September 8, 2008

"The most disappointing shift is to see the partisan attitude move from prime time into what’s supposed to be straight news programming."

MSNBC is giving up on Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as co-anchors for election coverage. The quote -- in this NYT article about the decision, comes from Davidson Goldin, who used to be the editorial director of MSNBC. He may be very sad to see news coverage go partisan, but that can't be why MSNBC pulled the plug on Keith and Chris.
Executives at the channel’s parent company, NBC Universal, had high hopes for MSNBC’s coverage of the political conventions. Instead, the coverage frequently descended into on-air squabbles between the anchors, embarrassing some workers at NBC’s news division, and quite possibly alienating viewers. Although MSNBC nearly doubled its total audience compared with the 2004 conventions, its competitive position did not improve, as it remained in last place among the broadcast and cable news networks. In prime time, the channel averaged 2.2 million viewers during the Democratic convention and 1.7 million viewers during the Republican convention.

The success of the Fox News Channel in the past decade along with the growth of political blogs have convinced many media companies that provocative commentary attracts viewers and lures Web browsers more than straight news delivered dispassionately.
It was all about ratings, wasn't it? The decision to use this format, the "high hopes," and the pulling of the plug.

43 comments:

Roger J. said...

Follow the money is always good advice.

Simon said...

If the decision to bring them in was based on money, one's forced to wonder what they made of Air America's experience.

Also, it's not clear from the article whether they're being demoted or simply removed from a particular beat - it seems from the article that they aren't fired, they're still doing their regular shows just not the election coverage - is that right?

Michael_H said...

I miss Tim Russert. His death is the reason why Olbermann and Matthews have come unglued on the air. Each believes he should be he one given the Meet the Press gig. Each seems to believe that whoever yells loudest will get the job, no matter the content of that yell.

There are no grown-ups at MSNBC. Russert would have knocked heads had this happened while he was alive.

I think what was meant by the lead quote was "The most disappointing shift is to see the MSNBC ratings slide to the bottom of the list, positioned somewhere between Animal Planet and the Oxygen channel. We're losing money faster than Bear Stearns. Jeffrey Immelt is taking major pipe for GE's earnings drop and the word has come down that MSNBC better get its ratings and revenue up or all hell will break loose."

Cedarford said...

It wasn't just ratings and money. The problem really wasn't with Matthews, who has been around a long time as a bloviator and he has gotten along fairly well with co-workers and management.

The disruption at MSNBC that GE management tried to repair with reassignments seems to mostly fall on Keith Olbermann and a couple of producers he hired - as "high maintenance, difficult to work with" individuals.
Naturally, Fox is delighted to report on it, as is Matt Drudge.

Sloanasaurus said...

Lets get real. As much as people believe that Fox news is right, it is far more balanced than MSNBC. Take O'reilly for example, he is a moderate conservative not a partisan. Keith Olberman is a partisan.

I always loved MSNBC when debating the war, they would pick some anti-war guy to represent the right like Pat Bucannan

rcocean said...

MSNBC was last in 2004 behind Fox and CNN and they're are still last. Olbermann, their "Star", still only draws 1/2 of O'Reilly's audience. Rush probably has an audience 10x that of Olbermann.

Olberloon besides being a partisan is a terrible anchor - he had nothing interesting to say, couldn't interview anyone to the right of Ted Kennedy, and got in squabbles with his co-workers.

He wasn't made anchor because of ratings but because of his left wing politics.

Wurly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveR said...

The most idealogical "right wing" person on FNC, Sean Hannity, appears on a show with Alan Colmes and frequently talks with persons from other side, although the show itself tends to the right just because Hannity is much more dynamic than Colmes. Olbermann doesn't even attempt to be nonpartisan and its clear he does not have the intellect and/or self confidence to engage with anyone who doesn't see things exactly his way (see Dana Milbank).

John Z. said...

I have seen no evidence that this is the case, but I would love to know that it was Bill O'Reilly who got Olbermann canned. I imagine Olbermann pounding the desk with his size 14 shoe, purple with impotent rage.

rcocean said...

