DR Tucker over at Political Animal wrote an interesting article, Forward Thinking. It’s about MSNBC’s supposed problem with breaking through in the ratings game. He makes the provocative suggestion that the network give Naomi Klein a show. But this, I think, just highlights the problem with having a liberal network. And it highlights the problem with MSNBC generally.
MSNBC is not going to give a show to someone who is an outspoken proponent of economic liberalism. It’s too dangerous to the rich people who own the network and its too unappealing to the people who advertise on the network. Remember: television is not about ratings; it is about advertising. While it is true that people want to advertise to the 25-54 demographic, they don’t want to do it when the show so aggressively attacks the major advertisers.
I am surprised that most people don’t remember what happens in the movie Network. Everyone remembers Howard Beale getting “mad as hell.” And maybe they remember that the ratings go way up for the show he’s on. But the head of the network, Arthur Jensen, doesn’t like it. So he has a little talk with Beale, who thinks he is speaking to God. (He might as well be!) So Beale abandons his populism for a message about how we are all meaningless cogs in the machinery of multinational capitalism. Ratings plummet so the producers of the show have Beale assassinated.
That’s the story of Network. And anyone who thinks that the people who own MSNBC are any different than those who own Fox News are deluded. None of them care about same sex marriage or abortion or even foreign wars. But they all care very much about having a political system that is rigged against the majority and for all the rich folks like themselves.
But there are other things. MSNBC (sort of like the modern Democratic Party) has shown it to be a amazingly disloyal outfit. Martin Bashir got fired over a minor thing. Ed Schultz was taken from prime time to the weekends and finally early evenings. And then, of course, there was Keith Olbermann, who was badly treated long before he finally got canned. All of these men are very passionate and that is something that MSNBC apparently doesn’t accept. (Well, it accepts it for Al Sharpton because he’s a legend and, what the hell, he’s not in prime time either.) It’s much better to have Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow, who are both really good, but not especially passionate.
It’s a well worn stereotype that liberals aren’t passionate. And to prove this, people point to Mark Shields. It’s true that the liberals that the mainstream media put on television tend not to be passionate. But that’s just because they’ve decided that passionate liberals aren’t suitable for television. Why? Because liberals on television aren’t passionate! Cenk Uygur has talked about this. MSNBC originally hired him because of his fiery liberal rhetoric. But once he was there, they complained about his fiery liberal rhetoric.
In addition to this, I just don’t see a liberal network ever being as successful as a conservative network. It isn’t because liberals aren’t as into politics as conservatives. Rather, the reason that people tune into conservative media is for the dopamine rush they get from the constant diet of fear and outrage. Liberals just don’t have the same resources on the fear issue. When it comes to outrage, there is a lot; but it is an outrage over systemic issues. You don’t feed it with constant small stories.
There is one thing that would greatly help MSNBC ratings: another Republican White House. That will greatly increase viewership as liberals reach out for any shelter in the storm for another four or eight years of everyone’s favorite game show, “Let’s Give More Money to the Rich and Claim it is for Freedom!” And I’m sure the owners of MSNBC would love that: more advertising revue and lower estate taxes. Liberalism rocks!