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.
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.
Last night Fox News debuted a new primetime lineup. It was the first time they had altered their schedule in more than a decade. They heavily promoted the changes and the new hosts for weeks. And on the the big night, when most new programs enjoy a ratings bump due to viewers sampling the new fare, Fox News did not get what they must have been expecting.
The top billing for the night went to Megyn Kelly, whose “Kelly File” has been eagerly anticipated by Foxophiles and received massive PR in advance of the debut. Unfortunately for her, she came in second to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in the key 25-54 year old demographic.
It would be bad enough for a Fox host to lose to an MSNBC show under ordinary circumstances, but to trail on the one night that ought to have been a runaway victory is a major embarrassment for Kelly and Fox. There were no extenuating circumstances that might have contributed to an unexpected win for Maddow. For instance, she did not have an exclusive interview with President Obama wherein he announced that he really was born in Kenya after all. And Kelly’s show had booked the GOP flavor of the week, Sen. Ted Cruz (TX-Tea Party), as her first guest, so she ought to have been well positioned to draw in the Fox fanatics in bulk. But it was not to be.
What’s more, Greta Van Susteren, who had moved from 10:00pm to 7:00pm, lost to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. And Sean Hannity, who lost his 9:00pm slot to Kelly and took over the 10:00pm time that Van Susteren vacated, could only manage a tie with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. The only win for Fox the whole night was by their perennial top dog, Bill O’Reilly, who bested Chris Hayes, the newest MSNBC host who has yet to find an audience.
These dismal performances by Fox programs are all the worse because the network had poured so much money and promotional muscle into the evening. It was their intent to inject new blood into the schedule in order to attract the younger, advertiser-favored demos that have avoided Fox like the plague. That goal was clearly not met – at least on the debut. And just to rub it in, MSNBC achieved their ratings victories with the same old shows they’ve had on for years and no extra promotion.
Rest assured that Fox programming executives are already huddling to figure out what went wrong and how to correct it. Kelly and the others may yet return to their perches atop the ratings tree. But they will still have little influence over the broader television audience who recognize Fox for what it is: the PR division of the Republican Party and the Tea Party cheerleading squad. Remember, Fox’s top rated programs only reach 1% of the American people, and the garbage that they ingest (see Fox Nation vs. Reality) just makes them ignorant, ineffectual, and filled with ghastly surprise when they lose elections.
[Follow Up: 10/27/2013] It is now three weeks since this article was published and I still get commenters giddily noting that Kelly’s ratings improved on subsequent nights. SO F**KING WHAT? This article is about the premiere episode and it even notes that her ratings may improve later. These FoxPods just can’t seem to focus on single topic.
I had intended to write an article this morning congratulating President Obama on his selection of Susan Rice for National Security Adviser and Samantha Power to succeed Rice as U.N. Ambassador. Not only are these two public servants brilliant and capable, the GOP will regard their appointments as a poke in the eye, which they thoroughly deserve. I intended to further note that Power was singled out by Glenn Beck as the “most dangerous woman in America,” at least partly because she is married to Cass Sunstein who Beck has called the “most dangerous man in America.” And then all my plans were upended when this happened:
Rachel Maddow recently did a segment on how the right-wing media has been mainstreaming conspiracy theories once thought to be beyond the fringe. She went into great detail with examples of batty theories and the people who propound them. Included amongst the theorists were folks you might expect like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck.
Apparently Glenn Beck took offense. He devoted a considerable portion of his program to swinging back at Maddow and questioning her “intellectual integrity.”[I'll wait for you to stop laughing and get get back into your chair --- OK then] Beck took particular aim at the suggestion that he is a conspiracy theorist. He even went so far as to make this explicit declaration in his defense:
“I’ve never been called a conspiracy theorist in my life.”
Oh my. This may be the best example of severe detachment from reality that’s ever played out in public. It was just one week ago that Beck bitterly complained that there is “a concentrated effort now to label me a conspiracy theorist?” How he can go from a concentrated effort to label him, to never having been called a conspiracy theorist, in only one week is mind-boggling. But it isn’t just a matter of acute short-term memory loss, Beck has been addressing allegations of his conspiracy theorism for years:
Oct 6, 2009: I don’t have a stealthy agenda, but I’m still called “conspiracy theorist.”
Jan 11, 2010: It’s funny to be called a conspiracy theorist because I’ve always made fun of conspiracy people.
