Tagged: Van Susteren

After One Week, Greta Finds Herself In Unfamiliar Territory

ncs_msnbc-greta-for-the-record-studio_006The 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.

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-7-21-17-pmFor 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.



Family Matters

694940094001_4914399671001_11e016f0-ea84-468f-b93a-d3471cfa0174Tonight Greta ran a special hour about the Trump family, featuring interviews with the Trump children and his wife, and a tour of Trump Tower. Not really The Cable Gamer’s cup of tea, but she decided to keep an eye on it once the instant response from the twitterati kicked into gear. Here are a couple of accounts we watched:

Oliver Darcy of The Blaze:

  • This feels so much like a reality show.
  • It’s literally called “Meet the Trumps” on the program guide.
  • @Greta to @MELANIATRUMP: “Which magazines have you been on the cover of?” Follow-up: “Which one would be the top one?”
  • This special feels like something you’d see on state-run television somewhere.

And here’s Tré Goins-Phillips, also of The Blaze:

  • Tonight is the night of Trump, Trump and more Trump on @FoxNews.
  • Of his credentials, @Greta asks @DonaldJTrumpJr, “Did you play catch with [your dad] or go look at properties?”
  • Another hard-hitting question from @Greta: “Do you think [your dad] wants to be president?” she asks @DonaldJTrumpJr.
  • UPDATE: @Greta is now playing a reel of Trump’s kids and wife praising him.
  • The tough questions from @Greta keep rolling in:m “Do you think you’d be a good first lady?” she asks @MELANIATRUMP

The Cable Gamer was frankly taken by surprise with this new-found concern over asking soft questions of a candidate’s wife or children. Do these people suggest that Melania Trump should be peppered with questions about the nuclear triad? Should Greta have cornered Ivanka and demanded she address some arcane issue she has no involvement with?

If Chelsea Clinton had been grilled about her dad’s perjury or her mother’s Benghazi testimony we might understand expecting the same treatment for the Trump family. But let’s be honest—that didn’t happen, because it’s never been the case that profiles of a candidate’s family subject them to a Perry Mason style cross-examination. And even if that had been the case, it wouldn’t have been Greta doing it. Her interviewing philosophy is cut from a different cloth:

My interview style of 22 plus years is polite and blunt. Everyone gets the same interview style from me, I don’t pick sides and I am not showing off. For some, that is seen as “lavish praise.” (see below) When I read that description I got to thinking – what ever happened to good manners and good manners in journalism? You can get information – and I did – without trying to score personal points or play to others in the media who love that…

When Trump’s son joined him at the Town Hall for one short segment, I was polite to his son – as I am with all spouses of all candidates and their families. They are not the candidate. Go back and check that out as I have interviewed many family members over this long 2016 campaign…

Ted Turner in the old days of CNN taught us “the news is the star” — in other words, this is not all about us (in the media.) Ted was and is right. Maybe it is time for all of us to be reflective about how to best get the job done for the voters. I am always looking to improve and get better.

There’s something else Greta said in that post that bears repeating:

Incidentally, to be fair to all the candidates, I have offered – almost mathematically even – every candidate in both parties the exact same opportunities for Town Halls and interviews. No candidate is obliged to accept and I can’t go out and kidnap them, tie them up and force them to do interviews if they do not want to. 🙂

For all the talk about “state-run television” and “Trump and more Trump,” doesn’t this suggest that the other candidates had the same opportunity and simply didn’t take advantage of it? It should, because Greta says that’s exactly what happened with tonight’s special:

We made an offer to do the same special for the Clinton and Sanders families but got no response. I would have given both these candidates equal time and same type of questions. I still am willing to do so.

And just in case people didn’t see that post, Greta tweeted it too. Interestingly, as we are about to hit publish, neither Mr. Darcy nor Mr. Goins-Phillips tweets any mention of Greta’s offer whatsoever. Of course doing so might throw water on any one of several memes (Greta the “Trump shill,” Fox is “Trump and more Trump,” etc.) And for some the rule is: when there’s a conflict between the truth and the meme…tweet the meme.

Amber Alert: Missing Persons Update

Unless she shows up on Outnumbered tomorrow, Tuesday will mark four weeks since Andrea Tantaros vanished from the Fox News airwaves. After a short-lived stab at explaining her position (the unconvincing “free speech” gambit) she changed course and clammed up. She has since “protected” her twitter account—only people she approves as followers can read it. That is not exactly an ace move if you’re trying to promote a new book (it’s currently ranked #4457 at Amazon). This hunkering down tells The Cable Gamer that, while Tantaros picked the wrong toes to step on, at least she learned from her first stumble and knows this is not a time to dig a deeper hole.

