Each night the website Mediaite summarizes the previous day’s cable news Nielsen ratings. This is basically just data reporting, but the headlines are something else. The Cable Gamer is not alone in spotting some peculiar contortions being used for reasons unknown. Example:
Maddow Scores in Key Demo Tuesday, Erin Burnett OutFront Lags Behind in Total Viewers
Twitter was quick to pounce:
Not only did Maddow lose to Hannity, she got fewer demo viewers than Tucker Carlson. So she finished third, behind two other people, yet Mediaite’s headline wants you to know she scored! Scored what? 2nd runner up?
With that as background, today Mediaite produced this headline:
MSNBC’s 11th Hour Tops Demo on Thursday, CNN’s The Lead Second in Time Slot
At least this one is semi-accurate: 11th Hour did top the Thursday demo at 11:00 pm. It was not the top show of the night. That was Hannity, who got no mention at all in the headline. We haven’t seen such hyping of Brian Williams’ show since January 29th:
MSNBC’s The 11th Hour Tops Demo in Time Slot Friday, Cuomo Prime Time Third at 9 PM
Why the gap? Because someone else was winning 11:00 pm: Shannon Bream on Fox News. Although this respected attorney-journalist got a late start in the competition with Williams, she worked her way up the ratings ladder and started winning night after night: not just in the key demo but in total viewers too. Look at Mediaite’s ratings headlines covering January 22nd forward and see how they rewarded Ms. Bream for breaking the 11:00 pm glass ceiling:
- Hannity Most-Watched Cable News Show Monday, MSNBC’s Hardball Last In Demo For Time Slot
- Fox News’ Martha MacCallum Posts Strong Demo Ratings on Tuesday, Anderson Cooper 360 Struggles
- Fox News’ Martha MacCallum Posts Strong Demo Ratings on Tuesday, Anderson Cooper 360 Struggles
- The Five Leads Time Slot Across the Board in Thursday Ratings, CNN Tonight Third at 10 PM
- Fox News Led All of TV For State of the Union Ratings — Most-Watched in Cable News History
- MSNBC’s The 11th Hour Tops Demo in Time Slot Friday, Cuomo Prime Time Third at 9 PM
- Fox News’ Special Report Dominates Time Slot on Wednesday, MSNBC’s The Beat Finishes 3rd in Demo
- Fox News’ Hannity Has Huge Ratings Day Thursday, CNN’s Erin Burnett Third in Time Slot
- Fox News’ Outnumbered Posts Big Ratings on Friday, MSNBC’s MTP Daily Third in Demo in Time Slot
- Tucker Carlson Delivers Big on Monday, CNN’s Situation Room Third in Total Viewers in Time Slot
- Maddow Scores in Key Demo Tuesday, Erin Burnett OutFront Lags Behind in Total Viewers
- Hannity Posts Huge Numbers on Wednesday, MSNBC’s Hardball Third in Demo at 7 PM
- MSNBC’s 11th Hour Tops Demo on Thursday, CNN’s The Lead Second in Time Slot
Spot a pattern? The 11:00 pm rating only makes the headline when MSNBC wins it. When Shannon Bream breaks through and starts a winning streak, the 11:00 pm ratings disappear from the headlines–only to reappear on just the two days MSNBC won the hour. That’s not accidental. The news for ratings-watchers is Shannon Bream surpassing Brian Williams and relegating him to 2nd place. But Mediaite has decided to bury the lede night after night, while flacking for Williams when his infrequent wins allow it.
The pattern is unmistakable. The question is: why?
Bits and pieces scraped from the bottom of our cable barrel, linked by a common factor: what wasn’t said…
The Cable Gamer has had a few interactions with Gabriel Sherman on twitter; he’s been cordial and willing to exchange ideas even though we disagree. His twitter feed is worth following, but the downside is that every now and then he comes up with the odd interpretation of something that seems perfectly normal and not in need of an ulterior motive:
It appeared to The Cable Gamer that there was a more likely, less conspiratorial reason for Dr. Carson’s increased airtime:
Mr. Sherman rightly suggested that both could be true, and The Cable Gamer thought we had arrived at a stalemate. But then came this:
A genuine point. If Sherman’s single, unconfirmed source is to be believed, Roger Ailes issued an order to push Ben Carson at all costs, and everyone just ignored it?
Mr. Sherman never responded. Perhaps he knows when silence is the better part of valor.
