Sunday morning, at the tail end of a Reliable Sources hour devoted to talking about Fox News and Donald Trump, Brian Stelter squeezed in an off-topic question to guest David Zurawik regarding MSNBC’s election coverage:
STELTER: One year ago yesterday, Brian Williams embellished a story about Iraq on “The Nightly News.” It was noticed. Then other questions were raised. He left the chair. And tomorrow he is anchoring Iowa caucus coverage on MSNBC. You have been highly critical of Brian Williams. So, I was just curious. Will you give him a chance one year later?
ZURAWIK: Brian, I will absolutely give him a chance…
The issue here was Williams’ history of lies. But nobody so much as raised an eyebrow about the fact that Williams has been assigned a minder, a co-anchor, and it ain’t an NBC News correspondent. Brian will be co-anchoring with erstwhile Air America talk show host, Rachel Maddow. This would be roughly equivalent Bret Baier dispensing with Chris Wallace, only to make Sean Hannity his co-anchor. But you know as well as we do that Roger Ailes would never pollute his coverage of breaking political news by saddling his superb journalists with partisan co-anchors.
As we looked in at MSNBC’s preview show tonight, there was Maddow (who has her own checkered reportorial history) expounding and intro’ing program blocks on an equal footing with Williams. Cut to opinion host Steve Kornacki who’s now paraded as an impartial political expert. Cut to incisive observations from opinion host Lawrence O’Donnell with pal Gene Robinson (quite a panel). Cut to opinionizer Chris Hayes to talk about Sanders. Cut to our man on the scene, opinion host Chris “two Cuban guys” Matthews. MSNBC’s entire prime time line-up, plus Matthews and Kornacki, had their moment in the sun. The Cable Gamer could tell you what all those opinion hosts have in common, but she thinks you’ve already sussed that out.
Long story short, this is Lean Forward news—with Brian Williams propped up to present a facade of “journalism.” Tonight’s coverage had the same relentlessly leftist tone that’s made MSNBC the failure that it is. It seems unlikely that Brian Stelter will ever get around to addressing this fraud, as his cohort Dylan Byers has already bought into the scam hook, line and sinker.
But The Cable Gamer knows better, and so do you.
Do our media reporters have any idea what’s going on in The Cable Game? We wondered that when we spotted an article in the Bible of Show Business (yes, it used to be called that before Bibles became uncool), Variety. MSNBC announced its coverage plans for the Iowa caucus and “senior tv editor” Brian Steinberg told us all about it:
Brian Williams’ duties at MSNBC will definitely extend beyond daytime hours. Williams and primetime host Rachel Maddow will co-anchor the NBCUniversal-owned cable-news network’s coming coverage of the Iowa caucus.
Steinberg notes that this pairing may raise eyebrows, but not for the reason you—or anyone who knows the first thing about The Cable Game—would think:
Teaming Maddow with Williams may, at first blush, raise some eyebrows. Maddow is largely considered to be a meticulous reporter…
Fact-check: Rachel Maddow is not a reporter, and hardly meticulous. She is an opinionizer and not a particularly good or honest one. She’s MSNBC’s Hannity, without the opposing views and nightly on-air debates. So MSNBC is using a partisan opinion host as a breaking news anchor to cover a political event in which she has taken sides. That’s what raised The Cable Gamer’s eyebrows, but it seemed to fly right past Mr. Steinberg.
Also part of the anchoring plans is Chris Matthews, a lifelong Democrat who this year has more than just an ideological bias. He has a direct personal interest in the Democrats winning the election (and an odd dislike of Cuban males). Steinberg reels off several more names who will be reporting from various Iowa locations, including Chris Hayes. Another MSNBC opinionizer, i.e. not a journalist, meticulous or otherwise.
More insight from Brian Steinberg:
MSNBC is counting on this year’s Presidential race to help it draw attention and further define itself as a place for breaking news – particularly the political kind – as it works to move itself away from being known primarily for analyzing the news through a progressive lens.
Does Mr. Steinberg know who Maddow, Matthews and Hayes are? How is it a move away from progressive news analysis to load up what is supposed to be straight news coverage with a roster of progressive news analysts masquerading as impartial journalists?
