Cancellation of Mehdi Hasan's show by MSNBC elicits backlash from progressives

Clips of journalist's sharp questioning of guests often went viral

Mehdi Hasan attends the Muslim Public Affairs Council Convention in Los Angeles, California. AFP
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MSNBC is facing backlash after announcing the cancellation of a Sunday night show featuring Mehdi Hasan, an outspoken, progressive Muslim journalist who was well known for grilling guests and criticising the Israeli government's actions in the Gaza Strip.

Commentators and progressive lawmakers accused the network of silencing one of only a few Muslim on-air personalities in US mainstream media.

“This is just punishment because he did his basic job,” Noura Erakat, a human rights lawyer, told the National.

“I do not think he has been necessarily an advocate for Palestinians as much as he's been doing his job as a journalist to question and push back against Israeli officials who have been sharing talking points with ease.”

In a show aired on November 16, Hasan- who was born in Britain and is of Indian descent but became a naturalised US citizen in 2020 – interviewed Israeli government adviser Mark Regev.

During the exchange, Hasan pressed Mr Regev on the high death toll in Gaza and on the thousands of children killed by Israeli strikes.

Mr Regev said that Hasan had only seen images of dead children because Hamas controls information coming from Gaza and “they're the pictures Hamas wants you to see”.

Hasan responded: “And also because they're dead, Mark. They’re also people your government has killed.”

That clip, which Hasan shared on X, has been viewed nearly six million times.

Omar Baddar, a political analyst in Washington, said that Hasan is “an incredible interviewer” whose coverage on Gaza and Israel has been “exceptional”.

“He embodies this spirit of journalism of holding the powerful to account of asking tough questions and of providing a voice to the voiceless,” Mr Baddar told the National.

“It's difficult to imagine what would cause a network to remove a talent of that level at a time in which this level of journalism is desperately needed.”

The move by MSNBC comes amid rising concerns over Israel's war in Gaza, now in its eighth week, and tension over its coverage by the media.

Israel launched a massive military campaign in Gaza with the goal of eradicating Hamas after gunmen from the group attacked on October 7, killing 1,200 people.

Near constant bombardment of the enclave has led to the deaths of more than 15,000 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children, and has caused a devastating humanitarian crisis.

MSNBC has not commented publicly on the matter, but US media reported that Hasan's streaming show on Peacock was also being cancelled as part of changes in coverage ahead of the 2024 US elections.

His time slot, according to reports, will be absorbed by the show hosted by Ayman Mohyeldin, an Arab-American journalist who has also drawn attention for his criticism of the Israel-Gaza war.

The network also said that Hasan will appear as an analyst and a fill-in host.

“It is bad optics for MSNBC to cancel Mehdi Hasan's show right at a time when he is vocal for human rights in Gaza with the war ongoing,” US Representative Ro Khanna of California wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“As a strong supporter of free speech, MSNBC owes the public an explanation for this decision. Why would they choose to do this now?”

On Thursday, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched a petition calling on MSNBC to reinstate Hasan’s show, saying that US media needs more hosts who challenge power and conventional wisdom, not less.

“It’s a huge programming mistake to kick voices like Mehdi Hasan off the air instead of asking why are they resonating with the public as they challenge power and question conventional wisdom?” according to the petition.

“We need more independent voices in the conversation, trying to find the truth, even if we don’t agree with everything they say.”

Updated: December 01, 2023, 5:47 PM