Jesse Ventura: MSNBC Canceled My Show For Opposing Iraq War

Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura says that MSNBC canceled his cable program "Jesse Ventura's America" back in 2003 because he was opposed to the Iraq war.

According to the former professional wrestler, the network continued to pay his salary despite his termination in order to prevent him from speaking his antiwar views elsewhere.

Such was reported by the Los Angeles Times in an interview with Ventura published Sunday (h/t Ed Morrissey):

What happened to "Jesse Ventura's America," which ran briefly on MSNBC in 2003?

It was awful. I was basically silenced. When I came out of office, I was the hottest commodity out there. There was a bidding war between CNN, Fox and MSNBC to get my services. MSNBC ultimately won. I was being groomed for a five day-a-week TV show by them. Then, all of a sudden, weird phone calls started happening: "Is it true Jesse doesn't support the war in Iraq?"

My contract said I couldn't do any other cable TV or any news shows, and they honored and paid it for the duration of it. So in essence I had my silence purchased. Why do you think you didn't hear from me for three years? I was under contract. They wouldn't even use me as a consultant!

When you live in Mexico, your houses all have names. I almost named my house Casa MSNBC because they bought it. I was paid like a professional athlete, and I got very wealthy. For doing nothing.

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey isn't buying it:

Needless to say, our former governor’s show didn’t last long, and for good reason.  By Christmas Eve of that year, Ventura got permanently shelved:

“I’ve decided to focus the majority of our resources on Monday-Friday primetime in 2004,” the cable news channel’s president, Erik Sorenson. said in a memo to his staff Tuesday night. “Consequently, the holiday hiatus for ‘Jesse Ventura’s America’ will continue indefinitely.” … Sorenson said that Ventura will continue to serve as a political commentator for MSNBC during the 2004 campaign season.

So why didn’t MS-NBC exercise its option to have Ventura as one of its talking heads?  Even MS-NBC wasn’t that desperate. 

Mediaite's Robert Quigley also appears dubious:

Jesse Ventura’s America was on the air for less than four months, from October to December of 2003, and aired only on Saturdays. According to the Star-Tribune (article no longer online; see post #24 on the thread), the show averaged 249,000 viewers — a 39% bump up from the nature documentaries and such previously in the slot, but not exactly a home run. Whether MSNBC dropped Ventura for his political views may ultimately be known only by Ventura and the network, but he hardly had unimpeachable stats.

The New York Post reported in October 2005 (via LexisNexis, link not available):

Ventura had a short-lived Saturday night series, "Jesse Ventura's America," that ran for two months on MSNBC in 2003. He also was seen on NBC in 2001 as an analyst for NBC's failed Xtreme Football League venture with World Wrestling Entertainment.

The MSNBC show, which languished in development for nearly a year, was plagued by difficulties almost from the get-go because Ventura was difficult to work with, production sources said at the time. 

Variety reported shortly after Ventura was pulled:

Even though Ventura had improved the ratings for the timeslot, MSNBC insiders said the program was simply too expensive to produce. Show was taped in St. Paul, Minn., before a live studio audience.

Originally, the show was set to air weeknights. During development, however, MSNBC execs in Secaucus, N.J. -- where the news net is headquartered--grew concerned about the show's direction and scaled it back to a weekly program.

Adding it all up, the skepticism concerning Ventura's claim has merit. After all, antipathy towards the war in Iraq began in the summer of 2003 highlighted by presidential candidate Howard Dean's outspoken antiwar sentiments.

Folks seem to forget that Dean was a media darling at that point capturing a tremendous amount of attention and forcing other Democrat presidential candidates to change their views on the war. 

Beyond this, the press was also moving in that direction before Ventura's program aired, so much so that the term "Bush Derangement Syndrome" was actually coined by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer three weeks before "Jesse Ventura's America" was canceled:

It has been 25 years since I discovered a psychiatric syndrome (for the record: ``Secondary Mania,'' Archives of General Psychiatry, November 1978), and in the interim I haven't been looking for new ones. But it's time to don the white coat again. A plague is abroad in the land.

Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency -- nay -- the very existence of George W. Bush.

Now, I cannot testify to Howard Dean's sanity before this campaign, but five terms as governor by a man with no visible tics and no history of involuntary confinement is pretty good evidence of a normal mental status. When he avers, however, that ``the most interesting'' theory as to why the president is ``suppressing'' the 9/11 report is that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance, it's time to check on thorazine supplies.

Taking this a step further, "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" premiered on MSNBC in March 2003. Does that suggest the network was fearful of antiwar sentiments on the air?

For what it's worth, LexisNexis identified 97 instances of the word "antiwar" or "anti-war" appearing in programs transcribed by the network between June 1 and December 25, 2003.

Whatever the reason for Ventura's termination, here's a clip from a "Jesse Ventura's America" episode:

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.