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MSNBC deserves three thumbs down

Gary Caruso | Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just eight years ago, when Al Gore opposed George W. Bush for the presidency, cable news flourished during its infancy. While serving at the time as a Clinton public affairs presidential appointee, I not only spoke with reporters from each upstart cable news organization, I routinely monitored Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC and the grand daddy of cable news at that time, CNN. In 2000, reports from all of the cable channels was not edited by political philosophy like much of it is today. Unlike today, commentary was confined to segments clearly apparent to the viewer.

Currently, it is obvious just from the information slowly crawling at the bottom of the screen that ratings, market share and political philosophy drive many cable news operations. For example, recently CNBC, MSNBC and CNN included excerpts in their crawls from a major policy speech given by Democratic presidential nominee Barrack Obama about his view for sustaining the economy. However, Fox News chose to display political strategy excerpts from Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean without a single Obama quotation. On the surface, both may have been newsworthy, but Dean spoke political strategy on how to win red states while Obama’s political policy affected the nation. One could argue that in an effort to maintain viewers, Fox pandered to its demographic supporters – a type of editorial content nonexistent in 2000, but one worthy of thumbs-up ratings.

I personally identify myself as liberal. Ironically, while the Vietnam War raged, I entered Notre Dame as a somewhat conservative-thinking person but gravitated to an extremely liberal philosophy by graduation. Contrary to the remarks of many who respond to this column, I do not drink the liberal kool aide like Rachel Maddow at MSNBC. In fact, I disapprove of the way she stretches logic in her “Mind Over Chatter” or “Ms. Information” segments on her new commentary program which now fills the time slot previously held by conservative Tucker Carlson. For example, in an effort to discredit Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin last week, Maddow played Palin’s remarks to Alaskan troops departing for Iraq in which Palin said that she hoped the mission was part of God’s plan. Maddow stretched logical interpretation to accuse Palin of advocating a government sanctioned church.

Following both political conventions, MSNBC executives announced that Chris Matthews, host of the political discussion show “Hardball,” and Keith Olbermann, host of the political satire show “Countdown,” would no longer participate in the network’s election night coverage for November. Some noted that the two personalities were so partisan that MSNBC executives averted an internal war with established NBC journalists Tom Browkaw and Brian Williams, whose sense of news reporting never had a political bent. It was no news flash for Hillary Clinton supporters who recognized the duo’s bias earlier this year.

Matthews and Olbermann’s demise began during the primary election cycle. They consistently displayed overt excitement of the possibility of upstart Obama knocking off a Clinton. For Clinton liberals, the Clinton bashing felt like our mother was eating her young like in the animal world. Olbermann couched questions about Obama differently than about Clinton. One evening, he mildly asked Maddow, “Some say Obama is not capturing certain segments of the electorate. What does he need to do to appeal more to working class Democrats for example?” Later, Olbermann set up an argument with negative conclusions about Clinton in his question by asking another commentator, “Hillary Clinton has failed to gain African-American support. She is losing by 85 percent to 9 percent. Wouldn’t you say that she has no chance to counter that loss?”

Day after day, week after week throughout the spring primary cycle, Olbermann slanted his broadcasts away from Clinton in favor of Obama. For us liberals who had not jumped on the more liberal Obama bandwagon, MSNBC excluded us loyal viewers with blatant support of Obama. The bias insulted us as MSNBC – and most notably Olbermann – our witty political friend had turned on us. We were stunned, saddened and angered.

Lately, in discussing the Olbermann and Matthews removal from election evening coverage, Fox News commentators said that MSNBC had slighted Clinton. For once, Fox and a cross-section of liberal viewers were in agreement…a possible foreshadowing of the end of life as we once knew it. For many liberals, it will take years for MSNBC to regain its trust with them. Until that day, MSNBC will receive every thumb down we can find.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.