MSNBC Puts Ed Schultz Back On Weekday Schedule

Ed SchultzIn 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.

FreedomWorks Boycotts MSNBC Over New Right Doc

Tea BaggerYesterday Chris Matthews hosted a documentary look at the Tea Party, right-wing militias, Republican extremists, and other components of what he calls “The Rise of the New Right.” It was a generally adequate compilation of the genesis and evolution of the year-old “movement” to take our country back – to the Dark Ages.

While Matthews touched on many of the most troubling aspects of the New Crusaders, there was a noticeable absence of fervor when discussing the very real threats posed by a small but zealous group of reactionaries bent on terminating their ideological rivals. The documentary efficiently checked off the major flash points, but did so in a rather detached manner that diminishes the dangers posed by giving serious consideration to a phony party that was created by corporatists, fed by media, and dependent on the willful ignorance that is the byproduct of greed and fear.

Nevertheless, the subjects of this program have gotten their panties in a bunch by what they regard as slander and a “left-wing propaganda hit piece”. In response, FreedomWorks has joined with Tea Partiers to boycott an MSNBC advertiser. For some reason they singled out Dawn Dishwashing Liquid. From the FreedomWorks web site:

“Tea Party leaders from coast to coast are fighting back against the smears by boycotting one of the network’s sponsors, Dawn dish soap, until they cut off funding to MSNBC. FreedomWorks believes it is important to join this effort, and show unity with other Tea Party groups in the face of these attacks by writing, calling and faxing the offices of Dawn (and parent company, Procter and Gamble) to ask them to stop subsidizing these vicious attacks by MSNBC and Chris Matthews.”

There is a certain measure of irony in this boycott initiative. FreedomWorks just became a sponsor of Glenn Beck’s radio program. Beck told his listeners that accepting FreedomWorks as a sponsor was a “hard decision” because he did not “want to send the message to you that the way to restore our republic is through the political process only.” Despite his reluctance, Beck gave a full-throated endorsement to FreedomWorks and urged his audience to “link arms” with them and to “get on every bandwagon” they can.

First of all, Beck’s pretension that he has some sort of aversion to politics is perhaps one of the best examples yet of his severance from reality. He rants about politics and Washington every single day. But more to the point, he has been the target of a surprisingly successful boycott that has cost him more than a hundred advertisers. Beck has taken to the air to denounce these activists as commies and thugs who are out to deprive him of his Constitutional rights. But now he is embracing a new sponsor (one of the few not ashamed to be associated with him) that is engaging in the same tactics that he fiercely condemns.

I have no problem with any group engaging in a boycott. It’s a time-honored part of democracy. If FreedomWorks wants dirty dishes they are free to boycott Dawn or Ivory or Joy or any dishwashing liquid they like. I am curious though as to why they singled out Dawn. Perhaps it has something to do with this:

“For 32 years, the International Bird Rescue Research Center has had a surprise weapon in the battle against the oil: Dawn dishwashing detergent.

After a 1971 oil spill, the California-based nonprofit group began experimenting with products including paint thinner and nail polish remover to find the least traumatizing method for cleaning oiled animals. In 1978, the researchers settled on the blue liquid soap.”

Dawn’s website claims they have rescued thousands of animals over 35 years. They have donated 7,000 bottles of detergent to the current oil spill crisis in the Gulf. Maybe a crony corporate enterprise like FreedomWorks doesn’t like the fact that Dawn eliminates oil or that they help wildlife (for the record, Dawn is an oil-based detergent and may not be the best overall choice for the environment). Maybe an organization so wrapped in hypocrisy should be boycotting Palmolive, because when it comes to hypocrisy, “they’re soaking in it” (h/t Madge).

It’s unlikely that the FreedomWorks boycott will amount to much. Targeting a single product wouldn’t cause much of a dent even if they were successful in getting P&G to stop running ads for Dawn. And FreedomWorks isn’t even focusing their effort on Chris Matthews’ show but at the MSNBC network. Their announcement of the boycott leads off with this bit of bravado:

“If MSNBC‘s ratings could go down any further, they would after this show.”

