MSNBC Abandoning Its Non-Existent Neutrality Pose
Forbes media critic Jeff Bercovici is a bit late spotting a trend.
In “Olbermann Who? MSNBC Abandons Neutrality Pose For Convention Coverage,” Forbes media critic Jeff Bercovici is a bit late spotting a trend:
Here’s one indication of how much the news landscape has changed in the past four years: In 2008, with the presidential election heading into the home stretch, MSNBC pointedly took its top on-air personality, Keith Olbermann, off co-anchor duty in response to critics who said his coverage of the party nominating conventions was too partisan. In his place it assigned a straight-news reporter, David Gregory, to host coverage of the debates and election night.
The fig leaf of neutrality is no more. MSNBC just announced its on-air team for the upcoming Democratic and Republican conventions. Anchoring the broadcasts will be “Rachel Maddow with Chris Matthews,” according to a press release. Matthews, who hosts the 5 p.m. show “Hardball,” was Olbermann’s co-anchor for the conventions in 2008, and “The Rachel Maddow Show” has replaced Olbermann’s “Countdown” as the network’s top-rated show.
To be clear, MSNBC’s announcement called Maddow and Matthews hosts, not anchors, although I’m not sure that’s a meaningful distinction. Phil Griffin, the network’s president, wasn’t available for an interview.
MSNBC has clearly settled into its identity as the liberal counterweight to Fox News over the past few years.
Well . . . yeah. MSNBC gave us a hint that it was doing this two years ago when it announced it was “launching a two-year, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, embracing its politically progressive identity with the new tagline ‘Lean Forward.'”
“We’ve taken on CNN and we beat them,” msnbc President Phil Griffin told employees at a series of celebratory “town hall” meetings Monday. “Now it’s time to take on Fox.”
The network has struggled to define itself with its audience since it launched in 1996. In the runup to the 2008 presidential election, network programming began to coalesce around primetime anchors Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews. It branded itself as “The Place for Politics” — a description given by Tim Russert, then NBC News Washington Bureau Chief and “Meet the Press” moderator.
With the addition of left-leaning anchors including Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz, the network increasingly became identified with a rising tide of progressive political sentiment. The new branding campaign, while not overtly political, implicitly embraces the network’s progressive identity.
Its prime time line-up is unabashedly liberal and they still run the “Lean Forward” spots constantly touting that fact. Indeed, the main difference between MSNBC and Fox in this regard is that Fox still maintains that it’s “Fair and Balanced” while MSNBC embraces its ideological (forward) lean. That’s actually rather refreshing.
Oddly, the only daily news program that I watch—via TiVo delay and depending on whether the kids are up and I therefore can’t get any work done, anyway—is MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” While the “Lean Forward” ads run constantly during the program, show host and namesake Joe Scarborough occupies an ideological space similar to my own, simultaneously conservative enough to annoy liberals while viewed as a traitor to the cause by most conservatives. But even there, he’s paired with a liberal co-host in Mika Brzezinski and a rotating stable of liberal panelists. (The wildcard is Willie Geist, whose ideological leanings I’ve never been able to discern.)
If the “Morning Joe” crew were hosting the convention, I’d almost surely watch MSNBC’s coverage as they provide smart analysis and have a good give-and-take. Maddow and Scarborough would also be an interesting pairing of two sharp analysts who can honestly articulate each side’s arguments and debate their strengths and shortcomings. A Maddow-Matthews pairing could well descend into parody and, in any case, would only be interesting to die-hard Democrats. Which, since that’s the audience the network is aiming to reach, is just fine.
keith odormann, chrissy matthewes, rachel madcow diease, lawrence o’dumbbell, sgt. schultz……all vile, despicable, disgusting, LYING, HYPOCRITICAL, ultraleft-wing radical extremist, pathetic, pathological, psychopathic propagandists.
shocker, wonder how many people will actually watch that train wreck? i tried to watch msnbc’s election night 2 yrs coverage and it was painful, looked like a bad local news show compared to everyone else.
James, you honestly think Mika Brzezinski is recognizable as a liberal to anybody who self-identifies as a liberal?
What’s funny about that article is that right off the bat it engages in unintentional self-parody in its own right. Calling David Gregory a “straight-news reporter” is like calling the Monty Python Group a “collection of award-winning Shakespearean thespians.”
