OPINION – Message to Liberals: MSNBC Is Not Our Friend
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MSNBC is not a "liberal" news network. It is a for-profit vehicle of global telecommunications giant Comcast. Comcast is not in the news business, it is the "you" business. MSNBC, especially NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack, has made clear the network is in business to sell its viewers to advertisers. Period. What programs it produces and what journalists it employs are merely a means to a desired end: profit. And squeezing out liberals in order to attract more conservatives is MSNBC's game plan.
Case in point: Network executives, it appears, are preparing to cancel "The Last Word," hosted by Lawrence O'Donnell, who has been on the network since MSNBC's inception. O'Donnell's show is the network's second-highest rated show, after "The Rachel Maddow Show."
There are just four weeks left on O'Donnell's contract, and the network – as it did with Melissa Harris Perry – reportedly has not bothered to reach out to O'Donnell's agent or even let him know if the show has a future. Usually these negotiations begin months in advance.
According to a report by Yashar Ali at HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post), part of the reason may be that Donald Trump has been trying to get MSNBC to cancel O'Donnell for years.
Ali reports he spoke with ten sources both inside MSNBC and outside the network.
"If O’Donnell’s contract is not renewed, the news would certainly be welcome to President Donald Trump, who has had a long-running feud with O’Donnell," Ali reports.
In 2011, O’Donnell called on NBC to fire Trump, then the host and executive producer of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” for pushing his racist and inaccurate “birther” conspiracy against President Barack Obama. In 2015, he also claimed that Trump was lying about his wealth. Trump threatened to sue O’Donnell for making false statements but never followed through on his threat (which O’Donnell had predicted).
According to three sources, Trump has pressured MSNBC President Phil Griffin to fire O’Donnell on multiple occasions. Griffin alluded to Trump’s push for O’Donnell’s ouster in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last month, saying, “[Trump] started calling me all the time in 2011 to say Lawrence O’Donnell was a ‘third-rate’ anchor.” Griffin and O’Donnell enjoy a cordial relationship but Griffin’s power as the President of MSNBC has been diminished by Lack since he returned in 2015. As a result, Lack will be the one to decide whether O’Donnell stays and under what terms.
"There is a fear, among some at MSNBC, that Lack is making programming decisions in an effort to appease the Trump administration (an accusation that has been made of CNN and Fox News), which may lead to more access to the White House and in turn, conservative viewers," Ali notes.
If MSNBC executives are making programming decisions based on what President Donald Trump wants, it is not, by definition, an independent news network. And that's a shame, because there are many, many great, hard working journalists at MSNBC and NBC News.
Regular watchers of the network have seen a stunning increase in conservative voices on MSNBC for the past year. The addition of former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren to MSNBC's lineup at 6 PM was shocking, but more shocking has been her disappointing lack of ability sometimes to grasp and convey basic facts.
Ali, writing at New York Magazine last month, reported "MSNBC is in talks with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt about creating a show for him on weekend evenings."
At an NBC News town hall after the election, Lack said that the organization should be focused on appealing to America’s heartland, according to people at the meeting. The remark was widely seen as a directive to, as one source put it, “focus on Trump voters.”
Some staffers have inferred a link between Lack’s directive and the decision to pull Today’s first black woman host, Tamron Hall, off the show to make room for former Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Ultimately, Hall chose to leave both NBC and MSNBC — where she had her own 11 a.m. program — rather than accept a diminished role. Lack also hired former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren and gave her the 6 p.m. slot on MSNBC’s weekday schedule. Since Van Susteren’s show debuted in January, the ratings have been, by any objective measure, abysmal. In a rare occurrence for that spot, her numbers have actually been lower than those of her lead-in program, Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press Daily. Van Susteren’s hire was not well-received internally at MSNBC, with Chris Matthews being especially frustrated by the decision, according to two network sources.
In January, the New York Post's "Page Six" reported: "NBC wants to be ‘the next Fox News,’ insiders say."
“He believes he’s building MSNBC and NBC into the next Fox. It seems the network wants to take a more conservative tone,” a source said.
Over the past year more right wing commentators have flooded MSNBC's airwaves, some of the worst among them are Hugh Hewitt and Matt Schlapp – who are, from what I can tell, anathema to many liberal viewers.
American democracy is in enough danger as it is. Americans need responsible, independent journalists to uncover and deliver the honest truth, not corporations pulling strings based on what the worst President in U.S. history wants.
There are some excellent journalists in front of and behind the MSNBC cameras. They, and the American people, are ill-served by decisions coming from Andy Lack.
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