Another Fox News employee among the missing is Ed Henry, who it was learned was conducting an extra-marital affair with a Las Vegas lady. He immediately left the air and went into radio (and every other kind) silence. The Cable Gamer wondered about the reaction; a Fox & Friends Weekend co-host not only had an extra-marital affair with a guest of the show but fathered a child. There was barely a hiccup in his role at Fox News. True, there may be a higher standard for a Washington correspondent than a morning chat show host. But there is another reason Mr. Henry’s case is more troubling:

Now the National Enquirer‎ is reporting Henry sent Lima raunchy sexts plus a picture of his penis — which, mercifully, the publication pixilated. Sources say Henry has a “morality clause” in his contract, which means he could be fired if he does anything to embarrass the network.

Roger Ailes is quoted noting a lack of judgment, “especially given his position as a journalist.” Ed Henry is a talented, tenacious reporter. He may survive this but, with the redolence of Anthony Weiner now hanging over him, it’s an uphill battle.

Finally, there’s the case of Michelle Fields. After her high-visibility clash with Trump’s campaign manager, she stopped appearing on Fox’s Cashin’ In, hosted by Trump-friendly Eric Bolling. The PR suggested it was a mutual decision until things calmed down, but that happened long ago and she’s still not back. Now with a new role at Huffington Post, the odds are getting longer.

Fields and Fox might have worked this out in a few week’s time if she hadn’t crossed an important line. While Fox News has no problem with differing viewpoints, they obviously take a dim view when people start hitting the channel’s journalists and hosts with personal attacks. (This is not unique to FNC; MSNBC banned Markos from the air because, among other things, he promoted a highly dubious rumor about Joe Scarborough). Michelle Fields did impugn Sean Hannity’s integrity, but she’s hardly alone on that limb. No, it was something else that really sealed her fate.

Fields let it be known that she was planning a defamation suit against the Trump camp, and a Fox News host who is also an experienced attorney offered some unsolicited, but friendly, advice:

Yes, the burden of proof is less in a civil case, but she is just not going to win and it will be expensive and a heartache. Even if one can win, it is not always worth it. Anyone encouraging this young woman to bring a lawsuit is irresponsible to her.

That may not have been what Michelle Fields wanted to hear, but there’s no reason to doubt it was offered in good faith. Fields could have just let it pass without comment, or said thanks, I’ll think about it. Instead, she aimed a tactical nuke at Greta and fired:

If you have a regular spot on a well-rated show on Fox News, you don’t want to go calling one of their top program hosts a “shill”—i.e. a person motivated not by truth or journalism but by their own personal profit or self-interest. You especially don’t want to do it to Greta van Susteren, who is widely liked and admired across political and social strata at Fox News. Talk about crossing a line! But Fields has shown no remorse (not even the token step of deleting the tweet), and The Cable Gamer will be surprised if Roger Ailes ever lets her in the building again.

By the way, many weeks have passed yet the announced defamation suit has yet to materialize. And Fields quietly stonewalls when asked about it. Maybe her own attorneys gave her the same advice Greta did. That would add a touch of irony to the outburst that may have ended the Fox News career of Michelle Fields.

On CNN, Fox Is a “Perfect” Example…of Something They Didn’t Do!

bsSomething caught The Cable Gamer’s attention on today’s Reliable Sources. However our story begins not with CNN but with The New York Timesreporting on two simultaneous town halls held by Jeb Bush and Donald Trump:

In an apt sign of the enthusiasm imbalance, Fox News at one point cut away from Mr. Bush, midsentence [sic], to focus on an empty lectern awaiting Mr. Trump.

This comment, the only mention of any cable channel in the piece, caught the attention of FNC nemesis Gabriel Sherman:

And his tweet caught the attention of The Cable Gamer; we happened to have been watching Fox News and knew why they cut away:

Then another player entered the game. Greta van Susteren posts:

Note the following: last night during the 7pm hour, we took both Donald Trump’s Town Hall and Governor Jeb Bush’s Town Hall. We had dueling Town Halls to cover.

As best as I can tell, the other two cable competitors at 7pm did not take the Gov Jeb Bush Town Hall like we did but instead covered only Trump. We thought it right to try to do both

Giving candidates time is not a science—we have to juggle so much. Even last night, we had no idea what time Trump would take to the podium (we heard earlier in the day it would be 7pm but it turned out to be 6:40pm) and we had to likewise guess with Governor Bush.

