MSNBC Reporter Tony Dokoupil Explains Why His Profession Is Incompetent And Untrustworthy


On his MSNBC show “Last Word,” host Lawrence O’Donnell expressed surprise that Wisconsin radio personality Charlie Sykes, who conducted a tough interview with Donald Trump this  week, was so much more aggressive that the softball  mainstream media interviewers.

His guest, MSNBC reporter Tony Dokoupil, who is assigned the 2016 campaign beat,  explained that Sykes had done a “one and done” style interview with Trump, which, he said,  journalists who want to have access to Trump over the long haul cannot afford to do.

“People who are on the beat, people who work for our network, they have to keep that relationship going for a long, long time,” Dokoupil said. “Charlie did not have that burden.”

O’Donnell was shocked—shocked!—at this statement. “Well, I don’t think the fact that you have to cover Donald Trump means that you have to then play softball with him so that you can guarantee he will speak to you another time,” he said. “Once the mission of the interview is to get the next interview with the same person, we know how soft that interview is going to be.”

This is hilarious coming from O’Donnell, a blazing partisan who has barely given a tough interview to a Democrat or progressive politician in his life. But I digress.

Dokoupil had committed the cardinal sin of speaking the truth, and it explains a lot. Steve Kroft had essentially made the same confession a couple of years ago when he said that President Obama was willing to do interviews for “60 Minutes” because he knew they would be “fair.” (That was also hilarious, because “fair” is a standard “60 Minutes” has never applied to politicians and leaders it wanted to exhibit in a harsh light. Sorry, digressing again.) The soft-ball approach certainly explains why so many reporters refuse to challenge Trump, and Trump’s boycott and attacks on Fox’s Megyn Kelly for daring to challenge him made explicit the conditions that Dokoupil felt were implied. When ratings are driven by which talking head show gets the falshiest guests, of course most interviewers avoid the “one and done” approach. Is it cowardly? Yes. Does it serve the public interests? No. Does it make lying, misrepresentation and an absence of integrity easy, painless and effective for Trump, Clinton, Obama, Cruz, Sanders, etc., etc.? Sure it does. It also undermines democracy, and is a disgraceful breach of journalism’s obligation to view the public, not its leaders and powerbrokers, as its only constituency.

Would an ethical, trustworthy professional allow this? No, but journalism hasn’t been ethical, trustworthy or professional for a very long time, if ever. For example, the Guardian reported German historian Harriet Scharnberg’s claims  this week that the AP made a mutually beneficial pact with the Hitler regime in order to ensure access to Germany throughout the Holocaust and World War II. The deal had the Associated Press promising to abide by  the Schriftleitergesetz, or editor’s law, agreeing not to publish anything that could be “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home.” .

I’m sure Lawrence O’Donnell is shocked at this, too.

14 thoughts on “MSNBC Reporter Tony Dokoupil Explains Why His Profession Is Incompetent And Untrustworthy

  1. This certainly explains in bold print the disappearance of the follow-up question, doesn’t it?

    Interviewer: [Asks a question].

    Interviewee: [Reads a talking point then another, neither of which are responsive to the question].

    Interviewer: [Asks a different question].

    Interviewee: [See Interviewee entry above and repeat].

    Interviewer: “Thank you very much [Interviewee], it’s always great to have you on the show.”

    Interviewee: “It’s always a pleasure.”

    Break to commercial.

    The Fourth Estate. What a joke. We need to come up with a new name for the Press. I’m nominating “The Vaunted Republican Guard.” Remember Saddam Hussein’s crack troops? Hah.

    • Too many would interpret Republican Guard as being a reference to the G.O.P. instead of the American Republican Party. We could call them the Ministry of Truth. We could even shorten it to Minitru!

      • I second the motion to use the term “Minitrue.”

        Except, on second thought, that is too kind, because it implies that somehow, truth matters to the “ministers.” (We know – or should know – they are slaves, or at best, helpless tools, virtual bots, useful idiots, desperately in need of employment and public affirmation of relevance.)

        What we have now are legions of propaganda broadcasters, or what I call propcasters. They are a step up from the old Soviet Union readers, in that they do more than merely read a party line to the rest of the proletariat: They each play a part, as expected, to manufacture, drive, and sustain the monopoly on narratives that their orthodoxy demands for the sake of their survival. They are self-organized well enough by way of overwhelmingly leftist-statist ideological purity and rigidly enforced groupthink. But they are further homogenized, disciplined and sustained by additional forces in the society that tend toward establishment of monopolies: the Democrat Party, along with its principal donors and sympathizing pressure groups; the academic-indoctrination complex; the celebrity-entertainment-indoctrination complex; the virtual denomination of nationwide virtual mega-churches of wealthy-enough, advocacy-and-litigation-focused not-for-profit corporations, and a large number of for-profit mega-corporations with their huge and virtually irresistible commercial revenue leverage.

