MSNBC has been enjoying a bit of boost with daily breaking coverage of Chris Christie’s BridgeGate scandal. And thanks to Christie’s determination to impede the investigation the story just keeps getting prolonged which, of course, provides more opportunities for MSNBC to rake in the ratings.
Rachel Maddow is one of the prime beneficiaries of this situation. She was the first cable newsie to report on Christie’s bullying tactics and she has consistently broken new developments. As result she is seeing her ratings spike significantly.
Making this even more significant is the fact that Maddow is beating Megyn Kelly, who was promoted to her prime time slot specifically to try to capture more of the younger audience that Maddow is drawing. For her to have another weekly win so soon may be a warning flag that Kelly isn’t appealing to the audience that Fox intended. In fact, Kelly may just be exacerbating Fox’s older skewing, predominantly male audience who tune in for the titillation that Fox deliberately exploits.
In addition to Maddow’s numbers, Chris Matthews has also been bumped up. He beat his Fox competition, Greta Van Susteren, for the week as well. It is clear that having substantive reporting that viewers find valuable is the most effective way of building an audience. And MSNBC should strive to more of that. Or they could try the Fox model of just making shit up that feeds the prejudices of low-information viewers. That seems to work too.
Remember way back about four days ago when Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wet his britches over a tweet by someone at MSNBC that said that right-wingers would hate a new Cheerios ad that featured a biracial family?
The reaction from Priebus and the rest of the conservative throngs was to lash out at MSNBC and demand satisfaction for what they regarded as an insulting insinuation that there were racists in the ranks of the right. Priebus even threatened to boycott the cable network. Never mind that the tweet was thoroughly justified by the fact that right-wing racists actually did hate the very same biracial family when they appeared in a previous version of the ad. In fact, YouTube had to close off the comments on the video due to the volume of vulgar responses. That didn’t stop Priebus from throwing a tantrum and insisting on an apology.
In a classic demonstration of just how pusillanimous a corporate media weasel can be, the president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, disgorged a sniveling apology and announced that the person responsible for the tweet had been terminated. It was an embarrassing supplication to conservative bullies whose outrage was transparently fake.
Today we have additional evidence that Griffin’s knee-bending was uncalled-for. An ad for Coca-Cola aired yesterday during the Superbowl (video below) that featured Americans of various nationalities, races, religions, and cultures, all singing “America the Beautiful” in a rich tapestry of the languages that represent our country’s diversity. The response from conservatives to this heartwarming advertisement was predictably hostile. They lit up Twitter and Facebook with hateful messages vilifying Coke, as well as all Americans who do not fit the European, Caucasian mold favored by these bigots. Some of the more prominent feces-flingers were:
Todd Starnes of Fox News, who tweeted“Coca Cola is the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border.”
Tea Party ex-congressman Allen West, called the ad“a truly disturbing commercial,” because “the words went from English to languages I didn’t recognize.”
Michael Patrick Leahy of Breitbart News, who lamented that the “ad also prominently features a gay couple.” and somehow found a message in it that the U.S. “is no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution.”
Eric Bolling of Fox News, who objected to this use of a patriotic song saying “Don’t put it to ‘America the Beautiful.’ You used the wrong song.”
Armageddonist Glenn Beck, who inexplicably derived division from this ode to unity, saying “That’s all this is – to divide people.”
If anything exonerates the unjustly fired MSNBC tweeter, it is this parade of conservative xenophobes who validate the original message about right-wingers hating an ad that honors what really makes America beautiful: as the song says, brotherhood. And if anyone should be fired by MSNBC it’s Phil Griffin, the executive who didn’t have the balls to stand up for what’s right.
When you preside over a political party that is the subject of frequent criticism for the racist rhetoric of its members and supporters, it might be a good idea to avoid bringing attention to that gaping wound of oozing hatred. But never let it be said that the leaders of the GOP are capable of recognizing a good idea.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, went berserk today over a tweet by some anonymous social media intern at MSNBC. The comment that so furiously enraged him was a reference to a commercial for Cheerios that features a biracial family (video below). It is a sequel of sorts to a similar ad that played last year. Here is the offending tweet:
Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go aww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ bi-racial family. http://t.co/SpB4rQDoAR
That was all it took to send Priebus into a frenzy over what he perceived as a deplorable insult directed at innocent right-wingers. His response was to announce that he would order a boycott of MSNBC unless its president, Phil Griffin, made a personal and public apology. He sent letters to Griffin as well as an open letter to “all Republican elected officials, strategists, surrogates, and pundits,” that said that he was “banning all RNC staff from appearing on, associating with, or booking any RNC surrogates on MSNBC,” and asking anyone affiliated with the GOP to join the embargo.
And of course Fox Nation made this their top story.
Read Fox Nation vs. Reality for more tales from the loony side.
First of all, how would anyone know that a boycott had been initiated by the GOP against MSNBC? Most Republicans already refuse to go on the network simply because they know they will be challenged when they lie, unlike the friendly reception they get at Fox. But for the RNC chair to feign outrage over such a trivial tweet defies reason. The message conveyed by the tweet was simply that this heart-warming advertisement was likely to irk many conservatives whose intolerance for diversity is well documented. And where would the tweeter get an idea like that? Perhaps from the response that followed the release of the first Cheerios ad with the same biracial family. As reported at the time…
“A new Cheerios commercial that included an interracial family drew so many racially motivated hate comments on YouTube that the video-sharing website shut down the commercial’s comment section. [...] some of the comments made reference to Nazis, ‘troglodytes’ and ‘racial genocide.’”
With that historical perspective, why would anyone doubt that the same right-wingers who spewed such vile hatred at the ad’s charming family last year, would react any differently today? Conservatives who are offended by the tweet ought to look at their own confederates to understand why everyone else regards them as hardened bigots who would hate the Cheerios ad. It isn’t MSNBC’s fault that conservatives openly express themselves in such a thoroughly reprehensible manner. However, the behavior of the rightists when this ad’s first installment was aired justifies the sentiment in the tweet. For some additional evidence of the unbridled bigotry on the right, have a look at…
These comments on the Fox Nation website following the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Or note the graphic racism by the Fox News photo editing department in a story about murdered teen Trayvon Martin.
And recall that Fox continues to disparage Latinos as “illegal aliens,” even when they are here legally.
And who can forget the time Fox distorted a poll so that they could feature the headline “Obama Has A Big Problem With White Women.”
The notion that MSNBC would be a target of a boycott simply because they recognized the bigotry that is inbred into much of the American conservative movement is especially ironic when you consider that Fox News, the mouthpiece of the rightist agenda in the media, is so brazenly racist. It’s a network that regularly demonizes minorities as criminals or moochers. What’s more, Fox feverishly advocates public policies that are detrimental to minorities, such as voter suppression laws and slashing benefits for low income workers. If any news outlet should be boycotted for insulting broad swaths of the American public it should be Fox
Which brings us to the subject of hypocrisy by the infuriated right. There actually have been efforts to embargo Fox News and persuade Democrats to avoid appearing on the network. During the Democratic primaries in 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus successfully shut down a Nevada debate that was to be broadcast on Fox. The response by Republicans was that the Democrats were either misguided or cowards, and would be afraid to face our enemies if they couldn’t face Fox. Fox anchor Chris Wallace said that “the Democrats are damn fools [for] not coming on Fox News.” Do these criticisms now apply to the boycotters of MSNBC?
