MSNBC Rolls the Dice
MSNBC is hitting back at charges (considered by some a bit thin) that their morning hosts are in the tank for Trump . By scheduling a surprise prime time Trump town hall, moderated by Joe and Mika, directly opposite CNN’s GOP town hall, MSNBC is doing more than just serving up payback to CNN. This is also a middle finger to CNN town hallers Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two sitting Senators bigfooted by Joe and Mika’s audacious counter-programming stunt. MSNBC is betting their new best friend Trump wins the nomination, thereby making him titular head of the Republican Party. That would give the long-time “liberal” network an entré it has lacked into GOP respectability, aiding their attempts to build up fairness cred. And if Trump and Fox News are still at war, even a cold one, that might give MSNBC some extra leverage in bookings and the like.
Of course Trump might not get the nomination, and then MSNBC will have pissed off just about every GOP candidate except Donald Trump. That would only further isolate MSNBC from the GOP establishment. They’re out on a limb here, and that’s a precarious spot to be rolling the dice. Especially if they aren’t loaded in your favor.
Throwback Thursday: Cable News, the Miniseries
This will be the first Supreme Court nomination of the cable news era. This is a Pink Floyd moment: as they sang, “Welcome, my son, welcome to the machine.” Back in 1994, when Stephen Breyer was confirmed, there was only CNN. There was no MSNBC, and no Fox. Back then, too, the broadcast networks felt much more of an obligation to cover the news.
Last night, what was striking was that the broadcast networks couldn’t wait to get back to regular programming, while, of course, the cablers couldn’t wait to dive into the story and wallow around—and of course, they’ll be doing that for months to come.
So while NBC’s Brian Williams was lucky, because he got continued face time on MSNBC before throwing it the weighty Tucker Carlson, it was a quick sayonara for CBS and ABC, back to “Big Brother 6” and a sitcom. But cable has its own dynamic. First off, it will make room for just about anybody—any member of the DC Bar, or anyone who can claim close—is likely to go trooping through the various cable green rooms, ready to make his or her case as to why he or she should be promoted from mere “talking head” to “legal analyst.” CG noticed, for example, that Jonathan Turley has gotten his teeth whitened. Way to go! Next, filling in for Tony Robbins!
And of course, the activists will fill up air time: the Usual Suspects acronyms—FRC, PFAW, NARAL, NOW, CC—are all going to be heard from. The first battle of the Internet age…extreme polarization.
Second, it will allow for new kinds of branding. For example, CNN went with sober and serious: Candy Crowley, always authoritative. Blitzer on CNN said liberals in the Senate might oppose, but “the moderates will hold sway.” And even Jeffrey Toobin, always kind of a smart aleck, conceded that Bush’s pick was “pretty smart politics.”
While MSNBC, led by Joe Scarborough, went for histrionics. Bush has “swung for the fences,” Jolting Joe said last night, as part of the White House’s alleged effort to “profoundly change America” on issues such as abortion. Which is actually the opposite of the truth. Roberts is a conservative, but he’s no “bombthrower” as they like to say inside beltway, no Robert Bork or even Edith Jones. Indeed, Roberts is so uncontroversial that he was approved on a voice vote by the Senate just two years ago.
Of course cable, the New Media, doesn’t have the field to itself. Not only is there talk radio but also the Drudge Report, which first started up in ’95, although it didn’t become famous till ’98, with the you-know-who story.
But mostly, this is going to be a cable news saga. A first. Welcome to the machine!
Reposted from The Cable Game, 20 July 2005.
Chuck Todd Smears Rand Paul, as Mediaite Credulously Piles On
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.
Throwback Thursday: “MSNBC Drama: Olbermann vs Matthews Round 3”
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
Throwback Thursday: MSNBC Says “You Decide, We Report!” Really
Pardon me while I retrieve my eyeballs from where they just bugged out, “Roger Rabbit” style. While I was busy snickering at an MSNBC “10th Anniversary” promo featuring Tucker Carlson saying “10 years ago, MSNBC set out to be the future of news….and it still is” (that’s actually true: by definition, the future never really arrives–it’s a theoretical condition that’s just out of reach, much like success is for MSNBC), Keith Olbermann declaring that his and his staff’s Attention Deficit Disorder determines “Countdown’s” content, Joe Scarborough calling the channel “activists for mainstream America” (whatever that means–but it sure doesn’t mean “objective”) and Rita Cosby declaring, in probably the most unoriginal boilerplate promo-speak ever scripted, “we take the news to the next level,” all capped off with a soundbite of Chris Matthews’ laugh, which, I’m sorry, sounds a lot like the first breath taken by someone who’s just had the Heimlich maneuver performed on them in a restaurant….this comes along. A promo for MSNBC’s new 3pm set of ratings waterwings, “The Most” with Alison Stewart, in which a chirpy announcer chirps: “Introducing ‘The Most’…the only show where you decide, we report!”
So many words and phrases leap to mind to describe this latest act of desperation by a drowning cable news channel…pathetic, desperate, borderline copyright infringement, just for starters. Intellectual property theft, perhaps. Insulting to the intelligence of viewers who MSNBC execs clearly hope might think…”ooooh…so this is the ‘we report, you decide’ network I’ve been hearing so many great things about…I better watch!”
So, just to clear up any confusion, allow me to correct any confusion MSNBC’s little shell game may have caused. The most-watched cable news program at 3pm is “Studio B” with Shepard Smith on the Fox News Channel…which, interestingly enough, has had as its guiding philosophy “We Report, You Decide” since day 1. Accept no substitutes, as they say.
Reposted from The Cable Game, 1 June 2006
Last week TCG noted that, while CNN had a substantial lead over MSNBC in the morning show wars, their full-page ad was a bit over the top. Given how far away their second-place finish stood vs. the AM winner Fox & Friends, bragging about being #2 was ill-advised and desperate. Now that another week has passed, nothing much has changed. Here are the average Monday-Thursday ratings in the 25-54 demographic for this week (from TV by the Numbers):
- Fox & Friends: 249,000
- New Day: 141,000
- Morning Joe: 87,000
Fox’s A-team wasn’t intact on Monday and yet they still topped CNN and MSNBC combined for the week. Not much new there. By the way, CNN couldn’t beat out Morning Express on their sister network HLN (153,000 viewers). So that full-page ad buy is now looking even more rash.
But Morning Joe? Clearly this show is on life support. John Gibson used to call him “Scratch” Scarborough (the nickname being the Nielsen term for viewership too low to report), and he’s approaching that territory again. Tinkering with the last half hour isn’t going to make Joe any less pretentious or Mika any more likable. Morning sickness has set in, and it looks to be terminal. When it finally goes, very few will be mourning Joe.