The news that two opinionizers, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, will be co-anchoring MSNBC’s “hard news” coverage of the inauguration along with a diminished Brian Williams seems to have been greeted by media watchers as it always is: with a yawn. Like the increasing use of opinion people in reportorial roles it’s all but ignored as “media reporters” write eyewash about MSNBC’s newfound commitment to hard news and straight reporting.
Similarly, writers like Gabriel Sherman call Tucker Carlson’s ascension to FNC prime time “Trump TV.” Silly to anyone who actually follows Carlson’s career and libertarian instincts, even sillier when it’s used to characterize the entire channel. But when was the last time you heard Gabriel Sherman refer to MSNBC as “DNC TV?” Your Cable Gamer took a closer look at MSNBC prime time, using the last day where full posted transcripts were available: January 16. Who were the hosts, who were the guests, and how did they align? How many were left? Right? Pro- or anti-Trump? Let’s go to the transcripts:
- Ted Lieu (D)
- Hakeem Jeffries (D)
- Debbie Stabenow (D)
- Jonathan Chait: Pro-Obama
- Ilan Goldenberg: Anti-Trump
- Cedric Richmond (D)
- April Ryan: Ostensibly impartial but praises Obama
- Jonathan Capehart: Anti-Trump
- Mark Thompson: Anti-Trump
- Wesley Clark (D)
- Richard Stengel: Obama appointee
- Howard Dean (D)
- Steven Brill: Pro Obamacare, anti-repeal/replace
In three hours of prime time there was quite a spectrum of opinion: from pro-Obama to anti-Trump. But if you hoped to hear even one person with a viewpoint in favor of Trump or his proposals, you were watching the wrong channel, because there were none at all. Zero. It was as close to DNC-TV as you could get without just putting Donna Brazile in charge of leaking the questions.
In contrast, that night’s opinion programs on Fox News, while reflecting a right-of-center perspective, included people from the left like Mary Anne Marsh (D) and Jehmu Greene (D). Bill O’Reilly goes out of his way to include opposing views on his top-rated hour. Tucker Carlson Tonight, the show that so alarmed Sherman, has made its bones with the lively, often-riveting exchanges between Carlson and people who vehemently disagree with him. Only Hannity had no dissenting voices on January 16 (though usually he has at least one Democrat on).
Your Cable Gamer just made up the moniker “DNC-TV” for MSNBC prime time. Yet it’s far more truthful and on-point than the “Trump-TV” taunts from anti-Fox partisans like Gabe. Meanwhile, tomorrow MSNBC will reduce the discredited Brian Williams to the role of sidekick for two partisan co-anchors: a political hack, and a far-left talk show host. And call it “news coverage.”
The Cable Gamer didn’t see it coming, but was pleased that one of the great names of cable news found an outlet for her work. Greta van Susteren has a reputation for being scrupulously fair, and her independence (“NO ONE tells me what to say”) is legendary. For its part, MSNBC knew it had a sales job on its hands: a fair and balanced program host was to be part of the lead-in for what isn’t far removed from a prime time block of DNC infomercials. Rachel Maddow was enlisted to pretend she respected Greta (unconvincingly according to some analysts) and starred in promos for the new hire. But there were people who weren’t so happy to see the former CNN and Fox host on MSNBC’s air: the viewers.
From Monday through Thursday For the Record with Greta finished in third place (25-54) behind FNC and CNN. Viewership crept up for a few days only to crater on January 12–her worst number yet, and MSNBC’s lowest-rated hour from 5pm to midnight. Greta’s 157,000 demo viewers represents a pale fraction of the 329,000 who tuned in on January 12, 2016–when she was still on Fox.