As far as MSNBC abandoning all pretenses I believe that’s part of a larger trend. Used to be the liberal media was a lot more subtle, only outing itself in earnest during election cycles and specifically in connection with GOP candidates, e.g., Dan Rather’s infamous interview of H.W. Bush. Otherwise you had to pay at least partial attention and not be utterly dense or naive, nor a left-wing partisan, to miss their agendas and biases. As the years have gone by, however, the masks slowly but surely have been tossed aside. Now they’re at the point where they’re intentionally and brazenly editing videotaped speeches, audiotapes, etc., to fit their agendas, even outside the context of actual elections, and when caught they don’t make more than a token effort to apologize.
Pretty soon I suspect all the left-wing media outlets (including the three major networks) will go ahead and stop playing any lip service to impartiality, especially if Obama loses in November.
I don’t understand why network executives just don’t get this! CNN does it to some degree but they spend so much time worrying about casting themselves as “neutral” that many of their reporters lose credibility (looking incompetent in the process). Their shows would be much more interesting, engaging, and I believe much more popular if they praticed it. Its why Morning Joe is popular (although Joe many times tries to dominate the conversation – but it is his show!). Its why I like to watch Bill Maher – particularly when he has extreme conservatives that matches his extreme liberal views (Bill can often try to dominate the conversation too). Bottom line is, I believe that formula works. Not just for political die hards but also the masses. I believe that having, say, Joe and Rachel cover the conventions would be wildly popular and bring some respectability back to a network that has sadly gone down the digusting path to party pandering for ratings that fox news does so well.. i guess you can chalk that up as untapped potential!
@Tsar Nicholas: Good comment. On the positive side, the “lean forward” campaign helps to illustrate – to those who are paying closer attention – that the differences between explicitly non-neutral MSNBC and the other faux-neutral “mainstream” media outlets are mostly related to style. Less savvy and/or non-“progressive” viewers might not always consciously recognize the scary similarities between Lean Forward and “neutral journalism,” but they will get the message subliminally.
the democrats are now in deseration mode.
did anybody really figure this wasnt going to happen on those circumstances?
Gee, Dave, why don’t you stop beating around the bush and tell us how you really feel?
I can’t stand Matthews, every time somebody links to a rant of his and I unknowingly click on it, I have this literal gut-wrenching reaction to the sound of his voice. Kind of like what Rush does to me.
Heh. Thanx Eric, I neede a good laugh to start my day, and you always come through for me.
You subject your children to Morning Joe? Actually, I don’t mind Morning Joe if I wasn’t already on the way to work. NPR is where I get most of my morning news.
Will OTB be far behind?
Obama has held a solid Electoral Vote lead all summer. He just ju-jitsued Romney abandoning his campaign strategy…and fighting the campaign on Obama’s terms.
Yup…pretty desperate times for the Dem’s.
“James, you honestly think Mika Brzezinski is recognizable as a liberal to anybody who self-identifies as a liberal?”
Or Chris Matthews, who very shamelessly declared his love for Bush the Younger in a flight suit.
I’d also like to see a Joe-Rachel match-up. It might add some interest to what will otherwise be a couple of pretty bland affairs.
Ozark, you’re wishful thinking. actually, wishful non thought would be somewhat more accurate.
that light at the end of your tunnel is a train. Don’t say you werent warned
I was optimistic when they got rid of Olbermann and coined “lean forward,” but they do seem to have fallen back to their old pattern.
I enjoy both liberal and coservative prospectives in the media. I love Maddow, though sometimes she comes off as smug and that hurts her credibility. I wish there were a counter personality on the conservative side, but all the fox hosts have lost credibility with there birther non-sense and irrational analysis.
Seriously,, who gives a damn? MSNBC should be compared not to some mythical objective network, but to the Fox News Network, which is virtually the media outlet for the Republican Party . Liberals are getting now what Republicans have had for years.
The only person even attempting to keep Fox in line is Jon Stewart, in a parody news show, on a comedy network.
@Figs: In what way is Mika not a liberal? What progressive policy does she not endorse? Now, like Joe, she tends to fall into the buddy-buddy trap with pols. So, she really, really likes people like Chris Christie even when she disagrees with their politics—just as Joe professes his love for Al Sharpton. But she’s at least as liberal as Joe is conservative.
@C. Clavin: Far behind . . . what? OTB is a political blog. We make no pretense whatsoever to neutrality; the whole point of the enterprise is to present our opinions.
@Moosebreath: If Matthews isn’t a liberal, no one is. Again, you’re confusing his politics with his personal friendships. Most of these people—probably for the best, in my view—actually like politics and politicians and become buddy-buddy with people on both sides of the aisle who are personable and willing to engage on the issues. So, Matthews may well have liked Bush for a time and probably likes all manner of Republicans, some of whom are actually pretty nice folks. I guarantee you that his vote and his money goes Democrat almost every time.