This isn’t even the first time that Priebus has floated the boycott balloon. Just last year he sent similar threatening letters to NBC and CNN because they had plans to produce films about Hillary Clinton. However, he didn’t make the same threat to Fox, who also had Hillary projects in the pipeline. It seems that Priebus is just itching for a boycott, unless the offender is his PR department (aka Fox News).
The pitiful part of this story is that MSNBC has already caved in to the demand for an apology. Phil Griffin issued a statement calling the tweet “outrageous and unacceptable,” which it certainly was not. Even worse, he said that he had “dismissed the person responsible.” That is a monumental injustice and overreaction. This merely proves that the network that conservatives like to demean as unfailingly liberal is just a facade that will collapse at the slightest whiff of controversy. It’s why MSNBC issues apologies every other week and fires people for little reason.
Fox News, on the other hand, is far worse when it comes to offending liberals and Democrats, but they will never apologize, nor do they correct their many “errors” of fact. But if MSNBC keeps bowing down to competitors who seek its destruction, they will remain a perennial loser and shed any credibility they hope to maintain. This silly boycott threat should be cause for celebration by MSNBC. It serves as an opportunity to remind people of why Republicans are correctly perceived to be racist. It relieves them of the burden of making excuses for why the GOP is not represented on the channel. And it allows them to focus on expanding their audience among the key demographics that are most likely to tune in.
What this all comes down to is that Priebus is throwing a tantrum to attract attention and donations. The tweet that started the whole thing was provocative, but perfectly justified. But that doesn’t stop the disingenuous onslaught of phony rage that turns into a ludicrous threat that no one will notice should it be carried out. We are witnessing a drama that is more painfully shallow than the typical reality TV tripe that consumes way too many hours of broadcast time. And, sadly, “Keeping Up With The Republicans” has even less reality in it than you’ll find over at the Kardashians place.
[Update: 1/31/2014] Fox News is cashing in on this controversy. So far they have featured it on The Five, Fox & Friends, and the Kelly File. Greg Gutfeld of The Five injected the mandatory Nazi reference by calling MSNBC a “one-stop shop for master-race-baiting.” And Megyn Kelly asserted that liberals have a “kneejerk instinct to accuse conservatives of racism.” In her segment that featured uber-rightist flame-thrower Brent Bozell, she went on to say…
“They [liberals] saw this ad and said, ‘Oh the conservatives will hate it because it’s a black man and a white woman together in a family.’“
Wrong Megyn. They said “Oh the conservatives will hate it because that’s exactly the response they had to it when the first version of it came out last year.” What better evidence can you have of how someone will respond to something than their own prior response?
And this morning Fox’s media analyst, Howard Kurtz, called the MSNBC tweet “an outrageous and really disgusting message,” before excreting this BS:
“You do have to wonder about the culture there, and whether there is such a loathing for conservatives that things that are so clearly way, way, way over the line are somehow deemed acceptable.”
Once again I have to say ARE YOU FRIGGIN’ KIDDING ME? The outpouring of loathing by Fox of liberals (and African-Americans, and Latinos, and gays, and women, and the poor) is a daily – even hourly – occurrence. For Kurtz to say that with a straight face is proof of his total devotion to the dishonest promulgation of Fox’s propaganda, hate, and commitment to the corporatocracy they were invented to defend.
Both CNN and Fox News have Sunday morning programs that analyze the media. On CNN it’s Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter. On Fox News It’s MediaBuzz with Howard Kurtz. This morning both programs chose to lead off their broadcasts with the same story that essentially takes MSNBC to task for doing respectable journalism.
MSNBC has been at the forefront of the Chris Christie Bridge-Gate scandal from its inception. They broke the story on television with the help of the local Bergen Record newspaper in New Jersey. Since then they have scored some significant scoops that have rattled the Christie regime. One example of that occurred last week when Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that the Christie administration held Sandy relief funds hostage to force her to support a real estate project that Christie favored. Not surprisingly, Christie retaliated by dispatching his spokesman to swing back at the messenger:
Christie spokesman Colin Reed: MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him, even taking the unprecedented step of producing and airing a nearly three-minute attack ad against him this week.
Notice that nowhere in that statement did Reed dispute the actual content of MSNBC’s reporting. It was just a self-serving attack on the network’s liberal reputation. The example he offered of an “unprecedented” three-minute attack ad (video below) was really just a thirty second mock video demonstrating how Christie’s opponents could use the scandal against him should he run for president in 2016. And it wasn’t unprecedented either, as Fox News actually did produce a four minute anti-Obama ad prior to the 2012 election that they deleted after it had become an embarrassment.
In a week that included a Supreme Court ruling against Network Neutrality, two speeches by President Obama, and a major book release about Fox News CEO Roger Ailes (The Loudest Voice In The Room), both CNN and Fox led off their weekly media programs with stories about MSNBC’s coverage of Christie. CNN had an on-screen graphic with the pressing question, is “MSNBC Attacking Chris Christie?” While Fox went for the more macho “Christie Declares War On MSNBC.” Of course, everything on Fox News is war (Christmas, class, liberty, capitalism, etc.). Fox also placed Christie’s war with MSNBC at the top of their lie-riddled Fox Nation website. [See the acclaimed ebook Fox Nation vs. Reality for proof of Fox Nation's catalog of lies]
There was nothing in either program that refuted the factual accuracy of MSNBC’s coverage, but the tone was nonetheless disparaging. The real question, however, is why did they both put this story at the front of their broadcasts. Was it really more important than the other media news of the week? Or were they simply jealous that they didn’t get these scoops themselves? It may be significant that MSNBC had a rare Nielsen ratings victory for the week that featured the Bridge-Gate reporting. Could that have been what drove CNN and Fox to criticize it? Either way it makes both networks look awfully petty for attacking a rival for doing their job.
The dominance of Fox News in the Nielsen ratings for cable networks has not been seriously challenged for most of the past several years. There have been periods that looked promising for the competition, particularly the months between the Democratic National Convention and the presidential election in 2012. During that time MSNBC was beating Fox on a regular basis as President Obama was doing the same to Mitt Romney. That trend was still in effect as late as January of 2013 when Fox reported steep declines in the key 25-54 demographic, while MSNBC shot upward.
However, that state of affairs did not hold as the nation settled into a new year with the excitement of electioneering behind them. There would be little drama in the ratings race for the next few months. Eventually, Fox would enjoy a rebound as they ramped up their coverage of various scandals that they had been carefully crafting with their Republican allies. But even then they were suffering losses of the younger viewers that advertisers favor.
Last week, however, saw an unexpected bounce for MSNBC, and particularly Rachel Maddow. Her ratings in the demo thrust her into the number one spot for the whole week, ahead of Fox’s newly minted prime time star Megyn Kelly. Chris Matthews also benefited by tying the week with Greta Van Susteren, and Lawrence O’Donnell scored clean victories over Sean Hannity on a couple of days. This turnaround was surprising during a post-holiday lull, but there is a possible reason for it.
