07 Aug 2013 Free Market Activists Consistently Warned MSNBC’s Parent Companies That MSNBC’s Business Model Was Doomed to Fail
Washington, D.C. – Through its Free Enterprise Project, the National Center for Public Policy Research warned MSNBC’s parent companies on numerous occasions that the cable news network’s business model – which eschews hard news and is dedicated to partisan liberal opinion programming – was bound to fail. MSNBC’s recent poor performance comes as successive corporate leaders ignored the National Center’s warnings.
“MSNBC often acts as an echo chamber for President Barack Obama’s Administration – adding very little to the national dialogue on topical issues,” said Justin Danhof, Esq., director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project. “Why would folks tune in if they can simply watch a White House press conference and readily predict what MSNBC’s talking heads are going to say for the rest of the day? Operating as a mouthpiece for the most ardently liberal president in modern history, and a very unpopular one at that, is no way to win a ratings race – especially when that already polarizing president becomes mired in a litany of scandals.”
For the month of July, MSNBC’s ratings fell 12 percent (year-to-year), dropping the network to fourth place behind Fox News, CNN and HLN. July marked the third consecutive month MSNBC finished last in the ratings among major cable network news channels. Performing particularly poorly was MSNBC’s prime-time lineup in which “All in With Chris Hayes” was down 27 percent, “The Rachel Maddow Show” lost 19 percent of total viewers and “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” fell a whopping 29 percent.
“It’s not hard to see why producing only full-tilt liberal opinion shows is a self-defeating strategy,” noted Danhof. “According to Gallup, only 21 percent of Americans identify as liberal, 35 percent identify as moderate and the largest percentage (40) of Americans consider themselves to be conservative. MSNBC is only catering to a fringe audience and nearly all of their hosts repeat each other’s talking points so as to stay on message. After a while, it’s just noise.”
“Unlike other countries, Americans are proud to have an independent media – even if the media has an inherent and heavy liberal bias,” said Danhof. “In MSNBC, the public obviously sees an instance where the line has been effectively crossed as the network now seems to be an extension of the presidency.”
MSNBC’s business flaws are most evident when large national news stories break. MSNBC President Phil Griffin even recently admitted that his channel is “not the place” to go for breaking news, and the numbers bear him out. MSNBC fell to fourth in April when coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings was prevalent. Perhaps more embarrassing for the network was that both Fox News and CNN crushed MSNBC during the coverage of the George Zimmerman verdict even though the network had dedicated wall-to-wall coverage for the trial.
Claiming that MSNBC is trying to be the counterweight to the more conservative Fox News Channel, the company’s leadership has consistently pushed extremely progressive opinion programming over actual news. But facts are stubborn, and they show that both Fox News and CNN present a good balance of news and opinion programming, whereas MSNBC is nearly all opinion.
Pew Research performed an extensive analysis of the three major network news channels late last year and found that by an 85/15 percent split MSNBC is dominated by opinion coverage, while Fox News presented 55 percent opinion and 45 percent news reporting and CNN had 46 percent opinion and 54 percent news reporting over the same time period.
As far back as 2009, the National Center warned MSNBC’s then-owner General Electric that MSNBC’s liberal bent posed potential problems for the company’s reputation and its bottom line. The following are just a few examples of the pressure brought to bear by the National Center on MSNBC’s owners:
• In June 2009, the National Center issued a press release calling on GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to resign from President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board because of conflicts of interest. The National Center’s call for Immelt’s resignation was covered extensively, including by Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly.
• The following year, at GE’s 2010 shareholder meeting, three National Center staffers separately confronted Immelt. After the meeting, National Center President David Ridenour explained that: “MSNBC, part of GE’s NBC Universal, runs programming that is offensive to a substantial portion of the population. [Then-MSNBC host] Keith Olbermann has called the Tea Party movement the ‘Tea Klux Klan’ and has said the Republican Party wants to re-impose Jim Crow Laws. Whatever your political outlook, I said [to Immelt], this doesn’t make sense for GE… I also asked what he was doing to address the perception – especially among conservatives – that GE stands against them. Quite a bit of applause followed. Immelt didn’t answer but went to the next question.”
• In June 2010, the National Center upped the ante by calling on Immelt to resign as Chairman and CEO of GE. Staffer Deneen Borelli said: “Immelt has transformed MSNBC from a news network to Obama’s personal public relations agency. It’s outrageous that Immelt allows Keith Olbermann and other talking heads to tarnish the image of liberty loving Tea Party activists as racists. ‘We the people’ have had enough of Obama’s government gone wild spending programs and CEOs such as Immelt that are seeking to profit from taxpayers.”
• In late 2010, the National Center and FreedomWorks commissioned a poll which showed that GE’s support among conservatives and Tea Party activists plummeted once they were informed of GE’s policy positions.
• The National Center and FreedomWorks followed up 2010 by sponsoring a rally against Immelt and GE’s policies held outside of the 2011 GE shareholder meeting. (In 2012 Comcast purchased the majority share of NBC Universal and took full ownership in February 2013.)
• At the 2012 Comcast shareholder meeting, Danhof confronted CEO Brian Roberts about Rachel Maddow’s libeling of National Center Chairman Amy Ridenour and the network’s veracity. He asked: “Mr. Roberts, why is this happening? Editorializing need not contain libel and NBC Universal is not a middle-school operation – standard fact checking should be in place at all times… MSNBC personnel have a habit of making outlandish remarks and then, sometimes, withdrawing them. For example, Chris Matthews said Republican primary voters are comparable to Grand Wizards of the Ku Klux Klan, then, claimed he didn’t mean to say it. Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a slut. Then, he apologized. But he has also claimed that Republicans want to see sick people die so they can make money off their corpses; that conservative commentators want to see President Obama shot; and he said of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart ‘we ought to rip it out, kick it around, and stuff it back in him.’ These would be shocking things for a drunk to say at a bar, Mr. Roberts, but they are being said by supposed professional journalists on your network. Why?” At the meeting Roberts noted that it appeared some folks at least watched MSNBC.
(Amazingly, and without irony, less than a month after the shareholder meeting, Rachel Maddow claimed that she was a nonpartisan journalist who simply presents the news.)
• Most recently, Danhof and David Ridenour challenged Roberts at the 2013 Comcast shareholder meeting to tell the audience what, if any, policy Comcast uses to reduce the risk of libel lawsuits, and to explain the company’s anti-Second Amendment stance. Picking up where the 2012 meeting left off, Ridenour asked, in part: “At last year’s shareholder meeting, our counsel asked for a correction [of Maddow’s libel], and you promised to look into the situation… we eventually received a very nasty letter from MSNBC President Phil Griffin making additional false claims, and refusing corrections… Mr. Griffin’s letter contained sufficient evidence of malice to significantly strengthen any libel claim.” Roberts refused to disclose any procedures the company uses to mitigate the risk of libel lawsuits stemming from their loose-lipped talking heads.
Despite all of this pressure and warning, MSNBC’s leadership continues to steer the company into the basement by forcing liberal opinion programming into nearly every second of its airtime.
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than 4 percent from foundations, and less than 2 percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors.
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