Cable News Trek: The Next Generation

Fox News has been reveling in their post-election ratings bump. By all appearances it is really just a pity party for the losers who are congregating at the Fox water cooler to assuage their misery. But I have to give them credit for having such unparalleled devotion to their demon host.

In the just released ratings for May, Fox retained its first place ranking. MSNBC moved solidly into second place. But there was some little noticed news that may whip up a little anxiety Fox programmers:

MSNBC is the #1 news network among younger viewers, Adults 18-34, in weekday primetime (93,000), M-Su primetime (89,000), and in M-Su sales prime (7 p.m.-2 a.m., 72,000). “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” was the #1 show at 8 p.m. in A18-34 (118,000).

This is a continuation of a trend wherein Fox is saddled with the oldest skewing audience in cable news. MSNBC, however, is winning amongst younger viewers, who are the future of the news consuming marketplace. That bodes well for MSNBC as this demographic group grows into the advertiser-favored 25-54 demo.

In the meantime, Fox can celebrate having cornered the market for aging political outcasts.

Janeane Garofalo Gets The Last Laugh On Sean Hannity And The Tea Baggers

Last month, Janeane Garofalo appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. In the course of the interview, she made some rather controversial comments about the those attending the Fox News sponsored Tea Parties:

“…let’s be very honest about what this is about. It’s not about bashing Democrats, it’s not about taxes, they have no idea what the Boston Tea Party was about, they don’t know their history at all. This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up.”

Subsequent to that appearance, Sean Hannity, and a phalanx of other feverish right-wingers, immediately went on the attack. They criticized Garofalo for expressing her views, and Olbermann for allowing her to do so. Mind you, these are the same defenders of the First Amendment that are now complaining that the noted racist schlock jock, Michael Savage, has been banned from the U.K. To them, in other words, speech by a racist is fine, but speech about racists is foul.

In an attempt to further chastise Garofalo, and even harm her professionally, Hannity promoted this story which he prefaced by saying that “Revenge is sweet…”

Hannity (4/29/09): “The Boston Herald reports that supporters of the Boston tea party protests earlier this month. well they’re planning to attend one of her upcoming stand up performances. And they plan to give her a piece of their mind [...] tickets, by the way, are reportedly going fast. Unfortunately for the left-wing actress, many of the tickets are being sold to the same tea partiers that she labeled racist [...] It looks like Janeane isn’t going to get the last laugh this time around. By the way, good luck in Boston.”

Hannity and the tea baggers had better exercise some restraint in doling out pieces of their minds. They seem to have little to spare. First of all, the clown who came up with idea to scoop up tickets to Garofalo’s show in order to hurt her by making her richer is truly hilarious. Secondly, Hannity offers no evidence whatsoever that any tickets were sold to tea baggers, much less “many” as Hannity claimed. Lastly, the threat to which Hannity is referring from the article in the Herald really comes down to a single anonymous e-mailer with anger management issues:

“This (bleep) is gonna hear it from Boston,” the anonymous e-mailer said. “All us bigots and racists are buying up tix to let this piece of excrement hear it from us. shame on her.”

Despite the cantankerous warning from the mad e-mailer, and Hannity’s free publicity for it, the turnout of angry tea baggers was decidedly underwhelming. In fact, according to an update in the Herald, Garofalo performed her entire, nearly sold-out set without interruption from inside or outside the theater. She even had a bit of fun with them on stage saying…

“If there are any tea baggers here, welcome, and white power.”

As it turns out, Hannity’s contention that “many of the tickets” were sold to tea baggers was, not surprisingly, a lie. And it looks like Garafalo did end up getting the last laugh. But Hannity was right about one thing: Revenge is sweet.

Top 10 Crazy Political Commentators

According to AskMen.com, the Top 10 Crazy Political Commentators are:

  1. Bill O’Reilly
  2. Keith Olbermann
  3. Ann Coulter
  4. Michael Savage
  5. Rush Limbaugh
  6. Sean Hannity
  7. Chris Matthews
  8. Geraldo Rivera
  9. Dennis Miller
  10. Glenn Beck

Somehow I missed this list when it was published back in February. On the surface it doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking. After all, the personalities enumerated are mostly deserving, although the order could inspire much debate.

The funny thing about this list is that AskMen is owned by Fox Interactive, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. So it’s interesting to note that five of the top 10 crazies, including number one, are actually employees of Fox News. Three more (Coulter, Savage, and Limbaugh) are Fox-aligned right-wingers. That’s eight out of ten Foxies, with the remaining two from MSNBC.

What we have here is one Fox affiliate acknowledging that another Fox affiliate is dominated by pundits who are patently insane. Will the editors of AskMen be punished for this eruption of honesty? Will they be admonished for insulting their corporate cousins? Of course not. This is exactly what Fox intended when they hired these lunatics. They were pursuing a programming strategy that leaned heavily on exploiting madness for its entertainment value. They were convinced that nothing excited the American viewing public as much as a live, on-air, mental train wreck.

Well, they are sure getting their money’s worth.

Fox News: Get Ready To Tea Party

The astroturf-roots charades that Fox News has been reporting as “Tea Parties” are almost here. Tomorrow is the big day and Fox has been ramping up their promotions. It has been well documented that these shams were conceived and executed by major players in the Republican Party and affiliated partisan advocacy groups like FreedomWorks. But now Keith Olbermann has put together a brilliant montage that shows just how hard Fox has been working to make these events successful.

The giddy elation these people project is reminiscent of a six year old being told that tomorrow the family is going to Disneyland. This has to be the high point of the year for these pathetic souls. The anticipation with which they are dripping seems to fill them with ecstasy. They apparently have gotten over their fear that ACORN’s Soros-backed community organizers are lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce just as their festivities get under way.

The White House is reacting to the day of revolting right-wingers in a particularly appropriate way:

QUESTION: Thanks, Robert. Tomorrow is tax day and a number of conservative groups are organizing these so called “tea parties” across the country; there are going to be grassroots uprising revolts against the administration’s policies so far. Is the President aware that these are going on and do you have any reaction to this?

ROBERT GIBBS: I don’t know if the President is aware of the events. I think the President will use tomorrow as a day to have an event here at the White House to signal the important steps in the economic recovery and reinvestment plan that cut taxes for 95 percent of working families in America, just as the President proposed doing; cuts in taxes and tax credits for the creation of clean energy jobs.

We’ll use tomorrow to highlight individual and instances in families that have seen their taxes cut and I think America can be — Americans will see more money in their pockets as a direct result of the Making Work Pay tax cut that the President both campaigned on and passed through Congress.