Her MSNBC program is almost a carbon copy of the hour she did on FNC. Aside from the opening preposition, they are identically named. And Greta’s non-partisan modus operandi is the same on MSNBC as it was on CNN and Fox:
New channel, same Greta—in her first show since departing Fox News for MSNBC, Van Susteren brought back her patented ideology-free approach…
So what’s different? The audience. MSNBC viewers just aren’t that interested in fair and balanced reporting. In the top 20 cable news programs of 2016 there are five Fox News newscasts–not opinion hours or chat shows, but news programs with journalists at the anchor desk. MSNBC has one: a half-hour show at 11pm (when Fox is airing a repeat), with a discredited anchor whose journalistic bona fides are in tatters. You have to scroll all the way down to #39 to find a second example, and both are far below the lefty prime time block that’s MSNBC’s bread and butter. Simply put the MS viewership is far less interested in news than in party line agit-prop.
For that matter, even the Brian Williams experiment isn’t working out as planned. The show has gradually become less news and more a late-night edition of “The Place for Politics,” where multi-headed panels chew over click-bait topics in a low-rent attempt to imitate the CNN style of news analysis. In fact when BriWi isn’t there, they don’t even bother to keep up the “news” pretense. They just let one of their opinionizers sit in his chair and anchor the “newscast,” pretty much positioning the whole show as a continuation of the previous four hours of political talk. (Dissenting opinions are a little more welcome on The 11th Hour, so there is some differentiation from the string of partisan hosts that precedes it.)
On a network where even the “hard news” is compromised to hang on to every possible viewer in their niche audience, how can Greta van Susteren possibly succeed? One week isn’t enough to answer that question, but at this point one of the most successful hosts in cable news history finds herself in unfamiliar ratings terrain: at the bottom.
Today was a day of big announcements in the Cable Game, but what attracted The Cable Gamer’s attention was more the responses to those announcements. The big one was Tucker Carlson taking over Megyn Kelly’s time slot and it spawned this tweet from an MSM hero, Atlantic big-wig David Frum, who was not pleased:
Fox’s only Trump skeptic replaced by Trump enthusiast
Frum followed up by retweeting a fellow mainstreamer, Jonathan Chait:
Fox News is going to be state television, basically.
Just by coincidence a similar notion was put forward by the Washington Post:
“This takes away the one person who at times — not always, but at times — was skeptical” of the president-elect, said the executive, who asked not to be identified, so that he could offer a frank opinion. “Now it’ll just be state-run TV.”
Amazingly this executive (said to be from one of Fox’s competitors) echoed both the points in two tweets by two different writers. Could it be the exec was feeding these talking points not just to the Post but to other writers receptive to anti-Fox propaganda who like to tweet…like David Frum and Jonathan Chait? That might explain why these two are promoting fake news about FNC.
Is Megyn Kelly Fox’s “only Trump skeptic,” the “one person” at Fox News was “at times was skeptical” of the President-elect? No. That’s a lie. And easily shown to be so. A few examples:
- Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith: Donald Trump ‘Trades in Racism’
- “Spewing” Gregg Jarrett: No Trump Fan
- Fox News Host SHUTS DOWN Lying Trump Spokesperson
- Chris Wallace Grills Trump Over ‘Huge Conflict of Interest’ in Sunday Interview
- Fox Anchor to Trump Spox: Can’t He Just Do the ‘Polite Thing’ and Apologize?
- Fox’s Jenna Lee Smacks Down Trump Spox Attempts To Blame Birtherism On Hillary Clinton
- ‘You won’t TELL US anything about the Trump Foundation!’ – Fox News anchor GRILLS Trump spox
- How Fox News’s Chris Wallace set a ‘bear trap’ for Donald Trump
And just today, as we were preparing this post:
- Shep Smith scorches Trump for betraying US spies: ‘Is it a thank you to Russia for all their help?’
The above is just a small sample from FNC’s fair and balanced news anchors. Their roster of contributors and opinionizers includes a good number of Trump supporters, but is also rife with Trump critics, skeptics, and opponents. Just the first dozen who come to mind:
- Juan Williams
- Gillian Turner
- Dana Perino
- Richard Fowler
- Charles Krauthammer
- Bernard Goldberg
- Joe Trippi
- Eboni K. Williams
- Julie Roginsky
- Judge Andrew Napolitano
- Leslie Marshall
- Col Ralph Peters
And yet the respected David Frum would have you believe none of the above people exist, and when Megyn Kelly wasn’t on the air Trump was getting a complete pass on Fox News.