Maddow and her colleagues may have Chris Christie to thank for their ratings success. Their rising fortunes began at the same time that Maddow broke the story of the George Washington Bridge tantrum thrown by the Christie camp as political payback to unsupportive Democrats.
Let’s face it…Scandals have the same power to drive ratings in political news as they do in soap operas. The last ratings spike that Maddow enjoyed was when a video of Romney appeared showing him casting aside 47% of the American electorate as lazy moochers. And, as mentioned above, Fox exploited their own scandal sheet last may to recover from a long slump.
What this tells us is that, in order for MSNBC to consistently rise above Fox, they need to have as effective a scandal factory as Fox has. That’s a tall order because Fox has big head start in manufacturing fake scandals and the phony outrage that accompanies them. And for a network like MSNBC that has yet to exhibit much of an aptitude for inventing controversies that don’t exist in reality, they have some catching up to do.
Of course, Republicans have been more than generous in producing scandals for themselves, as the Christie affair so clearly demonstrates. The problem is that the so-called liberal media has not been especially good at taking advantage of the opportunities that were laid in their lap. But if MSNBC or CNN want to seriously challenge Fox’s ratings dominance, they had better show some improvement in that area in the future.
Much of the cable News circus was preoccupied this weekend with remarks made by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry about Mitt Romney’s family. It was a relatively trivial incident that sought to highlight the blinding whiteness of the Romney clan and, by extension, the Republican Party for which he was was briefly the de facto head. Harris-Perry apologized for the comments and her apology was accepted by Romney and it seemed as if life on Earth would endure.
Enter Howard Kurtz, the media analyst for Fox News. On Friday he published an op-ed, which was followed by a segment on his Sunday Fox News program MediaBuzz, wherein he proposed his theory that MSNBC suffers from a “culture in which harsh personal attacks are encouraged, or at least tolerated.” His evidence for this was a series of recent controversies involving personalities at MSNBC, which he claimed not to be biased against.
Kurtz: I’m not designing this to bash MSNBC, but you had Martin Bashir with the vile attack on Sarah Palin, apologizing and then losing his job. You had Alec Baldwin losing his job at MSNBC over an alleged anti-gay slur hurled at a photographer. Now Melissa Harris-Perry. Is there something in the culture there that tolerates this unacceptable language?
One has to wonder why, if Kurtz did not intend to bash MSNBC, did he focus solely on “unacceptable language” by people on MSNBC. It’s not as if he didn’t have plenty of examples of Fox News anchors and pundits who did much the same thing. Just within the past week Fox’s Mike Huckabee compared doctors at a hospital, that had been caring for a girl who was pronounced brain dead, to the Nazi regime that was responsible for the murder of millions. Fox also hosted a former CIA agent who recently wrote an article that advocated the assassination of President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron. Neither of these commentaries entered into Kurtz’s examination of the culture of cable news. The only observation that Kurtz deemed notable was his severly skewed impression of how conservatives are viewed by liberals.
Kurtz: If there is a theme to these episodes, it is a view of Republicans and conservatives as so mean-spirited, hard-hearted and clueless that just about any rhetoric against them can be justified.
Thus we had the spectacle of Martin Bashir so reviling Sarah Palin that he not only called her a “dunce” and an “idiot” but prescribed for her an old slave treatment in which he said someone should defecate in her mouth.
Oh my. Bashir called Palin a “dunce” and an “idiot.” Apparently Kurtz has never seen Bill O’Reilly’s program where for years he has had a regular segment in which he called his liberal adversaries “pinheads.” Not that he needed a dedicated segment to disparage his foes. He was found by Indiana University to have called people derogatory names every 6.8 seconds. Recently O’Reilly even expressed his hostile intentions toward the Democratic Majority Leader of the senate, saying…
“Harry Reid, I think you’ll have to kidnap. Tie him to a tree up in Idaho somewhere, leave him there for a few weeks.”
Surely O’Reilly will insist that the was joking about kidnapping and torturing Sen. Reid, but the Harris-Perry segment was premised that it was all in humor. The same cannot be said for Glenn Beck’s declaration that Obama was a racist who hated white people. Neither Beck nor his superiors ever apologized for that. In fact, Rupert Murdoch agreed with it. Perhaps the most glaring example of repulsive rhetoric was that displayed by Fox News contributor Erick Erickson upon the retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter when Erickson said…
“The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester to ever serve on the Supreme Court in David Souter’s retirement.”
Let’s not forget the Fox News community website, Fox Nation. It’s culture is so riddled with hostility that they won’t even refer to some people by their actual names. The Fox Nationalists refer to Sen. Al Franken as Stuart Smalley, after a character he played on Saturday Night Live twenty years ago. They also call comedian Bill Maher “Pig” Maher for reasons no one seems to know. [For more on Fox Nation, readFox Nation vs. Reality, a book that documents the website's steady stream of lies]
There are, however, some notable differences between the incidents of verbal abuse as articulated by MSNBC and Fox News. At MSNBC the lapses in judgment were followed by apologies and sometimes suspensions or terminations. The lapses at Fox were either celebrated or ignored by management and often repeated with more emphasis by the abuser.
So Howard Kurtz has the gall to wonder if there is culture of harsh personal attacks at MSNBC where such incidents are routinely punished, but he has no concerns about his own network where they are a point of pride. That’s a distinct difference that would enter into the analysis of an honest media critic. Luckily, Kurtz works for Fox so he doesn’t have to worry about being honest.
One of the most notoriously hyperactive conservative radio shoutcasters is Mark Levin. Some of his on-air convulsions boil over into such bombastic rage that he seems close to having a cerebral aneurysm. He is filled to the brim with contempt for those with whom he disagrees, and that’s a long list.
This morning his target was MSNBC (again) and the roster of hosts whom he regards as vile character assassins. But while lashing out in what was pure projection, Levin also snared Fox News in his net of wild invective. The subject of his attack was what he considered to be an affront to his Wingnut Queen, Sarah Palin. So he let loose…
“We’re getting way too comfortable with these character assassination efforts by the media, by the left, by the sycophants and their operatives against certain individuals in this country. Did the Republican National Committee speak up for Sarah Palin? No. Did Karl Rove go on Fox to defend one of his colleague? No. Did all of those folks on Fox, with a few exceptions, stand up for her? No.”
In defending Palin’s alleged honor, Levin orchestrated something short of a surgical strike that left his pals at Fox News bleeding in the rubble. This isn’t the first time either. Levin has frequently attacked Fox News and its so-called personalities. He has blasted Rove as “sleazy” and a “liar.” He has called Dana Perino a “jerk.” He hammered Bill O’Reilly as a “fraud.” And, remember, Levin is a frequent guest on the network he is lambasting.
However, what’s notable in today’s news is that the Fox News community website (and Fib Factory), Fox Nation, posted an audio clip of Levin that included his condemnation of Fox. Apparently Fox is so consumed with disseminating anything negative about their enemies that they were either unaware or indifferent to the negativity aimed at themselves. You could probably go on Fox and call the network a festering boil on the ass of television, so long as you also said something nasty about President Obama in the same sentence.
