“Without a doubt, journalism of this nature is as irresponsible as it is biased.”
iven the recent leftward shift of televised media over the past few years, it seems difficult to interpret NBCUniversal’s hiring of British journalist Mehdi Hasan this past October as anything other than a confirmation that American news outlets have been taking notes from their European counterparts. Those who are aware of his journalistic career may recall that Hasan rose to fame as the former senior editor of the left-leaning New Statesman magazine, as well as for being the host of the show UpFront on Al Jazeera. Hasan, a progressive socialist, has spent much of his recent career interviewing controversial foreign policy figures and devout supporters of former President Donald Trump. However, in 2020, he was finally offered the limelight in the United States when hired to host his very own show on NBCUniversal’s Peacock, The Mehdi Hasan Show.
With his fast-talking, hard-hitting barrage of difficult-to-answer questions that often leave conservative fanboys in a state of shock, Hasan has solidified himself as a sort of “Ben Shapiro” figure for the Left—a pundit whom progressive news outlets call upon when they need someone to do their dirty work. Unfortunately, while the political left has praised Hasan for being an unbiased defender of the truth, his track record as a semi-factual journalist, who mischaracterizes his opponents and refuses to condemn left-wing radicals, says otherwise. Many of these journalistic shortcomings are simply too grave to ignore; as such, it seems only reasonable to contextualize properly these claims and ask ourselves an important question: Is Hasan’s journalism really what the American public needs?
A Journalistic Rap Sheet for 2020
When it comes to falsehoods and misleading claims about current events in the United States, one need not look further than the work Hasan has put out in just this past year.
In the summer of 2020, MSNBC featured a segment in which Hasan claimed that police brutality in response to the Portland riots served as evidence that the United States is a “fascist” country. One of the claims that Hasan makes early on in the clip is that military personnel were deployed for no other reason than to“fight graffiti.” As evidence for his claim, Hasan points to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report showing a chronology of events in Portland since the initial federal response on May 29, 2020. Unsurprisingly, Hasan’s claim is mostly false, as that same DHS report found that anarchists perpetrated numerous acts of violence, including but not limited to smashing the front window of Portland’s Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse, firebombing said courthouse, demolishing fencing surrounding federal property, and launching fireworks at federal officers. And all of these events happened before MSNBC aired Hasan’s rant on July 24th.
Unfortunately, the falsehoods far from stop there.
Later in this same clip, Hasan—in an attempt to report on the moral failures of former President Trump—recycled the thoroughly debunked myth that President Trump praised neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia as “very fine people” in 2017. Nearly every independent fact-checking organization has discredited this claim. This even goes for the left-leaning fact-checkers at Politifact, who could not help but post the fully contextualized version of President Trump’s remarks for the sake of clarity.
Sadly, though, misleading claims such as these are not the only journalistic errors that Hasan can be blamed for in recent months. The record also shows that he has also gone out of his way to misrepresent his political opponents.
Take, for instance, a situation that occurred in December of this past year, in which Hasan accused Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer of racism when Hammer pointed out Hasan’s financial connections to the Qatari government during his career. The altercation began when Hammer tweeted that Hasan’s coverage of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict was proof of “Your Qatari $$$ at work.” Hasan fired back by equating Hammer’s statement with anti-Semites who say similar things about Jewish pundits and Israel, tweeting, “Imagine if I tweeted at a Jewish journalist saying ‘your Israeli $$$’ at work. I would be (rightly) fired.”
Hammer, who is Jewish, followed up by addressing Hasan’s straw man that he had accused Hasan of being a “Qatari national.” In reality, Hammer made no such claim in his original tweet.
The accusations that Hasan’s work was, at some point, supported by the Qatari government are absolutely true. (Hasan was one of several guests on CNN who had ties to Qatar.) This, however, ignores a much more obvious problem: that Hasan actually believes there is an equivalency between people who recite anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and people who accurately point out suspicious funding in the news media. Such equivalencies are not merely reckless, but they are outright insulting given Hammer’s Jewish identity. Instead of apologizing, Hasan took his anger out on Newsweek for hiring Hammer, implying that he deserved to be let go from his position for accurately pointing out Hasan’s past connections to the Qatari government.
So, Hasan espouses myths and misrepresents his opponents, but why should anyone care? Aren’t those same sins attributable to hundreds of journalists around the world? As it turns out, further investigation into Hasan’s recent career reveals an even more unpleasant reality.
Just a few months ago, in an episode of the Deconstructed podcast, Hasan reported on a group of protestors who listed demands to the mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey. Far from being an opponent of progressive causes, Mayor Frey was there to support protestors who wanted to see an end to police brutality. However, when the protestors began cross-examining the Mayor on what he would do to fix issues pertaining to policing in Minneapolis, things took a dark turn. After Mayor Frey was posed the question of whether he would be willing to endorse the radical policy of defunding the police, one of the head protesters followed the question with an ultimatum: “Alright, be quiet y’all. Be quiet…It’s important that we hear this because if y’all don’t know, he’s up for re-election next year…And if he says no, guess what the f— we gonna do next year?”
To the disappointment of the protestors gathered, Mayor Frey answered “No” to their question, prompting the protestors to respond by collectively chanting, “Go home, Jacob, go home!” The frightened Mayor quickly fled the scene.
While the true intent of the phrase is unclear, “guess what the f— we gonna do…” could be reasonably interpreted as calling for replicating what had just happened in the preceding days in Minneapolis: resorting to violence, such as what took place with the burning of Minneapolis’ third police precinct.
Despite this chilling scenario, Hasan said nothing critically of the protesters who grilled the Mayor; instead, Hasan spent his energy comically referring to the Mayor’s exodus from the situation as a “walk of shame.” Neither Hasan nor his guest condemned the veiled threats made by protest leaders. Without a doubt, journalism of this nature is as irresponsible as it is biased.
Mehdi Hasan and the News Media at-large
Last month—in a Hill column published just after New Year’s Day—former New York Times reporter and Manhattan Institute fellow Judith Miller wrote about the future of the media in a post-Trump world. Miller argued that the inauguration of a new president was unlikely to reverse the trend of the news media becoming increasingly anti-objective and openly partisan. It is little wonder why these trends have coincided with recent plummeting trust in the news media.
Indeed, Hasan’s relatively new role at Peacock is a clear sign of this shift. However, given his rise to fame in the United States as a result of his no-nonsense attitude toward supporters of President Trump, it seems unlikely that he can sustain this momentum much longer. If conservative politicians return to a more ideologically-rooted vision of public policy, Hasan may have to transition from his usual tactic of gish galloping Trump defenders to legitimately arguing against conservative viewpoints on their merits. Given that debating hardcore Trump loyalists is low-hanging fruit in the world of journalism, Hasan’s career may be at a crossroads if he cannot find a new group of adversaries to slam dunk on in his interviews.
Before closing, I will, in fairness, note a few positives about Hasan. He is not necessarily a partisan hack, being one of the few progressive pundits to identify openly as pro-life. He is also a talented defender of Islam (his Oxford Union Debate speech was widely hailed as an impressive takedown of arguments against Islamic civilization). Unfortunately, however, neither of these points successfully mitigates the effects of the false statements and character assassinations that are part and parcel of his brand of reporting. From his mischaracterization of the events of this summer in Portland to his lecturing of Jewish individuals on anti-Semitic tropes to his handling of the Minneapolis protest incident, it is clear that what Hasan does is not journalism. It is activism. And it seems to be what he is best at. We, consumers of news, deserve better.
J. Edward Britton is a composer and essayist. He is a graduate of Oberlin College.