FreedomWorks may be disheartened to learn that the Matthews documentary posted the second highest rating for the network during primetime as well as being the #2 program in its time period. The documentary performed more than 60% better than Matthews’ average rating for May 2010.

If Tea Baggers don’t like seeing themselves portrayed as militant nutcases, then they should stop acting like them and associating with them. They should stop embracing leaders like Beck, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich, who frequently use hostile rhetoric. Gingrich even called the Tea Party the “militant wing of the GOP.”

Lashing out at relatively mild documentaries and boycotting their advertisers isn’t going to gain them much respect. To the contrary, it will reveal just how small and impotent a minority they really are. And as for losing viewers, it’s not like FreedomWorks members were ever in MSNBC’s audience in the first place.

This Just In: As usual, Stephen Colbert has uncovered the REAL conspiracy…

Rothenberg Dunks Hardball

Stuart Rothenberg is the very model of a modern major political pundit. He has his own newsletter and contributes to Roll Call, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and is a regular commentator on television news programs. He has a reputation as an astute analyst. Which makes me wonder why it took him so long to come to this realization:

“America’s cable ‘news’ networks have concluded – on the basis of considerable research and evidence, I’m sure – that most viewers don’t want straight news and analysis as much as they want to hear what they already think or to watch predictable partisan attacks.

“The three big cable ‘news’ networks don’t exist to provide a public service, after all. They have corporate officers and stockholders to answer to, which means they need more and more eyeballs to generate more advertising dollars.

“Their answer: talk radio on TV. Forget about the serious implications and political fallout that follow an event or policy, and instead attack your opponents repeatedly using half-truths, glittering generalities and inapplicable analogies.”

With that, Rothernberg announced that he will no longer be a guest on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. Very little of what Rothenberg says should surprise anyone who has been paying attention. So either he is not as astute as he pretends to be, or he just preferred picking up his paycheck and indulging in denial. Rothenberg complains that Hardball has evolved into “a partisan, heavily ideological sledgehammer” and he is upset that Matthews made reference to some Republicans as crackpots. But that seems like a pretty petty reason to pound on a news culture that has plenty of legitimate flaws.

I’m not sure what his objection is to the crackpot remark. With characters like Michele “Let’s investigate Congress for Socialists” Bachmann, and Michael “It’s a Hip-Hop GOP, Baby” Steele, crackpot seems like a rather reserved assessment. And as for being a partisan sledgehammer, I can’t think of any other program that regularly hosts the disgraced former Republican leader, Tom DeLay, and treats him with such deference and respect.

Rothenberg’s assertion that viewers aren’t interested in straight news is really a form of attacking the victim. There is surely a segment of the market that prefers to only hear those things that validate their preconceptions, but part of the problem is that they haven’t been given a real choice in the first place. If the audience currently has no place to find neutral reporting, how can we conclude that they would not watch it if it were available? The truth is that viewers are drawn to programming that provides either information or drama. Since there is presently no compelling source of informational programming, viewers are stuck with the dramatic variety.

Rothenberg’s observation that the media has abandoned public service in favor of profit is irrefutable, but hardly a revelation. And while he describes the corporate response to conditions in the marketplace (talk radio on TV), he doesn’t bother to offer any suggestions for reversing the trend and restoring a commitment to quality and public service in cable studios and newsrooms. He seems to lack the courage to declare that it is the iron grip of the monolithic media conglomerates that is responsible for the greed-driven state of today’s news providers.

While Rothenberg comes down pretty hard on Hardball, he says that Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and Ed Schultz, are even worse. To his credit, he attempts to seek some balance by making a couple of obvious, yet still notable (for a mainstream pundit) comments about the Fox News all-stars, including…

“O’Reilly’s obsession with General Electric and that company’s CEO is bizarre, though any program that treats Dick Morris seriously as an independent analyst obviously has major problems.”

So Rothenberg’s epiphany has led him to eschew Hardball for good. He doesn’t say whether he will do likewise for the rest of the cable asylum. That would certainly make a dent in his wallet. However, he does suggest that his fellow pundits reconsider their own fraternization with the compromised world of cable news. He regards it as a matter of integrity in the name of journalistic ethics and says that…

“Trying to be an unbiased reporter or neutral analyst on a heavily biased television program is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Either you end up fighting the host’s premises and rephrasing loaded questions, or you are tacitly accepting the way the host defines a situation, making yourself an accomplice to a political mugging.”