Aug 17, 2012: You talk about a conspiracy theorist, you know, me being a conspiracy theorist, I didn’t get the decoder ring in the box of cereal.
Jan 8, 2013: When they try to make me look like like a conspiracy theorist, they always use [Alex Jones'] arguments and assign them to me.
May 10, 2013: And the media smeared anyone who said these things. I know because I was one of them. I pointed out the truth. I showed you the truth. Early. I was a conspiracy theorist. I was a crazy man.
Beck has got to know that he is frequently called a conspiracy theorist (and with good reason). It’s simply impossible for him not to be aware of it after all these years and after all of his own references to it. So what could come over him that would cause him to deny that he was ever called one? Can he really be that delusional? Or is he just so confidant of the mental squishiness of his audience that he doesn’t care at all about trying to be the least bit coherent?
No matter how many times Beck demonstrates his shaky grasp of reality, it continues to amaze me that someone with such cognitive impairment is capable of attending to the routine chores of daily life, much less turn his dementia into a financial bonanza.
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.
Please be sure you are seated before reading this. The shock that will sweep over you may rival Hurricane Sandy in its sheer, raw power. Are you ready? OK…..
Last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, his guest Rachel Maddow called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia…..a TROLL!
Oh lawdy, where’s the smellin’ salts? I dare say I may faint. And I’m not alone. Noel Sheppard of NewsBusters was so appalled that he penned an op-ed for Fox News to unleash his umbrage at this scandalous effrontery. How dare this wanton trollop deign to insult such a virtuous citizen with so foul a curse. And because every spasm of faux outrage requires a racial reference, Sheppard managed to find something in Maddow’s comment that was analogous to the use of the “N-word.” The editorial begins innocently enough by asking us to…
“Imagine for a moment a Fox News host calling one of the liberal Supreme Court justices such as Sonia Sotomayor a ‘troll.’”
Indeed. Just imagine it. Oh wait. You don’t have to imagine it because on April 30, 2009, Erick Erickson said this about retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter:
“The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester to ever serve on the Supreme Court in David Souter’s retirement.”
Now that’s the way to express respect for our judiciary. I hope Maddow is paying attention. Erickson was not working for Fox News when he said that, although it does sound like something that would have been posted on the fib-infested Fox Nation. However, Erickson was just hired by Fox in January, and I’m sure that having that comment on his resume helped him to land the job.
I’ll be waiting to see Sheppard’s op-ed castigating Erickson and Fox for behaving so disrespectfully to a justice of the high court. And then they can all join Megyn Kelly on her Fox program where she also took a swipe at Maddow. Perhaps they will eventually recognize that calling someone a troll is not nearly as bad as calling the landmark Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement,” which is what Scalia said that inspired Maddow’s criticism in the first place.
Last night Bill O’Reilly mustered up his signature pomposity in a debate with Bob Beckel over whether or not NBC had ever criticized President Obama on the use of drones or even reported on the controversy. O’Reilly was almost shaking with contempt at what he considered an outrageous example of hypocrisy. Beckel didn’t seem to care much about NBC’s reporting or pretend that he knew anything about their coverage of this story. But O’Reilly was relentless about NBC’s reporting and refused to let it go.
O’Reilly: “Remember the outcry about waterboarding? You know, everybody jumping up and down? Uh, NBC News, I thought they were going to, like, melt down over there. You heard anything on NBC about the drones? [...] Neither have I. Neither has my staff.”
O’Reilly went on to accuse NBC of deliberately avoiding the story “because they are protecting the President.” There’s only one small thing wrong with O’Reilly’s bombastic condemnation of NBC: It was NBC who broke the story that made the drone controversy the lead on every news network on television. A little exclusive published by NBC’s investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff revealed the memo that outlined the administration’s rational for drone strikes targeted at American citizens.
The intensity with which O’Reilly insisted that NBC was derelict in their reporting only made his egregious mangling of the facts all the more preposterous. And by explicitly affirming his mistaken assertions with his staff, he casts doubt on their competence as well. In that regard, this isn’t the first time that O’Reilly’s staff has let him down in spectacular fashion. Back in April of 2010, O’Reilly reproached GOP senator Tom Coburn for suggesting that Fox had aired allegations that failure to get health insurance under ObamaCare would subject you to a prison term. He vigorously denied that anyone at Fox had ever said such a thing saying…
O’Reilly: “It doesn’t happen here, and we’ve researched to find out if anybody on Fox News has ever said ‘You’re going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance.’ Nobody’s ever said it. So it seems to me what you did was, you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn’t qualify there.”
