How Not to Journalism: MSNBC's O'Donnell Gives Joe Biden a Complete Pass on Flynn Unmasking Question

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
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FILE – In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo, Lawrence O’Donnell attends the 12th Annual UNICEF Snowflake Ball in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)


MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell did an interview with Joe Biden Thursday night as part of a one-hour virtual “town hall” that also featured failed 2018 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, who has been begging lobbying Biden for the vice presidential nomination for months.

During the interview, O’Donnell had the chance to ask Biden about his role in the unmasking of Gen. Michael Flynn. Biden’s denial was both laughable and predictable, but it was what O’Donnell did next that was a textbook example of how not to journalism:

“The issue of people wanting the attorney general to resign is over the Michael Flynn case, where the attorney general is basically trying to drop the case, as a federal judge questioning how that case is being dropped,” O’Donnell asked. “Mr. Vice President, what was your involvement in the investigation of Michael Flynn and the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn?

“I was never a part or had any knowledge of any criminal investigation into Flynn while I was in office, period. Not one single time,” Biden emphatically replied.

Instead of following up with Biden to ask why Grenell’s declassified unmasking document showed otherwise, or why he kept changing his tune on what he knew about the investigation, O’Donnell just … moved on to a completely unrelated question.



Emmy winning journalist Adam Housley ripped O’Donnell over his failure to ask follow-up questions to Biden, noting this was a teachable moment for journalists everywhere:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was not kind to O’Donnell about the issue, either:

To be fair, O’Donnell is an opinion show host, but even those types of hosts should still demonstrate a working knowledge of the basic journalistic fundamentals of interviewing someone, especially when that person is the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.


I would be willing to bet money that O’Donnell’s rationale for moving on has something to do with a classic tactic often used by biased journalists who are uncomfortable with a certain subject matter but who want to go on record as “covering” the topic so they can say they did when someone questions them about it later.

In this case, O’Donnell asked an obligatory question about the Flynn unmasking bombshell, Biden gave his canned answer, and that was the end of it.

Now, when media critics out there demand to know why MSNBC hasn’t given the story much of any coverage, O’Donnell can claim he “did his part.” But he didn’t. Not at all. Honestly it would have looked better for him had he not even asked the question, because in not pressing Biden on his rehearsed answer, O’Donnell made himself look like a complete lapdog to the Biden campaign.

Which, come to think of it, might have been the point. They don’t call ’em MSDNC for nothin’, folks.


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