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Hiding his Americans Elect Leadership, Mark McKinnon plays 3 Successive MSNBC hosts for Chumps in 1 Month

Update, 2/27: Given the latest MSNBC discussion touching on Americans Elect with Mark McKinnon, John Lumea points out, I’ve asked MSNBC administration to respond to this information:

To whom it may concern,

As documented here…

… during the month of February 2012, Mark McKinnon has appeared on at least 4 MSNBC shows and been introduced by their 5 hosts without reference to his leadership position in presidential political effort Americans Elect. In each of these shows, Mark McKinnon has played a role in promoting the Americans Elect presidential effort without challenge by the MSNBC hosts, instead taking on the role of a pundit discussing Americans Elect.

Did the MSNBC hosts know or not know about Mark McKinnon’s leadership position at Americans Elect? If they did not know, what vetting procedure for guests failed to uncover this information?


Jim Cook
Irregular Times

… and I’ll let you know what response I get, if I get any response at all.

The Appearances:
Appearance #1: On Thursday February 9 2012 (tip of the pen to John Lumea), Mark McKinnon made an appearance on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show. McKinnon was labeled as the “founder of No Labels” and appeared alongside Americans Elect Elliot Ackerman. Ratigan had the sense to ask whether the No Labels and Americans Elect organizations had “any association”:

Dylan Ratigan: I’m interested to get a sense of, well, first, do you guys have anything in common? Do Americans Elect and No Labels have any association?

Mark McKinnon: They don’t. No Labels is working to change things within the system, and Americans Elect is working on an alternative nominating system, to change the system. But both have a goal to change the system as we’ve got.

Appearance #2: On Monday February 20 2012, Mark McKinnon appeared on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports in a segment where he was introduced by Mitchell as “Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, cofounder of No Labels and a former advisor to President George W. Bush.” Mitchell made no inquiries about any additional affiliations McKinnon had, and McKinnon volunteered no more such information. McKinnon proceeded to explain why both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney were flawed GOP candidates for president, and how an organization called Americans Elect might nominate a better presidential candidate, David Walker:

Andrea Mitchell: Is it going to be Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, one or the other? Is there any chance that you see that someone else will get into the Republican race?

Mark McKinnon: I love the chaos theory and I think that it’s always possible. You look at the math and the big states that are coming up. Nothing focuses the party’s mind right now like the guillotine, and I think they see the guillotine right now. So I think that everyone is checking their bets for other options, and as Thomas Friedman pointed out in his column yesterday, there’s more and more attention on an alternative nominating process with someone like David Walker, the former Comptroller of the United States and also Co-Labels cofounder, er, No Labels cofounder, through the Americans Elect ticket. So a lot of chaos and perhaps that will lead to some interesting results.

Andrea Mitchell: Mark McKinnon, I’ll put you down in favor of chaos.

Appearance #3: On Tuesday February 21 2012, Mark McKinnon appeared on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, a TV show hosted by Chuck Todd. Todd introduced McKinnon as the “co-founder of No Labels” and then asked him to “play political strategist here,” but made no statements or inquiries about any additional affiliations McKinnon had. Mark McKinnon volunteered no more such information about his affiliations, but did proceed to promote Americans Elect as a positive alternative to Democrats and Republicans and to promote David Walker as a particular presidential candidate within the Americans Elect system.

The Hidden Truth:
Mark McKinnon is a member of the declared “leadership” of Americans Elect, and has also been formally named as a member of the Americans Elect Board of Advisors.

Neither Mark McKinnon nor any of the above MSNBC journalists acknowledged this pertinent fact, leaving viewers to receive McKinnon’s words of praise for Walker and Americans Elect as if they were coming from an analyst without a stake in the game.