That’s about the truest thing I have ever heard a member of the political mugging class admit to. On one hand, I admire Rothenberg’s honest appraisal, though I still can’t imagine what took him so long to arrive at it. On the other hand, he isn’t exactly an innocent bystander. He’s more like the stoolie who’s giving up his pals to save his own skin. Time will tell whether this is a genuine revelation or merely a tantrum for some perceived slight in the Hardball green room – or retaliation for Matthews calling his Republican buddiess crackpots.

The Figment Of The Center-Right Imagi-Nation

Throughout much of last year’s presidential campaign, and right on through the first weeks of Barack Obama’s administration, the media has persistently peddled the falsehood that America is a center-right nation, politically and socially. Now Media Matters has published a study (full pdf here) that thoroughly debunks this notion, and they do it by using surveys and facts that realistically portray the ideological character of the country – something the media may want to check in to.

The Media Matters study is a comprehensive look at the American electorate. It covers virtually every one of the most debated subjects of public discourse: Size of government; health care; taxes; abortion; gay rights. It also examines the demographics of age, ethnicity, gender, and geography. And every case the evidence shows that America is a progressive, and yes, a center-left nation.

And nowhere is this more misunderstood than in the media:

  • Tom Brokaw (NBC): “This country, even with the election of Barack Obama last night, remains a very centered country, or maybe even center-right in a lot of places.”
  • Jon Meacham (Newsweek): “…insisted that to govern successfully, Obama had to become a center-right leader in order to match America’s ‘instinctively conservative’ streak.”
  • David Broder (Washington Post): “…warned that too many victorious Democrats in Congress had ‘ideas of their own about what should be done in energy, health care and education.'”
  • Karl Rove (Fox News): “Barack Obama understands this is a center-right country.”
  • Chris Wallace (Fox News): “You could make the argument that this is still a center-right country.”
  • Chris Matthews (MSNBC): “I’ve noted that we’re right of center except when we’re in a crisis, when we’re left of center.”
  • Bob Schieffer (CBS): “These Democrats that were elected last night are conservative Democrats.”

I’m not sure exactly why the press is so brain dead in this regard. It’s not as if the record isn’t crystal clear. Obama was portrayed by Republicans, and most of the press, as a liberal extremist – even as a Socialist, or worse. And yet, Obama won a decisive victory. Democrats have also been winning larger majorities in the Congress with each election cycle. And Obama’s approval rating have maintained stratospheric levels. The public supports the President’s policies even when they are told that it may increase their taxes.

At the other end of the scale, Republicans are descending into historical depths of disrepute. Their de facto leaders are universally despised figures like Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh. Their policies, I’m sure, would be rejected with equal disdain, if they were to articulate any. As it is, they just regurgitate the same old slogans they have been chanting for decades, and those are not particularly well received.

It will be interesting to see what it will take to get the media to recognize what the rest the country already knows. This is a nation that has had its fill of rightist greed and incompetence. We have ousted many of the representatives in public office who led the nation down a path of war and recession. While we can, and did, adjust the make up of our government to more closely reflect our values, it will not be as easy to fix the media. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

News Blights: January 8, 2009

Item 1: The host of MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews, has decided not to join the race for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. In doing so he has resisted a groundswell of support from hard-of-hearing misogynists throughout the state. Some reports suggested that Matthews was only floating the campaign as a means of enhancing his contract negotiations with MSNBC. If so, it worked for MSNBC, because Matthews will be re-signing for less than half of his previous salary.

Item 2: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, has been chosen by President-elect Barack Obama as the next Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon and an effective communicator. He is also a shill for pharmaceutical corporations and a critic of universal healthcare. He famously debated Michael Moore on the Larry King Show about the accuracy of the movie Sicko. Now he will be Obama’s spokesperson on matters related to expanding healthcare to the 47 million Americans who are not presently covered.