Unfortunately for O’Reilly and his crack research team, the video record was readily available (And this pretty hilarious stuff. The “jail” assertion was even made on O’Reilly’s program by Glenn Beck):
Fox News has been blathering for much of this week about what they delusionally call the “liberal” media for ignoring the drone story. One of the more prominent critics is the fake Fox version of a Democrat, Kirsten Powers. She has taken to the Fox airwaves to lambaste liberals and Democrats for not challenging the administration on their drone policy. However, no one has been more critical of the President on this than Isikoff, the reporter who broke the story, and Rachel Maddow, who devoted extensive portions of her show to it.
If anyone is guilty of hypocrisy it’s the Fox/GOP crowd who only seem to care about human rights when a Democratic president is accused of violating them. Both Fox and the Republican Party fiercely defended George Bush’s use of torture and wiretapping. Democrats opposed those breaches of human rights, and they are consistent today in opposing the use of drones and the targeting of Americans without due process. But these facts escape dullards like O’Reilly whose only purpose is to bash his adversaries and the facts be damned. However, if there is one thing that O’Reilly is consistent about, it’s his indifference to journalistic ethics or standards.
I couldn’t agree more, Bill-O.
[Update] O’Reilly addressed the response to his deliberately deceitful characterization of NBC’s reporting the following night. As might have been expected, he lied through his teeth absolving himself of any responsibility. His argument was simply that “I didn’t say NBC broke the memo story because we weren’t talking about that.” Not true. For the record, let’s review what he was talking about: “You heard anything on NBC about the drones? [...] Neither have I. Neither has my staff.” Either he and his staff weren’t listening very closely or they don’t regard talking about drones to be talking about drones.
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.
The election of 2012 broke all records for spending on campaigns and collateral causes of political movers and shakers. The orgy of spending was triggered by the Citizen’s United decision allowing donors to make unlimited contributions anonymously. A by product of this landscape littered with special interest cash was a new industry driven by hucksters intent on sucking up substantial portions of the money flying around in the political ether.
One of those hucksters was the toe-sucking grifter, Dick Morris. Rachel Maddow recently reported on his scam that involved soliciting donations for a Super PAC that he claimed to have founded, and funneling those funds to his accomplices at the right wing blog Newsmax. Then NewsMax used some of that money to pay Morris for access to his email donors list so that they could solicit more donations. In effect, Morris was raising money to pay himself to raise more money.
Another example of this racket involved the Astroturf-roots, Tea Party operation, FreedomWorks. In the wake of scandalous revelations that their former chairman Dick Armey had staged an armed coup to wrest control of the group from his partners, it has been learned that the organization was taking the funds received from unsuspecting donors who opposed big government waste and depositing them in the bank accounts of wealthy broadcasters like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. These payouts were ostensibly intended to buy positive promotions of FreedomWorks on their programs in order to produce more donations that could also be paid out to the promoters. It was a blatantly circular self-enrichment scheme that was also described by Armey as “ineffective” and “a mistake.”
These incidents illustrate a congenital characteristic of the conservative mindset. It is a philosophy that explicitly lauds a dog-eat-dog flavor of wealth creation and celebrates the success of ruthless entrepreneurship and Greed-Obsessed Profiteers (i.e. GOP).
At the center of this con game is Fox News and the associated right-wing media machine. The unprecedented sums of money raised and spent in the last election cycle exceeded $5 billion dollars. Of that it is estimated that $3.4 was spent on advertising. In the world of Republican politics there is only one elephant in the room when it comes to media, and that is Fox News, the number one rated cable news network (for now) and the PR division of the GOP.
Fox was the first stop on every Republican’s campaign trip. It was where groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity dumped the bulk of their television ad dollars. It was the TV base for Dick Morris, Karl Rove, Scott Rasmussen, and the Breitbart-affiliated activists who were pretending to be movie producers.
Fox News was running the same scam as those described above. They would provide a platform for conservative politicians and organizations to solicit donations. The organizations would then pay Fox to run their ads with the money they raised from their appearances on Fox. And round and round it goes.