Steve,

You're completely correct. For some reason, if a show is truly balanced - then its "right wing". By truly balanced I mean the host and guests are 50/50 liberal and conservative.

Not like ABC where "balance" usually consists of 1 liberal host, 2 liberal reporters, and George Will.

rhhardin said...

The illusion of the news format is essential to the success of soap, they just discovered.

Harwood said...

Of course it's all about ratings. But what are ratings all about? They're about audience.

Too many viewers are sick of the blatant left-wing bias of Olbermann and Matthews. I don't blame them. During the conventions I switched briefly to MSNBC for a peek, and I just couldn't stand listening to those two.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I think what's really driving Olberman around the bend is that he finds his 'former sportscaster makes good' position threatened.

Original Mike said...

I watch Fox and I watch MSNBC, although I am no longer able to watch Olberman. There is no one analogous to Olberman on Fox. And I'm convinced they choose Pat Buchanan as a conservative voice to make conservatives look bad.

Peter V. Bella said...

I wonder if Olbermann is getting the message here? Straighten up and fly right or go back to your previous profession; trading baseball cards. That is the only thing he ever excelled at.

Original Mike said...

I couldn't even watch halftime of the Bears/Colts game last night (on NBC) because of Olberman's presence.

garage mahal said...

Rightwing Hissy Fit Accomplished.

Maguro said...

Never underestimate the power of the VRWC.

The Drill SGT said...

rcocean said...Not like ABC where "balance" usually consists of 1 liberal host, 2 liberal reporters, and George Will.


LOL, you mean like Bloggongheads where two Obama supporters (Kaus and Wright) go at it from both sides of the Democratic party?

Or WI NPR, where they always pair a member of the National Socialist front with Althouse, that obama voting tool of the VRWC? At NPR, balance is always having two sides of the Democratic party debate: Far left and Left-center

Original Mike said...

So, somehow abysmal ratings translates to "Rightwing Hissy Fit". You're in denial.

Brent said...

It was all about ratings, wasn't it? The decision to use this format, the "high hopes," and the pulling of the plug.

Actually, it was more about the entire NBC brand being damaged. The article goes on to say:

Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams, the past and present anchors of “NBC Nightly News,” have told friends and colleagues that they are finding it tougher and tougher to defend the cable arm of the news division, even while they anchored daytime hours of convention coverage on MSNBC and contributed commentary each evening.

Tom Brokaw is actually the main guy behind this, according to my sources (2 high-school friends now at NBC News). Brokaw still has more pull at NBC than anyone else in the news division, including Brian Williams. Brokaw has been slowly burning at the Olbermann, Matthews branding at MSNBC for almost 2 years, and the death of Russert, someone Brokaw thought represented the best of NBC, only quickend his anger at the quality of questioning that Matthews in particular makes in those times that should be non-partisan.


Jeff Zucker was scared almost s***tless after the "NBC. NBC. NBC" chant at the Republican Convention, feraful that the network would begin to spiral into public image problem similar to CBS' Rathergate. CBS News has still not recovered from Rathergate in this last 4 years.

According to three staff members, Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal, and Steve Capus, president of NBC News, considered flying to the Republican convention in Minnesota last week to address the lingering tensions.

Richard Dolan said...

Rather than comparing MSNBC to Fox, I think the better contrast is with CNN. For a long time, CNN was also thought to be a branch of the DNC's media department. But they have been consciously trying to tone that down. I was switching between Fox and CNN after Palin's speech. In addition to the anchors (Wolf B and Andeson C) and a few reporters, the "talking heads" analyzing her speech were Donna Brazile, a "community organizer" from Houston, Carl Bernstein and Jeff Toobin. Brazile and the "organizer" were predictable; Toobin dismissed Palin as "smug and sarcastic" (he would know about both); and Bernstein went on a tirade about how the "radical right" had reclaimed the RNC, as proven by the enthusiastic, over the top response to Palin and Rudy on the convention floor. When the commentary switched back to Blitzer and Cooper, one of the regular reporters (King) noted that it was commentary and descriptions like "radical right" that gave people the impression that some in the media had a "favorite" team. He pointed out that there was no similar commentary or use of words like "radical left" during the DNC, and that no one had even bothered to note that a very large percentage of the DNC delagates were members of the teachers union or SEIU. None of the CNN reporters challenged his assessment.