A fraudulent claim is fed to willing “journalists” by some exec at CNN or MSNBC. Frum and Chait uncritically parrot the flackery as if it’s gospel, knowing their followers will swallow it up. Clearly Frum didn’t know if it was true or not and in any case didn’t care enough to check (let alone triple-check). Which reminds The Cable Gamer how sometimes the people who hate Fox News most are the ones who never watch it.
There’s a new report out from the folks at Gender Avenger, the site that tracks how many women get invited to panels, cable news shows, and the like. Whatever you think of the validity of this exercise The Cable Gamer thinks it’s a good thing to have straight, impartial statistical data of this sort. But is everything what it seems?
The announcement for the month of May is described as follows:
Who Talks? monitors the highest-rated morning and evening shows on three major television news networks: CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. Any guest who is not the host (or substitute host) and is asked to comment substantively on the 2016 presidential election is counted as an analyst. We count the total number of election analyst of each gender in each show and then compare aggregate numbers and proportional representation. Data is published monthly.
Sounds pretty straightforward. Here are their May stats on the percentages of female pundits:
- New Day: 31%
- Fox & Friends: 22%
- Morning Joe: 24%
- Anderson Cooper: 48%
- The Kelly File: 15%
- Rachel Maddow: 33%
You’ll note CNN shows win in both morning and evening categories. In fact several times Anderson Cooper has been singled out for “hall of fame” status. In one odd case he made the “hall of fame” for a 43% week, even though Rachel Maddow scored 50% (sorry Rachel, no “hall of fame” for you!).
These scorecards get a lot of play from friendly media sites, some of them quite knowledgeable, so The Cable Gamer is mildly surprised that none of them spotted a disconnect in the methodology. The criteria state they monitor the “highest-rated” evening shows on the three cable news nets—so where is Bill O’Reilly? O’Reilly has had the #1 program on cable news for “15 years and counting” (as viewers are reminded every evening). Yet The Factor has never been rated by Gender Avenger.
The Cable Gamer recently asked GA how it is that they skipped over the undisputed “highest-rated” evening cable news program, and got this response:
We too noticed the error in describing all the targeted shows as “highest rated” and have since amended our references to “popular” to encompass all. The reason we picked Megyn Kelley [sic] is that we wanted to follow all the 9 o’clock hour shows in the evening.
Yeah, well, we aren’t sure exactly where “highest-rated” as been amended to “popular.” The Cable Gamer couldn’t find it on the GA website, where “highest-rated” still appears in the criteria. And if the intention is to cover the 9 o’clock shows, why not just say that? Mind you, CNN doesn’t always run Anderson Cooper at 9 o’clock; sometimes they have documentaries and series like The Eighties in that time slot. What effect does that have on the stats?
This seems like a lot of finagling in what would otherwise be a straightforward contest among highest-rated shows. But what if it was as advertised: a contest among the most-watched programs? The results would be mostly as they are, except The O’Reilly Factor would replace The Kelly File. We started too late to capture the first part of May, but other than that we made a count, sticking to the criteria, and got these results for the last three weeks of the month:
- The O’Reilly Factor: 40%
In fact for the week of May 16th O’Reilly scored an impressive 46%—that’s higher than the measly 43% Anderson Cooper scored in his “hall of fame” week. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Mr. O’Reilly has a repertory company of female guests who appear regularly: Katie Pavlich, Eboni Williams, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Lis Wiehl, Martha MacCallum, Monica Crowley, Mary Anne Marsh, Dana Perino, Kirsten Powers, etc.
One would think Gender Avenger would want to throw a little “hall of fame” action O’Reilly’s way, as an encouragement to people who do provide the diversity GA calls for. But the rules have been quietly bent just enough to exclude Bill O’Reilly from contention. Funny that.