But it gets better:
The New Hampshire Union-Leader and MSNBC will hold an unsanctioned Democratic debate in the Granite State in early February that could threaten to put candidates who participate at odds with the Democratic National Committee…The debate, to be moderated by “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, will be held on Feb. 4
Who better to grill the Democrat Presidential candidates than “meticulous reporter” Rachel Maddow? Too bad Fox News, stuffy fuddy-duddies that they are, insist on having journalists moderate their debates. Just think, they could replace Megyn Kelly or Chris Wallace with Sean Hannity, or maybe Jeanine Pirro. The Cable Gamer suspects Donald Trump would approve! Just as Hillary welcomes the choice of Rachel Maddow to pitch softballs. And that choice was handed to her—no threats to boycott the debate required.
This space has wondered how Brian Williams would fit in at MSNBC. With meticulous journalist Maddow bestowing her blessing on him (“What’s past is past.”) it appears he’s amenable to treating radio talk show hosts as if they were actual reporters. The paychecks will keep coming, he can take weekends off, and as long as the industry press remains clueless (or looks the other way) he can get used to leaning forward. It gets easier every day.
When the first break came in today’s Benghazi hearing, it was a real test for MSNBC’s alleged dedication to “hard news,” with its highly-touted albeit disgraced ex-NBC anchor Brian Williams at the helm. And what did viewers get? Pretty much what The Cable Gamer expected.
Aside from brief bits of background from Andrea Mitchell and Kelly O’Donnell, the break between sessions was pretty much focused on comments from three of MSNBC’s lefty program hosts: Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell, along with “conservative” Nicole Wallace. The very existence of a nominal Republican on MSNBC’s airwaves is quite a development, even when she has to fight to get a word in edgewise with three opponents talking over her. Still, while this might be a typical panel for a remake of The Cycle or some other unbalanced MSNBC opinion-fest, it’s a joke for what’s supposed to be nonpartisan “hard news” coverage.
More to the point, as if to express solidarity with the Democrats’ talking point that the hearings are just politics, that’s pretty much what MSNBC’s coverage during the break was: just politics. While Fox News offered several military/security experts (one of them a former advisor to Hillary Clinton herself) to comment on the information that came out in the hearing, on MSNBC it was all talking points and politics. (When FNC finally did a short segment on the political aspects it was an evenly balanced left/right debate and only ran a few minutes.)
Meanwhile, when MSNBC wasn’t pitting three partisan Democrats against one centrist Republican it found time to squeeze in a few additional interviews: committee member and Hillary defender Adam Schiff, committee member and Hillary defender Elijah Cummings, and from the State Department Joel Rubin, who gushed that Hillary’s testimony showed her to be “a giant among amateurs.” If this coverage leaned any further forward, Brian Williams would’ve been face down on the floor.
MSNBC is painting its daytime news coverage as “nonpartisan.” The Cable Gamer rates that claim: Pants on Fire! How long will clueless, gullible media reporters keep parroting that line?
The Cable Gamer has detailed MSNBC’s Pro-Obama strategy: Suck up to the Obama Left, and thereby get all the Barack Obama fans to watch as MSNBC-ers (and to a lesser extent, NBC) cheerlead for the O-Man. (That’s Obama, not Keith Olbermann, in case you were wondering.) In addition, TCG has noted the unforeseen upside: GE Capital, sister company to MSNBC (as well as to CNBC and NBC) is now on the receiving end of a $139 billion–that’s billion with a “b”–federal loan guarantee, as part of the overall Wall Street bailout.
OK, that’s the good news for MSNBC.
The bad news is that to implement this strategy, MSNBC had to rely on some loose cannons. Very loose. One such cannon, of course, is Olbermann. And another is Chris Matthews. Any publicly traded corporation–with all the scrutiny, and the presumption of sober seriousness that comes from being the vessel of shareholder ownership–that links its fate to loose cannons will, eventually, find itself blown up.
And Matthews is our case study for today–still busy, as he has been for the past year, trashing Hillary Rodham Clinton.
One can read this item, from The New York Post‘s “Page Six,” and see clear signs of chronic puffing, an early indicator of inevitable inflation, followed by blowing up:
HARDBALL” host Chris Matthews and the other “castratos” at MSNBC shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for a Hillary Clinton interview.
Matthews, who once opined that men who supported Clinton were “castratos in the eunuch chorus,” forgot the cardinal rule for those who are often mentioned on Page Six – he didn’t take a good look around on the Acela train from Philadelphia to Washington Saturday before he started bad-mouthing the New York senator.
