Since 2020, Mehdi Hasan has received praise for being one of television’s most prominent Muslim journalists. He enjoyed a comfortable perch at MSNBC, where he hosted an eponymous weekend show that was catnip to people on the very online left. In early 2023, he published a book, Win Every Argument, that traded on his pugnacious on-air style to offer readers helpful nuggets of advice such as “The key benefit of knowing your audience is that it grants you the ability to modify the language you use to make your case.”
It turns out there was one argument he couldn’t win, and an audience he clearly did not get to know quite well enough: his MSNBC viewers, who consistently registered their lack of interest in his show with abysmal ratings. As the Washington Post reported, Hasan’s show “regularly came in third place among the 25-to-54 demographic most valued by advertisers and averaged just 532,000 total viewers in October.”
Those ratings got even worse after the horrific October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. As the New York Post reported, total viewers for MSNBC declined “24% for the four days between Oct. 7 and 10, compared to the same period the previous week,” while viewership rose steeply for FOX News and somewhat for CNN during the same period. This is perhaps because MSNBC hosts like Hasan refused to refer to Hamas killers as terrorists, preferring to call them “fighters” instead. They uncritically reported the Gaza Health Ministry’s false, inflated death tolls for Palestinians. And, in Hasan’s case, they frequently blamed Israel and its policies for the horrific attack on Israeli civilians—even going so far as to compare Israel’s response to Hamas to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These are all extremist views not shared by the vast majority of Americans.
According to Nielsen, by early November, Hasan’s show had only 37,000 viewers in the 25–54 demographic, and only 411,000 total. At the end of the month, MSNBC announced that it was canceling the show, citing a redesign of its weekend lineup; Hasan would continue at the network as an on-air analyst and occasional guest host of other shows.
Such cancellations happen all the time; cable news is a graveyard of badly performing shows whose hosts failed to right the ratings ship (even Laura Ingraham had a short-lived MSNBC show called Watch It! in the 1990s). The Washington Post claimed the cancellation prompted a “blizzard of backlash,” but this is an overstatement. What it produced was an entirely predictable response from the usual suspects in politics and mainstream media who insist that Hasan was fired because he was a Muslim speaking truth to power.
Representative Ilhan Omar, a member of the left-wing “Squad” notable for her frequent expressions of anti-Semitism (and a regular guest of Hasan’s), was crestfallen. Hasan is “one of the most brilliant and most prominent Muslim journalists in the U.S.,” she posted on X. “It is deeply troubling that MSNBC is canceling his show amid a rampant rise of anti-Muslim bigotry and suppression of Muslim voices.” Omar is, as usual, lying: It is anti-Semitism, not anti-Muslim bigotry, that is disturbingly rampant at the moment.
No matter. She had plenty of help attempting to make Hasan into a symbol of Islamophobia. Hasan’s program “has felt like an oasis on air and more needed than ever,” Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American activist, posted on X. “He should be amplified, not shut down.” For those unfamiliar with Erakat’s views, in 2022, as part of a program sponsored by anti-Israel group Nonviolence International, she said, “Palestinians will not attack Jews because they are Jewish” but “because they are their military occupiers and oppressors.” On another panel at the University of Illinois, she said, “Zionism is a bedfellow of Nazism and Anti-Semitism.”
Likewise, a representative of IfNotNow—whose main congressional supporter is Squad member Representative Rashida Tlaib, recently censured by the House for her anti-Semitism—called Hasan “a vital voice holding those in power to account, providing a space for those questioning unconditional U.S. support for Israel” and saw the cancellation “as part of the sharp rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate.” Kenneth Roth, former head of the moral rot that is the NGO Human Rights Watch, said the show’s cancellation was “outrageous” and suggested that Hasan was fired for being “an outspoken critic of Israel’s conduct in Gaza.”
Several media outlets argued that, although Hasan’s ratings were consistently poor, MSNBC should have kept him on air. Why? Because they considered him an effective Internet troll on behalf of the left. “Although Hasan was not among MSNBC’s top-rated stars, his segments often went viral on social media, where users celebrated his takedowns of conservatives such as former Trump adviser John Bolton and Israeli government adviser Mark Regev,” the Washington Post noted. This, according to mainstream media’s most elite, is a good thing: “As Americans get more and more of their news from shared posts from news show segments, Hasan’s online amplification of his interviews put him on the cutting edge of the future of journalism.”
Others lamented Hasan as a silenced voice of the people who challenge the Democratic Party establishment. Writing in the Nation, John Nichols, who co-authored a book with multimillionaire socialist Senator Bernie Sanders titled It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, clearly doesn’t understand that cable news is a business, not a nurturing nonprofit drum circle for talkers on the left. “We need more cable hosts who practice accountability journalism, in the way that Mehdi Hasan has so ably done,” Nichols wrote. Perry Bacon Jr. of the Washington Post lamented that the cancellation of Hasan’s show was evidence that even left-leaning MSNBC was becoming a tool of the Democratic Party “as opposed to a news outlet that upholds left-wing values.” He noted that MSNBC had given shows to several former Biden administration officials, including former press secretary Jen Psaki, who is described as taking “an increasingly prominent role” at the network.
How odd to read that by firing Hasan, MSNBC was losing a crucial, independent voice criticizing the administration. After all, in an interview earlier this year, the Guardian characterized Hasan as speaking about Joe Biden “with the zeal of a convert.” Hasan told the paper, “Joe Biden has done a lot, more than any president since LBJ, some might say since Roosevelt.” He added, “I never imagined I would say this—I was born in 1979—I think he’s the most impressive president of my lifetime.”
Hasan, who was born in the UK but became a U.S. citizen, cut his teeth at Al Jazeera and The Intercept—the first owned by the terror-sponsoring emirate of Qatar and the second a far-left website. He also expressed noxious views about non-Muslims and LGBTQ people. Resurfaced video from years ago shows a younger Hasan comparing non-Muslims to animals and homosexuality to pedophilia. These were beliefs he later claimed were merely bouts of “youthful enthusiasm” about which he says he professed his guilt several times in articles and Twitter threads over the years—which he then celebrated himself for announcing. As he told The Wrap, “rather than bury them, I chose to raise them myself in a Twitter thread over the weekend to try and urge us all to reckon with our prejudices and to challenge hate speech—whether witting or unwitting—wherever we find it.” He has also been credibly accused of plagiarism by journalist Lee Fang, also a veteran of the Intercept, who found that Hasan had copied entire paragraphs without attribution from a US News & World Report article about spanking.
Hubris is the Hasan brand. When he worked at Al Jazeera, he posted on Twitter a clip of himself interviewing a Trump campaign official with the observation: “Hey US media folks, here, I would argue immodestly, is how you interview a Trump supporter on Trump’s lies.” Perhaps he should have spent more time learning how to argue modestly, given the limits of his talents. He once told a reporter that he “used to worry” that MSNBC would find him “too edgy, too iconoclastic.” As it turns out, he was just too predictably partisan and uninteresting to his own viewers—and simply too appalling in the degree to which he crossed the line into anti-Semitism—even as he was clearly a hero to himself. As the New York Times noted in a review of his book: “Like Rambo, he says, he loves to lay a booby trap. ‘Boom!’ he writes, going on to describe how satisfying it is to watch the crestfallen look on his opponent’s face once the trap has been sprung” to provide that “showstopper moment.”
With the cancellation of his show, Hasan finally got the showstopper moment he truly deserved.
Photo: Flickr/Policy Exchange
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