Just for fun, Levin also took a swing at Jon Stewart saying that “Stewart is quoted all over like he’s some kind of a news guy, some kind of an analyst. He’s a comedian, and he’s vile and repulsive and dimwitted. Nobody writes my stuff.” Like anyone would dare to take credit for the asinine swill that Levin pukes.
In a surprisingly fast turnaround, MSNBC has shaken up their weekday programming to make room for Ed Schultz who was bumped to weekends just six months ago. MSNBC president Phil Griffin wrote this in a memo to his staff:
“This move will help us enhance the flow of our weeknight programming and concentrate Chris’ audience to one key time period. And this allows us to bring Ed’s powerful voice back to the Monday-Friday schedule. Ed connects with our viewers and I’m happy to have him back five nights a week.”
It’s true that Schultz has a unique labor-centric perspective that exists nowhere else on cable news. Consequently, he has a loyal fan base who will appreciate this expanded access to the issues he highlights. It would nice if he retools the program to dig deeper into the substance of current events and provide some of the original reporting that Hayes, Maddow, and O’Donnell do. And he really needs to ditch that useless cell phone survey.
However, the bigger news emanating from this shift is that Schultz will be occupying the 5:00pm time slot that is currently held by the first airing of Hardball with Chris Matthews. It is about time that the duplication of Hardball was terminated. Matthews will now appear only at 7:00pm, and that may be too much.
These moves, and others by competing networks, are setting up some interesting match-ups. Schultz will be going up against Fox’s The Five. Matthews, at 7:00, is already pitted against Shepard Smith’s second hour of the day, Fox Report. However, speculation that Megyn Kelly’s leap to primetime will replace Sean Hannity at 9:00 (where she will be opposite Rachel Maddow), also has Hannity moving to 7:00, where he would spar with Matthews.
Now, if MSNBC would hand over Al Sharpton’s show to Joy Reid and hire John Fugelsang to fill the gap Schultz is leaving on the weekend, we might have the makings of a real network. I would also suggest that Chris Hayes bring on a co-host. Hayes is whip-smart and knows how to present complex issues, but he is lacking in the personality department. His program would benefit from a little banter with someone like Stephanie Miller. Or for a truly inspired experiment, pick up the Daily Show’s John Oliver, who has some free time on his hands now that Jon Stewart is returning from hiatus.
For the past couple of weeks there has been a flurry of fretful reporting about a threat by Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus to ban CNN and MSNBC from the GOP primary debate schedule. Priebus is disturbed by currently non-existent projects about Hillary Clinton that he is certain will characterize her favorably.
Today Priebus made good on his threat by shepherding a resolution though the RNC’s annual meeting that declares that they “will neither partner with these networks in the 2016 presidential primary debates nor sanction any primary debates they sponsor.”
Fun Fact: How many GOP primary debates did the RNC sponsor in 2012? Answer: Zero
There were twenty debates held and not a single one was sponsored by the RNC. However, every debate on Fox News was sponsored by a state Republican Party affiliate. Also notable is that MSNBC held a debate co-sponsored by the Reagan Library, and CNN held debates co-sponsored by Tea Party Express, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute.
There is, however, a small problem with the Priebus declaration. The RNC has no power whatsoever to prohibit any debate by an network. Sure, they can pass resolutions that make grandiose claims to authority that they don’t have, but reality trumps their hubris. The truth is that any network can announce its intention to produce a debate. They can invite candidates to participate. The candidates are free to accept or reject any offer as they see fit. Chances are, the second and third tier candidates will accept virtually any opportunity to promote themselves on national television. Subsequently, the frontrunners will be reluctant to let their competitors have the stage to themselves. So the debates will go on with a full cast of characters.
Priebus’ threat, therefore, is an impotent cry for attention. He is not empowered to force his will on the people who are vying to be the next leader of the free world. In a best case scenario he may be able to influence the number of debates, which is a goal he has previously articulated. After all, it is fairly obvious that the more Republican candidates are exposed to the American people, the more they will embarrass themselves, and the more votes they will lose. The GOP has a distinct interest in limiting their exposure, and that is what Priebus is aiming for.
The hypocrisy of Priebus’ resolution is apparent in the fact that he is only nixing CNN and MSNBC, even though there have been reports that Fox may be producing the NBC project. Priebus cannot extend his toothless ban to Fox or there would be no cable news networks available to host a GOP debate. But there is no reasonable explanation for why Fox would be given a pass (other than their role as the GOP PR division).
Fun Fact: What do you get when you remove the vowels from Reince Priebus’ name? Answer: RNC PR BS
The full text of the resolution cites campaign donations by the head of NBC’s entertainment division to Hillary Clinton, but the head of Fox News’ parent corporation has done likewise. Also, the News Corp political PAC, News America Holdings, has given more to Democrats than Republicans in each of the last four election cycles. So if producing Clinton documentaries and donating to her campaign warrant prohibition as debate hosts, then Fox clearly qualifies.
Finally, there have been recent calls for the RNC to recruit right-wing loyalists as moderators for their debates. The names mentioned most frequently include Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin. In response, Levin has said that he is ready and willing, despite the fact that he has previously said that he will do whatever he can to prevent Chris Christie from becoming the GOP nominee. As for Limbaugh, he told his radio dittoheads that he is “too famous” and would “overshadow” the candidates. That’s a telling remark in itself, as it demonstrates just how diminutive is the stature of the GOP field. Perhaps the GOP should nominate Limbaugh.
This tussle could not be better for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. If the RNC is successful in limiting the number of their debates it will have effectively cut off millions of Americans from learning about their candidates (although, as noted above, that might a good thing for the GOP). But even worse is the prospect of debates led by staunchly conservative radio talk show hosts. Priebus and company think that friendly moderators will help avoid the antagonistic questioning that he presumes would occur on other networks. But to the extent that that is true, it will also result in the candidates being woefully unprepared for the full-contact combat they will eventually encounter in the general election. What’s more, the rightist Taliban, as represented by Limbaugh et al, will be more likely to force candidates to stake out extreme positions which they will be unable to “Etch-a-Sketch” away after the primaries. The wingnut media are notoriously committed to the sort of ideological purity that voters find repugnant.
So if the RNC wants to proceed with this self-defeating initiative, they will have the full support and cooperation of their pals at the DNC. Nothing would please Democrats more than Republicans digging themselves ever deeper holes of extremism. The outrageous statements and gaffes that occur at the “official” RNC events would still be broadcast on the other networks afterwards. So Priebus’ efforts to limit the damage would be futile, and even counterproductive. As would his admonition that disobedience “may include severe penalties for candidates that participate in unsanctioned debates.” That’s right – Priebus plans on giving the reprobates a good spanking. Wouldn’t that look great on a candidates permanent record?
From the Throwing Stones division of Glass Houses, Inc., comes this story of Fox News finding it irresistible to hammer MSNBC for airing a segment with a conspicuously mislabeled map. This evening their community web site, the Lie-riddled Fox Nation, posted an item pointing the finger of shame at MSNBC.