An avowed Clinton lover who was sitting next to Matthews reports: “He was in business class wearing a red baseball hat that said Penn on the back, and the fat [bleep] fell asleep on the train and snored with his mouth open.”
During the ride to DC, Matthews awoke from his nap. A fellow passenger asked him, “What’s the news tomorrow?” – to which Matthews loudly started talking about President-elect Barack Obama possibly picking Hillary as his secretary of state.
“I don’t understand it,” Matthews bellowed. “Why would he pick her? I thought we were done with the Clintons. She’ll just use it to build her power base. It’s Machiavellian. And then we’ll have Bill Clinton, too. I thought Obama didn’t want drama. He’s already got [chief of staff Rahm] Emanuel and [transition team leader John] Podesta. He’ll have even more drama with her.
“She’s just a soap opera. If he doesn’t pick her, everyone will say she’s been dissed again, we’ll have to live through that again.”
Now, is it really wise for Matthews to be carrying on the feud against Hillary, even after his man, Obama, has won the nomination and the election? Do the suits at MSNBC, and parents NBC-Universal and GE, really want to keep attacking her–and by implication, all of her supporters? And all of those who don’t want to think that a commentator, and his network have been completely captured by one liberal sliver of the population?
The picture of what Matthews actually believes is a bit muddled, however. As “P6” further notes:
Matthews seems to be playing both sides of the fence. The host, who apologized to Clinton last year for claiming she got where she was because “her husband messed around,” said on-air last Friday: “Look, I think that since she lost the fight for the nomination, [Clinton] has been not just a good soldier, she has sang the tune of [Obama]. She’s been illustrious, she’s been admirable . . . her spirit seems to be with him.”
A rep for Clinton declined to comment while a rep for Matthews didn’t return e-mails.
So which are we to believe, Chris? What you said on the Acela (which squares with what you said on MSNBC air for a year), or what you have said, here and there, since the election? I think that the obvious preponderance of evidence is that Matthews’ train talk is the real Matthews.
And that’s a problem for MSNBC as it tries to negotiate its way into 2009. Will it be all Obama-olatry all the time? If so, that’ll be hard to watch, even for Democrats–especially Hillary Clinton-type Democrats.
And eventually, all those non-Obama Democrats, to say nothing of independents and Republicans, are going to be asking Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, why the rest of us must subsidize the left-liberalism of GE’s MSNBC’s unit.
GE is a bigger company than MSNBC, and there might well be some non-Obamans inside the corporate structure, although of late, you wouldn’t know it.
MSNBC, no doubt the Obama network this past year, was preaching to choir. That is the problem with cable networks: They have sliced the demagraphics so thin that only a few segments can watch. When television had only three broadcast networks, 30 plus years ago, people actually had to watch something they disagreed with. That critical factor is missing in modern day tv viewing.
The problem with MSNBC is that they are so blanted about it.
Danny L. McDaniel
Reposted from The Cable Game, 18 November 2008
The Cable Gamer has no idea why anyone would trust Salon for reportage from inside Fox News—it’s not like they have ever had even a semi-reliable source therein. And yet here’s Scott Eric Kaufman (remember that name, you may never hear it again) with some creative fiction about Fox and Megyn Kelly, headlining:
Megyn Kelly abruptly announces unplanned two-week vacation, effective immediately…
Kaufman goes on to note that “the timing of her unplanned absence is a touch curious,” and the string of comments by the chronically credulous confirm how difficult it is to underestimate Salon readers. Note that Kaufman has no source for his allegation that the vacation is unscheduled. In fact it’s been widely reported that the vacation was planned well ahead of time, from sources as diverse as the Los Angeles Times, TV Newser, and The Daily Beast. But Kaufman and his nonexistent source know better. Some would call this making it up, but in The Cable Game we have another term for it: lying.
As for the “abrupt” announcement, here’s an insight into how The Cable Game is played in the real world. Networks don’t often advertise to tell viewers ahead of time that Bill O’Reilly won’t be on this week. Because that makes viewers less likely to tune in. That sort of info, when it’s given at all, usually comes at the last minute.
