New Shills Rising at MSNBC, Including Party Hack/Bankster pal Karen Finney

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks for the MSNBC Human Resources Department. Poor old Ed Schultz has been demoted, probably because he looks, sounds and acts way too much like the people who still rule the world. The rubes who watch MSNBC have made it clear that they’re not entirely unhappy with the status quo, but they want it tastefully appointed with youngsters, women, light-skinned African-Americans, and queers.

So the fat, old, white dude has surrendered his regular evening spot to the slim, young, white dude — Chris Hayes — in exchange for an unenviable 5:00-7:00 slot on Saturdays and Sundays.  Hayes’ old weekend show, Up, goes to Steve Kornacki, an openly gay senior writer at Salon, previously a co-host of The Cycle, and easily Hayes’ peer in yappy bloodlessness. Mediagenic ‘analyst’, SOPA lobbyist, and cable industry errand boy, Ari Melber will take Kornacki’s vacant seat. Finally, analyst Karen Finney, a career Democrat and communications consultant, will helm a new weekend show created just for her.

It’s interesting that so soon after all the fuss about MSNBC’s relentless pre-election shilling, Finney’s lengthy career with the Democratic Party barely raises an eyebrow.  Her service to the Party began in the Clinton White House, continued in communication work for various political campaigns and culminated in a four-year stint as a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. For MSNBC viewers — who dine on heady fare like whether Dear Leader’s visage should be carved into Mt. Rushmore and who troll the hapless Kornacki for saying ‘Obama’ instead of ‘President Obama’ — Finney’s long partisan resume is a feature, not a bug.

As I’ve said before, I don’t honestly care about the network’s more overtly partisan hacks, because the whole undertaking is so obviously a fraud. Marking some distinction between Finney and Melber, for instance, because Finney made her bones under official party auspices, while Melber merely lobbies against internet freedom, is part of the scam. Indeed, you could regard the increasingly blatant partisanship of MSNBC as something of a cover for the corporate and financial interests that dominate both parties and the media.  So it’s fitting that emerging star Finney has her hands in all of it, having parlayed her campaign skills into campaigning for corporate and financial interests.

As an African-American woman and a board member of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Finney embodies the mythically crucial difference between good oligarchy and bad. As a corporate consultant, she embodies the more obviously crucial similarity. In her online bios, she touts her work for the textbook company Scholastic as somehow indicative of a commitment to education, but not her work for clients like the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), Wall Street’s largest trade and lobbying group.

SIFMA made headlines a few years ago when a leaked internal memo revealed its aggressive campaign to counter the ‘lynch mob’ arising from a ‘populist overreaction’ to the financial crisis.  As Bloomberg reported at the time:

The meeting minutes and staff-written papers…outline the program crafted by polling, lobbying, and public relations companies paid at least $85,000 a month.

According to Bloomberg, leading recipients of the largesse included consultants from both sides of the political ‘divide’, including Michele Davis, a former employee of Henry Paulson and later a communications specialist for the Romney campaign; Conrad Belcher, a strategist and pollster for Obama’s 2008 campaign; and Republican strategist Conrad Black.

Karen Finney joined this collegially bipartisan collection of highly paid image renovators at least twice, once in 2010 and again last year, as a panelist at SIFMA’s annual meetings. Considering that her co-panelists included Black in 2010 and Belcher in 2012, there is no reason to assume that Finney’s participation ends with her speaking duties any more than it did for her co-panelists, though it would certainly be damning enough if it did.

An MSNBC ‘analyst’ such as Finney is essentially a part-time journalist, so standards about disclosure and speaking fees apply to her too. The Wall Street Journal forbids its journalists from accepting fees at all. The New York Times only allows it for talks at universities and for certain non-profits. Reuters only allows compensation for travel and accommodation. By any standard, compensated work for a large Wall Street lobbying group seems far beyond the pale. The reasons for this are obvious. Speaking fees are, at the very least,  bribes. That Finney got invited to SIFMA’s biggest annual event twice in three years demonstrates that she didn’t do anything to piss Wall Street off  in her role as an MSNBC analyst; or columnist for Politico, the Hill or Huffington Post; or as a political consultant. As a professional message manager with deep connections in government,  she may have done a whole lot to help.

Naturally I don’t expect anyone with any influence to take up the matter of an extremely well-connected journalist selling advice and possibly influence to lynch-mob afflicted banksters.  Almost all public lefts are still incorrigibly wedded to their tactical alliance with the DNC, and to careers reliant on swapping credibility with shinier, more corrupt enterprises. When I revealed Ari Melber’s connections to cable monopolists and SOPA, the only writers who took an on-the-record interest were two junior members of the Jacobin clique — Elias Isquith and Shawn Gude — who were concerned about my ‘bullying’ lack of ‘civility’ with regard to poor Melber, and who ridiculed me for calling the relationship between The Nation and MSNBC a ‘hack daisy chain.’  You would think someone like Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights — an organization that allegedly opposes SOPA — would be inclined to raise questions about Melber’s day job. But instead, he did this: 


Other writers, including some fairly big names, expressed concerns about Melber off the record, but were unwilling to say or write anything about it. Melber and his Nation boss Katrina vanden Heuvel ignored repeated requests for comment. At the time I was disappointed. Now I think it’s for the best. It shows, beyond all doubt, how deep the rot goes. Occasional moments of courage and integrity only confuse things.