Another twitter exchange concerned the Megyn-to-CNN rumors Sherman ignited. As Inside Cable News pointed out, his reporting has been extrapolated to promote rumors that are neither accurate nor imminent, but still persist:
Sherman’s been tweeting since that was asked, but so far has let this stand without reply. Fascinating, on several levels.
The Scoop Machine
We wrote about Dylan Byers, who forgot to credit Mediaite‘s Joe Concha for breaking some big news about MSNBC. Now The Scoop Machine (so dubbed by Brian Stelter) just posted a piece announcing Kate Snow’s afternoon anchor slot, coyly describing it as one of the “long-expected changes” there. Of course it’s long-expected, because it was reported by Joe Concha weeks ago. But, consistent with Scoop Machine policy, Concha got no mention or credit. It’s startling to look like Byers is kind of stingy that way.
Shaking Up Is Hard to Do
Speaking of Mr. Byers, he co-wrote a story on how MSNBC is going to “emphasize news” as part of a major shake-up of the daytime schedule. It’s peppered with exactly the sort of quotes one expects:
- straight-forward newscasts
- a straightforward news network
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Cable Gamer notes that MSNBC continues to hire far-left opinionators and lets them pretend to be “correspondents.” And they are used during their “straightforward news-oriented” daytime newscasts, like the ones anchored by Thomas Roberts and Tamron Hall. They hired another one from HuffPo and the Howard Dean campaign just last week, though it got little attention outside of these pages.
Why is it that neither Dylan Byers nor his co-author Tom Kludt thinks any of this relevant to the “shake-up” hyped in their headline? How “straightforward” is the news when it’s reported by non-journalists with a partisan axe to grind? This horse isn’t dead yet and The Cable Gamer is determined to keep beating it.
In case you didn’t notice, you must not have been following “social media.” The Cable Gamer admits she’s just getting the hang of twitter, but has seen enough to know when the hype machine is up and running:
Mr. Byers is certainly an apt hire for Reliable Sources, since he is as reliable a voice for the media criticism establishment as anyone. And now he apparently falls under the same protection umbrella that has spared Anderson Cooper, Carol Costello, Fareed Zakaria, and even Brian Stelter himself from the scrutiny applied to people not employees of CNN.
It comes at an opportune time for Byers, who was recently embroiled in charges of journalistic pilfering. This is not something ace Cable Gamer Joe Concha takes lightly:
“Dylan Byers is grossly irresponsible and should not be considered a serious media writer,” he told The Mirror Thursday night. “The bottom line is Mike Allen and Byers and Politico for that matter should be ashamed for stealing an exclusive that they know came from Mediaite first…as in eight hours and a week earlier first.
“Byers in particular has a horrible reputation in this industry as somebody who lifts and steals and credits himself with the work that others have done. The fact that I used to actually admire his work is an embarrassment. He deserves no respect and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to rethink his or her evaluation of his so-called work.
“And it’s not about me or Mediaite, but simply fairness and accuracy. Media is less trusted than ever before, and to see ego and self-importance trump right and wrong is both sad and disappointing.”
Do you remember Reliable Sources coverage of this controversy? Neither does the Cable Gamer, and there’s no mention of it in the Reliable transcripts for two weeks following Concha’s scoop. If that’s the kind of treatment Byers got before he became a CNN employee, one can only imagine the size of the kid gloves they’re going to use now:
Dylan Byers, the superbly well-sourced media reporter at Politico, is joining CNNMoney and CNN Politics…Byers is a scoop machine. When I’ve been offline for more than a few hours, the way I see what I’ve missed is by checking his Twitter feed.
Nothing says “conventional wisdom” like the insiders’ coffee klatch that is Morning Joe, a reliable source for what the elites what you to think on any given issue. Today they tackled Senator Rand Paul’s response to the Supreme Court decision on marriage, and it fell to Chuck Todd, NBC’s political wunderkind, to present what passes for insight around that table.
Todd cited Senator Paul’s position that marriage shouldn’t be a government decision at all, presenting it as some sort of slippery dodge cooked up to mollify primary voters—another way of saying “I don’t agree with the way the decision was written” without really saying it. What’s more:
This is the first time I saw Rand Paul act like a politician, because you kind of knew what he wanted to say, and he didn’t say it.
