Cable News One Upsmanship…

In what may turn out to be the 2010 must read of the year, Gabriel Sherman writes in New York Magazine about the cut throat world of cable news. Why is it a must read? Oh because of things like this…

And so Klein set out to poach Olbermann. At the time, Olbermann had a window to negotiate in his MSNBC contract and Klein made a hard sell. He told Olbermann he could bring Countdown to CNN—the two even discussed which members of Olbermann’s staff would make the move with him. “Jon and I were in very deep discussions on a regular basis for me to go over there,” says Olbermann. “One of the premises was we would have put MSNBC out of business.”

And this…

Walton pushed back on Klein’s plan to hire Olbermann. “I’m not gonna be the guy who’s gonna turn CNN into an opinion network,” he told executives in meetings. But in Klein’s view, CNN already was an opinion network. For an hour each night, Walton tolerated Lou Dobbs’s anti-immigration tirades. Klein pressed Walton to reconsider, but Walton held firm. “I bailed out when it became apparent that the people above [Klein] were less than sanguine about this,” Olbermann tells me.

And this…

Klein faced a possibly insoluble cable-news riddle: How do you build the kind of excitement that draws in viewers without being partisan? At a Time Warner board meeting this spring, Walton was forced to defend CNN’s ratings issues. The pressure on Klein ratcheted up. In April, Klein began talks with British talk-show personality Piers Morgan. In June, he announced that he would hire the famously black-socked and disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer. Klein faced stiff internal resistance to hiring Spitzer. When one CNN executive expressed to Klein the concern that viewers risked being turned off by Spitzer’s hooker scandal, Klein had snapped, “I don’t give a fuck.”

And this…

This past summer, MSNBC announced it was developing a 10 p.m. show for Lawrence O’Donnell to replace reruns of Olbermann. Recently, MSNBC tried to buy the Huffington Post (Huffington Post founder Ken Lerer rejected the offer). The network hired Spike Lee to shoot a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign and developed its own obtuse slogan: “Lean Forward.”

And this…

Recently, Joe Scarborough quietly called political advisers after his name was circulated as a possible candidate in the blogosphere, but he was counseled against it. “Everyone says the same thing,” Scarborough tells me. “Why do you leave where you are to be the 99th-ranking member of the United States Senate?”

And this…

With the explosion of anti-Bush rage after Hurricane Katrina, Olbermann saw an opening. “I wanted to take over this little corner of the world,” he says. He blasted onto the scene by practicing the well-worn political tactic of punching up, attacking Bill O’Reilly, who, at the time—it’s hard to remember now—was TV’s king right-winger. “O’Reilly punched down on Olbermann and brought attention to Keith,” Phil Griffin tells me. Tensions got so bad that in 2009, Zucker and then–Murdoch adviser Gary Ginsberg discussed a secret truce after O’Reilly began attacking G.E. CEO Jeff Immelt. But these days, Olbermann largely ignores his old foe. “There’s just something missing. There’s some fire that’s gone,” Olbermann says. “He looks tired, he sounds tired.” Olbermann has refocused his artillery on Glenn Beck. “He is the spearhead of the moment. It underscores where the right is,” Olbermann says. “He really is the definition of the demagogue.”

And this…

There’s tension between morning and night at MSNBC. “I don’t have an hour to waste for someone just reading Democratic or Republican Party talking points,” says Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, who’s positioned himself as a moderate. “We’ve created a safe house,” he says of his show.

“I have no comment about him,” Olbermann says.

And this…

Last spring, after David Shuster tweeted that he was guest-hosting Countdown while Olbermann was out sick, Olbermann erupted when a blog mentioned Shuster’s tweet and he fired off an e-mail to him saying, “Don’t ever talk about me and medical issues again.” Olbermann’s executive producer later told Shuster that there’s a rule against mentioning Olbermann on Twitter.

And this…

This past May, Klein conducted a secret survey of about 700 people. “Of course we tested to make sure we’re not fucking crazy,” he told me. At first, Spitzer scored abysmally on likability and awareness. Outside of New York, many people simply didn’t know who he was. But after viewing a series of two-minute clips of Spitzer guest-hosting for Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC that spring, Spitzer’s scores improved. Survey participants liked Spitzer’s strong anti–Wall Street views.