@john personna: Aside from “Morning Joe,” I don’t watch any of the shows except for a few snippets of Maddow, Schultz, and others that I happen to catch essentially by accident. How have they backslid?
@Scott: I used to wake to NPR on the clock radio and listen to it for a while and also frequently listened to it in the car. Nowadays, I seldom set an alarm because the baby wakes me up most nights, so I let myself catch an extra few minutes of sleep if I can. (I’m seldom still asleep past 645 regardless.) If I’m up, I’m either taking care of the girls or trying to get some work done. The 3-1/2-year-old can usually be coaxed to watch cartoons in her room until breakfast; I can’t watch TV with her in the room, anyway. But I’ll frequently watch “Morning Joe” while the baby’s eating. I almost never catch more than the first 40 minutes or so but I DVR the show and watch from the beginning on the days that I do watch it (unless the baby’s already up at 6, which does happen on occasion).
Time for you to get the nikes, don the purple shroud, have a bowl of apple sauce, and catch the next comet out of here.
Matthews is a terrible choice. He is so in love with the sound of his own voice that no one can get a word in, including people he’s supposedly interviewing. That he also spits all over the place when he gets really excited is just the icing on the reason-I-won’t-watch-him cake.
Joe would have been a much better choice. Heck, even crazy Ed would have been a better choice.
So when is Fox News going to abandon it’s non-existent Fair and Balanced” charade?
I watch Morning Joe and Daily Show, as my healthy and balanced breakfast mix.
I only catch moments of other MSNBC shows that I find mostly unwatchable. Actually, I take that back. When a certain kind of news story is raging, I can tune in and enjoy Matthews getting his teeth in it. I can’t watch him chew on a normal news day though.
So I’m not an expert on MSNBC. Aren’t Politics Nation, The Ed Show, The Last Word, and UP pretty much all post-Olbermann? Maybe some of those came in as he went out.
@James Joyner: Thanks for sharing your morning. It’s got to be tough to have part of your job to keep in touch with the daily ebb and flow of politics when it is really tempting to shut it down, focus on the kids and get some peace and quiet. Which is what most of us do. It is good to be reminded that there are real people behind political opinions. Which is why people of opposite views can get along. Those who are incredulous that so and so likes someone they disagree with need to get back to reality.
Why in the world would anyone who reads blogs like this care about who is hosting/emceeing the party beauty pageants?
Conservatives will all watch Fox. Liberals will watch MSNBC. No one will watch CNN.
When I watch cable news, I usually watch CNN. While far from perfect, they’re the only network that seems to be even trying to do real journalism any more. And of course, that’s precisely why they’re last in the ratings.
And people wonder why I’m turning into a bitter cynic as I get older..
@Woody: I tend to skip the first night of the conventions but will likely watch the four presidential/vice presidential candidate speeches. And I’ll probably watch them on CNN unless Fox has good hosts on. (Brit Hume still works for them, even though he’s semi-retired.) ABC is a possibility, too, if they’re still running convention coverage these days.
@al-Ameda: I thought it was pretty clear but I’m not criticizing MSNBC for going with liberal commentary, I’m criticizing Jeff Bercovici for acting as if MSNBC was trying to fool people into thinking they’re neutral when, in fact, MSNBC has been unabashedly selling themselves as the liberal Fox for two years. I’m perfectly fine with branded, biased analysis and, indeed, far prefer it to a pretense of neutrality.
I betcha we’ll have the same cultural divide we had with the recent Olympics. Old mode consumers will tune in and watch patiently. New mode consumers will just try to stream anything interesting off incoming tweets.
Perhaps convention coverage will do better at new mode media.
My point exactly…Maddow and Mathews do not claim to be anything but what they are…partisan commentators…same as Hannity and O’Really…only more sane.
And contrary to what you wrote…Morning Joe is not a news program…it’s a talk show.
@C. Clavin: Right. I didn’t mean to imply that “Morning Joe” was an old-style newscast; it’s a political talk show. Aside from breaking coverage of a story where visuals matter, I don’t know why the hell anyone would turn to the TV for news these days.
Fine, yet I don’t see any full page opinion columns suggesting that FoxNews formally jettison the “Fair and Balanced” marketing. Come to think of it, maybe some people think it’s part of the Comedy Channel? Or maybe, like my dad, and my brothers and sisters, they actually believe that?