The point is not that the on-air players at CNN aren't almost entirely Dems; I think they probably are. But the degree of self-awareness that King showed (and was willing to acknowledge on air) was just more than MSNBC could ever manage (or Olberman would tolerate). There is obviously an audience willing to play the role of choir in receiving the preachiness that MSNBC reduced itself to. It's just a very limited audience. An audience looking for "analysis" of an event like Palin's speech is probably able to tell the difference between cheerleading and commentary. Cheerleading was mostly what Matthews and Olberman were about, and so most people went elsewhere. My guess is that CNN was the big beneficiary.

Salamandyr said...

As an aside to this, one of the truly depressing aspects of the current debate is that I keep seeing people unwilling to even accept news that comes from whichever network they find "suspect".

Fox News has a right wing slant, but they still do honest journalism. It's depressing the number of times that I've seen liberals deny the veracity of a story simply because the sourcing was Fox News.

I haven't seen that behavior from conservatives yet, but is MSNBC continues in this vein (lets hope the dropping of Matthews and Olbermann indicates a change), I expect it will become common.

That will be a sad day, when both sides decide to deny reality because it's reported by the wrong people.

SteveR said...

Come on Richard, CNN has David Gergan on to balance things out. /sarcasm

Original Mike said...

Jeff Zucker was scared almost s***tless after the "NBC. NBC. NBC" chant at the Republican Convention

I bet his fear was nothing compared to Andrea Mitchell's panic when attacked by the balloon wielding Republican thugs. (kidding)

Original Mike said...

On a recent Friday afternoon, a graphic labeled “Breaking News” asked: “How many houses does Palin add to the Republican ticket?” Mr. Griffin called the graphic “an embarrassment.”

Gee, Mr. Griffin, ya think?

Pogo said...

I rarely watch TV news except breaking news, and even then I often watch with the sound off. I'm not joking. No, I don't watch FOX either; it appears to be written for sixth graders.

At this point, given their decades of slobbering over the left and demonizing the right, there is nothing the networks or cable news companies could possibly do to lure me back in to watch them.

They need to close their news divisions and just do straight-ahead acknowledged politcal crap, which I won't watch, or start over entirely. Fire everyone. Everyone. And begin again. Establish a new reputation.

Ain't gonna happen, though. Hell, I watch "The Soup" more often than TV news, but now I have quit because Olbermann was on it in person, twice, and not because he was mocked. Dammit. Can't they even show the mockery of TV shows without endorsing the left?

Oh, and may I say goodbye to the NYTimes and our own St Paul Pioneer Press?
Adios!
We hardly knew ye.

PatCA said...

MSNBC is straight news delivered dispassionately? LOL!!

They just don't get it, do they?

Pogo said...

I don't understand WHY they want more viewers, if indeed we are simply the Evil Other that Matthews and Olbermann describe and detest.

The secret is out. The media centers think the right is evil. Isn't it just a bit cynical, if not evil, to even try to go after their demographic just to increase ratings?

Well, screw 'em. I no longer give a damn if they stay or go, remain steadfast or change. Goodbye to all that.

Glenn Howes said...

I have not been watching Football Night in America on NBC because of my distaste for Mr. Olbermann. This must be a pretty common phenomenon, because Mr. O. was nowhere to be found on the promos for the game they show during the Notre Game on Saturday. Jerome Betis, yes. Chris Collinsworth, yes. Tiki Barber, uh huh. Madden, of course, Michaels, yep. Where's Mr. O.?

Also, Mr. O. is not even recognizable as himself on the group photo they chose for the Football Night in America website.

What value is Mr. O. to NBC in this position if his very presence repels people? Do not his bosses care about shareholder value?

