On the last day of June, shortly after three Israeli teens had been kidnapped and Palestine was about to be attacked, Rachel Maddow ran a three-minute segment on the developing issues in the region. The short piece ran at the very end of her show, but she explained to her viewers that, “No one quite knows what daybreak is going to bring. We’ll keep you apprised of developments.”
This turned out to be something of an inaccurate statement, especially if she was not just referring to her network, MSNBC, but specifically referencing her program, The Rachel Maddow Show. Maddow hasn’t mentioned the conflict once since touching upon it fleetingly last month; not one word about dead Palestinian civilians, not even Muhammed Abu Khdeir, the boy who was burned to death by Israeli vigilantes. Since the ascent of Barack Obama, MSNBC has been defined by its liberal outlook and, like many American progressives, they frequently come up short when it comes to the subject of Israel. However, Maddow’s silence is especially glaring, even by the standards of MSNBC: Joy Reid did a segment on Tariq Abu Khdeir, the Florida teen, who was beaten by Israeli police while protesting his cousin’s murder and Chris Hayes analyzed the vast differential between civilian deaths.
During the first week of July, Maddow’s producer Steve Benen defended the show’s lack of coverage, to journalist Zaid Jilani, by citing that one three-minute clip and pointing out that the staff had been off for the holiday. However, their return from Independence Day celebrations yielded no new analysis of America’s favorite client state. Maddow spent the week covering things like John McCain confusing two people with similar names, the Republican National Convention “jinx”, and, of course, Chris Christie. These are all staples of the MSNBC experience, red meat for an Obama-supporting demographic that loves to hear about how silly the GOP is and the only people who don’t groan when Ed Schultz conducts audience polls like, “Are Republicans Angier than Two Black Labs Fighting Over a Toy?” Of course, one of the problems with trusting MSNBC, as some sort of viable alternative to other corporate media, is that this entire act is frequently trotted out in lieu of developing stories that transcend the contours of America’s rotted two-party system. So, viewers hear about Sarah Palin’s latest wacky observation rather than hear something about Chelsea Manning, Obama breaking a strike in Philly, or the demolition of Palestinian homes. During an appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher, Maddow defended MSNBC’s unrelenting coverage of The Christie Bridge Scandal, which has become the liberal Benghazi, explaining that she was, “totally obsessed with the Christie story, unapologetically.” When, the admittedly ridiculous, Charles Cooke suggested that, perhaps, MSNBC was focusing on the Governor of New Jersey so much because he might be the Republican presidential candidate in 2016, Maddow mocked the idea as if it was one of the craziest things she had ever heard.
Maddow’s snark is symbolic. Unlike Fox News, which seems to be stocked with a decent amount of snake oil salesmen, the MSNBC staff are some of the least cynical people working in media today. Last summer, I wrote a book on the politics of the network and, if there was one consistent element that popped up with each personality I researched, it was their unrelenting belief that they can work on any story they want. Rachel Maddow really thinks she has the freedom to cover anything in Israel if she wanted to and, if she did decide to cover it, she really believes she would produce something completely objective. People who think Maddow is being censored, on the subject of Israel, have probably never heard her pontificate on the subject. For a good crash-course on her perception of the conflict, watch her intro to a story from 2009:
“You undoubtedly saw the headlines today: ‘Israel Launches Third Day of Attacks on Gaza,’ It is a tiny country, a Jewish state, right smack-dab in the middle of the Arab world. Surrounded on all sides by Arab nations, many of whom do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel was, in a sense, conceived by war. A day after it declared its independence in May, 1948, it was attacked by five neighboring countries, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. What followed were decades of endless wars, fought on and near Israeli soil. A war with Egypt in 1956, another with Egypt and Jordan and Syria in 1967, another with Egypt and Syria in 1973, one with Lebanon in 1982, and so on, and so on, and so on. And on top of various military entanglements with its neighbors, Israel has also been embroiled in various uprisings within its own borders, among the Palestinian people. You all recall that famous handshake, at the White House, right? Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, agreeing to a Declaration of Principles, that said the Palestinians would be allowed to govern themselves in two areas, in the West Bank, a swath of land along Israel’s border with Jordan, and another tiny sliver of land along the Mediterranean Sea, that’s known as the Gaza Strip. The war being fought at this hour is in that little sliver of land, the Gaza Strip—it’s actually only about twice the size of Washington D.C.
