It certainly raised eyebrows chez Cockburn, that’s for sure. A few weeks ago Peacock announced an original news program: The Mehdi Hasan Show. Peacock is NBC’s new streaming service. And who is Mehdi Hasan? Well that’s where things get really interesting.
Like Cockburn, you may have noticed Mr Hasan’s cloudless upwards trajectory through the media firmament in recent years. He moved to DC in 2015, fronting news shows for Al Jazeera English, and from 2018 until earlier this year, a podcast for the Intercept. The precise moment Mehdi’s move to the big-ish leagues became inevitable almost two years ago. Watch:
Hey US media folks, here, I would argue immodestly, is how you interview a Trump supporter on Trump's lies:pic.twitter.com/D8qElaic7o
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) November 14, 2018
Whoa! Who is that guy? Mehdi’s battering of Trump adviser Steve Rodgers has, to date, over eight million views on Twitter alone. Mark Ruffalo, taking time off from pretending to be a nuclear scientist who turns into an enormous green erection (cinema!), tweeted the interview with the caption: ‘There is such a thing as truth, even today.’ Soon Hasan himself was being interviewed by Seth Meyers. The latter was in such oily form that passing cormorants are probably still stuck to him. Mehdi, Meyers gushed, had engineered ‘the template for talking to people in the Trump-sphere’. More viral triumphs followed, plus talking-head slots on MSNBC, fawning profiles, and the NBC job. In the business, folks, we call this cut-through.
So, what is the Mehdi Hasan template? Treat your audience’s political enemies with contempt. Reflect your audience’s passions back at them. Scaremonger, and scaremonger again. (The Mehdi Hasan template, Cockburn notes, is curiously similar to the Sean Hannity template.)
What really takes Cockburn’s breath away about Mehdi is his self-presentation. On Meyers’s show he argued that Americans are more ‘deferential to power’ than Brits are. This was an advertisement for his services masquerading as socio-political critique. In the Trump era, Hasan presents himself as a brave truth-teller and a bomb-thrower. His attack-dog style and his utter discourtesy to guests he knows his audience will hate (reminiscent of Bill O’Reilly) apparently makes him different to every other DC hack who stands when the President walks in the room. They’re addicted to power, unlike Mehdi, who only ever speaks truth to it.
Hasan used to be a London journalist. Back in Old Blighty he was a senior editor at leftie-pubs like the New Statesman and Huffpost UK. Funnily enough, there wasn’t an arse in London Hasan wasn’t prepared to kiss to get ahead. Once, popping up on Question Time, a rowdy British equivalent of Crossfire, Hasan launched a scathing attack on the venerable Daily Mail newspaper. They were gay-baiters and immigrant-bashers Hasan fulminated, in that slashing style he reserves for enemies.
Unfortunately for Hasan, the Mail then released a begging letter he’d sent them a few years before. Back then Hasan thought the Mail’s social conservatism ‘attractive’. He felt that his fellow leftists had ‘lost touch’ with the British public. He wanted to make a ‘left-wing case for abortion’ in the Mail’s pages. The letter went on like this for a while. Is that what deference sounds like?
(Hasan’s new American fanbase ought to acquaint themselves with his views on abortion.)
Hasan is a proper offense archaeologist. He goes through his interviewees’ public pronouncements, finds the worst thing they’ve ever said or done, and pounces on them. In that spirit, Cockburn found the worst thing Mehdi ever said. Behold:
Yes that is a clip of Hasan, a practicing Shia’a Muslim, describing non-believers as ‘cattle’, among other things.
So what does he actually believe? Is he a pro-life, deeply religious, social conservative? (A flog ’n’ hang the gays guy, like his old Qatari paymasters at Al Jazeera?) Or is he the pal of talk-show hosts, a liberal taste-shaper, and a scourge of Trumpists? Is he an actor? Is he a journalist?
Mehdi is a hollow man. He does what he does, not to tell the truth, but for the effect of his act on his audience. His eye is firmly on the chance. Over the last few years he’s managed to identify the biggest pool of marks in the world: the aggrieved, terrified, paranoid liberals who think Trump is literally Hitler. It seems they’ll buy whatever he has to sell.