To be sure, MSNBC’s graphics department has cause to be embarrassed. They managed to post a map with four cities highlighted and misplaced every one of them. It’s hard to imagine how they could have screwed up so badly without suspecting that new intern who used to work for Fox.
However, it takes a special kind of Chutzpah sauce for Fox to go out of their way to report their competitor’s error. Fox has made so many mistakes of this sort that they had to send out a “Zero Tolerance” memo threatening their staff with termination if they didn’t clean up their act:
“Mistakes by any member of the show team that end up on air may result in immediate disciplinary action against those who played significant roles in the ‘mistake chain,’ and those who supervise them. That may include warning letters to personnel files, suspensions, and other possible actions up to and including termination.”
That memo appeared to have no effect since the errors kept occurring unabated. Fox would mess up charts. They would mess up photos. And most of all, they would mess up maps.
The graphic below shows just a few of the egregious errors that have graced Fox News. They placed Egypt, instead of Iraq, in between Syria and Iran. They labeled Vermont as New Hampshire. They colored in Utah but called it Nevada. And, my personal favorite, they listed one of Japan’s nuclear power facilities as “Shibuyaeggman.” The problem is that there is no reactor in Shibuyaeggman. In fact, there is no Shibuyaeggman. Although, there is a disco called Eggman in a Tokyo neighborhood called Shibuya, and while the dance action is hot, it is not reported to be radioactive.
It’s bad enough that Fox gets their actual “news” stories wrong with phony reports and analyses that distort facts, or leaves them out altogether, but they can’t even get the simple things right. Sure, everyone makes mistakes, but Fox has made mistakes their specialty.
Just how determined is Fox Nation, the lie-riddled Fox News community web site, in its mission to slander anything and everything connected to liberal politics and media? Apparently they are so determined that they don’t care if they publish devastatingly negative representations of their pals down the hall at Fox News.
In a posting that must have given them goose bumps, the Fox Nationalists linked to an article at the uber-rightist NewsBusters that itself linked to an article at Alternet (Fox would never link directly to a liberal source). The Alternet piece was written by long-time media reformer Jeff Cohen and addressed the failure of the mainstream progressive media, and specifically MSNBC, to criticize President Obama for his actions taken against whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.
Capturing Cohen disparaging the network for which he used to work, was simply to compelling of a story to pass up. So Fox Nation slapped together a couple of paragraphs and topped it off with a headline that extracted the juiciest snippet in the column: Former MSNBC Producer: MSNBC Is ‘Official Network of the Obama White House.’ But in their haste (or more likely their ineptitude), they must have failed to notice that the passage they quoted was far more damaging to Fox News than it was to their intended target, MSNBC. Here is what Fox Nation posted about Fox News:
“…with Obama in power, a number of MSNBC talking heads have reacted to the Snowden disclosures like Fox News hosts did when they were in hysterical damage control mode for Bush – complete with ridiculously fact-free claims and national chauvinism that we’ve long come to expect from the ‘fair & balanced’ channel.”
Sweet! Fox Nation actually published an analysis of Fox News that noted its “hysterical damage control mode for Bush,” its “ridiculously fact-free claims,” and belittled their ever-mockable slogan asserting fairness and balance.
It’s heartening to know that Fox’s audience will read that evaluation and, perhaps, have some of it stick in their Silly Putty brians. The intended swipe at MSNBC is rather mild in comparison. In fact, Cohen’s critique really just demonstrates that progressives are not as cultishly attached to MSNBC as wingnuts are to Fox – a fact recently documented by Gallup.
It is well known that Fox News is an unreliable network for anyone interested in factual representations of current events. They will unabashedly lie in order to advance the ideological agenda of their political and corporate allies. And yet, it is still unsettling when something like this happens:
Within the space of about half an hour, Fox News vividly demonstrated that their issuance of a “confirmation” is of no value whatsoever. After announcing that an arrest had been made in the Boston Marathon bombing, Megyn Kelly repeatedly assured her viewers that the information she was reporting had been verified by multiple sources. But it didn’t take long before the bottom fell out of her assurances.
To be fair, CNN also misreported the story and had to make an embarrassing retraction. The only cable news network that applied the rigorous standards of journalism and refrained from jumping on the erroneous story was MSNBC. Pete Williams, NBC’s justice correspondent, and NBC anchor Brian Williams, both made appearances to refute the reports that were coming out of other news outlets.
Will these people never learn? A few months ago both CNN and Fox (also Megyn Kelly’s show) misreported the Supreme Court decision on ObamaCare. And again, only MSNBC got the ruling right. On that occasion CNN acknowledged their mistake and apologized to viewers. Fox refused to do either, claiming that their analysis was justifiable at the time because they believed it was correct and, therefore, there was nothing for which to apologize. I know…it’s crazy.
Nevertheless, a prolonged discussion took place in the media about the pressure to be first butting up against the responsibility to be right. And despite the universal agreement that accuracy is the measure by which news enterprises will be judged, they continue to fall short of the professional standards they profess to hold.
News organizations can be forgiven for making mistakes from time to time because they are staffed by people and people are not perfect. But they ought ot learn from their mistakes and they ought to demonstrate that they care about the product they produce. At least CNN respects their audience enough to show some remorse. Fox News doesn’t have that kind of class. In fact, their routine abuse of their audience via fabrications and distortions suggest that Fox couldn’t care less what their viewers think they know. From Fox’s perspective, the more confused their viewers are, the easier it is for Fox to continue to deceive them.
In recent days Fox News has ramped up coverage of the Philadelphia trial of an abortion doctor accused of numerous horrific crimes. To be clear, the spike in coverage was not about the underlying facts of the case or the suffering of the patients. It was about Fox’s contention that the prosecution has been ignored by a liberal press corps for political reasons.
First of all, we need to set aside the false notion that the media has any incentive to suppress reporting on this case due to a liberal bias. The alleged criminal acts committed by this doctor run counter to the values of the pro-choice community whose position is that restrictions on safe and legal reproductive services are what is responsible for creating the conditions from which rogue clinics like this one emerge in the first place.
However, for Fox to get huffy about a media blackout orchestrated by liberals stretches the boundaries of hypocrisy. On numerous segments in the past week Fox has castigated other media outlets for not having covered this trial. The problem with that complaint is that Fox hasn’t covered it either. Nevertheless, Bret Baier hosted a segment of his “Special Report” wherein he read off a list of the offenders in the press who have ignored this story. Conspicuously absent from the list was Fox News. If Fox had indeed reported the story, they would certainly have included the number of times on their graphic to shame their competitors. They left themselves off because their performance was no different than the rest.
In another example of Fox’s self-serving spin, they posted a photo of the seating area in the courtroom that was reserved for the media. The fact that there was no one sitting there was evidence to Fox that the press was negligent and biased. However, also revealed by the photo was that no one from Fox News was sitting there either. They presumably thought that that little detail would just slip by unnoticed by their viewers (and they were probably right. Their viewers are not known for their intellectual prowess).
Clearly Fox’s editorial decision-making is drenched with bias and self-promotion. We can easily ascertain what is important to the network by their programming choices, and apparently the Philly doctor’s trial was not important to Fox. So what was important?