And this brings us to Reliable Sources, where Brian Stelter devoted the first segment to the press infatuation with Donald Trump:

BRIAN STELTER: What are the effects of the media’s Trump mania? How is it warping the race for the White House? Let’s begin with a moment that illustrates Trump-mania perfectly from FOX News on Wednesday. Watch what happened.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I’m all in in creating strategies to deal with this. Heroin is particularly —

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: There’s so much going on in New Hampshire tonight. And right now, also New Hampshire GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump drawing a huge crowd. We’re taking you there live coming up. Do not go away.


STELTER: That’s right. Jeb Bush is talking about addiction when Greta Van Susteren breaks away to show an empty podium for Donald Trump nearby. Now, to Greta’s credit, she was trying to cover Jeb. The other channels of that hour, I don’t think covered Jeb at all.

Here’s where The Cable Gamer throws a flag on the play. Let’s leave aside Brian Stelter repeating the false Times construction that the purpose of cutting away from Jeb was “to show an empty podium.” (It was, as noted in our tweet, to go to a scheduled commercial.) At the outset Stelter told his viewers he had a “perfect” example of “Trump mania.” Now might this be the CNN coverage that has been likened to their “missing plane” obsession? No. How about the MSNBC “endless loop” of Trump? Wrong again. No, his “perfect” example is one where he himself has to condede that Greta, unlike the other channels, was not maniacally focused on Trump. And that’s a “perfect” illustration of Trump mania? Why, just because it was on Fox News?

There are copious examples of media mania over Trump. When you pick one from your former employer (The New York Times) that targets (in a misleading way) Fox News, and what’s more it’s a lousy illustration of your point—well, it makes The Cable Gamer wonder.

Later Fox News came up yet again, when the topic turned to the phraseological furor over “anchor babies.” You guessed it: the only cable news clip shown was from Fox, with Tucker Carlson poo-poohing the controversy. It’s not like there’s a lack of clips from CNN discussing the same issue. Or even more fun, clips of CNN personnel using the term themselves:

  • Jim Acosta: …extending that deferred deportations to the parents of children who are green card holders, who are U.S. citizens. These are sometimes referred to as anchor babies in the United States.
  • Zoraida Sambolin: Neighbors claim pregnant women in China pay thousands of dollars to come to the United States with legal tourist visas then stay in the maternity center until they give birth. Their so-called anchor babies are then automatically U.S. citizens.
  • Lou Dobbs: Do you believe illegal aliens who have anchor babies in the United States should be immune from deportation?
  • Anderson Cooper: The truth is we did talk in the interview about illegal immigration and so-called anchor babies and tourist babies and women coming here to give birth illegally.
  • Thelma Gutierrez: But immigration attorney Carl Shusterman says the notion of anchor babies is nonsense.
  • Soledad O’Brien: Anchor babies, of course, are babies that are born by people who don’t live in the United States. They come and have a baby that then becomes an American citizen and then they leave, but their child has American citizenship.

But enough of that. The Cable Gamer just wanted to make a small point about the default targeting of Fox. She leaves it to the reader to decide if it “illustrates perfectly” anything about CNN.

Megyn Kelly: Our First Amendment Canary

applauseOne thing that seems to annoy the Megyn Kelly haters: she has an infuriating tendency to get it right. When the Duke LaCrosse rape case smelled fishy it was Megyn who stood out from a compliant media to expose the holes in the case, and her reporting was ultimately vindicated. Several recent high-profile shooting incidents left legal “experts” like Lisa Bloom, Sonny Hostin, and that crowd with red faces when Ms. Kelly’s warnings of serious flaws in the prosecution cases turned out to be on point. And now, like the canary who signaled to coal miners that theis oxygen levels were dangerously low, Megyn Kelly is sounding an alarm to the people and the press over the chipping away at our right to free expression.

And someone in the mainstream media is noticing. Erik Wemple, an astute observer of The Cable Game and an equal opportunity critic, has published an extraordinary column documenting the vacillation and equivocation of the press corps—ordinarily defenders of the first Amendment but now suddenly squeamish. He indicts Chris Matthews, Donald Trump, Alisyn Camerota, Jake Tapper, Martha MacCallum, Greta van Susteren and more, some of the biggest personalities in The Cable Game, for implicitly proposing suppression of free speech (something they never did regarding “Piss Christ” or The Book of Mormon). And adds:

To her enduring credit, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly has been screaming all week about the folly of the “too-provocative” crowd.

To be sure, others in The Cable Game have expressed similar sentiments to Megyn’s, but few have been as outspoken, detailed, and unflappable as Ms. Kelly. And she’d not just picking on the competition. She faced down her FNC colleague Bill O’Reilly and lived to tell the tale (and continued the debate on her own program). No less a legal authority than Alan Dershowitz has applauded (rhetorically and literally) her stand for free speech. And her track record shows she has the gravitas to be taken seriously.