Now, Israel withdrew from that land in 2005, but they still control the airspace, the territorial waters, and the Gaza-Israeli border. They’re currently [uh] enforcing an embargo on the Gaza Strip. Once the Palestinians [aggrieved some uh] achieved some degree of independence there, they did what independent people do—what the U.S. in fact, encouraged them to do. They held elections. And in those elections, the ruling nationalist party, Yassar Arafat’s party, Fatah, was defeated soundly by Hamas. Now, Fatah was no League of Women Voters, but say what you will about them, they did begrudgingly accept, theoretically, Israel’s right to exist. Hamas? Not so much. Not so much at all. The charter of Hamas explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel. [Uh] Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union. The net result of that election for Israel? Yet another neighbor bent on its complete destruction. Israel says rockets and mortars lobbed from Gaza into Israel killed nine Israeli civilians since the beginning of this year. A shaky ceasefire between Gaza and Israel that had been brokered by Egypt, that expired just a little more than a week ago. On Saturday then, there was a surprise, broad-daylight, coordinated air-assault, by the Israeli military, on what Israel says were military targets in Gaza.
Another round of headlines that scream, ‘Chaos in the Middle East,’ ‘Chaos in the Middle East Erupts Again.’ More than 300 dead on the Palestinian side in the last three days. Three confirmed dead so far on the Israeli side. Israel’s critics decry a ‘disproportionate response’ to the rocket fire, and emboldened Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei says that any Muslim who dies in defense of Gaza would be deemed a martyr. Israel’s defenders decry the Hamas government’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and, of course, the unprovoked missile fire into southern Israel. Today, Israel’s United Nations ambassador said the goal of Israel’s military offensive is to, quote, ‘destroy completely’ Hamas.
Meanwhile, Palestinian rocket fire into Israel continued, despite the massive Israeli military attack. Now, as President Bush refuses to interrupt his last vacation as President to say anything about the Middle East tinderbox he purports to focus on so intently, is there hope that our new Presidential leadership in our country could make a difference there? Or [i-is] is this a situation in which there will always be violence which precludes a political solution—and without a political solution, we can’t ever have anything but more violence? Do you think that our kids, and their kids, and their kids will inexorably, inevitably, read the same headlines from the Middle East that we do now, and that we have for so many years?
There are many problems with Maddow’s historical analysis here, but let’s start with, perhaps, the biggest one: she doesn’t mention the United States government’s connection to Israel, or the billions of dollars, in American taxpayer money, that Israel receives every year. Israel’s occupation of Palestine is, frequently, covered in mainstream media like it’s a confounding puzzle that can’t possibly be solved, but yanking United States support for it is, quite obviously, the logical starting point. The fact Maddow stays within this narrative is interesting, as she is the author a book critiquing America’s devotion to war, but don’t read Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, expecting to hear much about Israel: the country is barely mentioned and the longest passage, has nothing to do with Palestine, but concerns its connection to Reagan’s Iran policy.
Maddow also references the election of Hamas as if it occurred in a vacuum, with no mention of fact the organization was incubated by Israel or any comment regarding why their message resonated with the citizens of Palestine. She doesn’t point out that Hamas has, previously, sought to negotiate a state along the 1967 borders, contrary to popular belief. She doesn’t say anything about how Palestinian leadership has colluded with Israel and, continually, sold out the population.
Maddow’s concluding speculation, that this conflict might rage on for future generations, presents the situation as nothing more than a senseless cycle of violence, perpetrated by both sides, possibly for the rest of our lives. But there’s nothing senseless about it, if one understands the basic principles of US hegemony or the idea of Zionism. Palestine isn’t a puzzle that can only be comprehended by policy experts, it’s a country being subjected to daily brutalities and an international scandal far more disturbing than any nefarious traffic jam in New Jersey.