Obama adviser Axelrod joins NBC

WASHINGTON, D.C. — David Axelrod, the longtime political adviser to President Barack Obama, is joining NBC’s growing stable of Democratic commentators, the network announced Tuesday.

Axelrod will serve as a senior political analyst to both NBC News and MSNBC. No terms of his contract were announced.

MSNBC has sought to position itself as the liberal cable alternative to Fox News, which launched the trend by carving out a lucrative niche as a magnet for conservative viewers. In that respect, Axelrod becomes NBC’s marquee counterpart to Fox News’ Karl Rove, who gained a national reputation by guiding George W. Bush to the presidency and remains a prominent figure in conservative politics.

The competing audience strategies of the cable networks are often cited as one of the factors in the sharp polarization of American politics, as mainstream news audiences continue to fragment.

A study of news coverage of the final months of the 2012 campaign by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center captured the unusual degree to which ideology is driving the programming of the two cable channels. It noted that MSNC and Fox News identify themselves as news organizations but are less balanced in their coverage than other mainstream outlets. The Pew study also found that MSNBC’s portrayal of GOP nominee Mitt Romney was more negative than coverage of Obama on Fox News.

Axelrod is only the latest top Obama adviser to join MSNBC. Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs recently started work as an NBC/MSNBC analyst. Other Democrats listed as contributors by NBC and MSNBC, according to the network website, include Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor; Karen Finney, a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee; and former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr.

In its news release announcing its hiring of Axelrod, the network listed two Republican contributors: Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Steve Schmidt, who advised 2008 Republican nominee John McCain’s campaign. Neither, however, is particularly beloved by GOP activists.