The Cable Gamer doesn’t remember ever seeing this sort of thing before. As Megyn Kelly was recording her town hall with Ted Cruz this morning (which aired on Fox News at 9:00 pm as scheduled) it turned up on MSNBC:
MSNBC went live to the camera of a network embed for just under 15 minutes around 11:30 a.m., when Tamron Hall was anchoring. Viewers of MSNBC saw and heard Kelly ask questions of Cruz as well as his answers. MSNBC staff at the event were approached by a campaign staffer a short time later, who asked the network to stop, someone with knowledge of the situation said.
What was MSNBC thinking? Does anyone believe they would take kindly to one of their competitors bringing a camera in to an event they were putting on and airing it live as it happened? The Cable Gamer is no lawyer but she has to wonder about things like proprietary material, commercial use of Megyn Kelly’s persona without consent, and other things with words even bigger than those. Maybe MSNBC was thinking along the same lines: after the town hall began they reframed the image to crop Ms. Kelly out of the picture, though maybe that did that just to be petty:
Whether there is a legal case or not this a low trick to pull, especially for a channel that’s trying to work its way back to respectability in the world of hard news. Cable Gamer Johnny Dollar called it “sleazy.” That may be an overstatement, but at best this was a bush-league move, something you might expect from the likes of One America News rather than an arm of the National Broadcasting Company. And Tamron Hall, fairly or not, may lose a few reputation points as well.
Image credits: Mediaite
Your Cable Gamer has been a voice in the wilderness regarding the purported “revamping” of MSNBC into an operation that does “hard news.” Their cadre of leftist opinionizers is still there, only now some of them have been rebranded as “reporters” or “correspondents.” Brian Williams was brought in to lend a facade of fairness to election coverage, but he’s not allowed to be the anchor. Instead he ends up sidekick to MSNBC’s biggest opinionizer, Rachel Maddow. (And guess whose name comes first in the press release.)
The lines have certainly been blurred, but now the mixing of news and opinion is going in another, even more disturbing, direction. This tweet was issued yesterday:
It’s a tweet from NBC News’ official twitter account. It includes an NBC News link, with their #Decision2016 hashtag. It goes to a page on the NBC News website. But it’s not written by an NBC newsman. The article credits Alex Seitz-Wald who, as Cable Gamer readers know, is an MSNBC opinionizer who was magically rechristened as a “political reporter” (part of the “revamping” of MSNBC). NBC just gives his name, without stating what his role at NBC is. So most readers would conclude he’s an impartial NBC News journalist. And that’s the furthest thing from the truth.
Besides writing for for the dishonest Salon website (not to mention articles at Truthout and Alternet), Alex Seitz-Wald wrote prolifically for Think Progress, where he also served as an editor. That site’s goal, by the way, is to “advance progressive values,” just in case you think the notion of parading Alex Seitz-Wald as any kind of neutral reporter hasn’t already been shown to be an utter absurdity. How much of this does NBC News tell you when you follow their link and read his report? None. You can’t even click on his name to get a bio or curriculum vitae. It’s almost like NBC News doesn’t want readers to know what Alex Seitz-Wald’s line really is.
And the “report” itself? It’s a real gem, with Seitz-Wald barely able to control his admiration for how efficiently the mob shut down a Trump event. Steve Krakauer of Autonomous calls Seitz-Wald’s piece “absolutely irresponsible” in how it was “celebrating the MoveOn-funded effort to shut down a Trump rally.” And when you read through the piece, it’s stunning how celebratory it is. The most basic issue imaginable—the coordinated effort to suppress someone else’s right to free speech—is never raised, let alone posed to any of the social justice warriors.
By the sheerest of coincidences, progressive media critic Bob Somerby noted someone else who exhibited a similar blind spot:
Do you think players on Our Team should attend campaign events with the intention of “disrupting” those events? Possibly with the hope or intent of shutting the events down?