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

Even though I don't agree with Olbermann's theology, I did sometimes watch and enjoy Countdown when it first came on. Some of the segments were entertaining. Since then, however, he has become so caustic (with BDS and FOX envy) that he just isn't interesting anymore.

knox said...

Ain't gonna happen, though. Hell, I watch "The Soup" more often than TV news, but now I have quit because Olbermann was on it in person, twice, and not because he was mocked. Dammit. Can't they even show the mockery of TV shows without endorsing the left?


Pogo, same with me. I got annoyed by the fact that the Soup is shamelessly un-PC but then would feel the need every now and then through a joke or something to reassure the audience, "Don't worry, you can laugh: we're liberals here." Sorry you try to be sanctimonious on the same show you're making fart or fat jokes, I stop watching.

LarsPorsena said...

I have to admit that hearing O..Man
doing the NFL highlights caused a gag reaction and I had to change the channel. Thanks for the folks who posted above about the same thing. I thought it was just me.

Original Mike said...

NBC lost me at halftime and I never got around to switching back for the 2nd half.

vbspurs said...

Rachel Maddow just got her own show, starting today.

I would like to say that I like her, and a part of me does, but after the Palin pick she has seemed bitter and tacky.

Let's hold out hope that she continues in that vein, because she was amongst those who were leading the criticism that first week -- and it destroyed MSNBC.

Joe said...

Back to the subject; I didn't watch the MSNBC coverage, but I did watch NBC coverage one night only because that channel was already on. It was the worse coverage I remember ever seeing of a political event. It was extremely partisan, hateful and should be a huge embarrassment for a network news department.

I dislike watching talking heads from the far political extreme, but if you're going to have one side, at least have the other so you can at least get an alternate view (and for heaven's sake, don't get a liberal RINO as a spokesperson, which is what NBC did.)

William said...

After an exhaustive search of all the low dives and gin joints along the waterfront, MSNBC was able to find a talking head more opinionated and harsh than Doberman: Rachel Madcow the new hope of MSNBC....I think the folks at MSNBC express the sentiments of the MSM. Their shows are intolerable for most carbon based life forms, but the MSM watch and discuss them. This gives them an inflated sense of their own importance. The one thing between America and a fascist state is Doberman's vigilant eye. Now he is joined in the lonely watches by Madcow. Rejoice America. A new light begins and increases in the MSNBC studios.

veni vidi vici said...

Of all the providers out there, when it comes to the "straight news programming" portion of the sked, I have found Fox to be the most consistently evenhanded. Brit Hume's evening newscast dishes the stories with a properly jaundiced eye. The commentary period with the roundtable is what it is, with an interesting mix of viewpoints from the edges with Barnes, Kristol and Williams, to more midline stuff from that lovely NPR lady whose name escapes me and Kondracke (who seems always to be mildly constipated); but that's not the "straight news", only the "post-game show" so to speak.

As for the opinion/tabloid programming, it's all so formulaic as to be unwatchable after a few tries, and isn't what the foregoing paragraph is about anyway.

Elliott A said...

Journalism is dead

Fen said...

that lovely NPR lady whose name escapes me

Mara Liasson.

Can anyone explain why the Democrats would refuse to have a debate moderated by Mara and Brit?

Fen said...

According to three staff members, Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal, and Steve Capus, president of NBC News, considered flying to the Republican convention in Minnesota last week to address the lingering tensions.

Shoulda hopped on that plane, Jeff.

Jeff Zucker was scared almost s***tless after the "NBC. NBC. NBC" chant at the Republican Convention, feraful that the network would begin to spiral into public image problem similar to CBS' Rathergate. CBS News has still not recovered from Rathergate in this last 4 years.

Because we're past the point where NBC can regain any credibility.

Fen said...

Better yet, Jeff, ditch the entire crew. Start from scratch and take over FOX's audience. They once had good reporting, but have devolved into Chandra-Lacy-Natalie underwear sniffing rubbernecks.

There's an opening on the right if you want to exploit it.

Fen said...

Okay Jeff, how much cash will it take? What else will you trade for ratings..."you established what you are. We are now merely negotiating the price.”