MSNBC kowtows to right-wing pressure to earn Media Putz award
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on September 11, 2008
Phil Griffin/Executives at MSNBC
Complaints against the MSM are numerous, most of them come from the left-wing, and most of those have some legitimacy. Yet, very few changes come as a result, and certainly not any as a direct result of specific complaints, unless they are right-wing complaints.
This is what we saw this week when MSNBC announced that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews were demoted from the anchor chair for the rest of the election cycle, after a series of right-wing complaints against the cable channel. MSNBC’s replacement anchor is David Gregory, not exactly an impartial choice, for the debates and on Election Night.
The MSM sat at George W. Bush’s feet during his reign as president, and the right-wing certainly didn’t complain about the coverage of Bush. But the MSM has actually gone after John McCain’s flip-flops as well as Sarah Palin’s flip-flops a little bit, and had the “audacity” to report this.
The baiting that the right-wing has done for months against General Electric, NBC, and MSNBC culminated on Thursday night when Olbermann, who made it clear that a commentary was coming, objected to a RNC video designed to manipulate fear and emotion from the attacks of September 11, 2001. He didn’t attack the RNC or the Republican Party directly. But in the mind of the right-wing, enough was enough.
And the instances accounted to Olbermann and Matthews pale in comparison to what comes out of the mouths of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, et al. As for the allegations of anchors vs. commentators, put Olbermann’s words up against Brit Hume. But the MSM is deaf to the concerns of the left-wing and eager to help any right-wing concerns.
Besides the unfairness of demoting Olbermann and Matthews while leaving open any and all right-wing comers, there are serious ramifications to the decision from MSNBC.
— Responding immediately and drastically to pressure suggests that all you have to do is complain and “problems” get solved. If the management of MSNBC did what it did to get the right-wing off its back, guess again. If you feed a dog scraps, and think the dog will never come back for more, you don’t know dogs.
— Unless management wasn’t watching its own coverage, they certainly knew what was going on. If there was a legitimate concern, there could have been meetings to discuss protocol. Olbermann and Matthews have been doing what they have been doing, and their ratings have gone up. They have acquired more viewers, and more importantly, viewers who weren’t watching CNN or Fox “News” Channel. Cable channels crave that kind of growth, especially one with a poor ratings track record as MSNBC has had. Yet, MSNBC has decided to demote its growing star at a time when more viewers would be paying attention. The media loves to claim it makes decisions based on money, but this is a decision that will lose money and viewers for MSNBC.
— Changing the rules in the middle of the game. If MSNBC decided after the election to then change the perspective of its coverage, there might be derision, but it wouldn’t be seen as biased. The debates and Election Night are crucial times to get legitimate analysis, and there is the perception that MSNBC will have much less of it as a result of the changes.
Media outlets receive pressure from outside sources; it’s just the nature of the business. Readers, listeners, viewers, advertisers, outside groups all respond in some form. But when a media outlet responds that quickly and forcibly, the action encourages more complaints since they have a good chance to succeed.
Newt Gingrich led a charge in 1995 against PBS, threatening to zero their funding. And he had the power to do so, being the Speaker of the House. The NewsHour had two centrists: Mark Shields and David Gergen. Then the tide turned into right-wing biased sources to worl alongside Shields: Paul Gigot and then David Brooks – going from balanced to right-wing biased. And that isn’t even considering the damage from Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who was chairman of the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting under George W. Bush.
The media, even the corporate-dominated MSM, is supposed to engage in an appearance of integrity. After making a complete turnaround on a dime based solely on a few right-wing comments at a financial loss to the organization, the reputation has been tattered and torn. For that, and the horrible precedent it sets, MSNBC network president Phil Griffin and the management of MSNBC definitely earn this week’s Media Putz.