AP: Things Are “Ugly” at MSNBC, But Changes May Be Just Cosmetic

David Bauder of the Associated Press is the latest to weigh in on the disastrous state of affairs at MSNBC. He calls it “seriously ugly,” and that may be putting it mildly:

Through early March, Chris Hayes’ viewership at 8 p.m. on weekdays was down 23 percent from last year, Rachel Maddow was off 24 percent and Lawrence O’Donnell down 26 percent. Among the 25-to-54-year-old demographic that is the basis for advertising sales, the prime-time lineup lost nearly half its audience. Daytime isn’t much better.

picBauder gets quotes from the likes of Mark Feldstein and Jeff Cohen to answer the basic question: does MSNBC need “a complete overhaul, or a sharpening of its mission?” Actually, we’re already gotten a hint of the answer. Even as we were spun about a new emphasis on hard news TCG saw something different: the same old left-of-center opinion heads popping up for analysis and, just to make sure the party loyalists didn’t get the wrong idea, the continuation of the code phrase “Lean Forward”—even during the allegedly straight non-opinion “newscasts.”

And sure enough, Bauder sees the same thing. Will MSNBC “abandon” its liberal focus, as some fans fear? “That’s very unlikely.” A new identity is considered to be “unappealing.” Shifting to straight news: “even harder.” The real problem? Not the liberal slant, but just that “it’s boring.” To drive this home, Bauder gets comments from none other than Keith Olbermann:

The solution is not that ‘we need more news’ or that ‘we need to alter the political viewpoint,’ but what does the content of the shows look like…

slide_11520_151473_largeThe Cable Game doesn’t think it’s coincidence or happenstance that Bauder’s report focuses so heavily on Olbermann. The former MSNBC host’s dismissal of news coverage is a call back to the days of Countdown, where Olby held court nightly dispensing ideological justice without regard to facts, fairness, or finesse. His show distilled the essence of “Lean Forward” in its most venomous form, and few were spared. It’s hardly a surprise that he considers “good television” a more important element than responsibility. Even less of a surprise is his opinion of himself:

Olbermann said the network needs an infusion of new ideas and new blood. Lack’s skill is in spotting and managing talent, often from unexpected places, “and I am the largest example of that,” he said.

Clearly Keith Olbermann doesn’t believe in false modesty…or any other kind. But his words reinforce the notion that MSNBC’s alleged emphasis on “news” may be little more than a feint. “Lean Forward” isn’t going anywhere.

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