        Truth is secondary to winning hearts and minds. The propcasters know they are at war, total war, and in war, anything goes in order to win; the ends justify the means. Thus truth is the first casualty. They know they are the “tail” in the perfect position (in this society, so far) to wag the dog. Most of them probably recognize the vulnerability of their positions, and thus side with the most authoritarian forces in order to appease and court favor, for the sake of job and career security. Such positioning protects their flanks from the powers, wiles and fury of an ever increasingly authoritarian government; they go along to get along. Woodwarding-and-Bernsteining must be limited to that which the prevailing forces approve of.

        Across the ethically desertified society of Ameri-la-la-la-la-la-rica, the fruitless plain, there might be small oases where something like journalism is still practiced, and where ideological diversity actually enhances true journalistic performance while compelling and incentivizing rejection of any trend toward propcasting. Might be. But the money in propcasting is just too big now for such oases to avoid being dried-out and burned up.

        There is thus no “way out” for the society. It is ensnared, or rather, its people have ensnared themselves, aboard a rocketing train to ruin. Only the total collapse of the authoritarian order will afford the slightest future opportunity for some propcasters – a very, very small number – to escape their ethical fog bank, recognize their previous complicity in nurturing nationwide badthink, and dare once again to work as something akin to journalists.

  2. Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted that 9/11 was an inside job and challenged Tag Romney to a fistfight on camera. The man has zero credibility. I only wish Tag had tuned him up.

  3. Do you think that if journalists decided tomorrow to behave ethically and commit to doing real interviews that the interview pool would dry up, or would politicians just adjust to the new paradigm?

    • Access would dry up, and so would the journalistic talent pool, at least for a while. The sector has it pretty cushy at the moment and a lot of reporters are content to fawn over officials they agree with anyway seven years out of eight and just take one side over the other in the eighth. Eight years is a long period in one’s professional life to develop bad habits and let one’s work ethic go soft. By the same token the Democratic Party is quite content to allow access to reporters they know are totally loyal and will write puff positive pieces about them. It’s a really good arrangement.

      I’m sure there are reporters out there who would love nothing more than to play Woodward and Bernstein and bring down an administration, but only a Republican one. Some, who started after 2004, might not “get” that actually getting to the point where you are in a position to be the scrappy cub or relentless veteran reporter who “speaks truth to power” and either confronts the dangerous demagogue with facts that shoot him down or exposes the official dirty dealings requires actual work. It also requires a high tolerance for frustration…leads that don’t pan out, sources that turn out not to be credible, not to mention that those engaged in dirty dealings don’t usually conveniently leave “smoking guns” to be found easily.

      A new paradigm is unlikely to be needed unless and until the White House flips. At that point a whole new generation of reporters will need to relearn their craft, from the bottom up.

    • Yes I think if journalists *as a whole* did the right thing, we’d get better leadership because the rocks stars would be weeded out.

      But the journalists aren’t going to. They believe in the Leftist view of America and will do everything to support it. That they go soft on Trump only indicates they think he’s a good thing to allow to continue in his efforts to wreck the Republican Party.

  4. Lawrence O’Donnell is an embarrassment to journalism, as are most of the bozos on MSNBC. Most of the news media are pretty abysmal, though.

    Yet, I can’t quite wrap my feeble brain around Fox’s evening shows. During the Trump – Kelly kerfuffle, I did not understand why O’Reilly, Hannity (who we all know is a bonehead), and even the people on Fox Business didn’t take him to task. Aside from insulting Megan Kelly, Trump openly and notoriously declared war on any media critical of him. Yet, O’Reilly whole-heartedly courted him, to the point of asking Trump if O’Reily’s questions were fair to the candidate. What does that say about the Fox dynasty’s news culture where their headliners would throw a colleague under the proverbial bus to get the next scoop?


    • Yes, Fox should have said, “you don’t want us, we don’t want you.” Trump has gotten so much free press from Fox. Of course, you don’t want to ignore him, a la Huffington Post, but you do want to say that it’s all or nothing: “you either put up with the hard questions, or you don’t get any softball questions either-you don’t get anything.” Fox should have boycotted Trump in this way. Trump needs coverage just as much as Fox needs access. Make it a two-way street and politicians will have to oblige.

      • Agreed. Yet, Mighty Bill jumped right in after Trump insulted Kelly, giving softball questions. I imagine Kelly was furious, “No spin my eye!”. It showed what Bill is all about, no? Fox aside, I don’t remember too many other news people from other networks running to her defense, either. I don’t recall Don Lemons, Anderson Cooper, or Jorge Ramos telling Trump (or any other politicos, for that matter) that Kelly will be treated with respect or else. The whole lot of them show their true colors.


  5. Interesting quote I saw just a few days ago:
    “I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.”
    —Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005), job application letter by the 21-year-old future gonzo journalist to the Vancouver Sun, 1958

    • Even if journalists were somehow magically cured, we’d still have “political science graduates” to deal with. It’s professional election consultants that have turned all pols into relentless talking point-spouting, poll- reading, focus group-employing, money-raising, zombie suck-ups.

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