2013, A Year MSNBC Would Like to Forget

During the past 12 months, NewsBusters has chronicled the downward fall of the liberal cable television network known as MSNBC. Not only has the channel dropped by double digits in prime-time and daily ratings, but the network also lost two of its most prominent hosts in very public, very embarrassing ways.

As a result, L. A. Ross of thewrap.com noted in an article that the people in the “Lean Forward” channel "might rather forget 2013," which he noted is when MSNBC will end the year in third place among the cable news networks in total day viewers, due to a loss of 20 percent from 2012.

In a year of major news stories -- the Boston Marathon bombing, National Security Agency leaks, the government shutdown -- the story behind the story has never been more important,” Ross stated.

As a result, MSNBC president Phil Griffin told thewrap.com: “We had a tough first half year.”

“I do think that we were hurt a little bit by the excitement and energy and the amount of time that people watched in the last half of 2012,” Griffin added. “I think there was what I call a little bit of a political hangover in 2013.”

Ross responded:

For a network that is the self-proclaimed “Place for Politics,” a political hangover is the very last thing MSNBC could want.

The trouble is that Americans have continued to sour on politics -- president Obama ends the year with a record 55 percent disapproval rating, and Congress has seen its lowest average yearly approval rating ever at 14 percent, according to Gallup.

It should then come as no surprise that while MSNBC finishes second in prime time, it has lost 29 percent of its audience from this time last year, drops that Ross declared are the biggest fall among the cable news networks.

“Spring saw the ugliest ratings for MSNBC,” the reporter noted, when the channel came in fourth place in April and May after CNN’s Headline News -- thanks in large part to HLN anchor Nancy Grace’s unrelenting coverage of the Jodi Arias trial.

The premiere of All In with Chris Hayes in May initially drew modest ratings, but the 8 p.m. show soon hit a slump that even dragged down 9 p.m. veteran The Rachel Maddow Show.

In August, MSNBC moved Ed Schultz’s The Ed Show back to the weekday lineup after bumping it to weekends just six months before. Schultz was suspended from the network back in 2011 after calling conservative commentator Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on his radio show.

By the time June rolled around, the New York Times quoted Griffin saying of breaking news: “We’re not the place for that. Our brand is not that.”

He attempted to “clarify” those comments to Ross by saying: “I think a lot of people misinterpreted what I said to the New York Times, including the New York Times.”

Griffin said MSNBC is known first and foremost as the network for progressive political discourse, and he sees little reason to change – even though CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker said recently that he’s moving the network into more personality-driven territory.

“They can talk all they want,” Griffin said. “We know we have great, you know, hosts, we have great shows, we have great producers -- we’ve been doing this for a while. [But] I like a challenge.”

And the network president got what he wished for when a pair of crises broke in the latter part of the year. Martin Bashir, a star on British television before he moved to ABC in 2005, hosted an MSNBC show for three years before resigning in November over disgusting on-air comments about Sarah Palin.

“Just two weeks before Bashir’s departure, Alec Baldwin -- host of the short-lived late night show Up Late -- split with the network after yelling a gay slur at a paparazzo,” Ross continued. “MSNBC suspended Baldwin the next day.”

“It was unfortunate,” Griffin said about the exits. “I believed in both of those hosts.”

“Going into 2014, Griffin believes the mid-term elections will turn viewers back on to politics and help MSNBC regain lost ground,” Ross added. In the meantime, he says his focus is on developing new talent and expanding MSNBC’s outreach online.

“If you don’t evolve, you die,” he said.

That's an interesting comment from a person who oversees a channel that has made only one change in response to its tumbling ratings. That movement was to put Ed Schultz back into weekdays, but not in the slot where he drew much bigger ratings than Chris Hayes.

And Griffin's comment reinforces my belief that MSNBC is hanging on by its fingernails until the mid-term elections arrive in 2014, when all their troubles will disappear as liberals flock back to their cable TV home to hear just how evil Republicans are and what needs to happen for Democrats to hold onto the Senate and take back the House so Obama will avoid hearing those two horrible words: "lame duck."

Randy Hall
Randy Hall