The media have figured out why MSNBC is in a state of collapse. They aren’t blaming bad decisions by people who are running the network, or hosts that have caused viewers to flee. The media have decided that President Obama is to blame for MSNBC’s struggles.
USA Today’s Michael Wolff wrote,
The Democrats’ sinking fortunes have been pretty accurately charted in the declining ratings at MSNBC, the party’s house network, which culminated, on election night, in a 22% fall from the last midterm election in the all-important 25-to-54 age group.
MSNBC’s problem is almost exactly the same as the Democrats’ problem: It built its future around a vivid and dramatic hero who, unfortunately, turned out to be both opaque and conflict averse. MSNBC now has a lineup of ever-righteous and often sulky defenders of President Barack Obama, who seem, not just to conservatives but to many liberals, too, bizarrely tone deaf and lost in time.
The network, a hopeless laggard, finally started to break out of the cable news depths when its anchorman, Keith Olbermann, began to rant against President George W. Bush and against Fox. Olbermann quickly became MSNBC’s star and big kahuna, and was behind the hiring of liberal radio commentator Rachel Maddow, who became a second anti-Bush, pro-democratic programming pillar. Olbermann, however, famously difficult, was ousted by his NBC bosses. That left Griffin to pursue, with quite some hyperbole and inadvertent self-caricature — including Alec Baldwin’s brief moment and Ronan Farrow’s agonizingly longer one — a programming strategy to support the Democrats and adulate Obama.
The interesting thing about Wolff’s column is that it is the exact opposite of what the people who watch MSNBC are saying. The reason viewers have fled the network isn’t because they don’t like President Obama anymore. The reasons that former viewers point to most often include hosts that have failed to connect with viewers, the firing/departure of popular talent (Olbermann & Bashir), the relentless Republican cheerleading that is Morning Joe, the yanking around of Ed Schultz, and a general feeling that those in charge of the network don’t care about their viewers want.
One of the most frequent complaints from MSNBC viewers is that the network isn’t supportive enough of President Obama. The two most popular shows on MSNBC (Hardball, and Rachel Maddow) could not be characterized as pro-Obama hours. Besides gross mismanagement, MSNBC’s biggest problem is that they went all politics all of the time. If a viewer wants the news, they will probably need to go look elsewhere. MSNBC’s programming is often stale and redundant as hosts are left to cover the same handful of political topics over and again.
MSNBC hasn’t been the same network since Keith Olbermann left. Things have only gotten worse with Chris Hayes occupying 8 PM. Hayes has been magnificent at driving MSNBC viewers to CNN. MSNBC viewers aren’t dejected because of President Obama. They are dejected because they feel like their network doesn’t care about them.
Phil Griffin’s decision to go young while his audience is aging has been a complete disaster. Viewers still want to love MSNBC, but a series of bad decisions and even worse hosts have caused them to walk away.
The conclusion that Obama is to blame for MSNBC’s bad ratings was some lazy and half-baked thinking. The problems at MSNBC are all the responsibility of the individuals who have driven the network into the ground. Blaming Obama is easy, but it isn’t accurate or even close to the real reasons why MSNBC is struggling.
The truth is that the “Lean Forward” network has abandoned their viewers, but that doesn’t make nearly as good of a story as finding something new to blame Obama for.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association