First of all, the reporter who asked the question needs to be schooled on what constitutes a “grassroots uprising revolt.” When the organizing principals are political insiders like Dick Armey and Ari Fleischer, and the PR is run by Fox News, it is beyond absurd to describe it as grassroots. More to the point, though, it’s nice to see that President Obama is not devoting much attention to this. The Tea Baggers can throw their pity party in the vast wasteland of their imaginations.

For those of you contemplating joining in on the Tea Bagging, I have this word of advice: Be careful out there. The crazy is extra thick.

Update: President Obama: For too long, we’ve seen taxes used as a wedge to scare people into supporting policies that actually increased the burden on working people instead of helping them live their dreams. That has to change, and that’s the work that we’ve begun.

Fox News: Comfort Food For Fearful Fools

Last month I composed an analysis of the ratings success at Fox News this year. Amongst the reasons I posited was this:

“…by heating up the aggressive tone, Fox has fashioned a hearth around which despondent conservatives can huddle. In 2006 they suffered the loss of both houses of congress. Now they have lost the presidency as well – and to what they view as an unpatriotic, Muslim, elitist, intent on driving the nation to Socialism in a Toyota hybrid. So now they congregate in the warm red glow of the Fox News logo that provides them the comfort that comes from numbing propaganda and the righteous smiting of perceived enemies.”

Guess what? My theory has now been affirmed by none other than Fox News Senior VP Bill Shine:

“…one suggestion for FNC’s strong showing is that, to a degree, it serves as comfort food in troubled times for loyal viewers.

‘I think that is somewhat the case,’ said Bill Shine, the network’s senior vice president of programming. ‘There are people who want to check out or read or look at places where they feel comfortable.'”

Thank you, Bill. That validation will serve to lend credibility to my other observations regarding how Fox News repeatedly misrepresents their status in the media. You know, the Mainstream Media that they constantly castigate for being biased despite their prominent role in it.

As a recent example of their deceit, Bill O’Reilly has spent much of the last week parading around the dial in celebration of his 100th month as the top-rated show in cable news. He even went so far as to make comparisons of himself with groundbreaking historical TV programs:

“I don’t think it’s ever been done in any kind of TV milieu. We had our people research all programs going back to the 50s, like Gunsmoke and things like that. Nobody’s ever stayed on top this long.”

Keith Olbermann, however, revealed that O’Reilly isn’t even close to the record he claims. The Today Show has been #1 for 166 months, and Meet the Press for 131. Even worse, the comparison to network programs like Gunsmoke is deliberately dishonest. Gunsmoke was #1 against ALL network programming. O’Reilly never did that. The Factor was never even #1 against all cable programming. He has merely been #1 against cable “news” programming – a much smaller pond.

This is the sort of self-deception that losers have to exploit to maintain their self-esteem. So O’Reilly will continue to boast about feats he has not achieved, and Fox News will continue to provide a home for America’s orphaned conservatives. They will give each other solace as they strive to disseminate falsehoods about creeping Socialism and leftist monsters hiding under the bed.

Fox News is like chicken soup for socially stunted right-wingers.

Keith Olbermann Was Right About TVNewser

In the recent dust up between Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and CNBC’s Jim Cramer, TVNewser inserted itself into the controversy with an anonymously sourced item that asserted that MSNBC was told to refrain from stories on the matter. TVNewser’s Steve Krakauer did not reveal who told MSNBC to do this, nor who told him about the instruction.

Keith Olbermann responded to Krakauer’s claim in a posting on Daily Kos. He denied that any restrictions were placed on him, and he noted Krakauer’s and TVNewser’s reputation for partisanship and for regurgitating Fox News PR:

“Frankly, the guy who posted this, the site’s Associate Editor, Steve Krakauer (‘SteveK’), is well known around the industry as being entirely in Fox’s pocket [...] Rachel [Maddow] could get the cover of Newsweek and he wouldn’t link to it.”

Well, this morning TVNewser is featuring two stories on its front page on Glenn Beck (both by Krakauer), including one that links to a Beck interview by The Daily Beast. But no mention that Rachel Maddow was on David Letterman last night.

Good call, Keith. I have previously documented other incidents of blatant bias by TVNewser. In one story about the marital infidelity of politicians Krakauer cited Hillary Clinton (who has never engaged in infidelity) and John Edwards (who, at the time, was the subject of unsupported rumors in the National Enquirer). He didn’t bother to mention the multiple marriages and notorious philandering of John McCain, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani. The other story offhandedly referred to Al Franken as “a rabid leftie.”

Krakauer is not only in Fox’s pocket, he is a former Fox News employee. The evidence of TVNewer’s bias is all over its web site. It’s apparent in what they chose to cover and what they chose to ignore. And, most of all, its community of commenters posting remarks to their articles is a buzzing hive of partisans so far to the right they would make RedStaters nervous. They congregate in items referencing Fox News and are devotedly defensive of anything and everything Fox does and says. Their boards are thoroughly useless as a forum for media discussions. Any comment that is contrary to the rightist hive-think is pounced on and assaulted in overtly personal terms.

TVNewser may eventually put up some notice of Maddow’s Letterman spot, but that will not resolve the larger problem that the site is infected with slanted coverage and lunatic rantings. It’s a shame, because there is a real need for a web site that offers balanced media news and informed discourse.

Update: Well, TVNewser did get around to posting a brief notice that Maddow appeared on Letterman. But they also followed it up immediately with a ridiculous Krakauer composed hit piece on Jon Stewart (more on that here).

Bill O’Reilly Is Scared Out Of His Mind

All the symptoms are present. The shameless self-glorification. The lashing out at perceived enemies. The mangling of reality. The desperate grasping for affirmation. Bill O’Reilly is scared out of his mind. To be a little more accurate, I should break that sentence apart: Bill O’Reilly is scared - and - Bill O’Reilly is out of his mind.

His latest journey into bombast is titled, “The Collapse of the Left-Wing Press.” In it he makes claims that illustrate the severity of his tunnel-blindness. As evidence of this imagined collapse, O’Reilly cites the financial misfortunes of newspapers like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Never mind the fact that the entire newspaper business has been hit by a perfect storm of a declining economy, an anemic advertising environment, and competition from the Internet, O’Reilly also ignores the troubles of conservative publications like the bankrupt Tribune Company. And he predictably attacks NBC/GE. They are a favorite target of his due to Keith Olbermann, who has challenged the Factor on the air and in the ratings. O’Reilly’s dementia produced this babble:

“General Electric, which owns NBC, has taken a sharp turn to the left in its corporate philosophy, while at the same time it watched its stock price decline from about 50 dollars a share to around $13. The fact that CEO Jeffrey Immelt still has his job ranks up there with the miracle of the US Airways water landing.”