And this…

For years, the values of news snobs held considerable sway at MSNBC. “There was a question, Could the subsidiary take a political position?” remembers a former senior executive. Tim Russert, then NBC News’s Washington bureau chief and moderator of Meet the Press, was an Olympian figure inside NBC News, an information hub, a kingmaker, and the scorekeeper to official Washington. To Russert, the rise of a freewheeling cable channel attached to NBC News was worrisome. In response to Chris Matthews’s relentless attacks on the Clintons following the Lewinsky scandal, the White House had threatened to pull guests off Meet the Press. Congressmen would complain, too. “Then Tim would call Andy Lack or Tom Brokaw and say, ‘What the hell?’ ” the executive recalls. Brokaw would often call Griffin and tell him to rein in Matthews. Around this time, G.E. CEO Immelt confronted NBC News head Neal Shapiro. “MSNBC is a dot on the side of a pool ball,” Immelt told Shapiro, “but it’s embarrassing. I don’t like being No. 3.” And with the surge in patriotism following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, NBC CEO Bob Wright told Shapiro that MSNBC should try and outflank Fox on the right. “We have to be more conservative then they are,” Wright told Shapiro pointedly. Swirling graphics of the American flag soon became a fixture on the network along with the tagline “America’s News Channel.”

And there’s this which makes me ask the question, who’s pulling out the long knives for Dan Abrams. I expect some internal combustion at 30 Rock over this section since Dan’s still with NBC…

Abrams’s lack of experience soon became evident. He blew up at producers if a particular graphic or camera shot was off. He micromanaged decisions. During one conference call shortly after he got the job, Abrams shocked Hardball producers when he told Chris Matthews what questions to ask a guest on that night’s show. Adding to the toxic climate, the prime-time talent, most vocally Olbermann, didn’t listen to him. “Dan never really ran it,” Olbermann tells me. “He’s always tried to ride my coattails.” Staffers were in near open revolt after Abrams proposed a new tagline, “MSNBC: Keepin’ It Real.”

And this previously unknown revelation about the cancellation of Crossfire. Take THAT Jon Stewart…

On the morning of January 4, 2005, Tucker Carlson told CNN political director Sam Feist he had accepted a job at MSNBC and was resigning his post as co-host of the much-derided Crossfire. When Carlson left to go to lunch at the Palm, Klein issued a press release of his own that said he was canceling Crossfire, essentially spinning the story that he was ousting Carlson and canceling the show. At lunch, Carlson was surprised when he received a call from the Times’ Bill Carter asking him to respond to Klein’s press release. Carlson was livid, but there was nothing he could do. It was a PR masterstroke for Klein, who earned plaudits in the press for kneecapping Crossfire.

And I could keep going feeding you quotes…but you get the idea. READ IT ALL! READ IT TWICE!

34 Responses to “Cable News One Upsmanship…”

  1. Wow. Just sayin’.

  2. It’s…it’s like..cable news porn. But in a good way..

  3. Wow. It’s like Bob Woodward wrote a cable news book.

    I remember “America’s News Channel”. Every time it showed up on screen, every MSNBC viewer shouted in unison, “WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN?”

  4. — Its audience is less than half the size of Fox’s…liberals tend to pride themselves on being part of the fact-based community…media products..New York Times..PBS NewsHour..make their points without shouting. —

    Or it could just be that there are less-than-half as many liberals as there are conservatives. Nah..couldn’t be that.

  5. …Fox’s rightward flanking maneuver, capturing a disenfranchised part of the audience, was only part of its strategy. The news, especially political news, wasn’t something that happened. It was something that you shaped out of the raw data, brought out of the clay of zhlubby, boring politics, reborn with heroes and villains, triumphs and reverses, never-ending story lines—what TV executives call “flow.” And the beauty of it was that the viewers—the voters—were the protagonists, victims of evil Kenyan socialist overlords, or rebels, coming to take the government back. There was none of the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand relativity crossfire that mirrors the journalism-school ideal of objectivity. All the fire went one way. The viewers, on their couches, were flattered as the most important participants, the foot soldiers in Fox’s army; some of them even voted.

    That nails it.

  6. “Beck is a hired gun who’s benefiting from Fox News.”

    That is very true. Unsaid in the article is that Hannity is equally a beneficiary of Fox News. He just thinks he’s so special.

