NYTimes: Audience 'Leans Left' on Cable... or Not!

I can't believe we all missed this one from November 6th, but The New York Times read the cable TV ratings tea leaves and decided that the left is "riding a ratings wave" to dominate the medium. Using the supposed "ratings wave" that the NYTimes imagines has propelled Keith Olbermann to some sort of success story, they have decided that it's all good on cable for the left. Yet, any look at the real ratings makes it hard to understand the Times' claims unless they have based all their hopes on mere wishful thinking instead of factual proof. Not only did the Times wildly exaggerate Keith Olbermann's success but they went as far as to say that Olbermann was "tantalizingly close" to rival Bill O'Reilly's ratings -- a claim that the Times is off the mark with by nearly 2 million viewers! As it turns out the "ratings wave" the Times is so excited about seems more like a trickle and could hardly be taken as evidence of some sort of major shift in viewer preferences. Obviously the "paper of record" is trying hard to create their own reality here! In "Cable Channel Nods to Ratings and Leans Left" the Times reported the obvious drift left that MSNBC has been taking, a direction the cable station was poised to drive further off the cliff with the addition of a new Rosie O'Donnell slime fest -- the one that didn't pan out due to Rosie's queering the deal. But, the analysis thoroughly missed the mark and amounted far more to an Olbermann wet dream than reality. The Times reported that MSNBC was leaning their programing ever further left with hosts Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Dan Abrams, and Joe Scarborough -- who is going further to the left every day -- all of whom are airing more and more leftward leaning content and are ruling the cable venue's opinion shows. The then expected addition of O'Donnell would have cemented MSNBC as the bastion of the far left even though MSNBC execs told the Times that they "never set out to create a liberal version of Fox News," but that their veer leftward had "happened naturally."
“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.’”
What ever the case, if MSNBC decides to become the anti-Fox and find themselves the station of the lunatic left fringe, then it had better be prepared for permanent low ratings. Not the best business model, to be sure. But, the Times thinks this is great and they point to the ... *cough*... success... of Countdown, with Keith Olbermann as proof that this really could work. Here is the laugher of the piece:
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...
Huh? They cite the "ratings wave" Olbie has had as proof of this amazing feat of ratings success that has shown MSNBC that they can slam their programming leftward and still make it in the big leagues. But, even as they do reveal that O'Reilly beats Olbie by "1.5 million viewers over all" (and what other REAL measurement is there?), they try their best to make Olbie seem a great success story. For instance, The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News sometimes reaches upwards to nearly 3 million viewers, in fact on April 16th it reached 3.546 million, yet Countdown with Keith Olbermann rarely tops 1 million viewers (the Times piece quotes "773,000 viewers a night"). So, with O'Reilly at least doubling, sometimes trebling, Olbermann's audience, it looks like Olbermann is as "tantalizingly close" to besting O'Reilly as Christopher Columbus was to discovering a new route to the Indies when he discovered the New World. Missed it by that much. In the end, what is really true is that their claims of great ratings guns for Olbermann is more spin than fact. Certainly MSNBC can puff themselves up as the anti-Fox, but that shows only that they are running behind Fox and that Fox has won the game for branding and viewers. MSNBC is admitting that Fox has set the agenda and that Fox is the one to beat. But, this doesn't deter the Times who is desperately trying to prop the floundering MSNBC up as the best thing since sliced bread. Tellingly, the piece does not contrast the real ratings of the two stations, especially that of O'Reilly and Olbermann. Showing the real stats would make all their high praise seem hollow, indeed. I'll not post it here because you have to see it larger than we can post here, but here is a link if you want to see a great chart that shows how badly Olbermann does compared to O'Reilly. Nope, it's not going as swimmingly as the Times wants to make it seem, for sure. **Update** Just for information, the website I linked with the chart above has some other great TV related charts and trends. check it out at tvbythenumbers.com.