Item 3: Congressman Mike Pence and Senator Jim DeMint have introduced bills in their respective bodies to prevent the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. The Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 has been expressly drafted to prevent something that no one has proposed. In fact, Obama has stated his opposition to re-imposition of the Doctrine. That hasn’t stopped right-wing fear mongers from firing off panicky op-eds and fund raising appeals.

Item 4: Sarah Palin, bless her heart, is still providing more chuckles per pound than any of her contemporaries. She sat down for an interview with a rabidly conservative activist who runs a web site dedicated to insulting Obama supporters. The discussion included a fair bit of whining about her treatment by the press, including her assertion that she wanted to ditch Katie Couric after the first round of talks, but McCain’s strongmen forced her back into the lioness’ den.

Tucker Carlson: A True Washington Story

Tucker Carlson True Washington StoryMSNBC is FINALLY taking a needed step, and not a moment too soon. David Gregory will replace Tucker Carlson. Now, instead of suffering through election season with an obnoxious dimwit, we will actually have some informed dialog and insight. I would have preferred Rachel Maddow, but MSNBC is trying to put forth more clout from NBC News, and she will almost certainly be a regular guest on the new program. Also, keep in mind the name of Gregory’s show: “Race for the White House.” What happens to this timeslot after November?

Gregory, as Senior White House Correspondent, knows there will be little happening on that beat for the remainder of the year. So he’s settling in to cover the campaign and he can return to the White House with the new president. Then maybe Maddow or David Shuster will get another shot at a show.

With news of the cancellation of trustfund pundit Tucker Carlson, it seems like a good time to look back on the events that led to this profound conclusion. (See Tucker Carlson Canceled for links to his dismal program performance).

It all started in a little mansion in San Francisco where the spawn of Republican ambassador and public broadcasting chief Richard Warner Carlson, and TV dinner princess Patricia Caroline Swanson, was ingloriously hatched. Thirty-eight years later it all comes screeching to a halt. Well, it actually just sort of peeters out, but that doesn’t sound quite as dramatic.

The writing has long been on the wall.

In October of 2006, Tucker responded angrily when asked about his future at MSNBC and whether he had already been cut:

“It’s bullshit. It’s total bullshit. I talked to Abrams last night. I’ve got another year on my contract. That’s my comment: Bullshit.”

I’m not entirely sure, but I think that Tucker considers this report to be some sort of bullshit. I could be wrong. This would have have placed his contract expiration some time in October of 2007. So in November of 2007 he signed off his show saying:

“That does it for us. Thank you for watching as always, we mean that sincerely to all eight of you.”

Sounds like he knew something. Maybe that’s why he chose to embarrass himself on “Dancing With The Stars” and taped a pilot for a game show called (I kid you not) “Who Do You Trust?” If he didn’t know something was up, he ought to have. After all, his boss, Phil Griffin, bragged to NPR about the network’s personalities saying:

“Keith Olbermann is our brand; Chris Matthews is our brand. These are smart, well-informed people who have a real sense of history and can put things in context.”

But when he was specifically asked whether Tucker Carlson is also their brand, he pauses and says:

“He is right now.”

There’s a real vote of confidence. And, predictably, the effort to Save Tucker fell flat on its face, even after he reportedly took a 50% paycut.

As far back as December, the rumors of Tucker being replaced were circulating. Prominent among them were reports that Rachel Maddow and Bill Wolff had taped a pilot that would fit nicely in the slot that Tucker was wasting.

Now that Tucker has bombed on on PBS, CNN, and MSNBC, some may think that it’s off to Fox News for him. But he has some history there that would need to be smoothed out first. In 2003, Tucker was asked on air for his home phone number. He thought it would be funny (in an infantile sort of way) to give out the number for Fox News instead. Not surprisingly, Fox was besieged by anxious Tucker “fans.” So Fox did what only Fox would do. They posted Tucker’s home number on their website asserting that they were merely correcting Tucker’s poor journalism. In a snit that ignored every trace of irony, Tucker called Fox News:

“…a mean, sick group of people.”

