Mehdi Hasan on Leaving MSNBC: ‘A Lot of People Seem to Have Come With Me’

“I’ve lost track of all time, hours, days,” says Mehdi Hasan, explaining it has been “a manic six weeks.”

The former MSNBC host launched his own media company, Zeteo, on April 15, and things are hectic — in a good way. After Hasan raised $4 million in seed money, Zeteo generated more than 20,000 paid subscribers in its first two weeks. While a standard subscription costs $8 per month, or $72 per year, many subscribers have paid a whole lot more.

“I’m not going to tell you how many founding members we have, who paid $500,” Hasan says, but he adds: “We offered a signed copy of my book, a personalized signed copy, to founding members — that was our offer at the beginning — thinking there’d be like, I don’t know, 50-100. We’ve had so many founding members, we had to take that offer off because I simply can’t sign so many books.”

“I left MSNBC and a lot of people seem to have come with me,” he adds.

More importantly, when he spoke with Rolling Stone last week, Hasan noted his website was already making its presence felt. After Zeteo published a column from a Jewish Ph. D. student at Columbia University defending its pro-Palestine protest encampment, a CNN anchor read a portion of the commentary to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and asked him to respond to it.

“We got the House speaker responding to an op-ed live on CNN primetime,” says Hasan.

For Hasan, this is effectively proof of concept: “The reason I wanted to set up Zeteo and not just go be a freelance journalist and actually build something,” he says, “is because on the progressive end of that media spectrum … there isn’t enough variety. There aren’t enough credible organizations. There aren’t enough organizations that actually have an impact.”

The Mehdi Hasan Show on MSNBC was canceled in November, less than two months after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the start of Israel’s brutal war in Gaza. News of the show’s end prompted significant outcry. Hasan, one the most prominent Muslim journalists in American media, had been a vocal critic of the Israeli war, and he was known as one of the furthest-left voices at MSNBC. He left the network after his last show in January, and recently told New York Magazine, “I signed an exit agreement with mutually agreed terms to leave.”

Now, he gets to pick exactly what to cover, without outside pressure. Indeed, Hasan says he wants Zeteo’s coverage focused almost exclusively right now on “genocide in the Middle East.”

In the nearly seven months since Israel launched its war in Gaza, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, millions have been displaced, and half the population is at imminent risk of famine. Hasan says the media, broadly-speaking, has covered the war and pro-Palestine protests “horrifically badly.”

“I think history will judge those of us who had platforms in this moment in time, and used those platforms to either ignore the plight of the Palestinians, dehumanize Palestinian children, who are literally starving to death, and instead … [used] our media platforms, our Twitter accounts, and primetime shows to create a moral panic about Jewish, Arab American, and white atheist protesters on college campuses,” says Hasan.

To launch his business, Hasan turned to an increasingly popular path for journalists going independent — relying on reader funding, building an email list, and hosting the company on the subscription platform Substack.

“For me, the business model is less about how do you make lots of money, and more about what is sustainable? What actually helps you do progressive journalism?” says Hasan. He adds that he didn’t want to “be at the whims of advertisers or tech bosses” like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, who owns X. “It means I don’t have to worry about shadow-banning or the corporate advertisers not liking my coverage on whatever it is — probably Gaza.”

Hasan notes his MSNBC clips often went viral, including among people who “don’t normally pay attention to progressive journalists.” And he’s proud of managing to platform people who wouldn’t typically be invited on the cable news channel.

“Noam Chomsky once emailed me saying Mehdi, you’re the only person in 25 years who invited me on at MSNBC,” he says, referring to the renowned professor and left-wing media critic. “I’ll take that to my grave. If I achieved nothing else in journalism, I got Noam Chomsky on MSNBC — not once but twice.”

The second story Hasan wants Zeteo focused on is “the fascist threat at home” posed by a potential second term in office for former President Donald Trump.

Hasan points out that Trump has suggested at his rallies that reporters should be imprisoned, raped, and tortured, so that they give up confidential information about their sources.

“No politician in the West has ever said that — Trump said it,” says Hasan. “This is the guy who we’ve normalized, who we treat as you know, just fatalistically as our next president … The complacency of the American people and American political media elites is something that will forever baffle me. And I’ll be baffled about it while I’m sitting in a detention camp in 2027.”

He questions whether, if Trump wins, the United States will continue to hold elections. In that vein, he worries that President Joe Biden’s ongoing support for Israel’s war in Gaza will cost him the election and ultimately “sacrifice the future of American democracy.”

He adds, though: “It’s April right now. As we’re speaking, people are being killed in Gaza. Right now, the only thing that matters is pressuring Biden and the Democrats to do the right thing.”

Surveying the media landscape today, Hasan says, “So much is missing that Zeteo cannot plug that massive, gaping hole in our media coverage — whether it’s college campuses, whether it’s Trump vs. Biden, whether it’s issues like poverty and inequality, whether it’s the Middle East and Gaza — there are a lot of holes, there’s a lot missing. We’re trying to do our best.”

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