Did Mark McKinnon manage to play these three successive MSNBC anchors for chumps? If so, then McKinnon took advantage of an unaware “news network” that doesn’t do its homework. Or did Andrea Mitchell, Dylan Ratigan and Chuck Todd know that McKinnon was a leader of Americans Elect but decide that viewers didn’t need to know? If so, then MNSBC is acting in a manner contrary to the professional journalistic code of ethics.

No matter which of these possibilities reflects the truth, MSNBC and Mark McKinnon come out of this looking a little dirty.

20 thoughts on “Hiding his Americans Elect Leadership, Mark McKinnon plays 3 Successive MSNBC hosts for Chumps in 1 Month”

  1. John Lumea says:

    Thanks, Jim — here are a few clips from yet another of McKinnon’s recent MSNBC appearances — “Morning Joe,” on Thursday 23 February…

    Clip 1
    Clip 2
    Clip 3

    As with the other appearances…

    The voiced introductions — the onscreen ID texts — even the ID texts on the Morning Joe Web site — all of it — or, should I say, none of it? — references Americans Elect. The only connections mentioned are No Labels and Hill & Knowlton Strategies.

    It becomes increasingly difficult to believe that *none* of the anchors of these four MSNBC programs — Dylan Ratigan, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski — knows the score about McKinnon and Americans Elect.

    Perhaps worth looking into the connection between McKinnon and MSNBC.

    Vis-a-vis Americans Elect’s policy against its Directors, Leaders or staff promoting specific candidates (or potential candidates), Clip 3, above — a 15-minute segment with Jon Huntsman — is especially interesting.

    Mika Brzezinki: Governor Huntsman, the next question for you would be from Mark McKinnon, in Washington — Mark…

    Mark McKinnon: Governor, it’s great to see you, and you sound like a man who’s been freed.

    Mika Brzezinki: It’s true!

    Mark McKinnon:I love everything you’re saying, and I’ve always liked your politics, and I’m sorry you didn’t make it through the Republican primary, but I think you’ll—can provide real political leadership, whatever you do going forward.

    The things you’re saying, you’re already an ambassador for the No Labels message that we have out there — we’re trying to get “no budget, no pay” through, and lots of other things that I think that you support….

    In the video, McKinnon comes off as positively fawning.

  2. Jim Cook says:

    Thanks for uncovering this 4th show (and 4th and 5th hosts), John. I’ve updated the post to reflect this information (noting you of course) and have also written to MSNBC at (the address MSNBC wants the public to use “to reach the producers, anchors and correspondents of NBC News via e-mail”) to ask for a response.

    By the way, for folks who don’t want to watch overmuch, Americans Elect talk inserts itself starting in at about 5:30 in the third clip. McKinnon is a more implicit than explicit promoter of Americans Elect during this segment.

    McKinnon harshly trashes Santorum in these segments. He’s definitely pushing a cookie, and apart from the issue of MSNBC’s involvement Mark McKinnon should know this kind of behavior is ethically problematic given his Americans Elect leadership position… and not reflective of the public message Americans Elect is sending out about how it is going to be the solution to broken American politics. Looks more like Americans Elect is reflective of broken American politics, and opaque to the public on top of that.

  3. John Lumea says:

    Thanks, Jim. It would seem that finding Mark McKinnon on MSNBC these days is a little like fishing for cod off the Massachusetts coast in the 17th century. Just drop your net and up comes dinner.

  4. John Lumea says:

    Here’s the full video and transcript of another NBC appearance — Meet the Press, with David Gregory — on 4 September 2011.

    Joining McKinnon on the panel, interestingly, is Thomas Friedman. Your readers will remember that it was Friedman’s 24 July 2011 column, “Make Way for the Radical Center,” that constituted Americans Elect’s de facto public rollout.

    Exactly when McKinnon joined the “Leadership” of Americans Elect is unclear to me. But a few days after Friedman’s column, the L.A. Times posted an Americans Elect document listing its Board of Advisors “as of July 26, 2011,” and McKinnon was on the list. (Most likely, I first saw that document — pdf here — in this space.)

