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MSNBC - A shift to the right?

As the war winds down and networks and cable news outlets assess their relative strength, consider the case of perpetual also-ran MSNBC. Clearly the cable news outlet has the talent and resources to compete (NBC and Microsoft as owners), and they do effectively compete on the Internet - with msnbc.com regularly besting cnn.com. The cable news side of the house stocked with NBC's minor league team and featuring cameos by its heavy hitters should be doing better.

Ratings for the war indicate the extent of MSNBC's problem. Fox News attracted an average of 3.3 million viewers between March 19 and April 12, up from 716,000 during the same period a year ago. CNN saw viewership increase 374 percent to 2.6 million viewers. MSNBC had the biggest viewership gain, 397 percent, but remained a distant third with an average of 1.4 million viewers.

So if MSNBC is so messed up, what is the problem? Lack of identity!

Fox, "fair and balanced" claims to the contrary, caters to the right. CNN is the choice for the left, so where does that leave MSNBC? Logically you would assume the middle, right? Well MSNBC has muddled in the middle ground and found few ratings points there. I know Fox and CNN are not exclusively right and left networks, I'm doing a lot of generalizing here, but stick with me. MSNBC made a big deal of bringing in over the hill lefty Phil (Mr. Marlo Thomas) Donahue. Given the choice of Donahue, and scheduling his "talk show" against Larry King, you could assume that the target was CNN. Given the whole "mainstream liberal media bias" theory attacking CNN should have been popular with the MSNBC troops (since they would be left leaning as well). That experiment was a disaster, and seems to have crystallized the new thinking at MSNBC. Having failed to make any headway against CNN using a left leaning approach, MSNBC is now targeting Fox with a right leaning approach.

Consider the prime time lineup from Wednesday, April 23

6:00 P.M. ET BUCHANAN AND PRESS - Senator Rick Santorum is defending his controversial comments on homosexuality today in Pennsylvania. Robert Knight, a director with Concerned Women for America, the country's largest conservative public policy women's organization joins the show. Also; a new Palestinian cabinet has now been agreed upon in the West Bank. What will this mean to the White House's plan for mid east peace? Pat and Bill will ask James Zogby from the Arab American Institute.
7:00 P.M. ET HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS - The Hardball College Tour Senator John McCain, our most celebrated POW, on what our troops endure at the hands of the enemy.
8:00 P.M. ET COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN - Saddam's 55 most-devious -- The startling number of cards still on the table.
9:00 P.M. ET OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM - Lester Holt anchors Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused the State Department of undermining President Bush's foreign policy and denounced Secretary of State Colin Powell's plan to go to Syria as ludicrous. Richard Boucher, State Dept spokesperson, guest tonight to discuss this, as well as post-war Iraq, U.N. inspections, and lifting the U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Plus, Gen. Barry McCaffrey on rebuilding Iraq.
10:00 P.M. ET SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY - Teflon Powell? How liberals manage to criticize White House diplomacy, without pointing fingers at America's TOP diplomat.

OK, we've got Buchanan and Scarborough who are farther right than most anyone on Fox. Chris Matthews may have been a Democrat at one point (and possibly still is), but he slants seriously conservative. Keith Olbermann (the Dennis Miller of newscasting) slants towards viewers with a large vocabulary, as opposed to right or left. Lester Holt's show is more of a newscast than a personality driven show. Once the media decides that the war is over (not the actual fighting per se) expect to see Holt's hour renamed as a news program like the old Brian Williams show. Add to the mix wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura and controversial radio host Michael Savage, and you have a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the successful formula Fox has employed.

MSNBC coverage of Sen. Rick Santorum's remarks, as discussed on Hardball last night, plainly indicated the shift out loud. There was a lot of time spent attacking the AP reporter for the parenthetical use of the word gay, and quite a bit of defense of Santorum. Chris Matthews accused Santorum of retreating to Fox to escape the liberal media, and acknowledged that MSNBC was now as conservative friendly as Fox when he chastised Santorum for not coming to MSNBC.

What does all this add up to? After extended watching of MSNBC over the last week it appears that the new enemy is Fox and the battle is for the viewship that likes "fair and balanced" *** reporting. Will it work? I'll keep you updated.

*** Should be read as "not the mainstream liberal media bias" kind of balance


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