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MSNBC’s tie to NBC network dooms it to failure, as its hosting of the Republican debate illustrates 5/4/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Debate, Matthews, MSNBC, NBC, Olbermann, Republican.

Before there was cable TV news, the ABC, CBS, and NBC broadcast networks followed 2 basic rules in their newscasts. First, provide responsible coverage of government issues to ensure that the FCC renews their networks’ broadcast licenses. Second, provide newscasts that appeal to everyone, given that the alienation of any type of viewer would reduce their audience sizes relative to the other two networks. However, these rules make no sense for cable news channels, which face greater competition, can take greater risks because they do not own licenses that can be rescinded by government, and have a need to attract specialized audiences given that the networks already offer one-size-fits-all news. So far, political ideology has emerged as the key basis for specialization, with CNN now the preferred cable news channel for the Left, and Fox News for the Right. But MSNBC has been stuck, reluctant to move left or right, because any ideological association might tarnish namesake NBC’s self-proclaimed reputation for “objectivity,” and risk the broadcast licenses of its corporate parent and affiliates. To square the circle, MSNBC has tried to offer both the partisanship cable viewers demand and the objectivity its corporate parent expects by featuring 2 conservatives and 2 liberals in its primetime lineup. But it is the liberals, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, who have become the face of MSNBC and who fronted the Republican debate on MSNBC last Thursday. Caught in the uncomfortable position of featuring 2 partisan liberals in this debate programming, NBC News senior VP Phil Griffin tried to pass-off Olbermann as an objective journalist, claiming that he knows to leave his opinions at home when he anchors events and that he “can tell when it’s appropriate to express himself in a commentary and when to be a journalist.” Mr. Griffin is taking his audience for fools, while only fooling himself that MSNBC can compete against CNN and Fox without freedom from the rules of broadcast news.


1. Larry - 5/5/07

Of the two, Matthews is the most pathetic, having ‘led the charge’ against Clinton during Monicagate (as I recall, Hardball was #1 during those early cable days, wasn’t it?) only to be jerked back into the liberal fold post-impeachment. However, Olbermann’s snarky shots at O’Reilly over the years endear him to the left but leave him lifeless in the ever-growing Cable game.

Griffin could have rationalized Matthews as his ‘objective’ Front Man more easily – the fact that he choose Olbermann says only one thing to me….he’s not paying much attention to MSNBC, and that suggests MSNBC is not long for this world.

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