Strawman 101…

Mediaite’s Lindsey Ellefson pens a nonsensical article about MSNBC and what it needs to do…

MSNBC seems to constantly be in the midst of an overhaul. Earlier this summer, the network was proclaiming that their days as a bastion of liberal commentary were o-v-e-r, just like they were last winter, for instance, although it didn’t really seem like they ended up reining in Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Joy Reid, and the rest of the gang either time. In the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, though, it’s time to start asking whether MSNBC should be trying to rein them in.

This is either a complete lack of understanding by Ellefson about what MSNBC has been up to or a complete Strawman argument. Or both.

First, MSNBC never ever proclaimed that their days as a bastion of liberal commentary are “o-v-e-r”. What it did do, once Andrew Lack came back, was say it was going to fix dayside and bring it back more under the news and analysis format and away from the unabashed liberal opinion format. But that’s only part of MSNBC’s schedule and that leads me to my second point which Ellefson gets wrong; there was never ever any intent of reining in Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, and Lawrence O’Donnell. Including Joy Reid in the list of the “spared” is wrong on two counts. First, she wasn’t part of prime and not central to MSNBC’s plans. Second her dayside show didn’t get spared, it got cancelled. Furthermore, if not for the Melissa Harris-Perry fiasco, Reid probably still would not have a show.

The one point Ellefson gets right is her first one. MSNBC always seems to be in the midst of an overhaul. It’s seems to have been like that since Phil Griffin took over 9 years ago.

Ellefson spends the rest of her article making a plaintive appeal for more liberal programming on MSNBC…

Where else can people look for liberal viewpoints on traditional television? Since Jon Stewart abdicated the throne at The Daily Show, the nightly broadcast that he made famous has failed to live up to the expectations his fiery legacy left behind. Sure, Bill Maher and John Oliver help out when they can on Real Time and Last Week Tonight respectively, but not everyone has HBO and to be clear, once-weekly shows are not enough to even out the selection of political opinions.

Look at the two main competitors of MSNBC, Fox News and CNN. Whether some people want to admit it or not, CNN is remarkably centered, and at the least, tries very hard to be. For every liberal commentator, there is a conservative. The shows tend to be hosted by actual journalists and anchors, not partisan pundits. Jake Tapper values journalistic neutrality so much that he does not vote and Anderson Cooper is seen as the industry standard for what “unbiased” is supposed to look like. On the other side of the spectrum sits Fox News, which is undeniably a hotbed for right leaning thought leaders. Fox News has a right to be that hotbed. In fact, it has as much of an obligation to its viewers to hold down the right side of the airwaves as MSNBC has to hold down the left. Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity make it clear that they are not journalists and we cannot begrudge them their right to share their thoughts.

There are a few inconvenient facts here which Ellefson pretty much ignores.

First, MSNBC is under no obligation to hold down any end of the political spectrum. What it is obligated to do is produce compelling programming that viewers tune in to and which generates a profit. That’s its only obligation and its not an obligation to its viewers but to the shareholders of Comcast. Whatever works.

Second, MSNBC has already tried to expand liberal P.O.V analysis dayside programming under Phil Griffin. Not once, but twice. Both times MSNBC’s ratings crashed outside of prime time and both times the network retreated to a more news format.

Third, other than Maddow, MSNBC’s prime time has been a weak sister in the ratings since Olbermann left (if you factor out the 2016 election juiced numbers). Chris Hayes still has not established himself as deserving of holding down the 8pm timeslot. O’Donnell has done okay for his timeslot but hasn’t moved the needle enough. Even Maddow’s numbers are off now that Olbermann isn’t there to lead in to her.

What this says is that liberal POV programming in primetime may still be the way to go for the network but some of the faces of that prime time may need to change if the network wants to make a long term push to draw in more viewers.


9 Responses to “Strawman 101…”

  1. Ellefson currently fills Mediaite’s “Tommy Christopher” hole… rabid left-wing advocacy, often masquerading as non-opinion or straight-news journalism. This was a noted “opinion” piece, but that is a rarity for the bulk of her work.

    As for the opinion itself… if an echo-chamber is what she desires, then she hasn’t learned anything from this election. MSNBC spent weeks patting themselves on the back before the election, only to be left stunned and sputtering after. Nobody who cares about journalism, even opinion journalism, should want a network to become an echo chamber.

  2. […] Ellefson to MSNBC: Don’t go middle-of-the road; ICN: That’s just nonsense. […]

  3. The article is pretty silly but there are a number of interesting questions to be answered in where MSNBC goes from here.

    First: What do they do with Brian Williams? His half hour late night show is OK but the format, a very short version of MJ, is just not long enough to get into any long form discussion of the stories they cover. Does BW get a real show or will he move on?

    Second: What does NBC/MSNBC do with its new rising stars from the campaign? Kasie Hunt appears to have succeeded Luke Russert on the Hill and Kristen Welker will probably go back to the WH beat but where will Katie Tur, Hallie Jackson, Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, new talents that need a position, end up? I’d give Schmidt and Wallace, a pair who have some chemistry together, a show but I know that’s not likely to happen. Tur and Jackson seemed better fitted as Dayside hosts and will probably end up there eventually.

    Third: What do you do about ‘With All Due Respect”? Does it stay on as a Bloomberg/MSNBC show or be replaced by an in house production? I like the show and its hosts a lot but the current situation seems untenable in the long run.

    Forth: Does Andrea Mitchell finally retire? My guess is yes but who knows.

    Fifth: What does the network do with Steve Kornacki? My hope is they put him back on weekends where his skills and humor were best utilized. He’s just not suited as Dayside news reader.

    Finally I hope they consider bringing back Kieth Olbermann. I know his history and ego make this extremely difficult and unlikely but he is the perfect foil for a Trump POTUS. If ratings are the goal here KO would be a huge winner.

  4. Where did Tommy go? Mediate kept giving him very prominent placement, I figured he was the new Golden Boy.

  5. savefarris Says:

    Just what America needs: another left-leaning video essayist.

    John Oliver, Sam Bee, Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore (RIP), Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, Larry O’Donnell, Chris Haynes, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, and Stephen Colbert apparently haven’t completely saturated the market yet. We need Keith’s now completely-non-unique take on American Politics on how Trump is the worst since H*tler.

    KO’s problem isn’t that he’s impossible to work with (even though he is.) It’s that what he’s selling is already so freely available in the marketplace that there’s no reason to pay a premium to get the same old act that’s only going to appeal to an already-overserved audience demographic.

  6. Oh, it’s the annual MSNBC needs to change to this after the annual MSNBC shakeup article?

    I envision some changes coming anyway.

  7. Also, on the Steve Schmidt/Nicolle Wallace thing, I’d like to see them and maybe Chris Hayes replace Morning Joe or something.

    I’d like to see Brian Williams with a better timeslot. His show is the only one I watch anymore.

  8. What US cable news needs more of is this kind of fact checking and holding people to account. The pro-EU guest was squirming after being taken to task for selective editing of pro-Brexit figures’ statements in a video. The BBC clip I linked to starts when the fun begins but watching the entire thing would be educational:

  9. ‘With All Due Respect’ (maybe the best named show in cable news) ended it’s run today after two years on Bloomberg and MSNBC.

    I really enjoyed the show and will miss the bipartisan irreverence it was able to provide us each evening. Hopefully H&H will return in the new year with another show in the same vein.

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