First of all, GE is the largest defense contractor in the world. The notion that its corporate philosophy has turned sharply left is simply delusional. It is the sort of multinational conglomerate that benefits most from rightist politics and policies. What’s more, it’s the sort of patriotic institution that O’Reilly would ordinarily praise for supplying our soldiers with arms and equipment. All it takes for O’Reilly to turn on them is a cable network pundit mockingly calling him the “Worst Person in the World.”

Now, let’s take a look at the stock performance of News Corp, the parent of O’Reilly’s employer, Fox News. It has suffered an almost identical percentage decline from about $25 dollars a share to around $7. By O’Reilly’s own standard it is a miracle that Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes still have their jobs.

Next O’Reilly seeks to explain why America voted for Barack Obama and Democrats in congress. Essentially he boils it down to the economy, but hastens to add that the country is actually more conservative, the election results notwithstanding:

“Despite the power shift in Washington, America remains a traditional country that largely rejects big government and radical social change. The former hippies running the crazy left media will never get that.”

So the people didn’t really vote for change. It was just some sort of mass hysteria brought on by the reefer madness emanating from “Abbie Hoffman wannabes” in the press. O’Reilly’s Talking Points Memo last night went even further, asserting that the far-left media advocates a socialist economy and is filled with hate:

“And the hate the far-left media traffics in has alienated many folks. I mean, the disrespect shown to President Bush is disgraceful, and most decent people know it.”

Apparently O’Reilly doesn’t read Foxnews.com – or News Corpse. Yesterday I documented some repulsive comments on the Fox web site that called Obama the anti-Christ and wished for his family to be burned alive. O’Reilly doesn’t seem to care about that disgraceful show of disrespect. And he has no claim to decency when he himself has said that law-abiding citizens exercising their First Amendment rights are worse than Nazis and the KKK.

All of this suggests that O’Reilly is desperately afraid. Why else would he feel the need to repeatedly fluff himself and his ratings? Why else would he need to maliciously attack the lurking enemies he imagines around every corner? Why would he find it necessary to construct false and misleading arguments against those shadows that torment him? It is fear that has consumed him and is now his most profound motivation. It’s a fear that has clouded a mind that wasn’t all that sharp to begin with. And now that mind is MIA.

The truly sad epilogue to this story is that he is not alone. It seems that the entirety of the Republican establishment media has decided on a strategy of shock and awe aimed at the new administration. There has been a concerted and coordinated effort launched before the echos of the inauguration speech have faded from the Capitol Mall. It’s purpose is to discredit and diminish Obama and his team prior to their having even done anything. As usual, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show has encapsulated this development perfectly.

Changing Channels: Fox News In the Age Of Obama

In 1996 Rupert Murdoch hired Roger Ailes, a Republican media consultant, to build a new 24 hour cable news network. Fox News immediately went to work to disparage Democrats and liberals. They spent their early years mired in debt, losing $80-90 million annually. It was only Murdoch’s deep pockets that kept them out of bankruptcy. Still, they had some strategic success as they badgered Bill Clinton with Whitewater and Lewinsky, and they corralled Republican and evangelical voters so that George Bush and Karl Rove could reach them more easily.

However, it was during the Bush years that Fox News began to outperform the cable competition. CNN, HLN, and the launch of MSNBC diluted the non-rightist audience giving Fox a plurality of viewers and bragging rights for ratings victories. Fox enjoyed first shots at interviews and scoops from the administration and Congressional Republicans. That brought them greater influence and gratitude from the halls of power. In addition, the White House kept its TVs tuned to Fox, as well as those at Camp David, the Crawford ranch, and even on Air Force One. Vice-President Dick Cheney even had a travel directive that required that “all televisions [be] tuned to Fox News.” Woe to those staffers who failed in that duty.

There may never have been (and hopefully never again will be) such a close relationship between a news organization and a presidential administration. In the end, they were even trading places as if they were merely different departments of the same enterprise: When presidential advisor Karl Rove moved out of the White House to become a Fox News contributor, Fox anchor Tony Snow moved in to become Bush’s press secretary.

Going forward, Fox will find themselves on a new frontier. It is highly improbable that they will be the exclusive broadcaster in the White House of Barack Obama. Although, I certainly hope that the new administration will pay close attention to the spew emanating from Fox, I don’t expect them to be in cahoots. Murdoch and company are definitely going to lose some of their clout. There will be a new Chairman at the FCC, and a new position for a White House Technology advisor. These will be knowledgeable and independent people who will serve the public interest – for a change. Here is a sampling of the views of Fox News, and Big Media in general, from some senior members of the new administration:

President Obama: “In recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented consolidation in our traditional media outlets. Large mergers and corporate deals have reduced the number of voices and viewpoints in the media marketplace.”

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State Designate: “There have been a lot of media consolidations in the last several years, and it is quite troubling. The fact is, most people still get their news from television, from radio, even from newspapers. If they’re all owned by a very small group of people – and particularly if they all have a very similar point of view – it really stifles free speech.”

Eric Holder, Attorney General Designate: “With the mainstream media somewhat cowered by conservative critics, and the conservative media disseminating the news in anything but a fair and balanced manner, and you know what I mean there, the means to reach the greatest number of people is not easily accessible.”

More President Obama: “I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls. If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right? Because the way I’m portrayed 24/7 is as a freak! I am the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that?”

This can’t be good news for Fox News. But the network seems to be aware of the shifting landscape and has been preparing for battle. They signed new long-term contracts with Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. They axed Hannity’s foil, Alan Colmes. They hired reinforcements like Mike Huckabee, Glenn Beck, and Judith Miller. Clearly they see trouble ahead and are responding by stocking their armory with ever more weapons of mass deception.

Unfortunately for Fox, forecasts are not rosy for the disinformation station. They are consistently the slowest growing cable news network, particularly in the all-important 25-54 demographic. They have the oldest skewing cable news audience. They are facing stiffer competition than ever, with the surging Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow’s record-breaking debut. The Fox News ratings crown was once unassailable. Today, while still maintaining their first place average, they often come in second and occasionally third. That was unthinkable two short years ago.

As for their future prospects, it is difficult to make a case for Fox to be optimistic. In addition to their recent ratings woes, they are entering a period wherein the American public may not appreciate a network that is hostile to a new president who is held in high regard. Obama is beginning his term with an 80% approval rating. Of course, that won’t last, and Fox will surely seek to shorten Obama’s honeymoon. But contrary to some media analysts who suggest that an adversarial relationship with Washington will benefit Fox, the truth is that Fox experienced its strongest growth amidst the friendliness of Bush years. This suggests that it is not simply drama and controversy that propelled Fox (although that is their preferred programming model), but that having powerful political allies helped them to succeed. When looked at objectively, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. When has having powerful political allies ever been a disadvantage?

