Why MSNBC Continues to Suck

Keith OlbermannDR 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.

Martin BashirThat’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.

Ed SchultzIn 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!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Why MSNBC Continues to Suck

  1. Klein would never agree to be on MSNBC. Never.

    Watching that Klein video Tucker provides, the most interesting bit to me was around the 24-minute mark where Klein postulates nationalizing the fossil-fuel companies. And applause breaks out. Gore Vidal used to say applause broke out whenever he, in his speeches, mentioned nationalizing the energy companies.

    Even the dimmest conservative bulbs can realize that there’s no competitive advantage to having companies that dig free shit from the ground be profit-based. Aside from collusion, what’s the point? It’s not like one of them is going to invent a nifty new way of digging up free shit and pass those savings on to the consumer.

    Krugman went kinda ape on Klein and those of her ilk who think capitalism is incapable of dealing with climate change. I get where he’s coming from, regarding capitalism as a stone fucking disaster feels extreme and wrong to me too, but I have an increasingly hard time defending anything about it. Since washing machines and refrigerators, what glorious advances has capitalism given us?

    At the very least, anything vaguely important should be publicly controlled. The manufacture and sale of cheese graters or doorbells isn’t probably harmed by a competitive environment. Quite clearly, things like health insurance or resource extraction have no business being run by irresponsible, unaccountable entities. Audiences got that when Gore lectured them in the ’70s and audiences get that now.

    • Ha-Joon Change: Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Number 4, “The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has.”

      I agree with you. I’m still a big believer in a mixed economy. But as our economy becomes more and more tilted toward capitalism, it becomes harder to support. It’s funny: the capitalists are acting very much like the caribou. Their success is leading to their demise. We need the wolfs of government regulation and strong unions to keep the capitalists from destroying the economy and thus themselves. You would think that capitalists would be smarter than deer, but they aren’t. I’ve been amazed to watch it the last couple of decades.

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