What’s more, it’s August! The notion that this is a peculiar time for cable news anchors to take time off is ludicrous. Bill O’Reilly is off all week. Gretchen Carlson is off all week. Julie Banderas has been hop-skotching the channel filling in for other anchors who are taking time off this week. Because the end of August is a low-viewership period. When is Ms. Kelly supposed to take her vacation—after Labor Day, when viewers come home from vacation and the cable news audience is bigger? Salon‘s entire premise is ignorant at best, deceitful at worst, and in all likelihood both of the above.
WALSH: It kind of looks like Roger Ailes backed Trump in that battle, so she’s going on an unscheduled vacation.
There it is again, contrary to published reports, based on nothing whatsoever: the “unscheduled” vacation. Steve Kornacki, allegedly one of the brighter lights in the MSNBC leftist chandelier, didn’t question Walsh’s made-up assertion; he affirmed it! Not surprising, since MSNBC is shameless in spreading such claptrap. They treat their viewers like Salon regards its readers—as unquestioning rubes who will swallow whatever malarkey they throw at them.
By the way, why was Joan Walsh on Hardball spewing her fiction to Steve Kornacki? Oh, didn’t you know? Chris Matthews is off this week…on vacation!
The Cable Gamer has always been a fan of James Wolcott. Of course, Wolcott is no conservative in the partisan political sense, but he does seem to have an instinct for excellence and justice of a kind. And as Plato explained 2500 years ago, that’s the true test of a virtuous conservative.
So while nobody likes snobs, snobbery has a larger social value if it serves to uphold and enforce standards. Every month in Vanity Fair, and just about every day in his blog, Wolcott, in his own sly style, seeks to elevate the best and execrate the worst. And so obviously, Wolcott has no sympathy for the likes of Keith Olbermann, or any of the rest of the mean-spirited left-wing yakety yaks at MSNBC. But hey, don’t take my word for it—here’s the proof, from his latest column in the June issue of VF (yup, the one with Miley Cyrus inside):
The garrulous MSNBC host and Gatling gun Chris Matthews was so egregious in his anti-Hillary slant that he apologized after receiving a coast-battering storm of critical backlash, and colleague David Shuster was put in the penalty box after asking if Hillary had “pimped out” daughter Chelsea.
That’s pretty bad. But of course, you-know-who always wins the prize for wretched excess. Here’s what Wolcott wrote next:
Keith Olbermann would later outdo both with an excoriating “Special Comment” on his MSNBC show that accused her of being complicit in the race-baiting of Obama: “Voluntarily or inadvertently, you are still awash in this filth.”
“Awash in filth”? Words fail me when it comes to adequately challenging Olbermann’s unique ability to turn over-the-top vilification of others into even more over-topping self-congratulation.
Happily, I can always rely on Wolcott to help adjudicate wreckless and wrecking rhetoric. Indeed, in his piece, Wolcott goes on to deliciously dish Andrew Sullivan, who would seem to have a crush on Barack Obama, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Happily, the whole article is online, VF seems to have changed its editorial policy of late. Yay!
As such, Wolcott reminds me of George Sanders, pictured above, who won an Oscar for his 1950 portrayal of a wily theater critic in the classic All About Eve. Here’s a bit of Sanders, in his best-ever character:
“My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater—as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field.”
That’s good neo-Wildean wit—tinctured, of course, a tiny touch of knowing self-loathing. But in fact, The Cable Gamer believes, critics—honest critics, at least—have a useful keep-’em-honest function. The diabolical DeWitt is a case in point—he has a streak of divine justice in him. As fans of the film recall, DeWitt catches the conniving Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter) in all her lies. It seems that Eve has lied not only about her devotion to aging stage diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis), but also fabricated her entire background. Eve isn’t really Eve, and she even lied about a fictional boyfriend, “Eddy,” who was killed, she averred, in World War II. The vile truth about Eve is all too much for even a cynic such as DeWitt, who confronts her in the film’s climactic scene. In particular, DeWitt denounces Eve for her lie about “Eddy,” calling that “a slur on our dead heroes and the women who loved them.” (That’s from memory, anyone who has the exact quote is welcome to correct me.) But the point here is that DeWitt understands that the bitchy and backstabby world that he lives in, and revels in, is only made possible by the real sacrifice of real Americans. And so DeWitt is a sort of Platonic Guardian, allowing lies about little things, but making sure that the truth is told about important things. And nothing is more important than war for national defense. It’s their sacred memory, DeWitt knows, that must be protected. And the solemn reverence of loved ones is also not to be trifled with. The collective maintenance of civilization must always trump individual ambition.