Nevertheless, Fox is pursuing the path of most hostility, as evidenced by their new schedule. For further evidence note the response by Fox News commentators following Obama’s inaugural speech. Brit Hume’s first comments were to find passages that might please the right. Chris Wallace actually speculated that the flubbed oath of office (due to Chief Justice Roberts mangling the text) might mean that Obama isn’t really president (Let the conspiracy emails begin). Glenn Beck spent the whole hour of his second show on Fox heaping scorn on Obama. And while Rush Limbaugh isn’t technically on Fox, he is a charter member of the same ideological fraternity, and he has published a long dissertation on why he hopes Obama fails. These guys aren’t wasting any time.

This is just a preview of what we have to look forward to. The influence of Fox News is bound to decline. The Obama camp would be justified in giving Fox a cold shoulder. Fox deserves it for their brazen partisanship and for failing the test of responsible journalism. Other networks should now get some exclusives and scoops. And the more that this historic administration ignores Fox, the less relevant they will be.

We will now see Fox revert to the behavior of an injured wild beast that becomes even more ornery and more dangerous. We see it already. It’s important that we keep an eye on this threat, as it is not retreating to its lair. But it is retreating in the hearts and minds of the American people, and for that we should feel some sense of relief.

MSNBC Celebrates Strongest 2008 Growth

Once again, MSNBC has demonstrated its dominance over the stodgy CNN and the rightist snake oil of Fox News. MSNBC’s programming grew more than twice as much as Fox during 2008:

The fact that this was an election year raised the numbers of all of the players, but in the end Fox took its usual place at the bottom of the scale of growth. On the other hand, MSNBC was the only network to finish the year with more viewers post-election than their average for the year. That’s because their rate of increase far exceeded what was given back after November 4, when audiences predictably declined.

As the new year kicks off, the battle for cable news supremacy will only heat up. MSNBC will continue to rely on of its powerhouse one-two punch of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown and the Rachel Maddow Show. Both programs continue to drive the network’s growth. CNN is sticking with the status quo. Their schedule is little changed for the year, with the exception of adding Campbell Brown, who hasn’t really made her presence known.

Fox News, however, is making several changes that seem to be geared to digging an even deeper conservative hole. This year saw the hiring of right-wing stalwarts like Karl Rove, Judith Miller, and Mike Huckabee, as well as Foxocrats and Obama opponents Lanny Davis and Howard Wolfson. In addition to that, they are losing Alan Colmes and debuting what they call a new “pure” Sean Hannity solo show. I’m sure they are happy to have filtered out the contaminants. Hannity also signed a multimillion dollar contract renewal, as did Bill O’Reilly. Brett Baier, a reliable Fox ideologue, is succeeding Brit Hume as anchor of their signature news program, Special Report. And later this month will see the premiere of Glenn Beck’s new program on the network for which he was born to work. His obnoxious, immature, fact-free squealing will fit right in on Fox.

These uber-conservative reinforcements called in by Fox News suggest that they are preparing for a new offensive directed at the incoming administration of Barack Obama. It’s hard to see any other justification for such a hardening of their right flank when political winds are shifting in a more centrist, post-partisan direction. Consequently, in the new year, Democrats and progressives had better be vigilant and prepare for an onslaught of contemptuous attacks from the Murdochian Empire. Their troops are amassed on the border and the rising sun is illuminating a determined and disturbing red dawn.

Post-Election Cable News Ratings: Good News For MSNBC

The presidential election was a boon for the news business, especially cable TV news. All three players boosted their year-ago numbers, but it was not an equal opportunity affair.

Network Prev Week +/- Prev Year +/-
Fox -30 +40
CNN -58 +36
MSNBC +40 +143

Once again, MSNBC delivered far stronger growth numbers than any of its competitors. And once again, that growth was driven by Keith Olbermann’s Countdown and the Rachel Maddow Show. MSNBC was the only cable news net to close the post-election week with more viewers than the prior week.

It’s still hard for MSNBC to get any respect, though. The article linked above from Media Week sports the headline, “No Post-Election Slump for Fox News.” Without closely reading the article, one might think that Fox was the big beneficiary of the campaign season. But the numbers show a completely different story. Which just goes to show you, even media reporting about the media can’t be trusted. My headline is far more accurate.

Progressive Media In The Obama Era

With the election over, prognostications about the new administration of Barack Obama, and the fate of the losers, began in earnest. Almost simultaneously, speculation arose concerning the direction and prospects for the media in general, and the cable news networks in particular. The conventional wisdom (always conventional, rarely wise) is that Fox News will thrive in the role of a voice for the opposition and MSNBC will struggle for lack of drama. This analysis presumes that audiences respond only to conflict and that the Obama victory will put conservatives on edge and liberals to sleep.

There is some merit to this theory, but, us usual, it is too narrowly drawn to be enlightening. If contrarian politics were paramount then Fox would not have flourished during its early years of the Clinton administration, which it opposed, as well as the Bush years that followed, which it embraced. A common misconception about the success of Fox News is that it was driven by its conservative point of view. The only role ideology played was that it funneled all of the right-leaning viewers to one channel, allowing Fox to score higher in Nielsen ratings. The larger truth is that it transformed stodgy news delivery into thrill-inducing combat and soap opera. They created an us-vs-them, hero narrative that feeds on the same zealotry as a religious cult.

The race for president provided ample opportunity for the sort of melodrama upon which the new generation of cable news networks thrive. Fox took full advantage of this promoting, and even creating, friction where it otherwise would not have existed. Who can forget (despite how desperately we try):

  • William Ayers
  • Rev. Jeremiah Wright
  • Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher (the Plumber)
  • ACORN
  • Drill, baby drill
  • Elitists
  • Flag pins
  • Muslim Madrassas

The irrelevance of these phony issues is confirmed by how quickly they have vanished from the news scene. The campaign season stirred the pot, but the conclusion of the campaign is not the end of controversy. We are still mired in war, a collapsing economy, a climate crisis, and a multitude of other critical affairs that will define the next four years.

Nevertheless, cable news is going to have to undergo a post-election makeover. Brit Hume has already left the building. Some reports from Fox News insiders suggest that they will be taking a softer approach toward the President-elect (don’t believe it). Keith Olbermann’s Countdown contains segments like “Bushed” and “McCain in the Membrane” that will need to be retired. Political contests will likely play a smaller role in his program and others, and the void will have to be filled by something else. In the search for new themes, I would like to suggest one that is ever-present and exerts an overdue influence on American politics and culture: the Media.

There will always be political, social, and global controversies. They will erupt between and within party affiliations. The one thing that ties them all together is that they are fodder for interpretation by the media. The characterization of ideas can be instrumental in their acceptance or rejection by the people. Ideally, news organizations would be neutral providers of information and analysis, but those days may be long past. The modern era of television news seems to have irreversibly digressed into partisan advocacy. Even Fox News, the home of the “fair and balanced” fallacy, seems to have abandoned that pretense. Chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes was asked by Broadcasting and Cable Magazine about their post-election prospects:

B & C: [W]ill the news side of Fox News face an apathetic audience, compounded by being on the losing end of a national election?