It may have been a first for Chuck Todd, but it wasn’t the first time The Cable Gamer saw Rand Paul call for government to get out of the marriage business. Check out this piece headlined Rand Paul Is Right on Marriage:
Let’s get the government out of the marriage business, he says. If we were starting a system from scratch, I suspect that would be an easier sell. But getting the federal government out of the marriage business, deferring to the states and allowing individuals to, as he says, enter into contracts with one another, can be the way out of the gay marriage thicket for the GOP, I would argue.
When did Rand Paul say this? Was it right after the Court’s same-sex marriage decision as Chuck Todd would have you believe? No, it was a little earlier than that: in March of 2013, over two years ago! But to be fair to Mr. Todd, maybe he didn’t see it. After all, it appeared in a small, obscure, little-noticed beltway publication.
Enter Mediaite‘s Evan McMurry, a man who revels in forwarding false memes. He writes up the exchange, skipping any of the pesky, time-consuming stuff like fact-checking or research, and sums it up with that trademark au courant snark that makes the cool kids swoon:
Rumors that Paul is the consummate politician went unconfirmed at press time.
The Cable Gamer could make some crack about who is the consummate journalist, but it’s hardly necessary.
This week Quinnipiac University released a poll that found Fox News is the most trusted national tv news outlet:
FOX News offers the most trusted network and cable news coverage, 29 percent of American voters say, when asked to compare the major TV news outlets in a Quinnipiac University National poll released today.
Such is the internet that when Politico posted a story about the results, it quickly accumulated a whopping 12,000+ comments. Many of these didn’t touch on the most salient question: Why? Is it the ideological predictability of the competition that leaves Fox News a default favorite? Real Clear‘s Tom Bevan cited increasingly fragmented media along with the key role of independents:
As you might expect, Fox is seen as “most trusted” by a sizable majority of Republicans – and by almost no Democrats. But Fox is also viewed as “most trusted” by one-in-four Independents – the highest among any network. Conversely, look at the party ID of MSNBC. Not only do they rate worst of all networks among Republicans (2 percent), but they’re also are last among Independents (6 percent).
Mr. Bevan goes on to note Fox’s “solid reputation for its news coverage,” and contrasts that with MSNBC where even the “news” programs are “opinion-driven” (q.v. Thomas Roberts). But there has to be more to it than that. At Mediaite (of all places) we get keen understanding from Cable Gamer Joe Concha, whose first point is the low turnover: FNC viewers build up trust because the “on air talent have been in their living rooms for so long.” And that helps to build loyalty:
Fox somehow manages to portray itself as the underdog via an Us vs. Them mentality. Its core audience seemingly feels obligated to march along in the fight. Instead of familiarity of the many longtime hosts breeding contempt, it breeds a bond…All the big players on the air simply don’t leave, nor seem to be inclined to. Loyalty given. Loyalty returned.
Point to Mr. Concha. Fox Newsies ranging from Sean to Shep will talk about Roger Ailes at the drop of a hat, and it’s all positive—far more effusive than the palaver employees are usually required to say about their boss. Even Alisyn Camerota, after jumping to CNN, speaks well of her time at Fox and still has get-togethers with her one-time colleagues. Ailes is the Fox News secret ingredient, hiding in plain sight.
The great reporters have “a nose for news.” Brilliant investigators can sniff out a liar with a keen eye for micro-expressions (at least that’s how it works on TV). Roger Ailes has the touch for programming: not infallible, but often uncanny in its acuity. Glenn Beck was hardly a success on CNN, but Ailes spotted something, so he went and put him on at 5:00 pm Eastern. That’ll never work! It’s a horrible lead-in for Special Report and the lack of audience flow will sink the 6:00 pm numbers. In fact Beck smashed records for his time-slot, and Special Report became bigger than ever. When Beck left Roger Ailes had another crazy idea certain to be a disaster: five pundits, unscripted and off the cuff, on topics ranging from the day’s top news to what’s next on Homeland. The Five topped Beck and now beats every program at any hour, day or night, on CNN and MSNBC. And who’s the hottest star in cable news today? Ms. Megyn Kelly. Spotted by Fox, groomed for greatness under the tutelage of Roger Ailes.