(Speaking of new-ish mode viewing, the DVR means you can set it to keep 1 most recent of a variety of shows, and then watch as much of them as you want. I guess if I wanted more news by video I’d add BBC via PBS to my mix.)
I’d have to take issue with that statement, James. A couple months ago CNN seemed on a spree of boring, so I started watching a few minutes of Morning Joe most mornings. I seem to always turn off the set thinking, “How can anybody as dumb as Joe Scarborough be as smug as Joe Scarborough.” (A question that answers itself.)
I see you as a trying to be thoughtful and realistic, but somehow maintaining your loyalty to a party that left you. I see Scarborough as just a hack spouting conventional wisdom without thought or introspection. My favorite was a couple of weeks ago, as Joe and his stable of allegedly liberal panelists bemoaned the countries drift in the wrong direction since the mid seventies. What could possibly have caused it? It’s a mystery. No Joe, there’s no mystery. What happened is we started electing more and more people like Joe Scarborough.
Yes, the speeches are definitely must-see.
I’ve gradually turned the television off over the past decade, primarily due to the much higher quality of (carefully chosen) political blogs, both through news organizations and through sites such as this.
It’s very difficult for TV to provide thoughtful analysis on complex subjects, particularly when done ‘live’. I’d much rather read an analysis written hours later than hear any host’s “quick take”.
There’s a reason the fox is cleaning everybody elses clocks.
Or are we supposed to assume that lefty’s don’t watch the news?
@al-Ameda: Well, two things are happening there. First, yes, most of Fox’s audience actually does think they’re getting Fair and Balanced news coverage there. Second, professional media commentators have long taken as a given that Fox was news with a conservative slant and no longer feel the need to comment on that obvious fact. They’ll call out Fox for particular distortions, of course, but they take a conservative viewpoint as a starting point.
@john personna: I do that for “Morning Joe,” “This Week,” “Pardon The Interruption,” “Saturday Night Live,” and a handful of other shows that have a very short shelf life.
Joe has undergone a change in recent weeks. Throughout the Republican primary process he was pretty hard on everyone and pretty discerning in his criticisms. I think recently he just decided to get with the (Republican) program, and show them how it’s done in politics.
When he monologues now he isn’t descerning or telling the whole truth, he’s telling selective (and IMO incomplete) truths as if he were on the campaign trail. He’d need an opponent to push back on that, but in the show’s dynamics he doesn’t have that.
There was a weird moment a day or two ago when Joe did a bit and said to Barnicle “right?” and Barnicle said “no, call me.” Meaning he knew he couldn’t get into it on-air.
So I guess Joe’s idea of “lean forward” is to campaign for Mitt. That’s fine, but it certainly puts lie to MS-NBC being all liberalism all the time.
Don’t take it from me on Matthews’ conservatism, take it from Matthews himself. From wikipedia’s entry on him:
“Despite having worked for Democrats, Matthews has said, “I’m more conservative than people think I am…. I voted for George W. in 2000.” Salon.com has called him the “most conservative voice” on MSNBC’s primetime lineup. Matthews has been accused by media watchdogs of having panels of guests that skew to the right and of supporting Republicans in his own questions and comments.”
Again, liberals do not identify with him.
Actually, I still meet a lot of people who pride themselves on “having no tv.”
They might mention shows they’ve seen via their computer now and then.
“Joe has undergone a change in recent weeks….”,/i>
Joe has written something about his attitude change, and it is reflective of Romney’s VP choice. Joe’s words were something to the effect that for the last 10 years he has been disappointed with the GOP. However, with Ryan on board he is now excited about the ticket and the economic policies it represents.
I caught a bit of him saying that. It seemed centered on his personal impression of Ryan in Joe’s old congressional days. Joe and Mika both seem to weigh much on what they feel about the actual people in politics more than their policies. It is useful to hear their inside view.
Yeah, a “starting point” where people like Mitt Romney pay zero to one percent in income tax is just so useful, isn’t it?
(Ryan represents a “starting point” way out on the right rail. In a flat earth, it would be near the waterfall.)
I too watch a tivo delayed Morning Joe as a sip my coffee gathering strength for the day. I listen to Maddow’s show via podcast in the truck on the way to work. Here’s my take, FWIW –
I think Maddow and Scarborough don’t care for each other for one reason or another. Both Maddow and Joe will have other MSNBC hosts on their programs from time to time, and I’ve never seen Maddow and Joe together – she doesn’t go on his show and he doesn’t go on her’s.
