The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

22 April 2009

Matthews, Maddow, Schultz, Olbermann Lead MSNBC's Decline


Mainstream Media Finally Notice MSNBC's Sagging Ratings

After close to a year of fawning praise driven by relative ratings "success" and election year hype, the mainstream media has suddenly noticed MSNBC's rapid audience erosion. With the seeming flick of a switch, the far-left cable network's once-puffy press coverage has made a 180-degree turn.

Between today's Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune, our MSM friends are not afraid to label evening host Rachel Maddow yesterday's news, for example.

But much of the rest of their coverage gives NBC suits every opportunity to make the case for the fading cable network's future. Since Maddow's views (often derived from astonishing ignorance) match those of the reporters covering her, how could it be any other way?

From the Chicago Tribune:

"I think Rachel is a rock star," said Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, where the show airs weekdays at 9 p.m. Eastern. "We've never had success anywhere near that in our 12-year history at 9 p.m. right out of the gate. From Day One, she established herself."

And even though Maddow's ratings slipped last month, she still beat out CNN's "Larry King Live," a consistent cable news heavyweight, among the 25- to 54-year-old demographic. But she's still a good distance from Fox News' "Hannity's America," which continues to dominate the time slot.

The shift in her ratings fortune hasn't changed her attitude toward the show, said Maddow. And, despite her political similarities with the new president, there is a president to hold to account. She's already gone after Obama on issues such as wiretapping and torture.

"She has not at all been afraid to be critical of Obama when she disagrees with him," said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communications. "It's a place for people to tune in and hear intelligent conversation about differences of opinion."

A former AIDS activist and Rhodes scholar, Maddow's journey to becoming MSNBC's ratings darling began on a whim, when she auditioned for a job as a morning radio sidekick in Massachusetts. By 2004, she had made it onto Air America, a liberal talk radio network.

The platform brought her to the attention of a cable news producer. She eventually became a frequent substitute host for "Countdown with Keith Olbermann"—a stint that would lead to a show touting her own name in the title.

Seven months since the show's launch, Maddow said she has yet to "find her groove" in television hosting. But her bosses are confident she'll find it.

"She's still in infancy of knowing this medium," Griffin said. "The show will evolve as she continues … but, honestly, I can't believe where we are right now. I can only imagine where we'll be a year from now."

Who in their right mind could call Larry King "a heavyweight"? His time passed years ago and beating him means little.

As for Phil Griffin, he's made the same mistake that kept Air America from building strong ratings: allowing one's personal feelings and political viewpoints to interfere with good programming judgment.

At the Baltimore Sun, television critic David Zurawik isn't quite so accommodating:

MSNBC show host Rachel Maddow has suffered some steep audience erosion in recent months, down more than 40 percent in viewership from her peak last fall during the election.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Maddow's audience has gone from a high of 1.9 million viewers in the fall to just over 1.1 million in March. That's a big drop.

Readers of this blog know I am just as troubled by Maddow's brand of ideologically driven partisan propaganda as I am by that of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity on Fox. Maddow was at her worst last week, falsely minimizing the tea parties held across the country as "the fizzle in the drizzle" and mocking the participants.

Nine months ago, this site wondered whether Maddow's relentlessly-fluffy press coverage (particularly from the New York Times) would ultimately damage her career. While that certainly didn't help, it now seems more likely she simply rode the Obamist wave in 2008, only to come crashing down to earth as the euphoria subsided.

Maddow herself doesn't offer much of a defense, except to play dumb and pretend they don't follow the ratings, nearly impossible to believe in the cutthroat world of cable news.

But why stop with Maddow? Where are the stories noting the disastrous start to fellow libtalker Ed Schultz's program, or the embarrassingly-low audience figures for Chris Matthews? Mr Leg Thrill had just 117,000 average viewers in the key 25-54 demo during Tuesday's show.

Meanwhile, even some of parent company GE's shareholders are wondering what is going on, calling particular attention to Keith Olbermann's ridiculously soft interviewing style and the network's overall bias.

Ultimately, what has caused MSNBC's downfall is its cozy relationship with the Obamists. A smarter strategy for a liberal network would have been to chart an independent, nonpartisan course where hosts are not afraid to hold Barack's feet to the fire.

For her part, Maddow has occasionally dropped hints that she'd like to like to follow this path, but it's not clear the network will allow that kind of independence.

During George W Bush's second term, this approach was taken by conservative talk hosts and kept the medium from sinking along with his poll numbers. That divide became especially apparent when Bush pushed amnesty for illegal aliens, which talkers and their audience adamantly oppose.

Clearly, NBC and GE have placed protecting Obama's reputation ahead of its own best interests. But the price for that posturing could be steep, especially as MSNBC's ratings continue to sink.

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  • Awesome post!

    Keep us in the loop!!



    By Blogger commoncents, at 23 April, 2009 08:18  

  • At the GE stockholders' meeting, GE cut off the mike repeatedly when stockholders asked too deep of questions regarding MSNBC, questioning MSNBC's bias, questioning Imelt's allowance of MSNBC's bias, and questioning decisions made to reinforce the butt kissing of Obama.

    By Blogger PCD, at 23 April, 2009 09:46  

  • I really miss your missives about Al Franken...

    Wouldn't your opinion be somewhere along the lines of, "AF should stop his attempts to, thus far successfully, steal the election from Norm Coleman who should then be seated as the returning Senator from Minnesota", or something like that?

    By Anonymous TJ, at 23 April, 2009 16:28  

  • Good News for Randi Rhodes fans!
    Green 960 Online and Radio, San Francisco, announces the return of the controversial host to it's on air lineup...We posted a video and more on Program Director John Scott's daily blog at You can also see video of the green 960 event that cost Rhodes her slot at Air America Radio...
    The results of our online listener poll as to who should "replace" Rhodes ( from the last time she left us) is also on the blog.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 April, 2009 16:48  

  • For those libs trying to play down Fox News Channel's ratings, here's the latest from TV Newser website:

    Fox News beat CNN and MSNBC combined in every hour from 6amET to MidnightET in both Total Viewers and the A25-54 demo for April 2009.

    FNC had the top 11 cable news programs in Total Viewers and 12 of the top 15 in the demo. FNC is the #2 network in Total Viewers on all of cable.

    From 9amET on, every program grew by more than 60% in the demo. The 5pmET hour, now occupied by Glenn Beck, is up 212% in the demo and up 128% in Total Viewers. Your World with Neil Cavuto is up 102% in the demo and up 60% in Total Viewers. On the Record with Greta Van Susteren is up 75% in demo and up 55% in Total Viewers. Also in demo: FOX Report is up 75%, Special Report 70%, The O'Reilly Factor 74% and Hannity 64%.

    Fox & Friends has now been #1 for 90 consecutive months, Studio B with Shepard Smith for 80 consecutive months.
    Read 'em and weep fans of CNN, MSNBC, CNBS, etc.

    By Blogger Carl, at 28 April, 2009 20:34  

  • Thanks for the info Carl.

    By Blogger pf1, at 01 May, 2009 05:02  

  • Doesn't surprise me. MSNBC and their talking heads are the most bias offensive jerks I have ever heard on a "NEWS" program. They do not report news, they think THEY ARE the news. Always smirking and acting like they are smarter then anyone. Hopefully this network will fail and Matthews, Maddow Schultz and Olbermann will go off to California where someone may really care what they say.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 13 May, 2009 02:11  

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