For those who think Tucker provided balance on the network, note that MSNBC already airs, in addition to Tucker, 3 hours of conservative Republican Joe Scarborough, and another two hours of Chris Matthews’ orchestrated hostility for Democrats. That’s five hours of right-wing propaganda against the one hour that Olbermann occupies. Where’s the balance in that?

Congratulations to David Gregory.

Chris Matthews Plays The Obama/Osama Card

This video is from the first minute of tonight’s Hardball. Is it really so hard to get this right?

Or is Chris Matthews sucking up to the Clinton camp? After numerous slurs, insults and misogynistic rants, perpetuating the Obama/Osama association may be Matthews’ version of an apology.

The Clinton/Shuster Affair Winds Down

Word has it that David Shuster, who was suspended for using a common colloquial that is even featured in the title of a popular television show on MTV, will be returning to the air on February 22.

What’s more, Hillary Clinton, who has been railing about Shuster’s comment, and threatening to boycott MSNBC, has confirmed that she will participate in a debate on the network February 26 – the week following Shuster’s return. I always thought Clinton’s over-reaction was politically motivated, and I think this decision is as well. With her campaign teetering, she likely believes that the exposure of a nationally televised debate is more valuable than a few more days of righteous indignation.

Throughout this affair, Clinton has narrowed the scope of her rage to only MSNBC, despite the fact that Fox News has been a far worse offender. While she was considering whether to ditch the MSNBC debate, she had already accepted one on Fox (Obama did not accept and its originally scheduled date has passed).

C.U.N.T.It is unclear whether Shuster ever got credit for demanding that right-wing Republican dirty-trickster, Roger Stone, take responsibility for a profane anti-Clinton organization he founded called “Citizens United Not Timid,” or C.U.N.T. Their stated mission is to “Educate the American public about what Hillary Clinton really is.” Wow, those Republicans are really classy! Check out that logo.

Finally, Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo has confirmed that Shuster was never really Clinton’s primary target:

“As dumb and clueless as Shuster’s “pimp” remark, this was never really about him. The Clinton campaign, while genuinely upset about what Shuster said, lashed out at the network because they were primarily irked by Matthews’ conduct…”

I still wonder when they will become irked by Fox News’ conduct.

Giuliani: Still Corrupt, Still Immoral

Last month The Politico published a story that escalated into one of the sleaziest scandals of the current campaign season. The story revealed that Rudy Giuliani had been secretly slipping off to the Hamptons with his mistress, Judy Nathan. There were also allegations that the costs of those trysts were improperly charged to obscure city offices.

This morning, the New York Times weighed in with its own account of Rudy’s accounting. The Times seems to conclude that it was unlikely that there was any mischief in Rudy’s travel expenses. [Link to graphic scan of the article]

This quasi-revelation has set off a mini-storm of rash exclamations of vindication and denunciations of the “liberal” media for their unscrupulous attacks on America’s Player, er…Mayor. Web sites like the PowerLine Blog and Townhall are shocked – shocked I say – at the mistreatment Giuliani has suffered.

There’s only one problem: Giuliani has not been vindicated at all. The only thing the Times has uncovered is that the majority of the funds spent on Rudy and Judy’s holidays were charged to the Mayor’s expense account. How exactly does that excuse him from spending city money on seaside sex romps? The Times doesn’t even rule out the possibility that some of the expenses were indeed charged to agencies that regulate lofts and assist the disabled. The article even admits that up to $40,000 is entirely unaccounted for.

In light of this, why are rightist bloggers asking “Where Does He Go to Get His Reputation Back?” Why is Chris Matthews asking an even more idiotic variation on this inane theme, “Where Does He Go to Get His 10 Points Back?”

Setting aside the fact that Giuliani is still guilty of misusing city funds, his apologists are conveniently forgetting the moral component of this story. Let me remind them: Rudy Giuliani was cheating on his wife. In the Republican Party that is probably a more heinous crime than robbing the city treasury.

Giuliani is not entitled to his reputation back (such as it was) because he is still culpable for making his constituents finance his romances. And he is not entitled to any polling points back because he lost them due to his slack morals, which are still in evidence. And hacks like Chris Matthews ought to think things through before making bigger asses of themselves than they were to begin with.