MSNBC’s facade is cracking in the ugliest way in a little game of “my ego is bigger than God’s”
It’s been nine months in the making.
Since the night of the Iowa caucuses I wondered how long perennial third-runner-up cable news network MSNBC could last with two of its biggest personalities anchoring their campaign coverage.
Now the grand, dysfunctional marriage of Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann is no more.
MSNBC tried a bold experiment this year by putting two politically incendiary hosts, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, in the anchor chair to lead the cable news channel’s coverage of the election.
That experiment appears to be over.
After months of accusations of political bias and simmering animosity between MSNBC and its parent network NBC, the channel decided over the weekend that the NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host David Gregory would anchor news coverage of the coming debates and election night. Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Matthews will remain as analysts during the coverage.
The change — which comes in the home stretch of the long election cycle — is a direct result of tensions associated with the channel’s perceived shift to the political left.
“The most disappointing shift is to see the partisan attitude move from prime time into what’s supposed to be straight news programming,” said Davidson Goldin, formerly the editorial director of MSNBC and a co-founder of the reputation management firm DolceGoldin.
While I enjoy the ham fisted, bludgeoning style of Chris Matthews and the colorfully crazy, die hard Liberalism of Keith Olbermann in their separate parts, together they were trainwreck television. This was compounded by the fact that opinionated pundits-cum-partisans should not anchor news coverage.
I don’t care if Matthews considers himself a bipartisan pugilist or that Olbermann has such an enormous, self-righteous stick up his ass that primary nights turned him into some faux Edward R. Murrow. If you give your opinion on television professionally and dress it as news (paging Bill O’Reilly) you shouldn’t host something that is supposed to be straight-up, no chaser hard news.
The same goes for every cable network, from FOX News to CNN, who both like to truck out the occasional hacky host to toss in their two cents on a serious political news story. I don’t know how many times I’ve been disgusted to see Lou Dobbs wandering around the election desk at CNN posing questions to the pundits when he, himself, is a pundit and should be sitting down at the desk with Donna Brazile and Amy Holmes and Carl Bernstein.
Olbermann and Matthews are MSNBC’s biggest stars. For a long time Matthews was their only headliner, but as they’ve lurched to the left to counter FOX News’ hard right spin (while denying they are doing such) they have front-loaded the network with professional spin misters — some good, some awful — from rebel, ousted Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, professional asshat Tucker Carlson (who’s show was canceled), the Liberally nice but clueless Dan Abrams (also canceled), recently hired, Air America rising star Rachel Maddow. Matthews’ stalwart beat down of show “Hardball” used to be the cornerstone, but now Olbermann’s “Countdown” is the glorious, Lefty beacon the network has bet the farm on.
Mr. Olbermann, a 49-year-old former sportscaster, has become the face of the more aggressive MSNBC, and the lightning rod for much of the criticism. His program “Countdown,” now a liberal institution, was created by Mr. Olbermann in 2003 but it found its voice in his gnawing dissent regarding the Bush administration, often in the form of “special comment” segments.
As Mr. Olbermann raised his voice, his ratings rose as well, and he now reaches more than one million viewers a night, a higher television rating than any other show in the troubled 12-year history of the network. As a result, his identity largely defines MSNBC. “They have banked the entirety of the network on Keith Olbermann,” one employee said.
But the historic 2008 presidential race revealed NBC’s redheaded cable stepchild to be like “a heroin addict … They’re living from fix to fix and swearing they’ll go into rehab the next week.”
The Huffington Post has covered the testy battle, blow-for-blow, for months, bringing things to a fever pitch since the convention coverage began. Dubbing it “MSNBC Implosion.”
On August 25 of the Democratic Convention Olbermann derided Scarborough on air while he was defending Republican cand
idate John McCain suggesting “Jesus, Joe, why don’t you get a shovel?” followed up later with Matthews remarking, “Are we done?”
This was followed up 12-hours later with a juvenile, but frustrated screed from Scarborough in an exchange with reporter David Shuster on Scarborough’s show “Morning Joe.”
Shuster touched a nerve when he called Scarborough a Republican in a fairly pointless fight over the Iraqis wanting the US out. Scarborough has some famously bitter relations with his political party and was upset that Shuster would target him for being partisan, later telling NPR he “get[s] frustrated by people who have an obvious partisan bias that don’t proclaim that bias. (Politico)”
On “Morning Joe” the following day, a clearly agitated Scarborough went off on Shuster during a discussion of Iraq, which quickly devolved over several cringe-worthy minutes into personal attacks, such as Scarborough telling the world how his colleague missed the show three times by oversleeping. “Are you Rip Van Shuster?” Scarborough asked. “Have you been sleeping for the past couple of months?”
But Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, became enraged when Shuster made a reference to “your party.” Asked by Scarborough what his party was, Schuster said he was an “independent.”
“I feel so comforted by the fact that you’re an independent,” Scarborough said, in a mocking tone. “I bet everybody at MSNBC has independent on their voting cards. Oh, we’re down the middle now.” (Shuster left the set, but returned later to hug it out, “Entourage”-style.)
Then Aug. 26, the following day, THIS occurred.
It was scenes like this that made me long for the sheer banality of Wolf Blitzer and the nebbishness of the-man-who-is-not-Democrat-Donna-Brazile’s “boo” — Anderson Cooper.
Soon the rumor mill — and not so rumor mill — kicked up a few thousand notches: Olbermann allegedly trying to get legendary network anchor Tom Brokaw banned from the cable network because he’d called them out on their smashmouth coverage.