    At any rate: By the time of the 4 September 2011 taping of Meet the Press, both Friedman and McKinnon were “in on” Americans Elect — with McKinnon being officially alligned.

    And yet, when McKinnon brings up Americans Elect — riffing off of Friedman’s response to Gregory’s question starting at 36:10, in the video — he does so, having been ID’d on the program only as a “political strategist” and co-founder of No Labels, and speaks as though he simply were reporting on the existence of Americans Elect, as an outside observer who, like many other people, read Tom Friedman’s column.

    David Gregory: Tom, you advocate a third party. Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York has said on this program, no way, no how is that going to happen. He would be among the strongest contenders to try to carry that off.

    Thomas Friedman: Well, it does seem to me that we do need a shock. We’re the ones who need shock therapy that we administered to the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. The system needs a shock. I agree with Paul the next election, I hope, will be on a big idea. But I hope it isn’t just big government against small government. I hope it’s about our formula for success and getting back to it. You know, David, people have come to Michael and me and says, “Your book, `That Used to Be Us,’ does it have a happy ending?” And we tell everyone it does have a happy ending. We just don’t know whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. You know, that really depends on us.

    But I’ll tell you what makes me optimistic, is that this country is still full of people who just didn’t get the word. And they are starting things and inventing things and creating things and organizing things. If you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head. You look at this country from the bottom up. You see the potential. We’re like the space shuttle, all that thrust coming from below. But right now the booster rocket, Washington, D.C., is cracked and leaking energy. And the pilots in the cockpit are fighting over the flight plan. So we can’t achieve the escape velocity we need now to get to the next level. You fix those two things, we take off. My favorite quote in this book is from—

    Maxine Waters Before we get to, before we get to the next level, we’ve got to recognize that there are big problems in this country. Foreclosures, the banks will not do loan modifications, and we have not come up with a program by which we can people in their homes. We need to be bold enough for the president to say to the bankers, “You come into this office, we’re going to talk about how we’re going to write down principals, how we’re going to keep people in these homes, how we’re going to make sure the interest rates are no more than 4 percent.” People want to hear the answers about how they’re going to have just a decent quality of life.

    David Gregory: OK. Let’s get a final—

    Mark McKinnon: But to your question — to Tom — this is something he’s written about — there’s gonna be an effort on all 50 states that will be ballot accessed for an alternative nominating convention in all 50 states next year. So there’s gonna — there’s some things going on out there. It’s called Americans Elect, and they’re — so there will be an alternative nominating process. So there’s frustration out there, and they’re — people are tired with the system the way it is. They’re working within the system and No Labels, but there’s things happening outside the system as well.

  5. Stephen Kent Gray says:

    Mark McKinnon’s wikipedia page tell the whole truth rather than a half truth. While not a lie per se, it isn’t being fully honest.

    David Walker also has a Wikipedia page. Why can’t MSNBC just look this stuff up on Wikipedia? It’s not that hard.

    1. John Lumea says:


      All of those “McKinnon Americans Elect” references in the Wikipedia entries on McKinnon, Americans Elect and No Labels have been added — by me — within the two days. Prior to that, there was no mention of McKinnon’s Americans Elect ties on any of these pages.

      1. John Lumea says:

        “…within the last two days.”

      2. John Lumea says:

        Note also that the Wikipedia entry on Americans Elect has been flagged as violating Wikipedia’s policy on neutrality.

  6. John Lumea says:

    Jim, here’s a video of another McKinnon appearance — as a panelist at a public event at Harvard on 7 November 2011.

    The event, titled “Campaign 2012: How Americans Will Select Their Next President,” includes a panel discussion followed by audience Q&A, and is framed almost exclusively as a consideration of the viability of an Americans Elect ticket in 2012.

    McKinnon is joined on the stage by Americans Elect CEO Kahlil Byrd, as well as Karen Tumulty and Tad Devine.

