Why The Liberal Media Isn’t, Goddamit

The “liberal media” was always a myth, but so brilliantly concocted that mainstreamers bent over backwards not to be in it and even liberals started using the term.  To quickly recap our 20th century conservative history for the new kids in class – conservatives in the 60s and 70s created the term “liberal media” to inoculate the faithful from the reporting that showed them to be liars, bigots and opportunists.  In the world of identity politics that conservatives play so well, part of the message they created was that you (the common rube) can’t trust those big city elitists in their ivory towers telling you what they want you to believe – they have a liberal, anti-American agenda.  The entire raison d’etre for Fox News was that the media was so liberal that they needed a conservative counterbalance.  Nevermind that there were virtually no liberal voices on TV and scant few on newspaper opinion pages, they were all pinkos to the reactionary think tanks and right wing activists that saw themselves losing the culture wars and eventually everything.

In today’s world we have the NY Times, a big city newspaper that has catered to the most diverse and sophisticated market in the country for 150 years.  Is the reporting liberal? No.   It’s reporting, mostly with a corporate, conventional wisdom or beltway slant depending on the quality of the writer.  The opinion pages have always had a mix of voices, always some reliable conservatives, a handful of reliable liberals and then whatever Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd are.  In reaction to the Trump election the paper started an ad campaign touting “truth matters more than ever” and it looked like maybe they finally understood that whether they wanted to be or not, they were considered liberal and might as well embrace that identity and the #Resistance.

Times subscriptions skyrocketed between November and March.

Then in April they brought in a new columnist for the opinion page, a climate change denier.  Cue record scratching sound.  Many people who signed up for the paper saw that as tone deaf if not an outright betrayal.  How are you going to be the #Resistance if you feel the need to add more Trumpy opinion?

Rather, this is largely about branding — about what people want, and thought they were getting, when they subscribe to the New York Times. And how that was crushed….

From a business standpoint — and yes, the New York Times is very much a business, now struggling to find new strategies to save itself — the move almost makes the 1985 debut of New Coke look good.

Yes, the brand, which we thought was fearless, frank reporting of facts, speaking truth to the inexplicably powerful, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted was diluted by the move to add another right wing voice willing to obfuscate, misdirect, lie, all of the right wing playbook that adds up to bullshit that keeps us from having nice things.  It was stupid.

Similarly, moving from 8th avenue over to Rock Center we have MSNBC the so-called liberal cable news channel which is only actually liberal between 8pm and 11pm on weeknights and from 10am to noon on the weekends.  For years, it’s felt like they just backed into the reputation of progressivism and management did everything they could to work against this – see Morning Fucking Joe.  Also see Lockup, not because that’s conservative, but because it’s counterproductive to the network being taken seriously as a 24 hour news channel.

If you’ve watched the network since inception you remember Phil Donohue being fired because the management didn’t want an anti-war voice on the air at the peak of Bushmania.  They hired Olbermann, an opinionated sports reporter, enjoyed his surging ratings and then fired him after he introduced the viewers to Rachel Maddow and they had started to build a real prime time lineup.  It’s like they keep almost accidentally finding great progressive voices that the vast audience for that product would like to watch and then undermining them and what could be their brand.  Today MSNBC, which should be embracing the #Resistance, is resisting according to Ryan Grim of HuffPo.

But no.  Station manager Andy Lack has always thought Morning Joe was the model for the network rather than Rachel Maddow, but he’s been hamstrung by the horrible fact that the ratings for the nighttime shows have never been better!  But he persists – giving Greta van Susteren a literally failing show, and reportedly handing a weekday hour to Nicole Wallace (reasonable Republican) and a weekend show to Hugh Hewitt (dishonest conservative shill and hack).  Get ready for Megyn (“Santa is white”) Kelly, people. Nobody who watches Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid watch Morning Joe or Greta van Susteren or will watch Megyn, Nicole and Hugh. Personally, I turn the channel when Hewitt comes on my TV because he’s so dishonestly odious.  And all you really need to know is:

A February MSNBC press release boasting about ratings gains put “Morning Joe” on the top, noting it it had 849,000 total viewers. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the release, though, and you’ll find a data point that doesn’t do much to support Lack’s vision of the enterprise: More people are watching “AM Joy” than the network’s most celebrated morning program. On Saturdays, 981,000 people watched the program, and 810,000 tuned in on Sundays. That trend continues in other months, according to Nielsen data. “AM Joy” had 87,000 more total viewers than “Morning Joe” in April, and the weekday show slightly edged her out in the key demo. (Comparing a weekday morning show and Reid’s weekend show is apples-to-oranges, an NBC spokesman says.)

Lack is supposed to be a businessman, just for business purposes he’s setting himself up for failure and ruining what could be a great brand with a ready made and hungry audience that wants 24/7 smart news and opinion from the best and brightest at The Nation, Mother Jones, Pro Publica, etc.

Not to mention the fact that MSNBC was by far and away the most diverse line up on cable, reaching another important faction of the liberal/progressive caucus – people of color.  But Lack saw fit to fire or diminish Al Sharpton, Alex Wagner, Melissa Harris-Perry, Taure, etc.  Lack has a history of replacing people of color with white broadcasters including replacing Bryant Gumbel with Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

“This used to be the most amazing place to work, where I felt like my bosses, my colleagues, cared about me and cared about the world we live in,” said one employee who remains, for the time being, on staff. “Now I feel like I’m in a stereotypical news network, like something out of [the 1976 movie] ‘Network,’ yet we’re in the year 2017. We’ve come so far from what this place once was. It was a wonderful place to be, and now it’s just not.”

If Andy Lack doesn’t want to run a liberal network he should quit.  They have openings over at Fox.  Which is how Ailes referred to the women there.


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