UPDATE: Vince Warren has replied on Twitter to repeated requests for comments on Ari Melber’s SOPA lobbying:


Gotta wonder why someone would reply simply to evade the big question, and with no more than a mischaracterization of something else. I never said these people were ‘wedded to the DNC’; I said they were wedded to their tactical alliance with it. The clear implication to anyone reading (as opposed to name searching), was that this tactical alliance puts them on easy terms with MSNBC generally and sleazeballs like Ari Melber in particular.

Must be nice to have a career where missing the point of everything is a plus. I do, however, appreciate the implied concession to my point about careerism, though.

Read over this post from the MSNBC website, in which Warren and other civil libertarians helpfully offload Obama’s atrocious civil liberties record onto Congressional Republicans and his dedication to other pressing matters. I’d say Warren is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.


UPDATE 2: My pal Walter Glass has made an excellent comment regarding Finney’s work for Scholastic. Some opportunistic sleaze here, also, it seems. She’s a real winner.

Recommended reading:

The Cable News Heroism of Chris Hayes

A Real Shill: The Nation’s Ari Melber

The Fraudulent Dissent of Lawrence O’Donnell

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22 Responses to New Shills Rising at MSNBC, Including Party Hack/Bankster pal Karen Finney

  1. Ned Ludd says:

    Thanks for your posts. Right now, you are the most vocal person exposing the corporate stooges within the U.S.’s putative “left”. Greenwald, for either tactical or ideological reasons, is unwilling to call out someone like Melber; as you pointed out on Twitter, Melber is good on his coverage of drones. But it leaves a void, especially since the shiny baubles of cable-TV invites and name-dropping mesmerize the careerists who dominate liberal & left discourse in the U.S.

  2. ohtarzie says:

    Melber’s occasional forays into things like drones function only as a dissident gloss on his service to big business. He articulates it when it matters the least. Everything feeds the fraud. These people are toxic, regardless of what they do in their good moments.

  3. ralphiesmom says:

    I used to hate it when people said “I don’t have a TV.” It sounded so elitist and snobby. But now I’m one of them so I’m not familiar with any of your subjects except Chris Hayes. Still, I’m grateful for your digging and exposure of the continued toadying of faux-left journos and their enablers.

  4. The cowardice of big name writers unwilling to address Melber’s issues on the record, the silence of vanden Heuvel and Melber himself, and the substance-free tone trolling from Isquith and Gude make a prima facie case — as if more evidence were needed — that your assessment of the depraved character of leading liberal lights is spot on. I can no longer bear to call myself a liberal any more, as I apparently share so little common ideological and moral ground with these people that I would not want to be associated with them under any circumstances.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Thanks Iris. I do make a rather strong case, don’t I? This is really my most skeptical and disgusted post yet. And, as if any more evidence were needed, Vince Warren is now being an evasive and dismissive dick on Twitter.

      Interesting that you say ‘leading liberal lights’, because what’s so striking to me is that people like Vince Warren, and to an even greater extent, people like Isquith and Gude, are virtual nobodies. They’re aspirants with ostensibly more radical politics. Most people have never heard of them, but in my experience, they do more of the hippie punching for the mainstream than any of the people higher up, whose MO is generally just to stonewall.

      • Exactly: Warren, Isquith and Gude are merely aspiring junior doucheweasels, proving their bona fides to the establishment with every hippie punch. When they advance to The Nation or MSNBC, then they can stonewall and ignore the left like everyone else in the Democratic machine. Which is to say, color me shocked — SHOCKED!!!11!! — that Warren is now being an evasive and dismissive dick on Twitter. He’ll fit right in.

        Greenwald has written a great deal about the revolving door between DC and corporate America (Goldman Sachs and Treasury, retired generals with undisclosed ties to defense contractors parading around cable news as independent analysts, nepotism among DC media elites, etc.). In a sense Finney and Melber are emblematic of the typical MO, just more fodder for the same tired story Greenwald has been telling for many years. But that’s just it, isn’t it? When media critics lose their outrage at all of this corruption and rot because it’s now become so standard it’s boring — or worse, because they fear professional consequences for criticizing those targets — they need to hang it up and go home.

        I’m not necessarily directing this at Greenwald — he has done extraordinary work exposing and calling attention to media corruption, and it’s not even his primary beat. I’m saying this shit needs to be called out, loudly, every single time.