  7. Hannity was nothing when Fox hired him. He got run out of Atlanta by Neal Boortz. Ailes saw something that no one else wanted to..

  8. I’m turning into Michellefrom on that subject. Without the distasteful references.

  9. The other thing I get out of this article is that everything in cable news-dom is as it should be. CNN was too slow to react once competition entered its domain and was the one left without a chair in a two-chair game. No matter how they try to shuffle their line-up, CNN still will have no brand unless a side is chosen. Likewise, FNC picked the front-facing chair leaving MSNBC no way to compete with it, save stealing a Bill O’Reilly and recreating FNC’s model.

    There doesn’t appear to be enough of a liberal audience for any cable news network to become a full counterpart to FNC. So when the government changed parties, FNC still expanded its lead.

    ^ Laurafromhell

  10. Better ‘from’ than ‘to’.

  11. There doesn’t appear to be enough of a liberal audience for any cable news network to become a full counterpart to FNC.

    And there never will be. Conservatives are a religious lot in general, and can generate a healthy religious fervor for those they consider to be Speaking The Truth. I believe some conservatives watch FNC the same way they go to church: “It’s part of who we are, it’s what we do.” Liberals don’t commit to things like that, which is why they can claim to worship the ground KO and Rachel walk on, but they’re just as likely to read a blog or play a video game as to actually watch them on a consistent basis.

  12. Liberals can only do one or the other? Dang, I get bored if I’m not doing at least two things at once.

  13. How is it that the Parker/Spitzer ‘chemistry’ makes my flesh crawl, and I haven’t even watched the show yet?

  14. ^ HA! That’s a good point, Al. What are liberals ignoring on their TVs in the background?


    If she starts calling Hannity an alcoholic and a drug user, we’re in trouble..

  15. How did you miss this bit about Aaron Brown getting sacked and replaced with Anderson Cooper?

    Ten months later, in November 2005, Klein made his next major move, when, only weeks after signing Aaron Brown to a new contract, he canceled Brown’s 10 p.m. show, NewsNight, and replaced it with Anderson Cooper’s program. Klein believed that Greta Van Susteren was Fox’s weakest link at 10 p.m., and he decided to marshal resources behind Cooper to try and unseat her, hoping that a win at that hour would lift ratings for the rest of CNN’s prime-time slate. CNN pushed a massive marketing campaign that made Cooper the brand of the network and his face a ubiquitous presence on Times Square billboards, and in magazine and television ads, spending as much as $20 million, some say. The only problem was that the PR blitz failed to generate significantly higher ratings. Jim Walton, Klein’s boss, began to have creeping doubts about Cooper. “We may be creating a star, but not for us,” Walton remarked to a senior CNN executive.

  16. How is it that the Parker/Spitzer ‘chemistry’ makes my flesh crawl…

    Tell me about it. The “adult flirtation” description in the article made me naseous. I didn’t know it was possible, but of the two of them, she seems slimier.

  17. ^ Anyone that’d flirt with him would have to be.

  18. Two things made me LMAO… the “no comment” by Olbermann about Scarborough, which (even though I laugh about) I hate, because I watch MJ and Keith more than any MSNBC show. I guess I’d rather there not be infighting between the two hosts I enjoy watching the most.

    The other thing was Hannity supposedly not being happy with Beck. That’s just funny, because I remember a while ago when Hannity said that he wished real conservatives like Beck would get more attention in the media. If the unhappiness is real, it clearly shows that Hannity is upset with Beck coming in to the network and stealing his thunder… and being the more popular, well-known conservative. And, we know how much Hannity embraces his conservative roots.

  19. I think that Hannity’s dream came true when he got that show to himself. The only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it.

  20. Everybody at FNC has to be freaked by Glenn Beck. He occupies an hour of their airtime that bears no relationship to anything else on Fox, rarely has any of the standard Fox guests, and has no consistent theme besides “whatever Glenn’s ‘thing’ is this week.”

  21. That’s so true, JR. I didn’t think about that. I, obviously, realized that he hardly ever has guests on (which I always found strange), but I didn’t think it’s actually bad for the network. His viewers can’t possibly be enjoying him spending the whole hour talking to himself. It’s insane, just like him. However, he has that Founding Fathers Friday thing, which has guests.