Fox’s closest competitor in the ratings is MSNBC. In the months following the election MSNBC has demonstrated surprising growth while Fox has lost audience share, slipping to levels it has not seen since 2001 (although still maintaining its lead). Consequently, Fox has resumed their onslaught against MSNBC which they escalate whenever they feel threatened.
The latest attack by Fox deals with a promo that MSNBC ran in support of their weekend anchor Melissa Harris-Perry. The promo features Harris-Perry delivering an uncontroversial commentary about the value of society investing in education and child welfare. To Fox, that commonly held principle of a unified family of American citizens was tantamount to Maoist socialism. Fox blanketed their airwaves with exasperated outrage day and night over this 30 second ad. In fact, as reported by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Fox committed more than 15 times the airtime to MSNBC’s promo than MSNBC did.
In conclusion, an analysis of the distribution of time allocated to content tells us that Fox is obviously more concerned about how MSNBC advertises its own programs than they are about heinous criminal activity. And when their attention is drawn to the heinous crimes, they only seem to care about how other media reports it (ignoring their own failures), and not the crime itself or the victims. Remember this the next time you hear Fox complaining about not being taken seriously as credible journalists.
In the first quarter of 2013 the trends for cable news viewership are affirming past performance. And once again, Fox News is losing viewers at a faster rate than its competitors.
While remaining on top overall, Fox lost nearly 20% of its total audience as compared to the same period last year. Even worse, in the critical advertising demographic of 18-54 year olds, Fox scared off a full third of their viewers. Only MSNBC managed to stay relatively flat, holding onto most of their audience.
On specific programs, Fox’s top rated show, The O’Reilly Factor, dropped by 26%. His primetime colleagues, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren, similarly flopped by 28% and 35% respectively. That contrasts sharply with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show that increased 5%, the only program in its time period to rise.
These numbers attest to the downward spiral that Fox has been experiencing since last year’s election. They recognized the serious disconnect between them and the public as they scrambled to make personnel changes and ditch some of their most alienating personalities. That overhaul saw the departure of Sarah Palin and Dick Morris, and it resulted in far fewer appearances by Karl Rove and Donald Trump.
Those adjustments do not seem to have turned the ebbing tide that saw Fox sink to its lowest point in twelve years in January. Which is not surprising since their window-dressing alterations simply exchanged their past losers with characters like Scott Brown, Erick Erickson, and Mark Levin, who seem unlikely to have a positive impact.
Furthermore, MSNBC’s steady performance is poised for future gains as demonstrated by the debut of All In with Chris Hayes. The new Hayes program improved on the numbers of the Ed Schultz Show that it replaced (+45% in the demo), and fell just 10,000 short of O’Reilly’s numbers. Also notable is that the younger demo for Hayes represents about a third of his total audience, while O’Reilly’s demo viewers are a mere 14% of his total. That certifies the strength MSNBC has with the next generation of news consumers, and the weariness of the long-in-the-tooth O’Reilly/Fox fans.
Hopefully this is evidence that America’s television viewers are evolving to become a more discriminating audience that values truth, integrity, and intelligent discourse. The Fox model of leading viewers around by the nose, misrepresenting the facts, and aiming for the shallowest, most inflammatory slapfights on the air, may be losing its appeal (except on the Fox Nation web site). That would be a positive step forward and proof that humans are advancing in the passage of time. Thanks, Darwin.
On last night’s broadcast of the The Ed Show, Ed Schultz announced that he would be taking his program to a new weekend slot beginning in April. Thursday will be his last broadcast in primetime. His statement came at the end of the program and said in part…
Schultz: “I raised my hand for this assignment for a number of personal and professional reasons. My fight on ‘The Ed Show’ has been for the workers and the middle class. This new time slot will give me the opportunity to produce and focus on stories that I care about and are important to American families and American workers.”
His statement implies that the move was his choice. However, there are some conflicting accounts of this and a report in the New York Times last November speculated that Schultz’s time slot might be offered to MSNBC contributor and frequent fill-in host, Ezra Klein.
As it turns out, it will be Chris Hayes taking over Schultz’s time period. Hayes is editor-at-large for the highly respected Nation magazine and is currently a host of a weekend morning program on MSNBC, “UP with Chris Hayes.” His selection affirms the appeal he has generated on his show and as a guest host for Rachel Maddow and others.
While the change for Schultz appears to be a demotion from primetime to the weekend ghetto, the details of the move may suggest some benefits. His new show will air on both Saturday and Sunday from 5:00 to 7:00pm. This means that his new show will be twice as long as the old one. You can do a lot more in a two hour format if you’re creative with segments, field production, and guests. And he will end up having nearly as much weekly time as he had before the move.
Schultz’s ratings were growing at a steady pace, although he was no match for Fox’s number one program, The O’Reilly Factor. At the end of last year he posted a 54% gain compared to O’Reilly’s 22% decline. Then again in January he scored a plus 23% to O’Reilly’s minus 25%, as Fox sunk to a twelve year low.
Last year I proposed some programming changes for MSNBC that would assist them in taking advantage of their post-election ratings surge. One of those was to give Schultz the Hardball repeat at 7:00pm and find another host to put up against O’Reilly and anchor the primetime block. Hayes was a possibility at the time, but not my choice. He is a smart and engaging host, but not the sort of personality that could compete with O’Reilly. If MSNBC is interested in taking the leap from contender to champ they need to take some risks.
One possibility would have been to develop a non-conventional format with a team of hosts. My suggestion was John Fugelsang and Joy Reid. They could produce a show that incorporated serious policy discussion along with a sense of humor and a nod to popular culture. That might have been an effective way to counter-program Fox and set up the evening’s later programs with something lighter and more broadly appealing. Perhaps MSNBC will consider such a program to replace Hayes on weekend mornings where they may be more comfortable experimenting.
As with everything in the television business, time will tell. MSNBC has been enjoying substantial gains lately, while Fox News has been suffering severe losses. Whether these trends will continue long enough for the networks to swap places in the standings remains to be seen. And CNN isn’t standing still either with their new boss, Jeff Zucker, whose influence is already being felt in significant ways. The end result is that 2013 is bound to be a year wherein the cable news business suffers the ancient Chinese curse of “living in interesting times.”
It simply never ceases to amaze how Fox News can clutch to such fantastical versions of reality and attempt to pass them off as reasonable analyses of current events. Witness this item wherein they grouse about MSNBC’s hiring of a former Obama campaign aide:
First of all, do they really think that the addition of David Axelrod to the MSNBC roster of contributors is going to substantively alter the network’s programming? Considering the fact that they already regarded MSNBC as “in the tank” for Obama, how would Axelrod change that?
Secondly, The Fox Nationalists conveniently forget that MSNBC also has on its payroll the former head of John McCain’s campaign (Steve Schmidt) and the former chairman of the Republican Party (Michael Steele). Does that mean the the GOP is controlling the message at NBC News?
Finally, Fox News has been notorious for employing Republican operatives and candidates. These are people far more instrumental to the messaging of the Republican Party than Axelrod ever was for the Democrats. They include much of George W. Bush’s “brain” trust (i.e. Karl Rove, John Bolton, Liz Cheney), and party leaders like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and their just past nominee for VP Sarah Palin.