Good news! If you were a Maddow watcher last night, you didn’t have to consider those questions! Playing a typical service role, Maddow blew right past this statement by Sfondeles, in which our heroic tribemates were portrayed in a way which may not seem moral or wise.
At the start of last night’s show, Maddow blew right past that statement. As usual, her moral concerns would all be directed The Other Way Only last night.
As a full-service tribal guide, Maddow routinely protects us against any concerns about our own team’s behavior.
A “Lean Forward” spin by Rachel Maddow is duplicated in an article by MSNBC “reporter” Alex Seitz-Wald. Nothing new there; on a good day the line between reporting and opinion is barely perceptible at MSNBC. But then that article is presented by NBC News as an impartial piece of reportorial journalism, with no disclosures whatsoever regarding the rampant ideological partisanship of its author. When the NBC News brand, once regarded as trustworthy, foists off MSNBC opinionizing as straight reporting, it’s a sad day. Another line has been erased.
Cable Gamer Erik Wemple at the Post wrote up a bit of a to-and-fro between Donald Trump and the Wall Street Journal over a poll that didn’t happen to have Mr. Trump in the #1 spot. The article dealt with a Trump interview where he railed at the WSJ, Roger Ailes, and tossed in Fox News for good measure:
On his broader treatment in the media, Trump said that Fox News gives him the most trouble. “The worst treatment I get is from Fox,” said Trump, citing the negative reviews from Karl Rove (“moron”) and Charles Krauthammer. “[Fox News chief] Roger Ailes won’t lift his finger to help me,” said Trump.
Wemple served up the delights of a resurgent Trump/Fox feud, then wrapped with a favorite flourish: a swipe at Fox & Friends:
…what a self-centered ingrate Donald Trump has proved himself. Doesn’t he appreciate all those sweet appearances on “Fox & Friends” over the years?
Wemple’s link goes to one of his many posts railing against Fox & Friends for being sycophantic, stupid, or just plain “awful.” But why?
It wasn’t a troublesome WSJ poll that triggered this recent string of Trump zingers. Trump was already unloading on Fox News Wednesday at 9:49 am:
What had gotten Trump’s nose out of joint at that hour? Maybe it had something to do with the appearance he made on Fox News just minutes earlier. Mr. Wemple didn’t mention it, but Business Insider did:
Fox News hosts grill Donald Trump in tense interview about his George W. Bush criticism: In a tense exchange, the hosts of “Fox & Friends” grilled Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump…
On the question of lying about WMD’s Brian Kilmeade challenged Trump:
[Former Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright said they were there, [former President] Bill Clinton said they were there, [former French President] Jacques Chirac said they were there, the Portuguese prime minster said they were there, [former Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak said they were there.
Host Steve Doocy jumped into the fray. He brought the conversation back to immigration by pointing out that a “number of people in this country” have overstayed their visas. Trump said if his proposed policies had been in effect, the 9/11 attackers would not have been able to get into the US. “In nine months you would have swept up every person overstaying their visa?” Doocy asked incredulously.
The Inquisitor traced the after-effects of this on-air confrontation:
The friction generated during the live interview remained stuck in Trump’s craw well into Thursday morning, when the outspoken and social media savvy candidate took to Twitter for an airing of grievances. While he also took a shot at the Wall Street Journal, the main subject of his disdain was Fox News. “[Fox News] is changing their theme from ‘fair and balanced’ to ‘unfair and unbalanced,’” Trump tweeted.
This is why The Cable Gamer finds it odd that Mr. Wemple brought up yet again how “awful” and “sycophantic” Fox & Friends is. Why reiterate an old, familiar narrative about the “sycophantic” Fox & Friends when it clearly did not apply? Wouldn’t a “tense” confrontation that arguably sparked Trump’s latest salvos at Fox be more pertinent than an off-target meme? Yet the fractious encounter was ignored so Fox & Friends could again serve its purpose as a columnist’s favorite pincushion.
Fasten your seat belts, Ainsley. If Erik Wemple is still on his anti-Fox & Friends bender, you are in for a bumpy ride.