Megyn Kelly has sounded a warning: the first amendment’s oxygen supply is getting perilously thin. If anyone should stand up for unfettered free expression, it’s the press. How many will?

Throwback Thursday: “When Things Get Tough, Roger Gets Tougher”

58431_320_240_fn10thI hope that you got a chance to see Fox News’ 10th anniversary special earlier tonight Here were some highlights for me:

First off, it was ably co-hosted by Chris Wallace and Martha MacCallum, with some illuminating assists from Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker, and Erik Sorenson, the former head of MSNBC, who will surely get in trouble from his ex-colleagues for conceding, as noted earlier, that MSNBC and the rest of the MSM “misunderestimated” Fox, Roger Ailes, and Rupert Murdoch.

Second, it was a trip down memory lane, as veteran FNC-ers recalled their early incredulity about the new channel and its prospects. Jon Scott, for example, remembered back to those days in 1996: “When Roger Ailes said that he had a five year plan for overtaking CNN, I thought he was crazy.”

Third, there was some vivid commentary on what it’s like to work at Fox. As the tenacious and dogged Eric Shawn–a hero of “oil for food” scandal digging–told us, “It’s like being shot out of a cannon every morning; that’s the definition of news.” And Bill O’Reilly said of his own sharp personality: “Even if you don’t like me, you’re not going to be bored.”

Fourth, Ailes himself recalled the genesis of the phrase “fair and balanced.” He added, “Other people hate those words”—referring, first and foremost to other network execs. Wallace asked him where he got the idea for the network. Ailes responded, thinking back to those pre-Fox years, more than a decade ago, “I was in meetings, and I would read about it the next day, and I would say to myself, ‘That’s not what happened.’” That is, the MSM just got it wrong–and worse, didn’t much care about getting it wrong. Continuing, the FNC chief added about rival news operations and their product, “Not only was it biased, but it was boring—everybody had the same take on the story.”

Fifth, that visible difference, of course, is FNC’s signature. Brit Hume recalled how he came to want to leave ABC News, even though he had a great job as chief White House correspondent; Fox offered him the chance, he remembered wistfully, to do things in a different way. And so he grabbed the opportunity, as Washington Managing Editor of FNC: He chose different stories, different angles, different perspectives, brought more voices to the debate. As Hume summed it up: “We were different from the other media.” So Hume was asked, have you changed Washington? “To some extent, yes,” Hume answered. “There’s no chance now that there’s a whole side that won’t be covered.” That’s the point–that’s what Americans had been waiting for, for half a century, before FNC.

Sixth, at the same time, Fox is assuredly in nobody’s partisan pocket. Hume recalled, for example, that back in 2000, it was FNC’s Carl Cameron who broke the story of George W. Bush’s long-prior drunk-driving arrest—and FNC went to the six-year-old tape of Cameron breaking the story on air. Indeed, FNC showed something I had never seen before: Just before that fateful 2000 broadcast, Cameron is seen telling Hume—on camera but off air—that the Bush campaign had just asked him to delay the report by 20 minutes so that they, the Bushies, could put together a response. Hume is seen, six years ago, saying, “We can’t do that.” And of course, Cameron went ahead with his powerful scoop, which nearly cost Bush the election, and surely cost W. his plurality of the popular vote. But later that same year, Hume said, Fox “made its bones,” at least in terms of political coverage, thanks to its many all-nighters and all-day-ers on the Florida recount coverage. That was the “critical turning point,” in Hume’s view.

Seventh, some of the most interesting commentary came from vets of the other networks, broadcast as well as cable. Wallace, of course, is from ABC, and Martha MacCallum, from CNBC. And Hume, as noted, is from ABC. Others with prominent roles on the special included Greta Van Susteren and Bill Hemmer (both CNN), John Gibson (MSNBC), and Neil Cavuto (CNBC). As Hemmer said of his former and current employer, “Fox is faster, we are more nimble.” And Greta Van Susteren, recalling her exit from CNN, said, “I left a dysfunctional corporation” in the wake of the Time-Warner merger with AOL. For his part, Ailes recalled Van Susteren telling him, right after she started, “I’ve had more laughs here in the last 10 days than I have had in the last 10 years.”

Eighth, Wallace, always a newsman, attempted to squeeze some news out of his boss; he asked Ailes, toward the end about a possible business channel. Ailes answered, “We’ll be prepared to go in ’07, if we get the subs.”

So no big news there, that’s been reported in the past—but give Wallace credit. He always asks the questions that need to be asked. If only Bill Clinton had been on the stage with Wallace…

Reposted from The Cable Game, 8 October 2006