So the puzzle pieces start to form a picture. A general mistrust of “mainstream media” has led to an audience affinity with the more independent Fox News. Viewers found they don’t have to switch to CNN for breaking news because FNC has built up its own exceptional cadre of correspondents who avoid the MSM cant and preconceptions. The more the audience watches, the more they like these people who seem to enjoy where they work and the people they work with. Familiarity breeds loyalty, as desperation leads competitors to fire shots at FNC. Those attacks reinforce the suspicion that those other guys (Brian Stelter, Rachel Maddow, and the rest) regard Fox viewers as gullible chumps. People don’t react well to being disrespected, and “Us vs Them” kicks in. They instinctively react by doing such things like boosting Bill O’Reilly’s audience to near-record levels.
Roger Ailes may have maneuvered FNC’s competitors and assorted haters into the greatest Catch-22 ever—where every knock is a boost, and the harder they strike the farther they fall.
Today he seemed intent to demean Outnumbered and used two tweets to take his best shot. Here’s tweet #1:
Fox News still on UCIrvine banning flags (not flag). Proposal was vetoed days ago.
What Mr. McMurry isn’t telling you is that the discussion wasn’t about the days-ago veto. It was about the aftermath: threats of violence, meeting cancellations, etc. McMurry wants you to believe Fox is harping on something that’s old news. But do you know who else doesn’t think it’s old news and just published stories about it?
So Mr. McMurry’s first tweet was, it’s fair to say, intentionally deceptive to besmirch Fox News. But then came tweet #2:
Outnumbered just got from UCI’s vetoed proposal to ban flags to “revoke all public school funding”
Ah, a direct quote. Clearly McMurry can’t go wrong with a verbatim quote, right? Only his direct quote isn’t a direct quote at all. In the entire segment we could find only one discussion that came close to his alleged quote:
HARRIS FAULKNER: All right so let’s just cut off the money, right? I mean, we looked at Irvine–you and I talked about this on the couch yesterday–12.9% of the cash they have to operate comes from the federal government. In 2012 it was north of $290 million for their bottom line. So if you don’t want to be part of this country by having its flag fly openly on your campus, then give me my money back.
Harris Faulkner’s suggestion was that Irvine shouldn’t get federal funding if they ban the US flag. Nobody, not Ms. Faulkner nor anyone else, addressed the question of “all public school funding”—let alone calling for it to be willy-nilly revoked. Mr. McMurry’s verbatim quote “revoke all public school funding?” It was never said, by anyone in the discussion. All this is clear by simply watching the segment, but maybe McMurry was counting on people believing him rather than their lying eyes.
And Evan McMurry is an editor at Mediaite?! TCG will be keeping a closer eye on him.
UPDATE: Quite an open-minded fellow, that Evan McMurry:
MSNBC’s doldrums are CNN’s opportunity. Jeff Zucker knows not to let a temporary advantage go to waste, so he rushed into print a full-page ad modestly trumpeting New Day‘s numerical victory over the sinking Morning Joe. And Joe Concha, one of our keenest observers of The Cable Game, noticed. Among several salient points, this one caught my eye:
Imagine this scenario: The Seattle Seahawks repeat as Super Bowl Champs in defeating the New England Patriots 45-21. But the very next day, the Pats decide to open up a full-page ad that is also tweeted out by its media/PR team as hot news which mocks the Indianapolis Colts for beating them in the Super Bowl semifinal known as the AFC Championship Game. Headline: “SORRY COLTS. YOU’RE ‘LUCK’ HAS RUN OUT. WE’RE #2! WE’RE #2! PATRIOTS BEAT ANDREW LUCK AND INDY FOR 4TH CONSECUTIVE TIME.” Well, that’s what CNN decided to do in today’s New York Times.
A good writer uses words carefully, and Joe Concha is a good writer. So the reference to tweets from the “media/PR team” isn’t there by accident. It hit home because The Cable Game has just joined twitter, and the first thing I did was pick people to follow. One of them was Brian Stelter, CNN’s media analyst, who it turns out tweeted CNN’s full-page ad to his followers this morning. Just by coincidence, that tweet was one of my first RT’s (a retweet of his tweet to my zero, so far, followers). So when Joe Concha talked about tweeting a full-page ad, I thought of Brian Stelter.
All of this ties in with my earlier thoughts about Brian and his unclear role at CNN, not to mention issues about what Reliable Sources has been reluctant to cover under his stewardship. That said, should CNN’s “media reporter” really be using twitter to promote his bosses’ dubious publicity gambits? Or do his duties also include functioning as a member of Jeff Zucker’s “media/PR team?” Thomas Paine said “publicity is a black art, but it has come to stay.” It’s certainly a part of The Cable Game, more so for some than others.