Ailes: There may be certain elements of our audience that turn away between now and the inauguration. I think cable numbers overall will drop, although there is a fascination with Obama.

Notice that Ailes doesn’t object to the question’s premise that Fox was “on the losing end” of the election. The reality of Fox’s bias is so well established now that he doesn’t even bother to refute it. If Ailes’ response isn’t validation enough, listen to his executive VP, John Moody, from the same article, describing Obama as…

“…a once-in-a-lifetime politician and that means he’s smart enough to know that, despite his prescient 2004 speech, there are red voters and blue voters. And he wants to reach out and get the red ones, too.”

Here we have Moody blithely confessing that Fox is the venue for conservative viewers. This is something that Moody and Ailes would have vehemently denied in the past. Today it is treated as a foregone conclusion. That’s what makes observation of the media such a rich vein for the sort of melodrama that excites cable news programmers and viewers. The presentation of the news is so narrowly focused and poorly produced that it invites criticism, sarcasm, and ridicule.

This is where progressive media can excel. The Rupert Murdochs of the world aren’t interested in self-examination or improvement. They have an agenda to pursue and they won’t let a little thing like truth get in the way. Witness the inveterate lying of folks like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. Liberals are generally more predisposed toward ethical oversight and, thus, make better watchdogs. With the decline of political content in the news cycle, this would be an opportune time to jump headlong into media analysis and criticism.

Scrutiny of the press has the added benefit of expanding the audience base because those who are skeptical of the press are a diverse group. An honest appraisal of reporters and pundits will appeal to a broad swath of news consumers. Evidence of this is the popularity of a couple of programs on Comedy Central. The Daily Show and the Colbert Report demonstrate the appeal of programming that takes on the press. Many analysts misconstrue these shows as political satire, but that is not an accurate characterization. They are media satire programs. Everything they do is less a statement on policy than it is a statement on the absurdity and incompetence of the people who bring us the news. It is also noteworthy that conservative attempts at this endeavor have all failed miserably.

Drawing attention to the media is also fertile ground for effective reform. It is potentially the most powerful avenue for political change. Every issue that faces citizens and their representatives has to be disseminated through the media apparatus. So whether it’s healthcare, education, taxes, energy, etc., it is the press that will shape much of the public’s view. The more light that is cast on the press, the more likely they will modify their behavior. So if cable news figures like Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Campbell Brown, and even Fox’s Shepard Smith (who has been known to take swipes at his net’s coverage), step up and challenge their industry, they could have more impact, and do more good, then if they merely assume the posture of another kvetching pundit.

The next few weeks will tell whether the press has learned anything, whether it is interested in self-reflection and reform, and whether it is capable of fulfilling its traditional role as a check on a government that would much prefer to work in secret. This will also be an outstanding time to have media watchers illuminating the stage and exposing the imperfections and deceits of those who purport to inform us. Let’s hope they heed the call. Because, now more than ever, we need an open, honest, and diverse fourth estate to document the progress of what may be the most astonishing political achievement in this nation’s short history.

And The Winner Is … Keith Olbermann’s Countdown

It has been a long campaign, but the tally is finally in. Last week Keith Olbermann’s Countdown beat the O’Reilly Factor every day in the key 25-54 audience demographic. Here is the five day average for the primetime cable news programs:

Program Viewers
Countdown 1180
Rachel Maddow 1063
O’Reilly Factor 1020
Hannity & Not Hannity 1011
Larry King 631
Campbell Brown 533

I have been reporting on the performance of the cable news programs for almost three years. Most of that time I have made the case that Fox News is an old world dinosaur that is consistently underperforming the competition. Although it was also the number one news network, it was either losing viewers or growing slower than CNN and MSNBC. This year alone saw year-over-year gains of 70% for MSNBC, 66% for CNN, but only 36% for Fox. The trends all pointed to an eventual takedown which I predicted would occur before the end of this year.

Well, it’s November, and my prediction has been validated. There have been multiple occasions in the past few months where MSNBC beat Fox intermittently. The Foxbots all clung to the belief that these were irrelevant blips that would amount to nothing. But now Countdown took an entire week of regular programming (meaning there were no guest hosts or preemptions). This is as clear a signal as there can be that the landscape is shifting.

In addition to Olbermann’s success, the new Rachel Maddow show burst out of the gate to great acclaim and ratings. She beat Fox’s Hannity & Not Hannity 3 out of 5 nights, and took the whole week prize as well. For the week, the one-two punch of Olbermann and Maddow delivered a nightly win to MSNBC on 3 out of 5 nights, and a tie for the full week in primetime.

As always, time will tell if these numbers endure. But they affirm the audience migration away from Fox News. Plus Fox has a much smaller percentage of viewers in the 25-54 demo (27%) than either CNN (38%) or MSNBC (42%). This means that advertisers will drift away from Fox’s older skewing audience. But it also means that the next generation of news consumers is forming their bond now with with other networks, particularly MSNBC.

The Race Tightens – For Cable News That Is

The election season has been a boon to the cable TV biz. All three of the news networks have enjoyed higher ratings. But the distribution of the audience expansion has not been exactly equal.

Fox News, the long-time leader, retains its position and moves up from fourth to second. CNN has a respectable showing by bumping up four steps from ninth to fifth. But MSNBC pulls off the master stroke by leaping from twenty-third to ninth, marking its first appearance in the top ten.

Much of the strong performance of MSNBC has to be credited to their powerhouse prime time lineup grounded by Keith Olbermann’s Countdown. But the real difference was made by the launch of Rachel Maddow’s new program, which has burst onto the air to great acclaim and audience appreciation. Her program seems to have revitalized the whole prime time schedule. As a result MSNBC is more frequently having nights like last night where the three hour block from 7:00pm to 10:00pm was number one, beating both CNN and Fox.

It is because of performance like this that Bill O’Reilly is whining about the Nielsen ratings being fixed. He just can’t bring himself to accept that more people are tuning him out and Olbermann in. To O’Reilly, any evidence that he is not the popular icon he imagines himself to be, must have been forged by his enemies who conspire against him from their underground lairs. As for Maddow knocking out both Larry King and Hannity and Colmes, after just a few weeks on the air, there is little precedent for such instant success.

The writing is on the wall. With the three news networks all bunched much closer together, Fox News is becoming ever more hysterical as their agenda is being rejected by America. So they try harder to push ridiculous fabrications, but the result is they make themselves look even sillier and they lose more viewers. In the past few months they’ve gone from calling Barack Obama a Muslim to branding him a Socialist. Sometime between now and election day, look for Fox to reveal that Obama and the Boston Strangler were never photographed together. Hmmm…Coincidence?