Personally, I think Maddow would mop the floor with him. There’s no doubt that Rachel is ideologically driven, and definitely biased to a degree, but much more often than not she backs up her opinion with fact whereas Joe typically screams his opinion until his opponent tires or realizes the futility. (Although, you do see a more rational Joe when he is on Meet the Press or on Today on NBC – so there is evidence than he can be reasoned and rational.)
So we probably won’t see a Maddow/Scarborough duel anytime soon. But it would be fun.
And Mika, I’m sad to say, is a half-wit. If she doesn’t even have the intellectual chops to take on a weak opponent like Scarborough, then what good is she? But that’s a rhetorical question as we know that she serves a very valuable purpose, at least to Joe Scarborough, as an eye-pleasing yet lightweight punching bag for Joe to kick around every morning.
At the end of the day, or in this case the beginning of the day, there just isn’t a good morning news program to be found anywhere and I honestly don’t know why I watch it.
My wife listens to NPR while she puts on her war paint in the morning. But I can’t do that – it would put me right back to sleep.
Oh, and Willie Geist is an annoying tool that would most likely not have a broadcast job if it weren’t for his father.
Which just goes to show how much low-hanging fruit there is out there.
Guilty as charged.
Lots of brain-dead folks such as yourself?
Most of the people I know who share my political views get their news from the internet, a lot of them exclusively. The last time I watched cable news was the night Bin Laden’s death was announced.
It’s no secret that most Republican’s are still struggling to comprehend the internets. It’s a lot simpler just to turn the TV on and be told what you think.
@john personna: I think MSNBC is liberal during prime time, which is when the main audience for talking heads show is. “Morning Joe,” I gather, is a replacement for “Imus in the Morning,” which they simulcast forever. I don’t know what they run the rest of the day or whether/how it’s slanted.
@john personna: Granting that we have different perspectives but what I see Scarborough doing these days is basically doing a “If I were the nominee, here’s what I’d be saying” shtick. He’s just a much, much better politician—in terms of articulating an ideological vision to a mainstream audience—than Romney. And, yeah, I think he’s genuinely a fan of Paul Ryan, who he’s liked since Ryan was a Hill staffer just out of college.
@Moosebreath: I did not know that. I haven’t watched “Hardball” in years. I always liked Matthews in the old days but thought the show got rather shrill eight or nine years ago; he was better on his eponymous Sunday morning show.
@PogueMahone: Maddow is, by training, a political scientist and by profession a journalist. Scarborough is, by training, an attorney and by profession a politician. Maddow is probably smarter but Scarborough is plenty smart. But she’s an academic whereas he’s a guy who targets his speech to The Common Man.
Which always makes me think of The Onion article:
Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own A Television
@James Joyner: I’ll watch Scarborough the day he decides to explain why there was a dead intern on his office floor.
I used to like Morning Joe when Pat Buchanan was on and Chris Licht the director. It was fun when Buchanan was paired with Sam Stein. Now, it´s always the same people and the same talk.
The Rachel Maddow show was good until 2009, when you had lots and lots of good guests(Including conservatives and republicans). Now, she spents the whole time talking alone. It´s tiring.
1. If you think Mika is a liberal, you are further right than you think you are.
2. Matthews is a vastly overpaid blowhard whose ignorance is astounding even by the very low standards of the media elite. He is also possibly the worst interviewer on TV since he rarely shuts his mouth up long enough for anybody to answer a question that is usually a statement expecting agreement – and he rarely, if ever, listens to the answer.
3. Maddow thinks viewers are six-years-old and must have facts repeated endlessly in order for a bit of information to sink in.
4. Who cares who monitors, anchors, reports on the conventions? They are nothing but several days of free advertising for the Parties in which so-called journalists will breathlessly report on what will happen in a few hours, what is currently being said, what it all “MEANS” for the election. In short, a gossip columnist is all that is needed at the helm.
If you want a Conservative take on the conventions, watch Fox. If you want he said/she said, watch CNN or listen to NPR.
OTOH, may I suggest that we all have better ways to spend our time. I certainly doubt that any undecided voters will be watching what is nothing more nor less than a media circus.
@anjin-san: Most people who share your views have already been committed.
As for the remainder of your comments why are conservative blogs vastly outdrawing leftist ones?
We were talking about news, not political commentary. I know that as a Fox guy, you don’t realize there is a difference, but there is.
So am I..
Fox is cleaning everyoine’s clock on their pure news programs as well.
And you can’t explain it.
At least not without shattering your own myths.
@Eric Florack: Unfortunately for you if we follow your definition of a “true conservative” then there’s on@Eric Florack: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
What can we say? Old delusional people love their echo chambers and their old technology..