On Tuesday, MSNBC host Craig Melvin read aloud to Congressman Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) an anonymous quotation that painted a bleak image of his electoral prospects, before asking him, “Congressman, are you a goner?”
This challenge exemplified the tone that Melvin took with Costello throughout a brief interview on his weekday show. Throughout the conversation, Melvin bombarded his guest with a salvo of loaded questions and boilerplate DNC talking points. His only earnest question – which was to ask whether Costello planned to campaign with President Trump – came at the tail end of the conversation.
Melvin led off with an inquiry about the President’s recent firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, framing it in a manner that more closely resembling a partisan talking point than an honest question. “Does it strengthen this idea that Democrats have put forward, that this is a chaos President and that their candidates are stability candidates?” he probed. He added that the President’s decision might ultimately be “making Republicans even more vulnerable” in the midterms.
The moderate Republican’s reply was to question the story that Tillerson had learned of his firing from a tweet by Trump, which Melvin had claimed just moments before starting the interview. Melvin waved away the response and reemphasized the left-wing talking point embedded in his initial question: “Again, an argument that the Democratic candidates, at least there in Pennsylvania, this idea they’re putting forward that this is an administration that’s spiraling out of control.”
“I’m not here to rebut the narratives that you’re pushing out there,” Costello managed to respond before being interrupted. “Congressman,” Melvin protested flatly before continuing:
With all due respect, it’s not a narrative, I mean, it’s fact. There have been a number of high-level departures over the past few weeks in this administration. That’s not a narrative. That’s factual.
But of course, the Congressman had not denied that established fact. Rather, the “narrative” to which he’d been responding was the talking point that the White House was embroiled in chaos – a portrayal which Melvin had already twice referred to “this idea that Democrats have put forward.” In other words, a narrative.
Costello was thrown off balance by this devious equivocation, and Melvin moved onto another point of attack. He played a sound bite of Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone accusing Democratic voters of harboring “a hatred for” Trump, the U.S., and even God. This clip, which had made the rounds on MSNBC that Tuesday morning, quickly became a favored bludgeon among the network’s hosts for forcing denouncements out of congressional Republicans.
Melvin was not content with Costello’s initial characterization of Saccone’s comments as “misplaced,” but several interruptions later, he elicited a satisfactory disavowal. He immediately followed up with the aforementioned anonymous quote from “a GOP source,” which appeared onscreen. The quote read, “Costello is a goner, unless the map changes.”
“Uh, Congressman, are you a goner?” Melvin asked with something other than genuine concern.
Eventually, Costello arrived at the appropriate response: “I can’t really dignify or respond to an anonymous comment.” As with every question Melvin had posed thus far, this latest bad-faith repartee constituted a challenge punctuated with a question mark.
While Melvin’s line of questioning was both disingenuous and adversarial, such treatment of Republican members of Congress is commonplace (if not ubiquitous) on liberal cable networks. Indeed, Melvin’s behavior adhered to a well-established practice on MSNBC: to approach interviews with Republicans as debates, while letting interviews with Democrats resemble campaign speeches.