    McKinnon never is identified as any kind of leader of Americans Elect. Curiously, though — especially given Byrd’s presence on the panel — in the hour that I’ve finished watching, McKinnon leads in answering almost every question (which mostly are questions about AE’s processes, plans and projections) and frequently seems compelled to interject with comments on the answers of the other panelists.

    On one level, it seems rather as though McKinnon is hogging the stage. At the same, however, it also seems that the panel, including the moderator (and, obviously, Byrd), just knows the score re McKinnon and AE. McKinnon absolutely is treated as though he’s an AE spokesperson — and he embraces that role.

    At one point — starting at 20:53 — the moderator asks McKinnon what type of candidate he thinks will step up to run under the AE banner, and McKinnon — “just off the top of my head,” but then reading off a piece of paper! (suggesting that the question is a set-up) — rattles off a shortlist: Christie Whitman, Jon Huntsman, Chuck Hagel, Bob Kerrey, Condoleeza Rice, Tom Brokaw, Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh, and John Chambers.

    Byrd, for his part, serves up the warmed-over AE / No Labels talking point that “America is a center-right country.”

    He also reflects the scenario that AE obviously was banking on last November — i.e., a first wave of interest from Obama voters who are not inclined to vote Republican but are willing to consider other options, followed by the Republican nomination being wrapped up in February, clearing the way for two other things to happen in February: (1) a second wave of interest from disillusioned Republicans who don’t like their party’s nominee and (2) major well-knopwn candidates stepping into the AE fray, in response to the settled D and R nominees.

    Obviously, none of that is happening.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Curious… thanks for finding this.

  7. MM says:

    Why is a ‘pro-Obama’ guy supporting anyone else in 2012?

  8. Joshua says:

    If I’m not mistaken, AE just changed the description on each candidate’s draft status page to read as follows:

    “… needs 5000 supporters in each of 10 different states to qualify. (Candidates with a similar level of experience as past presidents need 1,000 supporters in each of 10 different states. All other candidates need 5,000 supporters in each of 10 different states.) For more details, please see the rules on the Official Documents page.”

    The problem is that they now say that for every candidate, including the “insiders.” So, for example, it says that “Barack Obama needs 5000 supporters in each of 10 different states to qualify.” Similarly for Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and other “insider” candidates.

    Obviously, this doesn’t reflect an actual change in the rules, nor a determination that the “insider” candidates aren’t actually qualified under AE rules to be presidential candidates. What it most likely reflects is AE’s lack of taking care to make sure that all the functions associated with its nomination process are handled correctly.

    1. Jim says:


      I agree with your interpretation of this. It seems that Americans Elect is taking a slapdash approach to its process, tossing material up on the web first and fixing it (or not) later. That doesn’t bode well for an entity that wants to count votes in an election.

      1. Joshua says:

        Surprisingly, AE has updated the number of supporters needed and actually has correct requirements for many candidates now, both insiders and outsiders.

        There are some that I believe they have incorrect, but that’s an improvement over having mostly wrong information.

        The ones I believe they have wrong are:

        Ralph Nader – shown as insider, 1000×10 signatures needed. Has he headed an organization large enough to qualify as an insider?

        Rocky Anderson – shown as insider, 1000×10 signatures needed. Salt Lake City wasn’t one of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. either when he was mayor or now, so he can’t qualify as an insider by virtue of having been its mayor.

        David Walker – shown as outsider, 5000×10 signatures needed. But as comptroller general/head of the General Accounting Office, he was head of a federal agency and should qualify as an insider.

        Charles Joseph “Joe” Scarborough – shown as outsider, 5000×10 signatures needed. I’m assuming that AE didn’t recognize MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough by this format of his name, or forgot that he is a former member of Congress and thus qualifies as an insider.

        Noam Chomsky – shown as insider, 1000×10 signatures needed. I don’t know how he would quaify as such.

        Evan Bayh – shown as outsider, 5000×10 signatures needed. Probably just an error.