Bill O’Reilly’s Ratings Derangement Syndrome

Bill O’Reilly’s deteriorating mental state has been on display for many months, even years. From the recently uncovered We’ll do it live meltdown, to the unhinged Don’t block the shot hysterics, O’Reilly has demonstrated the makings of an unprecedentedly public psychological collapse.

One of the core symptoms of the sort of delusional paranoia that O’Reilly exhibits is a personality so disordered that it sees enemies around every corner (see The O’Reilly Fear Factor: Collected Verses). The latest target of O’Reilly’s dementia is the A.C. Nielsen Company who is responsible for the television ratings used by networks, producers and advertisers. People often forget that the Nielsen ratings are a marketing tool because many try to use them as an indicator of popularity. In the business, however, it is well known that the numbers are routinely massaged to produce positive results for whomever is reporting them. But O’Reilly is stretching interpretation to the breaking point.

In his latest screed he is outraged by reports in the New York Times that address his program and its ratings. He begins by boasting that his ratings put him in front of every competitor. He notes that his program is number one in total audience and grew in the 25-54 year old demographic by 90%. However, after basking in the glow of Nielsen’s data, O’Reilly turns around and castigates them as having “major problems…that have benefited MSNBC” and asserts that…

“The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”

What O’Reilly fails to grasp is that Nielsen is a private market research company that nobody is compelled to patronize. If O’Reilly and/or Fox News don’t trust the results, they can decline to renew their contract. But to suggest that the Feds investigate them is just plain crazy. O’Reilly is attempting to elevate Nielsen to some kind of public institution that is subject to scrutiny from government overseers. It’s not. If O’Reilly had any evidence of wrongdoing, he could easily release it and Nielsen would be forced to respond. That’s how the free market, so revered by rightist ideologues like O’Reilly, actually operates.

Obviously O’Reilly has no such evidence. And he is exploring the boundaries of absurdity by proudly citing the Nielsen ratings as his source for how successful he is, then slandering them for cheating to make him look bad. If he wants us to be suspicious of Nielsen data, than shouldn’t we also question the data that shows him ahead?

As for his interpretation, O’Reilly is eager to complain that reporters from the New York Times leave out pertinent facts when profiling his performance. But so does he. His claim that he increased his 25-54 demo 90% needs to be put in context by noting that Keith Olbermann’s Countdown increased the same demo by over 300%. O’Reilly also likes to use the total audience numbers because they favor him. What he doesn’t say is that nobody in the business cares about them. Advertisers are focused on younger demos. In that area, O’Reilly lags severely. Only 22% of primetime Fox News viewers were in the 25-54 demo, compared to 31% for CNN and 38% for MSNBC. And Fox News is consistently the slowest growing of all the cable news networks.

O’Reilly’s attack on the Times has escalated into what he calls a war, and O’Reilly is fighting dirty. In a Herculean feat of irrelevance, he suggests that the Times’ performance on Wall Street is an affirmation of his position:

“The Times is suffering for its deceptive reporting. Its stock price is down 54 percent.”

Once again it is what O’Reilly leaves out that is most significant. First of all, he fails to note that the entire stock market has been brutalized by a sell-off of historic proportions. More to the point, the stock price of Fox News’ parent company, News Corp., is presently down 63% from it’s 52 week high. So by O’Reilly’s logic, Fox is 9% more deceptive than the Times.

I recognize that I’m being generous using the word “logic” in connection to anything O’Reilly does or says. But what’s notable about his latest “Reality Check” is how much farther it extends into the surreal than even he has ventured before. He has truly lost touch and now wanders a barren mental landscape in a vain search for sanity and safety from the demons he imagines are pursuing him.

Glenn Beck To Suck On Fox News

In what may seem like an obvious and long overdue match up, Glenn Beck will be leaving CNN for Fox News early next year. This should be good news for CNN because Beck’s show has performed terribly on the their Headline News Network (HLN). It is consistently in last place amongst its cable news competitors, and is the lowest rated program on HLN’s primetime schedule.

Despite bragging about how Beck had improved the time period for HLN, Beck has actually lagged other programs on the network. Nancy Grace pulls in twice as many viewers as Beck. All news networks experienced growth this year due to the presidential election. However, while Grace increased her audience 100%, Beck managed a paltry by comparison 34% gain over his third quarter performance last year in the key 25-54 year old demographic.

By it’s embrace of Beck, Fox News is providing more evidence (as if any were needed) of their intransigent partisanship. If they were smart, they would offer a show to Tanya Acker (who I love) or Bob Beckel (not so much) just to say they have one program from a left of center perspective.

So what is Fox getting for their trouble? They are getting the most ignorant and obnoxious host on cable news. They are getting a perennial ratings loser. They are getting an unrepentant racist provocateur. They are getting an ego-centric ideologue that CNN originally described as someone “that could siphon viewers from Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough and other conservative hosts.” Now he won’t need to as he and O’Reilly will be able to promote each other. There is no question that Beck will feel more at home at Fox. In a comment responding to his new contract he even admitted that Fox News will be a better fit because…

“I’m kind of an island over at Headline. It’s kind of difficult because I’ve got to bring my own audience over to Headline.”

Well he won’t have to do that for Fox, because it comes complete with its own congregation of rightist believers. That will serve as an advantage to Beck who will have access to a much larger and better trained audience than he had at HLN. Plus, he was about to lose his nightly repeat broadcast to a rerun of CNN’s Lou Dobbs. That undoubtedly had some impact on his decision to jump ship. However, his Fox show will air earlier in the day at a time that has lower HUT (homes using TV) levels, in a time period that has featured previous losers like John Gibson and Laura Ingraham – both now canceled.

The open question now is, “What will CNN do with the vacant time slot?” One option would be to return to their original mission of providing summaries of breaking news events. But since the ratings trends favor personality-driven talk, they will likely seek a new, opinionated host.

This would be a good time to point out that CNN has never had a single program hosted by a liberal. Not one. But they have cycled through multiple conservative hosts. They may want to take note that MSNBC is the presently the fastest growing cable news network thanks to Keith Olbermann’s Countdown and the newest talk show sensation, Rachel Maddow. There are numerous progressive personalities available if CNN chose to demonstrate some market savvy as well as some content diversity. They could even reward their own Jack Cafferty with a promotion. He is wildly popular and, while he’s not exactly a liberal, he connects with everyone who is fed up with whatever status quo is at play.