  5. walterglass4 says:

    I liked your original language about Scholastic better (“somehow indicative”). In many respects her work here is potentially as destructive as her work with SIFMA. Her Scholastic job description ( indicates gleeful participation in the post-NCLB/RTTP bonanza of education resource and technology companies fleecing school districts.

    Just as one example – per federal funding guidelines, 45 states have now made use of Common Core curriculum mandatory in their schools. And you’ll never guess who has just the materials that fit these standards! There are obviously a handful of companies other than Scholastic who are in on this, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that the federal government is backstopping Scholastic’s profit margins with compulsory transfers of public money. And Finney was presumably at least somewhat involved in the strategizing around this.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Walter you always say the darndest things. You’re right, my original language is better and I will update accordingly. I think I use too many words and load up my sentences too much and sometimes addressing this sacrifices precision. Your remarks on Scholastic are excellent. Will mention them in an update.

      This raises an issue that has been lingering in the back of my head since I wrote this post: which is that people who have spent their entirely life uncritically working for profit-seeking enterprises are not at all well-equipped to do advocacy journalism. To me it’s as damning as a lifetime in party politics. Professional message managers like Finney, whose bread and butter really is feathering the nests of corporations and financiers, are particularly ill-suited.


      • walterglass4 says:

        Agreed – and there’s so little difference between shilling in the private and public sectors at this point as to be indistinguishable.

        On second thought my Common Core example probably isn’t totally solid, as one could counter-argue that things have always worked this way and Scholastic is just adapting to public policy, but it certainly narrows the options and it would be pretty naive to assume that Scholastic wasn’t consulted on some level in the drafting of the standards.

        Great piece, obviously. I’m with Iris in finding it unbelievably frustrating that big names came to you off the record to complain about Melber. I can understand not commenting on the piece because you don’t give a shit about Melber (I didn’t really know who he was before your piece), but to have him bother you and not say so publicly seems pretty weak.

      • ohtarzie says:

        ” I can understand not commenting on the piece because you don’t give a shit about Melber (I didn’t really know who he was before your piece), but to have him bother you and not say so publicly seems pretty weak.”

        Well, it wasn’t quite like that. It’s that I had solicited their input and they conceded that, yes, it’s problematic but, no, I won’t go on the record. But I don’t give them a pass for ‘not giving a shit about Melber’. A non-disclosing, anti-SOPA lobbyist doing advocacy journalism as a ‘net movement correspondent’ for The Nation and as an ‘analyst’ on cable news should at least interest FAIR. When Greenwald goes off on his diatribes about MSNBC, he could perhaps suggest that there are other things as worrying as their blatant partisanship. He didn’t comment at all though I had pressed him a couple times. As your comments about Scholastic suggest, this whole business/lobbying –> journalism trajectory is extremely problematic. It’s ignored except at its most blatant. If media critics don’t find it interesting, they shouldn’t be doing media criticism.

      • walterglass4 says:

        Good point. I was applying an enthusiast standard (which is still highly suspect) to people who’ve built a brand off of calling this exact sort of thing out. Which makes their silence even more infuriating.

      • ohtarzie says:

        I also just realized that my recounting was not quite accurate. In addition to speaking to people directly, I was tipped that my blog post about Melber was making the rounds of a large news enterprise – which I can’t name – and that people were infuriated by what I had disclosed. So that was one case where people took an interest without my prodding and still said nothing. My feeling is people should have at least applied enough pressure, if only behind the scenes, to force disclosure in his bios and on his website. But let’s not forget, he’s a wealthy New Yorker, working for an extremely powerful law firm as the protege of a Free Speech god. I would say his path will always be clear as his star rises and rise it will.

  6. alhambralahomo says:

    Welcome to the fucking enlightenment. And Enlightenment. The air is a little cooler and fresher up here but the wages are potentially lower.
    Also, you will find it generally difficult to consider most people friends, even when they are friendly.

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  9. gary prunty says:

    I find it so alarming that most of the people here are so in the Obama camp that transparency is a non-factor. I liked the things that Obama said he stood for but he seems to be the biggest trick we ever experienced. With this, people willing to engage in truth to the people would be the correct placements. Now it is becoming a left wing fox.

  10. gary prunty says:

    Keith Olberman, Ed Schultz, Chris Mathews, and Rachel Maddow were perfect for truth telling. There will be a day when you will ask “what happened”. The republicans run it all!

  11. ohtarzie says:


    You’re very confused.

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  14. mardy says:


    The more I read your blog the more I become disillusioned. What you’ve written here about Vince Warren is shocking to me.

    I’d have to agree that your posts are VERY hard to argue against. People have to tie themselves in intellectual knots to refute what you write. And it fucking scares them. You’re catching people in their rawest forms, in their environments and everything is recorded for those who *want* to see it.

    Ironically if you had Greenwald’s audience (and by extension his influence) you’d be VERY dangerous.

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