This is a tactic exploited so well by Rupert Murdoch himself in the last election cycle when he donated a million dollars to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who promptly returned it to Fox in the form of ad buys. In this way Murdoch actually made a 22% profit on his donation to the Chamber, and the Chamber got their ads broadcast at a 78% discount.
The maze of campaign finance laws makes it difficult to ascertain whether or not any laws were broken by these financial shenanigans. But the Federal Elections Commission is such an impotent agency that it would be surprising if they ever bothered to investigate or punish such lawbreakers.
However, what is even more surprising is that anybody would contribute to these organizations if they knew that their donations were not being used to advance the causes they support, but instead are lining the pockets of the executives and fundraisers. It is brazen betrayal of the folks who put their hard-earned dollars to work for their beliefs. But it is also precisely what conservatives are best known for: making themselves rich at the expense of the little people.
Hysterical Addendum] Dick Armey is now claiming that when he spoke with Media Matters and made his remarks about FreedomWorks, and their wasting money on Beck and Limbaugh, he actually thought he was talking to the uber-rightist Media Research Center. That explains his candor. He clearly believed that those comments would never be made public by MRC.
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.
This is beginning to be something of a trend. Last week MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell crushed their Fox News competition – again. The week-long average for Maddow in the 25-54 demographic was 378,000, vs. Sean Hannity’s 352,000. O’Donnell bested Greta Van Susteren 359,000 to 245,000.
The Ed Show continues to lag behind his network companions, but perhaps he should be cut some slack because he is also airing opposite the highest rated program on cable news, The O’Reilly Factor. Even so, MSNBC’s primetime lineup managed to beat Fox News outright on two nights (Wednesday and Thursday).
The frequency with which MSNBC is topping Fox dispels any notion that this is an anomaly. In fact, from election day through November 30, Maddow and O’Donnell beat Hannity and Van Susteren by 13% and 20% respectively. The full primetime averages for this period for Fox and MSNBC are separated by only 2% with O’Reilly lifting Fox barely into the lead.
Fox News can no longer boast that they are the runaway leader in cable news. Before long they may not be the leader at all. Their audience may be tiring of being lied to and they might not appreciate the filters that Fox has put between them and the real world. There can be only so many times that someone can discover that what they thought they knew for sure was not even close to correct. And people who get their news from Fox have been in that situation too many times already.
Even Fox News executives recognize that by building a bubble of misinformation they alienate their viewers and destroy their credibility (what little they have). Consequently, Fox CEO Roger Ailes has thrown a rug over two of his top contributors, Karl Rove and Dick Morris. Producers must now get prior permission before booking them. Not that that alone would change much, because Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and the rest of the Fox menagerie will still be honking feverishly at perceived enemies and invented scandals.
In the coming months there may be some dramatic shifts in the cable news arena. Fox’s wobbly leadership will continue to be challenged by MSNBC’s post-election burst of energy. And CNN will likely being putting pressure on both when their new president takes the helm in late January. At this point, I wouldn’t place any bets because literally anything can happen. Who would have predicted a year ago that a lesbian Rhodes scholar (Maddow) would be knocking out the boob tube’s biggest boob (Hannity)?
[Update:] Jealously rears its ugly head. In retaliation for having the audacity to get better ratings than Hannity, Fox is now bashing Maddow for getting a Grammy nomination for the spoken word reading of her book, Drift: The Unmooring Of American Military Power. And the tone of Fox’s attack is typically juvenile as they resort to calling her “Rachel Madd-Cow.”
Seriously, how old are these people? Or is this just the only level of discourse they think their audience can comprehend?
Fox News is continuing to show weakness in its primetime schedule in the wake of President Obama’s reelection. In the eight days since election day MSNBC’s average audience for the key 25-54 year old demographic drew about 8% more viewers than Fox. [Source: TVNewser, weekday Nielsen ratings from 11/7-11/16]
Particularly impressive were the results of the two powerhouse programs on the MSNBC lineup: Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. Maddow won seven of the eight days against her Fox competition, Sean Hannity. For the 8-day run Maddow beat Hannity by 18% and her 544k average was second to only Bill O’Reilly in all of cable news. O’Donnell won all eight days against Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. His margin of victory over Van Susteren was 17% for the eight days.