Fox is, without a doubt, the PR arm of the Republican Party. Their anchors are as much responsible for GOP propaganda as their well-connected contributors. No one at MSNBC has anywhere near the tight relationships that Fox has with the GOP. And Fox doesn’t have any Democrats on staff that balance their reporting in an equivalent way (sorry, Kirsten Powers and Juan Williams don’t cut it). When Fox gives a former chair of the Democratic Party the air time that MSNBC gives to Steele, or when they give a three hour morning block to a liberal Democratic host (i.e. MSNBC’s conservative Joe Scarborough), then maybe Fox can talk about messaging without being so desperately hypocritical.
Public Policy Polling just released their 4th annual poll on the measure of trust Americans have in TV news. Like previous polls, Fox News topped both the “most trusted” and “least trusted” categories. However, the striking thing about this year’s poll is that Fox dipped to a record low in viewer trust and lost a huge amount of the trust by Independents. From the poll:
“Fox News has hit a record low in the four years that we’ve been doing this poll. 41% of voters trust it to 46% who do not. To put those numbers into some perspective the first time we did this poll, in 2010, 49% of voters trusted it to 37% who did not. Fox has maintained most of its credibility with Republicans, dropping just from 74/15 to 70/15 over that period of time. But it’s been losing what standing it had with Democrats (from 30/52 to 22/66) and independents (from 41/44 to 32/56).
“We find once again this year that Democrats trust everything except Fox, and Republicans don’t trust anything other than Fox. Democrats put the most faith in PBS (+61 at 72/11), followed by NBC (+45 at 61/16), MSNBC (+39 at 58/19), CBS (+38 at 54/16), CNN (+36 at 57/21), ABC (+35 at 51/16), and Comedy Central (+10 at 38/28). Out of the non-Fox channels Republicans have the most faith in PBS at -21 (27/48), followed by NBC (-48 at 18/66), CNN (-49 at 17/66), ABC (-56 at 14/70), MSNBC (-56 at 12/68), CBS (-57 at 15/72), and Comedy Central (-58 at 8/66).
When it comes to asking Americans which single outlet they trust the most and least out of the ones we polled on, Fox News once again wins both honors. 34% say it’s the one they trust the most, compared to 13% for PBS, 12% for CNN, 11% for ABC, 8% for MSNBC, 6% for CBS, and 5% each for Comedy Central and NBC. Fox News is the choice of 67% of Republicans, while Democrats basically split their allegiances four ways between ABC and CNN, both at 17%, and MSNBC and PBS, both at 16%.”
Even more Americans identify Fox News as the outlet they trust the least – 39% give it that designation [compared] to 14% for MSNBC, 13% for CNN, 12% for Comedy Central, 5% for ABC and CBS, 3% for NBC, and 1% for PBS. 60% of Democrats give it their lowest marks while Republicans split between MSNBC (24%), CNN (19%), and Comedy Central (14%) on that front.
The fact that Fox comes out on top of the “most trusted” list is not particularly noteworthy. That only occurred because Fox viewers voted en bloc for their favorite network while all other viewers split their votes across the board. Liberals are not as hypnotically attached to any single source of news as are the disciples of Fox. It is far more significant that Fox has a net negative rating despite the glassy-eyed devotion of their audience. Also significant is the fact that the combined non-Fox networks beat Fox for trustworthiness by 60% to 34%. Finally, the sharply downward trend has to have Fox worried.
This massive leak of faith in Fox is accompanied by their corresponding unpopularity as measured by their Nielsen ratings. The most recent numbers showed Fox dropping to a twelve year low, which puts them back at their position prior to 9/11.
The collapse of Fox is also occurring at a time when their competition at MSNBC is enjoying double-digit gains. The trends have all been severely negative as far as Fox is concerned, and this new poll affirms that direction.
Fox seems to be aware of the danger they are in and have been making some adjustments to their roster. They already flushed Sarah Palin and Dick Morris down the drain. However, they do not appear to be shifting their tone in any noticeable manner. Those expulsions were counteracted by the acquisition of far-right crackpots like Erick Erickson and screeching extremists like Mark Levin.
Consequently, there won’t be any real difference in the faulty news product that Fox broadcasts. They seem wedded to the ultra-conservative fringe philosophy that is bringing them, and their benefactors in the GOP, crashing down. They are operating with an acute case of tunnel blindness that is driving viewers away. And for that, I suppose, we should all be grateful.
Continuing a downward spiral that began last September during the Democratic National Convention, Fox News primetime ratings, in the key 25-54 year old demographic, have declined to numbers they haven’t seen since August of 2001. These are numbers that revert Fox back to the George Bush, pre-9/11 era when Fox was struggling for attention.
9/11 was an integral part of the rise of Fox News. It was the catalyst that formed their America-first persona and thrust them into a role as cheerleaders rather than journalists.
These twelve year lows for their best known programs portend trouble for Fox as their audience tires of a schedule that hasn’t changed in more than a decade. Creaky old timers O’Reilly and Hannity have been in their time slots since the network launched in 1996. Worse yet for Fox, their slump is occurring at a time when MSNBC is soaring. For most of the time since last November’s election, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell have been beating Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in the demo. In addition to those victories, most of MSNBC’s programs are the top performers among 18-34 year olds, which means that they have a significant advantage with the next generation of television news consumers. MSNBC is also number one with African-American viewers, a status they have enjoyed for 36 consecutive months.
The graying Fox News is a phenomenon that is occurring with both their programs and their audience. While many of Fox’s shows held steady in total audience, they plunged in the younger demos. This was true across the board with primetime and all other dayparts, including their three hour morning block, Fox & Friends. Conversely, MSNBC’s audience was up in both the demo and total audience. The ratings story for MSNBC is no longer merely one of faster growth and higher percentage gains. They are now beating their Fox competition head-on in primetime and challenging them respectably in daytime.
For the most part it appears that MSNBC’s gains are coming from new, younger viewers. They certainly are not luring dissatisfied Fox viewers over to their channel. However, Fox now has to worry about a rebuilding CNN. Their new president Jeff Zucker is shaking up the roster with announcements of hirings and firings both in front of and behind the camera. Considering that the previous management at CNN was so inept and oblivious to the news marketplace, it is hard to believe that Zucker won’t produce some improvement. And with Fox viewers abandoning the network that has been lying to them so brazenly, CNN may start to look like a plausible alternative.
Of course, as the ratings race heats up, Fox may decide to stop standing around watching their lead disappear. They will need to take bold steps to keep up with the competition. While O’Reilly is still pulling in decent numbers, Hannity is ratings loser and an embarrassment in terms of credibility. He has to be the first to go. Greta Van Susteren’s claim to fame was as an O.J. Simpson groupie who has never risen out of the tabloid mold in which she was formed. Now that her best pal and frequent guest (55 times), Sarah Palin, has been dumped by Fox, Van Susteren would be wise to update her resume. The most likely candidate to fill one of those vacancies would be Megyn Kelly, who has emerged as Fox’s most stridently biased anchor in the daytime.
