It’s hard to imagine what the thought process was behind the ultra-liberalization of MSNBC. When the network started, it seemed aimed at being just another 24-hour news channel that we didn’t need. But when Keith Olbermann caught fire in primetime, the powers-that-be decided that what America was really thirsty for was a liberal alternative to Fox News. What they didn’t realize was that Fox News was successful precisely because they were an alternative to everything else out there. CNN was already giving viewers their liberal alternative to Fox. To try and appeal to the small percentage of viewers who didn’t think CNN was liberal enough was an ill-advised gamble.
Today, the fruits of that gamble have begun to rot. Rachel Maddow did well enough when she had Olbermann’s lead-in, but Chris Hayes has single-handedly sunk their entire primetime lineup. Now it seems that network president Phil Griffin is ready to get Hayes out of there, and rumor has it that daytime personalities Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid will be joining him in the unemployment line.
A Band-Aid on a Gaping Wound
Unfortunately for MSNBC, it’s unlikely that swapping out anchors is the answer. Ratings are down across the board. Not only are they getting creamed by Fox, but they’re also failing to even meet the challenge of CNN. With some of the worst journalism in modern times, CNN should be an easy target to hit. Instead of providing viewers with the alternative they might really appreciate – a straight-up, down the middle, unbiased look at current events – they seem intent on turning their channel into the cable equivalent of DailyKos. And that’s never going to work.
For fifteen years, liberals have been on a near-constant tirade against conservative media. Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and so forth. Seldom, however, did they include in their rants a plea for a left-wing equivalent to these shows. Why would they? Convinced that “reality has a liberal bias,” they were more than happy to get their facts from traditional outlets. They don’t want to sit in front of the TV and be forced to admit that their chosen “news” is just as unbalanced as they slam Fox for being. They want to watch the nightly news broadcasts on the Big 3 and pretend that they’re getting the unfiltered truth. Or, more tellingly, they want to watch Jon Stewart and pretend that hearing jokes about the news is the same as hearing the news.
MSNBC is a concept whose time has come and gone, if it ever had a time to begin with. If they’re determined to keep it up and running, they should focus less on political argument and more on the news. You’re not going to out-Fox Fox. With CNN at its weakest point, content-wise, in the history of the channel, it gives MSNBC the perfect opportunity to present something truly different.
Then again, we’re talking about a channel that still puts Al Sharpton on the air every day, so what are the chances they’re going to do something sensible?