“I think Keith has gone too far. I think Chris has gone too far,” the veteran NBC newsman said at a forum sponsored by Harvard’s Shorenstein press center. But Brokaw said that they are “commentators” and “not the only voices” on MSNBC and that viewers could sort it out.
“The idea of anyone trying to ban Tom Brokaw is ludicrous,” said one MSNBC staffer.
At a forum, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell accused the network out for being in the tank for Barack Obama’s campaign. Olbermann was then accused of cock-blocking conservative NBC consultant Mike Murphy, wanting him off the network. Various sources began alleging that Olbermann turned into a power hungry, egocentric nightmare who could get away with murder. His bosses allegedly defended him in public, but bitched about his rumored prima donna behavior in private.
Then came the Republican National Convention coverage where not-so-strangely Olbermann stayed and anchored in New York while Matthews went to St. Paul, Minn.
There Olbermann apologized to viewers on behalf of the RNC for a 9-11 tribute video he saw as gratuitous, showing more 9-11 terror footage than most news networks. As a whole, all news networks have avoided showing the carnage in any large amount since 2002. Olbermann had a strong visceral and emotional reaction recalling how he lost friends in the tragedy and saw the video as too much for anyone who had emotional ties to the attack.
While Olbermann had a point in the gratuity and exploitive nature of using footage of terrorist attacks in a tribute video, apologizing for the footage was yet again another intrusion of his opinion into the campaign coverage. The issue would have been better served if the commentators they’d employed were asked their opinions about the veracity of the video rather than become self-righteous as Olbermann is prone to do.
Then there was the not-too-subtle partisan slant that was developing in the evening campaign coverage.
Nobody, including all of MSNBC, believes (MSNBC President) Phil Griffin when he says “MSNBC does not have an ideology … We hire smart people who are passionate about their love of politics and love of news.” Says one veteran off-camera staffer: “Bullshit … It’s a total farce.” It’s a shame that MSNBC can’t own up to the way it’s leaning, if only because now it can’t separate itself from the same charges aimed at Fox News — that it leans one way politically but pretends to be balanced. (Jossip)
Even former CBS Evening News co-anchor, former MSNBC staffer and all-around whackadoo Connie Chung was calling for this white male testosterone, nerdy fueled crew to “grow up.”
And you know if Chung says you’ve hit rock bottom you’ve got issues.
But the coup du grace came when The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart proclaimed the MSNBC d
rama was “‘Lord of the Flies’ on the NBC roof! I wonder which one has the conch and which one is Piggy?”
Naming all the principle players after characters from The Muppet Show — Matthews and Olbermann became balcony bickers Statler and Waldorf, Scarborough – Sam the Eagle and Shuster as “Beeker,” likely for his beyond annoying voice.
It’s funny, brutal and sadly true, leading us to Sunday night’s breaking news that all is over.
Olbermann and Matthews will be mere commentators, as they should be, and David Gregory, NBC political reporter, will host the upcoming debates and additional evening campaign coverage on the cable network.
Gregory is one of the journalists rumored to be up for Tim Russert’s job as host of NBC’s Meet the Press.
Love or hate Gregory, at least he’s a professional. I’m rather indifferent about him, but anyone who asks hard enough questions to get George W. Bush and White House Press Secretary Dana Perino flummoxed is good enough for me. I never understood why NBC didn’t use its better talented but undeserved employees to do the heavy lifting for MSNBC anyway?
Why have the Today Show/Dateline’s Ann Curry play Vanna White when she could carry the election coverage herself? And I’m not just suggesting Ann Curry because, jokingly, I often refer she is the cocaine and strawberries of Hapa journalists. She actually has talent.
Or Ed Bradley Award for Journalistic Hotness runner-up and weekend Today host Lester Holt. What’s he doing? Hire back Bryant Gumbel. Steal Soledad O’Brien from CNN. They don’t know what to do with her anyway. What happened to the $7 million man, my fellow St. Louisan Stone Phillips? Steal my other fellow St. Louisan and Ed Bradley Award for Journalist Hotness runner-up Russ Mitchell from CBS? Where’s more war reports from war hottie Richard Engel? What’s Kevin Corke doing? Use more Chuck Todd, for heavens sake!
Get someone legitimate. Stop stocking your morning broadcasting with bland, uninteresting pretty faces. Stop being so blatantly partisan that even FOX is mocking you. Get a hold of yourselves!
I like Olbermann. I like Matthews. Hell, I even like Scarborough and I almost never agree with him. I love Rachel Maddow. All you need to do is hire some serious minority journalists/commentators to host (like occasional “Countdown” stand-in, former MTV reporter and former NPR host Alison Stewart.) Put my favorite pundit I love/hate Amy Holmes on Morning Joe. Stick Michelle Bernard anywhere to balance out a ticket. I love her weave and her bitchatude (like Holmes’) is awesome.
And Ann Curry. Seriously. Put Alison Stewart, Ann Curry, David Gregory, steal Russ Mitchell and bring back the Gumbel and you’ll finally have some meat on those skinny news bones.
I’m a journalist first, a lefty second. Let’s stop freebasing The Nation magazine, Media Matters and Jonathon Kozol books and get back to what real broadcast journalism is — a loopy dance between objectivity and entertainment.
I love Keith to bits, but a viewer can’t live on Bush Hate alone.