This can no longer be considered a temporary blip on the ratings scales. With two weeks having elapsed, the MSNBC programs are showing steady strength against competition that was once thought insurmountable. Only Bill O’Reilly is holding his top position for Fox in primetime. This may indicate that Sean Hannity is wearing thin with viewers who are likely disappointed with his overly confident (and harebrained) assurances that all the polls were wrong and that Mitt Romney would emerge victorious.
Hannity is perhaps the most stridently partisan host on the Fox News network and frequently augments his analysis with that of the pundit world’s most notorious nutcase, Dick Morris. As for Van Susteren, she never had the cult-like following of her Fox comrades, but she has been closely associated with her good friend (and client of her husband), Sarah Palin. That association may also have become a drag on the ratings of her show. Hannity has been with Fox since its launch and is still a top-rated radio talker. Van Susteren, on the other hand, had better start to show some improvement or her time slot will go to daytimer Megyn Kelly, a Roger Ailes favorite whose contract is expiring next year and likely wants to move to primetime.
MSNBC has an opportunity here to expand on the progress they have made in the past two weeks. They need a stronger lead-in to the primetime block. Ed Schultz has been doing OK, but he has not kept up with his colleagues. It might be a good idea to move both Maddow and O’Donnell up one hour, find an edgy, provocative host(s) for the 10pm slot (Harry Shearer & Co.?), and give Schultz the Hardball rerun at 7pm (Harderball?). But one thing is for sure, Fox will not be sitting this out. If MSNBC doesn’t build on their momentum, Fox will dial up the heat and retake the lead they’ve had for the past decade. Hopefully MSNBC recognizes the short window they have to make these gains permanent and jump through it.
The reelection of President Barack Obama was certainly a gratifying victory for Democrats and supporters of a moderate path forward for America. However, it also seems to have been a victory for the left-of-center cable news network, MSNBC.
Fox News has been dominating the cable news ratings for about a decade. The primary reason for that is their having corralled all of the right-wing viewers while everyone else is scattered amongst the other networks. Nevertheless, that distinction gives them bragging rights and an over-sized reputation.
However, for the days (two, so far) that have followed the election, MSNBC has usurped the leader’s crown and ascended to become the number one network in cable news for primetime. In fact, on Thursday MSNBC beat Fox for the whole broadcast day. MSNBC performed well above their third quarter averages for their primetime programming, which had already outperformed their 2011 third quarter by more than twenty percent.
Almost every primetime program on MSNBC beat their Fox competition. The only exception was Ed Schultz who is up against Fox’s highest rated show, the O’Reilly Factor. Schultz, however, did increase his own ratings considerably, just not enough to surpass O’Reilly.
The standouts were Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell who trounced Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren, respectively. Maddow exceeded Hannity by 27% on Wednesday and a whopping 75% on Thursday. O’Donnell dunked Van Susteren on Wednesday by 64% and by 32% on Thursday.
It is notable that MSNBC achieved their win over Fox by growing their own audience while Fox’s audience remained fairly stable. So this isn’t a case of Fox’s viewers having tuned out the news after a depressing defeat. It remains to be seen whether this is a mere bump in the election afterglow, or a serious turnaround in the cable ratings race. But it is clear that there is room for MSNBC to grow and make a credible challenge to Fox’s dominance.
On Monday, Rachel Maddow crushed Sean Hannity scoring 32% more viewers in the key advertiser demo of adults 25-54. Also, Chris Matthews’ Hardball beat Shepard Smith and Lawrence O’Donnell topped Greta Van Susteren.
Last night (Tuesday), Rachel again rolled over Hannity by an even larger margin (37%). And O’Donnell continued his dominance of Van Susteren. On both nights MSNBC took the total primetime time period from Fox News. These wins are significant in that they don’t occur very often. What’s more, they are routing Fox’s perennial winners without any special programming along the lines of a convention or debate. This is strictly news driven.
However, even more noteworthy is that Maddow’s demo numbers on Tuesday were the highest in all of the cable news primetime schedule. She even bested Bill O’Reilly by 3% despite the fact that O’Reilly’s guest was Jon Stewart who ought to have drawn in the younger viewers that ordinarily shun O’Reilly. With his devoted older-skewing viewers, plus the kids from Stewart’s heavily promoted guest appearance, O’Reilly should have run away with the night.
