The soap opera drama surrounding Lawrence O’Donnell’s contract negotiations with MSNBC is heating up. In a good way. Last week an article on the Huffington Post revealed that MSNBC was not actively negotiating to re-sign O’Donnell whose contract expires in June. That news startled his fans and the media world at large.
O’Donnell is a core part of the team that is currently burning up cable news. MSNBC’s ratings are reaching record highs. For the past three weeks they have even bested Fox News in the critical 25-54 year old advertising demographic. That was considered unthinkable a few weeks ago. The brightest star in the network’s universe is Rachel Maddow, whose ratings have soared in sync with her stellar reporting on Donald Trump. O’Donnell has nearly matched her success and beaten Fox News perennial, Sean Hannity, on some nights.
Insider speculation has pointed to NBC News chief Andy Lack as the obstacle to O’Donnell’s renewal. Since his ascension, Lack has steered MSNBC to a decidedly more conservative slant. He hired Greta Van Susteren from Fox News. Also dinosaur conservative George Will. He gave former George W. Bush communications director, Nicolle Wallace, her own show. And he’s giving Hugh Hewitt one on the weekend. Why he thinks that any conservative viewers are going to tune in to MSNBC is a complete mystery. They have been trained for years to regard the network as something just this side of Satanic. Van Susteren’s show is already a dismal failure that brings down the programs that follow it.
Lack’s programming moves are disconcerting for several reasons. They make no sense from a business perspective. It is ridiculous to upend a schedule that is showing such success and is still growing. It alienates the core audience that is the foundation of that success. But there is also talk that Lack’s motivation is to suck up to Donald Trump. Considering Trump’s record low standing in the polls, that may be the dumbest reason of all to upset a winning formula.
Shortly after the HuffPost article, another appeared on Showbiz411 with a disturbingly declarative headline. It blared “MSNBC Ending Lawrence O’Donnell ‘The Last Word’ Show Despite Top Ratings (Exclusive).” It’s author, Roger Friedman, began by saying “I can confirm that MSNBC is ending the top rated ‘The Last Word’ with Lawrence O’Donnell.” That, unsurprisingly, created a stir among viewers. Even worse, Friedman cited sources that said “O’Donnell’s tireless criticism of Donald Trump” was the reason for the cancellation.
So here’s the good news. Friedman just published a new article that contradicts his prior exclusive. Apparently the outcry from viewers was so powerful that it pushed MSNBC to the negotiating table. Indeed, there has been a flood of angry viewers swarming Facebook and Twitter in defense of O’Donnell. The result appears to be the first serious talks between the network and its star.
It’s too soon, however, to declare victory. Until there’s a signed contract that locks O’Donnell into his current time slot, fans need to keep the pressure on. But they can do so with the knowledge that such tactics are working. You can call them at 212-664-4444 and email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.
There has never been more need for honest progressive reporting on television. The Era of Trump cannot be allowed to dispense the lies and propaganda that are emblematic of that movement. And with Fox News in upheaval (having lost its CEO Roger Ailes and its biggest star Bill O’Reilly to sex scandals), this is not the time to retreat. Activists who are seeking to turn Congress and the White House blue need to recognize that the media battlefield is just as important as the electoral one. Carry on progressive soldiers – to victory.
UPDATE (5/31/2017): Lawrence O’Donnell affirmed that he’ll be continuing on his program for the next couple of years. VICTORY!