There are those at Fox who know that a big part of the explanation for their decline is that the audience at large is no longer interested in the vitriolic smear jobs that Fox has specialized in for most of the past decade. They just watched President Obama get reelected, along with Democratic gains in both houses of Congress, despite their fierce determination to kneecap the Democrats and prop up the flailing GOP. They did the best they could to install a Republican regime with a coordinated campaign of propaganda and hate speech, but they failed miserably even in races they were expected to win. So they are aware that the public has rejected their best arguments and lies.
The trick will be to moderate their political biases in order to appeal to a broader audience without causing their loyalist legions to pull up stakes and camp out on Alex Jones’ web site plotting a restoration of the Confederacy from their bunkers. Spurned conservative extremists of the sort that form the foundation of the Fox audience are a vengeful lot. They primary long-serving GOP incumbents and replace them with crackpots who have no chance of winning. And that’s the sort of reaction they would have to any attempt by Fox to become less wingnutty. The Fox regulars would not only stop watching a more moderate Fox, they would turn against it with the force of a swarm of rabid squirrels deranged by disease and paranoia.
That leaves Fox in the impossible position of having to cater to their faithful fringe while reaching out to more rational viewers. It simply can’t be done and they would displease both. The only sensible course for Fox would be to accept a few seasons in the cellar as they regroup with a focus on responsible journalism. But that isn’t the style of the hardcore rightists in the Fox executive suites. Neither Rupert Murdoch nor Roger Ailes would be inclined to surrender the platform they built for wealthy elitists, captains of industry, Christian evangelists, and other power mad egomaniacs who are convinced that God has selected them to rule.
The good news is that their self-centered intransigence will insure that Fox continues to slide into obscurity and the people will have a better opportunity shape a more equitable society. Of course, the people would still have to overcome the rest of the media-corporate-government complex that has long been the biggest obstacle to a truly democratic nation. But it’s a start.
Monday’s presidential inauguration was a television event that was heavily promoted by all of the networks covering it. But one network was conspicuously short of viewers during President Obama’s speech and throughout the broadcast day.
While overall viewing was down for all three cable news networks compared to 2009′s inauguration, Fox took the deepest dive. CNN led during the President’s address with 3.1 million total viewers. MSNBC came in second with 2.3 million. Fox was dead last with 1.3 million. In the critical 25-54 year old demographic the numbers for Fox were even more dismal: CNN had 1.1 million in the demo. MSNBC had 706,000. Trailing significantly was Fox News with only 294,000, which was less than half of MSNBC and just over a quarter of CNN.
To some extent it is not surprising that the network that appeals most to Obama haters did not deliver their audience of whiny-ass sourpusses. It’s a constituency of sore losers who aren’t interested in staying informed and were probably busy cuddling their Bushmasters and forwarding chain emails about tyranny and the collapse of civilization.
What’s most startling in the ratings data is the relative disparities between the networks and their declines. Fox News was off a jaw-dropping 75% (82% demo) from 2009. CNN sunk a hefty 61% (67% demo). MSNBC, by comparison did fairly well with a mere 25% decline (37% demo). Digging deeper, these numbers tell us something that is even more foreboding for Fox. The percentage of their audience composed of the lucrative younger demos falls way below that of their competitors. CNN’s demo audience was 35% of their total viewers. MSNBC has 31% in the demo. But only 22% of Fox’s viewers are 25-54 years old.
That means that the next generation of news consumers is avoiding the severely conservative channel in droves. What’s more, MSNBC’s primetime anchors Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell were number one in their time slots for 2012 in the 18-34 demo. MSNBC has also led in African-American and Latino viewers. So by every measure MSNBC is positioned for future gains, while Fox is bracing for the bottom to fall out.
These numbers are not merely tabulated for bragging rights. They represent the potential for ad revenue. As the numbers fall, so do Fox’s profits. And with their dearth of the desirable youth demos, the advertising Fox maintains will command lower rates.
However, it is also true that the lion’s share of that plunge was the 75% of Fox viewers who tuned out. Apparently Fox is so intent on publicizing information that they believe reflects badly on the President that they didn’t even notice that it looks even worse for themselves. Well, nobody ever accused them of being brainiacs.
The Christmas Wars:
It has suddenly become clear why Fox News has been so fixated on inciting a “War on Christmas.” It must be because the Christmas season has been devastatingly cruel to Fox News. This year the Nielsen ratings left a smoldering lump of coal in Fox’s stocking despite all the pandering they did to Old St. Nick. Apparently Fox was very naughty. Santa doesn’t approve of lying and, perhaps, viewers are getting tired of it as well (see Fox News Fux Up: The 12 Worst Wrongs Of 2012).
Maddow and O’Donnell Jingle Fox’s Bells:
For the month of December, two-thirds of the Fox News primetime lineup came in second to MSNBC (in the critical 25-54 year old demographic). The Rachel Maddow Show’s monthly average came in 4% above the formidable Fox fixture, Sean Hannity. Lawrence O’Donnell had an even better advantage of 11% over his weaker competition, Greta Van Susteren.
This was a stark difference from last year when Hannity comfortably led Maddow by 46% and Van Susteren outpaced O’Donnell by the same amount. Those leads have now completely evaporated. Only Bill O’Reilly has managed to keep his fat head above water, although his 69% December 2011 lead over Ed Schultz was cut nearly in half in 2012 to 40%.
December 2012 was an affirmation of the superior performance MSNBC has shown since the election in November. Maddow and O’Donnell have consistently defeated Hannity and Van Susteren since President Obama did the same thing to Mitt Romney. This can no longer be explained away by Fox defenders as mere depression on the part of conservative viewers who tuned out after an electoral spanking. That excuse may have made sense for a week or two, but not a full two months later with high profile news events like the “fiscal cliff,” new cabinet appointments, Benghazi hearings, the Petraeus scandal, and the Newtown school shooting dominating news coverage.
Happy New Year:
Fox may have to get used to coming in second, or maybe even third if CNN’s new president, Jeff Zucker, is able to get that network out of idle. And if MSNBC is smart they will start to firm up their schedule with new shows and dynamic personalities. For instance, they should quickly axe the Hardball rerun at 7:00pm, perhaps moving Schultz to that time slot. Then put in his place a leadin to Maddow that takes advantage of the smart brand of analysis and commentary that she and O’Donnell represent. That would tie up their primetime package and boost the network’s reputation generally, which would help draw viewers to other dayparts.
Unsolicited programming advice for MSNBC:
Poach comedian/pundit John Fugelsang from Current TV and pair him up with MSNBC contributor Joy-Ann Reid for a combo news and entertainment hybrid to launch the evening block. A news program that intelligently presents serious issues with a sense of humor could be a compelling option that would ease their audience into a deeper dialog as the night progresses.
[Update 1/4/13]MSNBC has reported their 2011/2012 year-over-year ratings and the numbers are starkly positive compared to their competition. They are up in most categories by double digits (for both total viewers and the 25-54 demo), while Fox News had only slight gains or declines. In fact, both O’Reilly and Hannity delivered their lowest demo performance since 2007. Both Maddow and Donnell were number one for the year in the 18-34 demo, giving them a head start on next generation of viewers.