        Charlie Crist – shown as outsider, 5000×10 signatures needed. Probably just an error.

        1. John Lumea says:

          Well — By any reasonable measure of U.S. political and cultural influence, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky are “insiders”

          But let’s be very clear that the entire Americans Elect project of setting up low bars and high bars to the presidency based on extra-Constitutional definitions of insider- and outsiderdom is a double standard and a democratic dead end that reflects and reveals nothing so much as the power biases of Americans Elect.

          Should we want to choose our president based on meritocratic ideals? Of course!

          But it is the People — not the Board of Directors of Americans Elect — who have the right to determine what qualifies as merit.

          Beyond that, only the Constitutional qualifications apply.

        2. Jim says:

          Joshua, thanks for the update.

          John, I agree with you that the distinction points out Americans Elect’s power biases, but Joshua’s point that Americans Elect isn’t following its own standards in its rules and bylaws is important. You want a meticulous, detail-oriented group to be running an election and counting the votes — not a sloppy one. Americans Elect has been sloppy.

        3. John Lumea says:

          Point taken, Jim.

          On one level, of course, AE, with its two bars of entry, simply is speaking to the way the “major” parties already do business — the only difference being that the parties aren’t so literal about it.

          I tend to focus more on AE’s ethical inconsistencies than its procedural ones. Of course, AE needs both good ethics and good procedures — and it’s important to push the organization on both fronts at the same time.

          But, ultimately, good procedures — i.e., the procedures that we recognize as good — can flow only from good ethics. And, right now, the ethic of AE is to give lip service to “upending” the party system, to opening up the process, to direct democracy, to neutrality, to impartiality — while, at the same time, putting in place tight controls designed to stack the deck in favor of the outcome its directors and officers and advisors want.

          To be sure, we need for any group like Americans Elect to be running an airtight procedural ship. But I worry that focusing too much on questions like whether AE has put this or that candidate in the right “bucket” risks suggesting that, if AE simply got its procedures — i.e., its internal logic — right, then everything would be OK.

          The truth is, if the organization’s basic ethics had not changed, more seamless procedures could amount to little more than doing a bad thing more efficiently. Encouraging citizens to participate in such a system would not be without its own ethical ambiguities.

          As we’ve seen, Americans Elect has, in its Rules and By-Laws, reserved a remarkable amount of latitude for the Board and its various committees to determine who and what the AE nominee and ticket will be — so much so that I’m not at all sure how much some of these procedures are going to matter, in the sense that, absent a serious uprising from the delegates, the Board, etc., can more or less pick whom it wants.

          On the other hand, it may be that correcting AE’s ethical problems — lack of transparency, top-down control — in this election cycle simply is too heavy a lift. It may also be that, for precisely that reason, one should focus more on procedure — the idea being that, at least in theory, a vehicle that runs well now can be reformed later, whereas a vehicle whose wheels fall off will find itself on a fast track to the junkyard of history, where it can’t do anybody any good.

          Well, that was a long riff.

          1. Jim Cook says:

            I agree with you that both lines of consideration are important.

            There are other lines of consideration as well, such as strategic: for instance, what is the impact of having a President of one party and a Vice President of another party, unless the President has a stroke or is assassinated? (Hint: the answer rhymes with “bun”).

  9. Joshua says:

    Following up to my previous comment, I see that AE has advanced one part of its nominations process since earlier today. They have now gotten a way for candidates to declare themselves (not just to be drafted). I see that Buddy Roemer and Laurence Kotlikoff are now listed with “Declared Candidate” instead of “Draft Candidate.” Michealene Risley is also listed as a Declared Candidate.

    Inexplicably, much further down in the list of candidates are Bill Mahre and Ken Salazar, both listed with the status “Not Currently a Candidate.” I don’t know what this means in this context.

  10. Jim Cook says:

    Update, 3/17/2012: I haven’t heard a single word from MSNBC in return.

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