Will CNN do the right/smart thing? Judging by their past I would not bet on it. But they have an opportunity and perhaps they may not squander it if they get some encouragement from viewers. CNN’s email: CNN / Headline News

Update: CNN has announced that Jane Velez Mitchell, beginning tonight, will serve as the interim host for the time period Beck is vacating. It is notable that CNN is pulling Beck from the schedule the day after revealing his agreement with Fox News. Beck’s contract doesn’t expire until February. Perhaps CNN is upset at Beck’s departure (though they should be grateful). More likely they see no reason to permit a future competitor to continue to promote himself on their air.

Velez-Mitchell is an unknown quantity so far as political commentary is concerned. She has done a lot of court reporting (i.e. Michael Jackson) and is a frequent substitute for Nancy Grace. She is also an out lesbian (hello Rachel), a vegan, and an opponent of animal cruelty, for what it’s worth. Last year she contributed $800.00 to the presidential campaign of fellow vegan Dennis Kucinich.

Random Thoughts: McCain, Palin And Olbermann

Just a few things that are running through my idle mind:

On John McCain: In last night’s debate, McCain suggested that folks check the website of Citizens Against Government Waste to confirm his allegations about Obama’s congressional earmarks. What he didn’t say is that CAGW is a McCain front group that has endorsed him for president, donated $11,000.00 to him or to PACs he controls, and is run by Orson Swindle, a long-time associate and an adviser to his campaign. Not exactly a neutral source, eh John?

On Sarah Palin: Did you all notice that Palin was AWOL for the post-debate commentary last night? Joe Biden appeared on every broadcast and cable news network, as VP candidates traditionally do following presidential debates. Palin appeared on none. The McCain camp must be terrified of her slipping out of her cage.

On Keith Olbermann: It just occurred to me that Olbermann has been mocked mercilessly by rightist pundits and bloggers as nothing more than a glorified former sportscaster. I wonder why they don’t direct that same ire toward Sarah Palin, who holds a degree in journalism and pursued a career as a sportscaster in her early professional life. If they think that Olbermann is unfit to be a political commentator based on his sports background, then surely they must think that Palin is similarly unfit to be vice president. Either that or they think that Olbermann would make a great VP.

Rachel Maddow Debut Delivers

Last night’s debut of MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” was a rousing success in terms of the strategic goals the network set for the program. The premiere broadcast drew 483,000 viewers in the advertiser-friendly 25-54 demographic. That was good enough for a second place finish versus the competition, beating the veteran Larry King. She also was the second highest rated program on the MSNBC prime time lineup, following Keith Olbermann’s Countdown.

Most importantly, however, was the impact Maddow had on the schedule. One of MSNBC’s weak points is that their programs provide little encouragement to viewers to stay tuned for very long. The mix of content offered by Olbermann, Chris Matthews, David Gregory, and the now canceled Dan Abrams and Tucker Carlson, was disjointed and incongruous.

Abrams’ Verdict, which Maddow replaced, failed to retain even 50% of Olbermann’s lead-in (averaged for July 2008). Maddow, on the other hand, managed to hold 80% of Countdown’s audience. That sort of retention can go a long way toward building a programming block that competitors will find challenging to confront.

This is, of course, the results of just one day. Time will tell if the strategy works over the long run. But it is a promising debut and a foundation on which to build. Plus, just having Maddow’s sharp insight and reasoned analysis injected into the whirlwind of cable talkathons for the next few weeks leading up to the presidential election in November, is a positive development for those interested in an engaged and informed electorate.

Submission Accomplished: MSNBC Demotes Olbermann

Keith Olbermann is MSNBC’s hottest property. His ratings eclipse those of the rest of the lineup. So clearly he is a significant draw for an audience that MSNBC has been struggling to expand and they would reward him commensurate to his contribution.

Think again:

“MSNBC is removing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as the anchors of live political events, bowing to growing criticism that they are too opinionated to be seen as neutral in the heat of the presidential campaign. “

This is another example of the media being so petrified of disapproval from right-wing critics that they act in opposition to their own interests. By effectively demoting their top talent, MSNBC is agreeing with critics that their coverage is slanted and that Olbermann is a journalistic liability. This action is remarkably stupid and short-sighted. Why would NBC want to denigrate their own reporting and insult their most popular program host? Apparently all is takes is a letter or two from the White House or the Republican National Committee to make NBC execs tremble.

To put this in perspective, try to imagine Fox News making a similar schedule adjustment in response to complaints from liberal sources. Obviously they get such complaints by the thousands on a daily basis. And not just from liberals, but from respected, independent journalistic institutions and professionals. Yet Brit Hume, Megyn Kelly, Neil Cavuto, etc. – not to mention Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity – all have safe jobs and have never been chastised in the slightest for their brazen bias and partisan pandering.

What’s more, the contrast in tone between the left and right media is disturbing, to say the least. Liberals are accused primarily of partisanship and favoritism. But rightists are are guilty of far more hostile activity. Recall Fox News’ Liz Trotta who joked that Barack Obama should be assassinated along with Osama Bin Laden. And then there’s that continuous thread of racism that permeates Fox News. These ethical violations, however, are not sufficient to warrant corrective action on the part of the conservative press.

In addition to dissing Olbermann, muting an alternative perspective, and likely suppressing their ratings (and, thus, their income), NBC is also giving ammunition to their competitors, who will not praise this as a step toward neutral reporting, but cite it as evidence of bias. So MSNBC gains nothing from their capitulation. Fox News is already reporting on these events as having taken place due to MSNBC’s lack of neutrality. That Fox can even say that, without a hint of irony, demonstrates how low the media neutrality bar has sunk.

The timing of this announcement couldn’t be worse. With the party conventions over, the general election commencing formally, and debates coming soon, NBC has chosen to very publicly tarnish their own brand. This could only happen at a network that is faulted as being liberal by the entrenched media establishment. And yet, the myth that the media is liberal will persist despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

The real problem is that it is only the few liberal islands in the media sea that are punished for expressing their views. The monopolistic corporations who control the media, and their benefactors on the conservative side of the political spectrum, are the dictators of what the news audience will see and hear. They will always bend to the right and, sadly, cowards like those at NBC will choke the breadth of opinion from the airwaves to the point of suffocation.

The Rachel Maddow Show Coming Soon To A TV Near You

MSNBC announced today that Rachel Maddow will be getting her own show following Keith Olbermann’s Countdown. The program is scheduled to debut on September 8, 2008, just in time for the general election circus. This is a move long expected by insiders, or at least by me.

