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Is Rachel Maddow Going Easy on MSNBC Advertisers? [UPDATED]

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Do paid ads on a channel chill free speech?
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Did Rachel Maddow just open a new door in her reporting? This past Wednesday, a Rachel Maddow segment exposed the campaign against GMO food labeling in Washington state's referendum, an effort that narrowly won despite what was earlier measured at two-to-one support in favor of labeling genetically modified food.

Monsanto, Coke, Pepsi, Kraft, DuPont and various retail associations poured $22 million - all from out-of-state coffers - into the campaign against Referendum 522, dwarfing the $6 million raised by food labeling advocates. This is a repeat of the same cash avalanche that killed GMO transparency in California last year. But close watchers of Maddow might notice she has rarely weighed in on the GMO foods debate before this.

We may never know why Maddow doesn't report more often on Monsanto's dark manipulations, but one guess is because MSNBC's food industry sponsors have a vested interest in keeping Maddow focused on other subjects. The story-behind-the-story can never be divulged, thanks to standard industry practices like non-disclosure agreements, but in media, sometimes non-reporting on a subject gives us insight too. 

MSNBC's Tug-Of-War

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Maddow paints some of her own advertisers in a bad light, and in turn, their advertising on her show contradicts her. For example, Maddow was way in front of the rest of the media during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe, showing how BP misled us on the extent of the spill, and used toxic chemical dispersants to make the gigantic oil plumes less visible. But today, we can see BP ads air on her show, promising that the clean up is going awesome and that BP is committed to the people and environment, (even as they doggedly resist paying reparations in court).

Another everyday advertiser in Maddow's breaks are spots placed by the American Petroleum Institute that portray hydraulic fracturing as safe, secure and under close 24-hour monitoring. But MSNBC's steady diet of industry cash collides awkwardly with Maddow's coverage of hydrofracking. She has aired multiple segments exposing the dangers and manipulations of the industry. 

Modified Broadcasts: Can Commercial TV Objectively Report on the National Food Fight?

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Even more absent on Maddow's TV show is reporting on the great GMO food debate. I perked up Wednesday as she approached it sideways, in a report more focused on massive corporations outspending the grassroots in Washington state. Seems the $16 million disparity in yet another GMO labeling referendum trumped whatever has kept Rachel so off the topic to date, although too late to affect the outcome.

Perhaps the issue is gaining importance? Several states remain poised to introduce similar bills, spotlighting Obama's broken campaign promise to label GMO foods, and his appointment of Monsanto executives to top posts in the FDA and agricultural trade office. 

Of late a different Rachel, Rachel Parent, a fourteen year old anti-GMO activist has been gaining attention for going toe-to-toe with a wealthy industry supporter on TV. She handed the guy his shill-happy spleen in a now-viral video. Because it's less corrupt Canadian television, the public was able to benefit from such a discourse. 

Back home, it seems the "sales" division at MSNBC has never offered any of their many food industry clients a chance to debate labeling with Maddow during her program. Here MSNBC's weekend host Melissa Harris-Perry took on GMOs, but was told by a panelist that the science on the matter is settled, despite a significant network of European scientists disagreeing. Monsanto would be proud.

The Rachel Maddow Difference 

I would argue Rachel Maddow is the most well-researched nightly anchor on cable, bravely exposing astroturfers and their powerful dark money sugar daddies. She is a without doubt a liberal/progressive partisan, but is also a paragon of how to make an argument following strict journalistic standards. Her storytelling is accented with humor and history, providing background (her famous "set ups") that offer sorely needed education for viewers.

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In her delivery, she has taken cues from right wing counterparts like Sean Hannity, who uses repetition to hammer points home, ofttimes rephrasing one statement five times in different ways to make sure the audience absorbs it. But unlike Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or Fox, who disdain fact checking in a constant stream of provable deceit, Ms. Maddow is quick to offer retractions in any instance she gets something wrong. Her "Department of Corrections" feature often adds fascinating follow-ups to her reports.

Maddow's targets are chiefly Republican, but she has also skewered Democrats like Obama on a host of issues. Maddow questioned the President's Afghanistan policy when few TV shows were. The President even summoned Maddow for an off-the-record lunch the day after she derided our debt-fueled quagmire in the "graveyard of empires". That next evening, Maddow lambasted the war policy unabated, pointing out that Afghanistan would never be fixable without a functional judiciary or credible local authorities. 

Maddow has grilled Obama administration officials like Richard Holbrooke, Susan Rice, Jeh Johnson, Lisa Jackson and any other "get" she could hit with tough questions. Alas, her invitations to Republican figures go ever unanswered, following the epic fail by Rand Paul. Yet Maddow still notes how she always contacts them for interviews, sometimes pleading over the air.

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(OpEdNews Contributing Editor since October 2006) Inner city schoolteacher from New York, mostly covering media manipulation. I put election/finance reform ahead of all issues but also advocate for fiscal conservatism, ethics in journalism and (more...)

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