Maddow’s decisive victory suggests that there is something brewing in the cable news game. Viewers are responding to the editorial content of MSNBC and its most dynamic presenters. It’s still way too soon to make definitive statements or projections, but the gathering trends are promising.
Now all MSNBC has to do is capitalize on the new attention they are receiving and bring in new talent. Ed Schultz, who has not been contributing to this upswing, may be due for a makeover or a co-host. And there’s no need to repeat Hardball in the early evening when a new show could could broaden the audience. My long-shot pick: I’d give former Rep. Anthony Weiner a shot. If Eliot Spitzer can get a show on Current, Weiner should have a second chance too. He’s smart, experienced, and entertaining. And the publicity would help bring in a curious audience.
[Update] O’Donnell beat Van Susteren again on Wednesday.
The Democratic National Convention last week provided an opportunity for MSNBC to introduce themselves to a wider audience. And that they did. The channel was viewed in primetime by more than nine million people during the three days of the convention. That’s nearly 10% higher than the RNC viewership. And for the first time ever they scored a ratings victory over top-rated Fox News for a full week.
With the conventions over MSNBC still has the glow of victory about it. On Monday September 10, Rachel Maddow beat Sean Hannity by 12% in the key 25-54 year old demographic. Lawrence O’Donnell had an even bigger margin of victory (29%) over Greta Van Susteren. And for good measure, the repeat of The Ed Show beat the repeat of the O’Reilly Factor, and Maddow’s repeat beat Hannity’s. That’s four solid hours on top for MSNBC.
These wins were achieved without the help of the convention. And the programs on Fox were stacked with guests that should have been big draws for them. Hannity featured Tea Party darling, Sen. Rand Paul. Van Susteren touted an exclusive with Rep. Darrell Issa who has been hammering the Obama administration over the salacious (and phony) Fast & Furious controversy.
If MSNBC can hold just a portion of these numbers over time, it could signal a turnaround in the cable news hierarchy. MSNBC has not been particularly successful in building their audience, while Fox has masterfully captured the glassy-eyed disciples of conservatism. Time will tell if this is a blip or a trend.
In related news, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released their post-convention survey of attitudes and opinions of the candidates and their events. The headline notes that President Obama was overshadowed by keynoter Bill Clinton. That provides a stark contrast for the RNC where Mitt Romney was similarly overshadowed by Clint Eastwood. Who would you rather be overshadowed by? And Fox News viewers affirm Pew’s findings:
In a court action this week, attorneys for MSNBC host Rachel Maddow asked a federal judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by Bradlee Dean, a former Christian rocker turned anti-gay preacher, on the grounds that it was a deliberate attempt to censor and/or intimidate Maddow by subjecting her to the burdens of defending against a meritless claim. The legal vehicle for this petition is known as SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation).
In Dean’s complaint he alleged that Maddow had defamed him when she broadcast a segment on his commentary on Islam and homosexuality. It’s not surprising that he should consider his own words to be tantamount to defamation. Here is the whole statement by Dean with the parts Maddow quoted in bold:
“Muslims are calling for the execution for homosexuals in America, this was just released yesterday and it shows you that they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible, the Judeo Christian God. They seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do. Because these people are livid about enforcing their laws, they know homosexuality is an abomination. And I continually reach out to the homosexual communities on this radio show, and I warn them, which ones love? Here you have Obama condemning it behind the backs of the homosexuals but to their faces he’s promoting it. I say this to my gay friends out there the ones that continuously nitpick everything I say. Hollywood is promoting immorality and the God of the Heavens in Jesus names is warning you to flee from the wrath to come, yet you have Muslims calling for your execution. If America won’t enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that’s what you’re seeing in America today. Read Leviticus 26 America.”
There is little leeway for any interpretation other than that Dean was praising the moral superiority of extremist Muslims who advocated executing homosexuals. He even went further to offer his Biblical analysis that radical Islamists were fulfilling the will of God by attacking the United States. While Dean made a disclaimer that he was not calling for the execution of gays, it was an irrelevant gesture. No one had accused him of calling for executions, just for saying that Muslims were doing so and that they were “more moral” as a result.
Maddow’s response to the suit was that she had not defamed Dean because she had reported factually and that her comments were constitutionally protected speech. The facts appear to support her position. It would be surprising if this suit were permitted to go forward. But even Dean should hope that the judges dismisses the suit. Could he really want to generate more publicity for his views that he is now characterizing as harmful to his reputation?