  22. A truly amazing read if your at all interested in what happens behind the scenes in cable news and probably the best article I’ve ever read on the subject. It reminds me a lot of one of my all time favorite books; ‘Country’ by Nick Tosches; which is a history of all the dirty little secrets in country music.

    It reads like a bunch of teaser excerpts from a book in the works and I wonder if that’s not the case. One can only hope.

    I wonder if this will be discussed on air or on line by any of those mentioned and if Howie Kurtz will have him on Reliable Sources this weekend? I sure hope so.

  23. lonestar77 Says:

    MSNBC isn’t as successful as FNC because it’s not as watchable. To compare them is silly. MSNBC is hard left with few opposing views outside of Mathews. In the end, being a hyper partisan network isn’t a business model. You have to be entertaining. Lefties like the guy that wrote the article always try to compare O’Reilly to Olbermann but it’s apples and oranges. Look at the primetime lineups: Mathews vs. Shep, Olby vs. BOR, Hannity vs. Maddow, Greta vs. LOD. The only hyper partisan on FNC is Hannity.

    Simply calling people fascists, fat slobs & racists isn’t enough to attract much of an audience outside of the wingnuts.

  24. “The only hyper partisan on FNC is Hannity.”

    ^Meanwhile back on earth….

  25. lonestar77 Says:

    Ok fritz, who else? Shep? BOR? Greta?

    Meanwhile, back on earth…

  26. Shep isn’t partisan. Billo & Greta are, along with the F&F trio, Kelly & Cavuto. Beck is a fraud & I doubt he has any true beliefs except making money.

  27. lonestar77 Says:

    I was talking about primetime, not 6 in the morning or 4 in the afternoon. Bill and Greta’s shows aren’t “hyper partisan” whether you choose to believe it or not.

    The reason MSNBC doesn’t attract nearly the audience FNC does is because it’s Air America on TV. It’s a hate-fest with very few dissenting voices. O’Reilly has more opposing views on his show in one night than MSNBC does in a week. That’s why he’s successful. Simply showing up & yelling at the camera calling people fat slobs, racists, racists, racists, racists, racists, and facsists isn’t going to attract viewers outside of the crazies & train-wreck watchers..

  28. ^ whatever

  29. Wow, that article was AMAAAZIING!

  30. Josh Kaib Says:

    I love how Chris Matthews admits Walter Cronkite was an establishment liberal. Everyone was so honest in the piece, it was kind of refreshing. I also find it funny how Rachel Maddow and her crew derided Bill O’Reilly. Everyone in the cable news biz is immature.

  31. Lonestar is sooooo utterly out of touch with reality that I almost pity anybody who has to deal with them. Look at their hatred for MSNBC… it seeps contempt. Think what you want about MSNBC… nobody denies their partisanship (especially themselves), but to actually act like Fox News isn’t the same thing or worse is ridiculous.

    Predictably, when claiming MSNBC is “hyper partisan“, LS ignores the extremely partisan hacks at Fox & Friends, Beck, and Cavuto, and only wants to focus on prime-time and defend them because MSNBC’s prime-time is liberal. And, actually claiming that O’Reilly is not a partisan… as if he never, ever states an opinion or tries to shove it down your throat? How about all the rants about “tiller the baby killer” (which he actually called him many times), calling anybody he disagrees with as “far-left loons“, attacking anybody who attacked President Bush during time of war as unpatriotic, but never does so with President Obama. Please.

    By the way, don’t tell me that O’Reilly gives Obama a fair shake. He brings on people who smear the hell out of Obama and lobs softballs at them to hit out of the park. Greta is the same exact way… she always bringing Gingrich, Palin, Rove and Morris to completely blast Obama without a single bit of opposition.

  32. ^That is a double standard and pretty hypocritical. But at least you’re consistent.

  33. clindhartsen Says:

    I’ll have to read through the article, but good grief you have to be kidding. I forgot that Abrams was in control of things for awhile, that didn’t make any sense at the time, and interesting to see the real back story to what happened to Crossfire. Truth is, what else don’t we know about the latest changes to be honest.

  34. […] a time when I considered him one of the most dangerous media writers in America for articles like this. Back then nobody complained about Sherman’s writing being inaccurate or biased. They just […]

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