Progressive Spotlight: Mehdi Hasan.

Combative Journalist Breaks Free From Corporate Media.

An image of Mehdi Hasan sitting at a desk alongside the logo for his media platform, Zeteo Image Description: An image of Mehdi Hasan sitting at a desk alongside the logo for his media platform, Zeteo

Summary: Known for his probing interrogations of officials in power, Mehdi Hasan promises to hold the media and others to account with his new independent platform.

Before his rise to what is considered in some circles (not ours) the pinnacle of media in the United States, cable news, Mehdi Hasan had made a name for himself on his show “UpFront” on Al Jazeera English where he engaged in combative and probing interviews rarely seen in journalism today.

Interrogate Hasan has. Over and over and over.

His adversarial and direct interview style earned him praise from his peers and viewers alike who came to appreciate his weekly sparring sessions with guests from across the political and ideological spectrum, including world leaders and military officials. Hasan even wrote a book about it: Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking.”

Whether it was his clash with Michael Flynn, the former lieutenant general in the U.S. Army and the one-time head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who shocked Hasan when he said the killing of a hypothetical terrorist’s family would be permissible (“Are you kidding me?” Hasan responded), or when he dismissively nodded his head as he waited for former CIA Director Michael Hayden to offer his personal opinion on the legality of torture (“You’re avoiding a very simple answer” Hasan said through a smile), or when Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president, told a flabbergasted Hasan that al Qaeda is a “myth” (“Some may say you sound like a conspiracy theorist,” the incredulous host shot back).

There’s plenty of more where that came from, too.

Following a stint at The Intercept as a columnist and host of the investigative outlet’s “Deconstructed” podcast, Hasan was rewarded with a show in 2020 on Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform. From the outside, it appeared as if the network was setting Hasan up for an eventual full-time primetime gig for its flagship news channel, MSNBC. But such a promotion never fully materialized.

Perhaps the most indelible moment of Hasan’s Peacock/MSNBC tenure came in November 2023 during an interview with Mark Regev, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which the official argued that Israel hadn’t killed any children in its bombardment of Gaza following Oct. 7.

“You accept that, right? Hasan asked. “You’ve killed children? Or do you deny that?”

“No, I do not. I do not. I do not,” Regev fumed. “I do not—first of all—you don’t know how those people died—those children.”

“Oh—wow,” Hasan offered, clearly taken aback.

At that point in the conflict, it was among the first contentious interviews any cable news host had with an Israeli official. Sure enough, the clip went viral, garnering more than 1.2 million views on YouTube alone.

Two weeks later, MSNBC announced the cancellation of Hasan’s Peacock show. Instead, the journalist would appear only as an “analyst” and a substitute host, according to the network. In January, Hasan said he was leaving MSNBC and months later launched his own news outlet, Zeteo, on Substack.

Hasan’s ouster wasn’t a complete surprise. Shortly after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, MSNBC abruptly stripped Hasan of his hosting responsibilities, along with two other prominent Muslim anchors.

Here’s how Semafor reported on the controversial decision back in October:

“The network did not air a scheduled Thursday night episode of The Mehdi Hasan Show on the streaming platform Peacock. MSNBC also reversed a plan for Ayman Mohyeldin to fill in this week on the network for host Joy Reid’s 7 p.m. show on Thursday and Friday. Mohyeldin, an Egyptian-American journalist and veteran NBC News correspondent covered the conflict from Gaza for two years. In 2021, he aggressively questioned Israeli leaders on strikes on the territory. Two network sources with knowledge of the plans told Semafor that the network also plans to have Alicia Menendez fill in this upcoming weekend for Ali Velshi, a third Muslim-American host who on Sunday interviewed a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority.”

Among the other revelations from Semafor: Infighting erupted after Oct.7, with some MSNBC employees outright dismissing the idea of reporting on the historical context of the Israel-Palestine conflict. This came as the network had showcased “intense solidarity” with Israel, Semafor reported, suggesting a deep alignment with the Democratic Party.

Hasan’s removal from MSNBC was perhaps for the best.

In just a few months, he has built Zeteo into a full-fledged media outlet that includes an elaborately produced weekly news show, Mehdi Unfiltered, along with columns from Hasan and other prominent contributors. Characterized as a “movement for media accountability,” Zeteo is a worthy pursuit for a journalist who always seemed constrained by the realities of corporate control.

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Rashed Mian is the managing editor of News Beat. Mian previously covered civil liberties and the Muslim American community for Long Island Press. Mian graduated with a degree in journalism from Hofstra University. Mian is interested in under-reported stories that impact disenfranchised communities as well as issues related to civil liberties.