The folks at NewsBusters think they have stumbled on the ultimate put down of one of the left’s favorite spokespersons. Last night on Jeopardy the contestants blanked out on the following question:
“This cable TV newswoman received a doctorate in politics from Oxford”
Accompanying the question was a picture of Rachel Maddow, but that still didn’t help the contestants come up with a correct response. The NewsBusters then opined that…
“This can’t possibly be great news to MSNBC execs given Maddow’s lead role in the network’s recent debate coverage.”
I’m inclined to agree. If I were an MSNBC exec I would be concerned that a panel of intelligent, well-informed players couldn’t identify the network’s star attraction. However, another star of the political universe met with the same fate last year when the Jeopardy answer was…
“Her latest book is titled ‘America by Heart: Reflections on Faith, Family and Flag.’”
Not one of the contestants knew that the correct question was “Who is Sarah Palin.” So if it is an indication of the irrelevance of Maddow that she was unknown to the Jeopardy panel, how much worse is that Palin, who had run for Vice-President and become a regular contributor on Fox News, was also unknown in the same venue? Palin has had far more media exposure throughout the media world than Maddow, who is mostly limited to appearances on MSNBC.
Not surprisingly, the right-wing media noise machine quickly pounced on this story and regurgitated it throughout the blogosphere. Of course that included Fox News whose Fox Nation posted the item with a snarky headline reading, “Rachel Who?” But don’t bother looking for their article about Sarah Palin’s turn on Jeopardy. Fox is not about to reveal the truth about their overpaid, irrelevant leading lady.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) just released a video that they are directing to constituents in 48 congressional districts represented by Democrats. The video is a satire of an MSNBC promo for the Rachel Maddow Show. Here is Maddow’s video:
And here is the NRCC version:
Not surprisingly, the NRCC has chosen to mislead their audience on several points.
First, there is nothing analogous between the construction of the Hoover Dam and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Hoover was a public works project that was built, and is currently run, by the government for the benefit of the American people. Keystone is a project of private, for-profit enterprise, that benefits wealthy individuals and corporations.
Secondly, the point Maddow was making about Hoover is that it was an historic achievement of ingenuity and resolve that exemplified the heights of human accomplishment that can be realized when a nation unites to pursue a noble goal. Keystone, on the other hand, is a garden-variety oil pipeline that exemplifies the greed of corporations that place profit over the safety and well being of people and their environment.
This is another example of the GOP siding with Big Business over average Americans. The NRCC falsely claims that the Keystone project will create 130,000 jobs and produce energy security. The truth is that it will only create a few thousand temporary jobs and much of the refined oil will be exported to other countries.
The press release for the NRCC’s video accuses the targeted representative of siding with “wealthy anti-energy activist donors.” It does not identify who the donors are or how they became wealthy via anti-energy activism, which is not generally considered a particularly profitable vocation. It also does not mention that House Speaker John Boehner has received a million dollars from fossil fuel enterprises and has investments in at least seven companies that stand to profit from Keystone.
However, what’s really funny about this satire is that it fails utterly in its goal. Why would the GOP produce a video satirizing a promo for a program on MSNBC? Their constituents are notoriously glued to Fox News and talk radio. Consequently, hardly any of them will have ever seen the Maddow video that the NRCC is mocking. That diminishes the comedic value pretty much entirely.
While Fox News will likely give it some free air time (it’s already posted on Fox Nation), they will just be preaching to the choir, which won’t help them to persuade the public at large that the pipeline is a good idea. But in the process they have tacitly conceded the point that Maddow was making with regard to the value of ambitious public works projects. They are telling their audience that commitments to large infrastructure ventures are beneficial and deserving of support.
So the result is that the Republicans have produced a satirical video that isn’t funny and affirms the investment philosophy of the Democrats. Thank you, NRCC.
In a stroke of utter dementia, Fox News has published an editorial taking Rachel Maddow of MSNBC to task for a gaffe during a live broadcast. The author of the column is Dan Gainor of the uber-rightist Media Research Center.
Gainor distinguished himself recently by declaring that Arianna Huffington is “the most powerful propagandist since a guy named Goebbels.” He once condemned an imagined conspiracy by George Soros and, in the process, implicated himself. Gainor may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is a tool.
