June 3, 2013 by David K. Sutton
The Place For Politics: MSNBC Ratings Slip When Breaking News Is Not Political
How about this for breaking news — the news network with the tagline “The Place For Politics” doesn’t shine in the ratings department when the biggest news stories are not political. Is this really a shock to anyone? In May, MSNBC slipped to 4th place behind Fox News, CNN and HLN. This was a time of breaking news like tornadoes, and a murder trial (no, I won’t even mention the name). Usually MSNBC is a distant second to the near worship-like dominance of Fox News. Of course, ratings don’t prove that you are delivering a factually sound product, it just means you are delivering what a fervent audience wants to hear. And when it comes to faux scandals during a democratic administration, the faux news network known as Fox News is definitely your source. When it comes to coverage of non-political breaking news, CNN’s longstanding name recognition wins out. “We’re not the place for that [breaking news],” said MSNBC president Phil Griffin. “Our brand is not that.” Indeed.
But what is MSNBC’s brand? Clearly the brand is liberal politics during weeknight prime time and even most of the weekday daytime shows. Hosts like Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell are unapologetically liberal. This brand was cultivated a decade ago when Keith Olbermann was the lone star on a fledgling cable news network. MSNBC surrounded Countdown with Keith Olbermann (before Olbermann left/was fired) with more shows that built on their brand of liberal and progressive political commentary.
But MSNBC does try to be a news network from time to time. For example, in the past few weeks we’ve seen some of their prime time liberal political talk preempted for live coverage of tornadoes in Oklahoma. I have to tell you, as a regular MSNBC viewer, I’m disappointed when normal programming reverts to “if it bleeds it leads” style news coverage. Maybe I’m in the minority on this, and maybe MSNBC feels they have no choice, but I’d rather watch Chris Hayes talk intelligently about liberal policy initiatives than witness live coverage of material destruction and human carnage. I can tune into CNN if I want to see that, and so I guess that’s the point. People don’t think MSNBC when they think breaking news, especially since you are just as likely to see an episode of “Lockup” as you are actual breaking news coverage.
So I see two options for MSNBC. Either become a 24/7 news network, which means getting rid of filler shows like “Lockup” and “Caught On Camera,” or embrace your liberal political brand and stop preempting your bread and butter shows to cover human carnage that serves no purpose in advancing human rights and political discourse.