MSNBC President Admits: Lineup Tilts Leftward

Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC has finally admitted what everyone knew to be the case: his network's talk lineup tilts leftward. This type of admission is quite rare in media circles. Usually when high-level media types are confronted with evidence their product is biased, they issue silly blanket denials that anyone can see through as mere corporate shillery.

Griffin's admission came in a recent New York Times article which instead of being concerned about journalism's institutional credibility as it has when covering Fox News, predictably celebrated the network's decision to become the network for Bush haters:

Lest there be any doubt that the cable channel believes there is ratings gold in shows that criticize the administration with the same vigor with which Fox News’s hosts often champion it, two NBC executives acknowledged yesterday [Nov. 5] that they were talking to Rosie O’Donnell about a prime-time show on MSNBC.

During the nine months she spent on “The View” before departing abruptly last spring, Ms. O’Donnell raised viewership notably. She did so while lamenting the unabated casualties of the Iraq war and advocating the right to gay marriage, among other positions.

Under one option, Ms. O’Donnell would take the 9 p.m. slot each weeknight on MSNBC, pitting her against “Larry King Live” on CNN and “Hannity & Colmes” on Fox News.

But even without Ms. O’Donnell, MSNBC already presents a three-hour block of nighttime talk — Chris Matthews’s “Hardball” at 7, Mr. Olbermann at 8, and “Live With Dan Abrams” at 9 — in which the White House takes a regular beating. The one early-evening program on MSNBC that is often most sympathetic to the administration, “Tucker” with Tucker Carlson at 6 p.m., is in real danger of being canceled, said one NBC executive, who, like those who spoke of Ms. O’Donnell, would do so only on condition of anonymity.

Having a prime-time lineup that tilts ever more demonstrably to the left could be risky for General Electric, MSNBC’s parent company, which is subject to legislation and regulation far afield of the cable landscape. Officials at MSNBC emphasize that they never set out to create a liberal version of Fox News.

“It happened naturally,” Phil Griffin, a senior vice president of NBC News who is the executive in charge of MSNBC, said Friday, referring specifically to the channel’s passion and point of view from 7 to 10 p.m. “There isn’t a dogma we’re putting through. There is a ‘Go for it.’”

Fox News consistently denies any political bias in its programming. But whether by design or not, MSNBC is managing to add viewers at a moment when its hosts echo the country’s disaffection with President Bush.

The channel has done so much as Fox News did beginning in 1996, when the president was Bill Clinton, a Democrat. On some nights recently, Mr. Olbermann has even come tantalizingly close to surpassing the ratings of the host he describes as his nemesis, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, at least among viewers ages 25 to 54, which is the demographic cable news advertisers prefer. Most of the time, though, Mr. O’Reilly outdraws Mr. Olbermann by about 1.5 million viewers over all at the same hour, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Still, as its most recognizable face, MSNBC has marshaled behind Mr. Olbermann, who on July 3, in an eight-minute “special comment” at the close of his show, addressed President Bush directly and called on him to resign. Two months later, the channel chose Mr. Olbermann to serve as the principal host of its coverage of a major prime-time address by Mr. Bush.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013