Maddow is one of the brightest stars in the cable news galaxy. She is insightful and courageous and elegantly articulate. Her show will help to fill a gap in the MSNBC line-up. Dan Abrams, whom Maddow will replace, has failed to capitalize on Olbermann’s lead-in. His show was more a collection of segments than a show, and it had no personality. Maddow, on the other hand, has the potential of creating a program that will build on its lead-in. She appeals to a young demo which MSNBC draws in large numbers. Countdown actually beats its competition, including the O’Reilly Factor, in the 18-49 demo. And Maddow will appeal to MSNBC’s core audience that recent surveys show leans Democratic by 2-to-1 (compared to Fox News’ 9-to-1 right leaning audience). Abrams was a political fence-sitter who couldn’t hold Olbermann’s viewers, but Maddow could make use of him for episodes of “Beat the Press” and commentary on legal stories (his work on Don Siegleman was the best on TV).

Success, however, is not guaranteed. First of all, we have not seen the show or its format. If they make the mistake of patterning it off of David Gregory’s “Race for the White House” it will be a huge disappointment. The last thing cable news needs is another descendant of the Crossfire genus of shouting matches that has already proved to be a failure. Secondly, she will air opposite Fox News’ popular “Hannity and Not Hannity,” and CNN’s Larry King. She will need to aggregate progressive, reality-based viewers from across the dial in order to compete. As I’ve previously noted, Fox News has cornered the market on right-wingers. Democrats and progressives are scattered across the grid. The key to success for Maddow (and for MSNBC overall) is to do a better job of pulling this audience together.

There will be a built in high interest for the debut week that will have to grab the viewers and make them instantaneously loyal. At the same time, she should expect to take some heat from the Foxian Culture Warriors like Bill O’Reilly, who has made bashing MSNBC, NBC, and Keith Olbermann, a sacrament of his demented faith. Rightist media is unlikely to welcome her into their club as the only woman anchoring a political show, and a lesbian at that.

Congratulations Rachel, and good luck.

The Fox News War On News

David Carr of the New York Times seems to finally have noticed what has been obvious for years to any objective news analyst. Fox News has a long-standing scorched Earth policy when reacting to other media who dare to report on Fox News.

In his column titled, When Fox News Is the Story,” Carr confesses that just the thought of having to deal with Fox News as a subject in a story makes him and his peers nervous:

“Once the public relations apparatus at Fox News is engaged, there will be the calls to my editors, keening (and sometimes threatening) e-mail messages, and my requests for interviews will quickly turn into depositions about my intent or who else I am talking to.”

The key tactic in Fox’s PR strategy is to intimidate reporters and editors, and by Carr’s own admission, it’s working. Carr goes on to profile the Fox news PR machine as an operation modeled on political warfare, as directed by CEO Roger Ailes, a veteran of campaigns going back to Richard Nixon. He describes it as “a kind of rolling opposition research” effort intended to cause material harm to their perceived enemies. Carr cites the recent example of the hosts of Fox & Friends taking out their revenge on two Times reporters who wrote about how the competition is gaining on Fox. Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy displayed altered photographs of the reporters that were at best unflattering, at worst anti-Semitic.

While Carr’s revelations are interesting, they don’t go nearly far enough to provide an historical context for Fox’s behavior. This is not a recent phenomena. Three years ago David Folkenflik wrote about how Fox bears its fangs when it doesn’t like what’s being said. And the AP’s David Bauder documented what has become known as Fox’s “Wishing Well,” a back-handed slap at anyone who says anything about Fox News that isn’t complimentary:

  • Because of his personal demons, Keith [Olbermann] has imploded everywhere he’s worked. From lashing out at co-workers to personally attacking Bill O’Reilly and all things Fox, it’s obvious Keith is a train wreck waiting to happen. And like all train wrecks, people might tune in out of morbid curiosity, but they eventually tune out, as evidenced by Keith’s recent ratings decline. In the meantime, we hope he enjoys his paranoid view from the bottom of the ratings ladder and wish him well on his inevitable trip to oblivion.
  • Ted [Turner] is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network and now his mind. We wish him well.
  • Tim [Russert]‘s sour grapes are obvious here, but at least he’s not using his father as a prop to sell books this time around. That said, we wish him well on his latest self-promotion tour.
  • We are disappointed that George [Clooney] has chosen to hurt Mr. O’Reilly’s family in order to promote his movie. But it’s obvious he needs publicity considering his recent string of failures. We wish him well in his struggle to regain relevancy.
  • We wish CNN well in their annual executive shuffle. We wish Jon [Klein] well in his battle for second place with MSNBC.
  • We can understand David [Shuster]‘s disappointment in being let go by Fox News Channel, but he’s too young to be so bitter. We wish him well in getting his career back on track.

It’s not just PR flacks volleying in this debate. The big dogs at News Corp. are fully engaged. Rupert Murdoch’s spokesperson delivered an ultimatum to GE, saying that if they reined in Keith Olbermann, Fox would call off Bill O’Reilly. Roger Ailes stepped into the fray personally, threatening…

“…that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

In the weeks that followed, Ailes made good on his threat. Bill O’Reilly, Steve Doocy, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Gretchen Carlson, and others at Fox News all laid into NBC/GE with renewed vigor. O’reilly even has his own Media Hall of Shame. The New York Post’s gossips on Page Six initiated a week-long assault on Olbermann’s personal life, alleging tax evasion, calling him unstable, and even publishing his home address – a vile act whose only purpose could be to cause him harm.

The risks faced by reporters who merely want to do their jobs is very real. Fox News will throw whatever they can at you to derail your reporting and/or tarnish your reputation. Carr relates horror stories from his colleagues who have dared to cross Fox News:

“…they have received e-mail messages from Fox News public relations staff that contained doctored photos, anonymous quotes and nasty items about competitors. And two former Fox employees said that they had participated in precisely those kinds of activities but had signed confidentiality agreements and could not say so on the record.”

~

“…few were willing to be quoted. In the last several years, reporters from The Associated Press, several large newspapers and various trade publications have said they were shut out from getting their calls returned because of stories they had written. Editors do not want to hear why your calls are not being returned, they just want you to fix the problem, or perhaps they will fix it by finding someone else to do your job.”

That’s an old tactic practiced by political operatives and office holders. They know that if they deny you access, your editor is going to have to get someone else who doesn’t have that problem. In effect, they get you fired. It is unprecedented, however, for a media company to employ such hardball tactics against other media companies. But that is the way Fox does business, and their peers had better develop strong stomachs if they hope to endure.

The impression left by Carr is that many in the media have already given up fighting. They will either decline to report on anything having to do with Fox News (if it’s critical), or they will simply adjust their reporting to be more positive. That is the danger of letting bullies get away with their bad behavior. Once again, it will be up to the people to insist that they get honest, responsible journalism from the Conventional Media. It is up to us to force them to do their jobs. If we succeed then it won’t matter what Fox’s attack dogs do. Their vacant yelping will disperse like a fading echo. We wish them well as they collapse from the fatigue of chasing their own tails.

Gawker has more on Fox News PR Priestess, Irena Briganti.