The problem Gainor has with Maddow concerns a segment on the night of the Iowa caucuses where she read a news item saying that Gov. Gary Johnson, a former GOP candidate for president who has since changed gears to seek the Libertarian Party’s nomination, had abandoned his campaign and decided to throw his support to Ron Paul. As it turns out, that item was a hoax and Maddow quickly corrected the record.
However, this incident has Gainor in such a fever that he composed an editorial castigating Maddow and MSNBC as derelict journalists and he yelps that they “are not newsmen and women. These are Democratic political operatives disguised as TV hosts.” Well, he ought to know. His experience with Fox News is good preparation for recognizing phony journalists. But he never bothers to explain how a botched report about Johnson and Paul is advantageous to Democrats.
Gainor’s umbrage over Maddow’s mistake takes on a surreal hue when compared to the record of incompetence and/or deliberate falsification of the news that is the hallmark of Fox News. Here is just a brief compilation of some their most entertaining blunders:
This is a mere sampling of Fox’s ineptitude. It doesn’t include the many times they have mislabeled Republicans as Democrats, and vice-versa (usually to the detriment of the Democrats). It doesn’t include the affair when Fox was caught reporting a GOP press release as if it were their own news item – complete with the typo that was in the original GOP document. And these examples did not occur in the rush of a live broadcast. They were prepared in advance with plenty of time to review. It got so bad at one point that Fox had to issue a threatening memo to their employees warning them to take greater care or suffer the consequences:
“[E]ffective immediately, Newsroom is going to ‘zero base’ our newscast production. That means we will start by going to air with only the most essential, basic, and manageable elements.”
“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.”
Needless to say, there haven’t been any consequences. The same bumblers continue to foul up at Fox with impunity. The reason for that it is that it’s difficult to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy if the enforcers can’t count up to zero. Also because many of the alleged mistakes were intentional. Fox deliberately falsifies their broadcasts to advance their political agenda. For more evidence, here’s a collection from Fox Nation that are indisputably lies.
For Gainor to write this article, and for Fox to publish it, just shows how far they will go to deceive their audience. There has never been a “news” enterprise that has so brazenly distorted facts for ideological purposes. And if the best they can do to tarnish the reputation of their competitors is a harmless gaffe that occurred on a live broadcast, it only confirms how pitifully unfit they are to be called a news network.
Over the last few months, Republican governors and state legislatures have been busily implementing laws ostensibly designed to prevent voter fraud. It has been a project largely directed by the rightist American Legislative Exchange Council and financed by the Koch brothers
For the sake of clarity it should be noted that “voter fraud,” as defined by Republicans, occurs when any votes are cast by minorities, students, senior citizens, or Democrats.
Now in Florida, the first casualty of this discriminatory and unconstitutional policy has been targeted and become subject to severe penalties. The fiendish scofflaw is, Jill Cicciarelli, a teacher in a New Smyrna Beach high school:
“The teacher who heads up New Smyrna Beach High School’s student government association could face thousands of dollars in fines. Her transgression? Helping students register to vote.”
This is the completely predictable result of the abuse of power exercised by Governor Rick Scott and the GOP in Florida. It is inconceivable that anyone could defend fining a high school civics teacher for doing her job: teaching students how to participate in the democratic process. Instead, her students are learning more about the sort of tyrannical regimes that the GOP is modeling itself after.
When the law was first enacted, the League of Women Voters was forced to suspend voter registration efforts in Florida due to the risk the law placed on their volunteers and administrators. Republicans are fully aware of what they are doing. They know that third-party voter registration organizations have been successful in expanding access to the polls to the very same disenfranchised citizens that the GOP wants to suppress. GOP strategists also know that the incidence of voter fraud in America is statistically null. So if there isn’t any fraud to combat, and the citizens who are hurt are likely to vote Democratic, the only conclusion is that Republicans are exploiting their power to deny Americans they don’t like their Constitutional right to vote.
This gross inequity is not limited to Florida. It is an attack on democracy that is spreading across the country by Republicans and their lobbyists.
The GOP has commenced the process of criminalizing voting. They are constructing obstacles far greater than those of the Jim Crow era. Historically repulsive methods of voter suppression effectively kept many citizens from voting, but these new methods could cost honest citizens thousands of dollars and threaten them with incarceration. It’s downright un-American. For more on this disturbing trend watch Rachel Maddow’s expose from last July: