Days of Change

Day 1082 – Shlock News

October 22, 2011

Another unbiased MSNBC daytime reporter.

Bruce Bartlett has been using his “I was a supply-sider in the 80s” Republican credentials to go after Republicans for the last 5 years. Recently, he called Rick Perry an idiot. Now, he takes on Fox News in a similarly scholarly manner.

Ailes and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh were quick to recognize that there was an unfilled market for opinionated political talk and that the AM radio dial was the perfect place for it. In 1988, Limbaugh went national with his radio show, quickly growing to hundreds of stations nationwide. It was much cheaper for radio stations to run syndicated programming like Limbaugh’s than pay their own disk jockeys or local talk show hosts. As a consequence, AM radio suddenly became very profitable.

In 1991, Ailes created a syndicated television program for Limbaugh. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful, it led Murdoch to hire Ailes to create the Fox News Channel in 1996. It was the fulfillment of a dream Ailes had had since the 1960s, when he tried to convince Richard Nixon to help create a conservative news network to compete with ABC, CBS and NBC.

Now that conservatives have the television news network of their dreams, one question is whether liberals ought to have one of their own. MSNBC has attempted to stake out this position, but so far has not come close to having Fox’s impact. One reason is that Fox’s conservatism permeates its entire schedule, while MSNBC’s liberal programming runs only in the evening. And the fact is that Fox does what it does much better than MSNBC does.

This looks like another case of Paul Krugman syndrome, an economist talking about things other than economics. There are such gaping holes that I’m not sure if Bartlett was lying by omission or is simply a bad researcher. As far as AM radio is concerned, he’s not under any obligation to note that instead of firing DJs, canned AM radio was just changed to a different can of syndicated content. AM radio is now mostly news, sports and talk. Very little of the content is local. the other stuff he writes, is just wrong.

The history of Roger Ailes, for example, is more interesting than what’s in the story. Ailes did not just create a failed Limbaugh TV show in 1991, disappear and suddenly start Fox News in 1996. In the 90s, he was creating call-in shows for CNBC during their low-rated hours after the market closed. He was so successful that he was tasked with creating America’s Talking. It featured almost a full day of news and talk programs. It got into so many cable homes, NBC used it to launch their own news network in 1996. Ailes suggested he could head that news channel, but the network decided their people were better at news than Ailes. In his time, Ailes used NBC to showcase such right-wing heroes as Phil Donahue and Chris Matthews.

Bartlett also seems to be painting MSNBC as failing because they have less “permeated” content. That might be true if MSNBC tried to be the liberal alternative for more than the last five or six years. They tried being the Microsoft (the MS in MSNBC) news channel when they started. They toyed with liberalism a few years later, but 9/11 caused them to become Fox Jr, with such prime time hosts as Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson. Michael Savage had a show on MSNBC in 2003. No, really. After they gave up on opinion broadcasts, Keith Olbermann’s fluff show was spiced up by his rants about George Bush. The liberal MSNBC was born, again.

Leaving permeation aside, MSNBC and Fox News are actually somewhat matched in ideological broadcasting. MSNBC does not only run liberal programming in the evening. Dylan Ratigan’s anti-corporation show is on at 4pm EST. Chris Hayes has a show on at 8am on the weekend. Liberal opinion shows (Ratigan, Hardball, Last Word, Maddow and Ed) take up 13 hours of the weekday schedule. Fox’s opinion hosts (O’Reilly, Hannity) take up 5. It’s 10 if you count Greta, Red Eye and The Five.

This isn’t about the bias of Fox News. It’s about the bias of the coverage of Fox News. Jon Stewart has more credibility picking out oddball things Fox and Friends hosts Gretchen and (former America’s Talking host) Steve Doocey say. It may be cherry picking, but at least it happened.

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