. But I’m glad you do. Naming names, showing deeds. Snowden made such a promise. I just got more names here in ten minutes than years of MSM. So anyhoo… keep it up, and thanks.

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