And so it is with Wolcott, who uses his writing skills to preserve some decent sense of reference and proportion. That’s decency made all the more pointed, of course by a wicked wit. Thus Wolcott jibes that Arianna Huffington has turned The Huffington Post into “the celebrity clubhouse of Obamamania.” And going further, Wolcott arches an eyebrow as he observes:
The majority of Huffpo’s high-profile contributors were so over the rainbow about Obama that it was as if they had found rapture in the poppy fields and were rolling around on their backs like ladybugs.
I have little doubt that Wolcott will attack some other target next, including, perhaps, some figures that I like. And so I reserve the right to disagree with Wolcott, even as I have forfeited my right not to adore him, Like the fictional DeWitt, the real Wolcott is always entertaining, and always compelling.
As I said, I am a fan.
Reposted from The Cable Game, 3 May 2008
The Huffington Post reports, using that headline above; you decide:
Discussing Hillary Clinton’s upcoming speech, Matthews began talking about women ‘s reactions to Hillary. His producers, likely wary of any more cries of sexism against the host and the network, presumably tried to get him to wrap, as he said, “I’ll wrap in a second, I’ll wrap in a second.”
Olbermann then tried to attribute Matthews’ point about women voters to Rachel Maddow, to which Matthews said, “Good ideas can be shared.”
Then, when introducing Steny Hoyer, Olbermann mocked Matthews for “[going] off at the mouth” and made a hand gesture implying that Matthews talked forever.
“You make that sound, Keith,” Matthews said. “I can do the same to you. That’s what I thought. And I said it.”
Translated: “I’m rubber, and you’re glue…” C’mon guys, grow up! Chris, this won’t help your Senate run, even if the experience of sharing a set with Olbermann in Denver makes Matthews more determined than ever to go seek a new career in elective politics.
And of course, The New York Post’s “Page Six” is stoking up the fratricidal fires, chronicling the on-air war of the words between David Shuster and Joe Scarborough, and adding this tidbit:
Insiders say Olbermann is pushing to have Brokaw banned from the network and is also refusing to have centrist Time magazine columnist Mike Murphy on his show.
“The idea of anyone trying to ban Tom Brokaw is ludicrous,” said one MSNBC-er. Brokaw was on MSNBC for an hour yesterday afternoon. Murphy, who was bumped from Olbermann’s show on Monday night, told us, “They told me technical problems and I have no reason not to believe them.”
The Cable Gamer can only offer this comment: television, like any form of entertainment, is naturally full of big egos and prima donnas. Nothing new there.
But a TV network has to function, on air, as a cohesive team. Why? Two reasons:
First, the mechanics of TV, transitioning from one talking head to another, from one guest to another, from one show to another are simply too delicate to allow for bad behavior. (And that lack of collegiality was a big reason why the same David Shuster got axed from Fox News a few years back.)
Second, the viewers—if there are to be viewers—like to think of the network as a team, as a family. After all, the folks in the box are being invited into folks’ homes. And as guests, TVers are supposed to be pleasant and civil. Otherwise, they won’t be invited back. Again, it’s human nature for ambitious people not to like each other, but if the on-air chemistry is too obviously terrible (think Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner in the 70s, think Connie Chung and Dan Rather in the 90s), well, then, the show just doesn’t work.
In the meantime, it’s pretty clear to The Cable Gamer that Olbermann is the principal cause of the trouble at MSNBC. His acidly volcanic personality and temperament is all too clear on the air. And if we can see it on the screen, imagine what it’s like to be around him on the set, or in the office. TCG can only imagine that profilers and bloggers are gathering their string on KO—the better to hang him with it.
Which is why TCG has never thought he will last on TV, even if he is pulling down decent ratings—it’s just not possible to run a network with someone like him making everyone else’s life miserable.
And of course, MSNBC has an even bigger problem: It is connected to the rest of the NBC media conglomerate, and then to GE. Suits don’t like trouble, because trouble wrinkles.
And as KO would be the first to proclaim, he is trouble.
UPDATE: Jeff Bercovici, ace Cable Gamer for Conde Nast Portfolio, adds this, under the headline, “Scarborough Losing Patience with MSNBC-ers.”
Reposted from The Cable Game, 27 August 2008