MSNBC is trying its best to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear or is it putting lipstick on a pig (enough of the porcine analogies, please!) In its handling of the Brian Williams situation. Williams, you will recall was the high-flying anchor of NBC Nightly News until he was exposed as a fabulist—making up nose stretchers about dodging Taliban gunfire in Iraq, and other stories about feats of journalistic derring-do that turned out to have not happened. Williams was suspended by NBC News for six months and eventually fired. He then was taken in at NBC’s 24 hour cable channel MSNBC to cover breaking news. More recently they have built a late night newscast around Williams titled the 11th Hour. This is a big comedown for a Peabody award winner who was reportedly earning $10 Million a year anchoring the NBC Nightly News. In his heyday Williams was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and was a frequent guest of late night comedy and talk shows. Although he reportedly took a substantial pay cut for his new gig, Williams is still getting Millions for anchoring a newscast that draws about 3 percent of the audience of his previous job. With the proliferation of 24 hour news channels virtually nobody in the US stays up to 11pm.
Perpetually the also-ran in all-news channel ratings MSNBC seems to be trying to make a bid for success, hoping perhaps to take advantage of the strained relations between CNN and Fox news with Donald Trump. They have grabbed lawyer-commentator Greta Van Sustern from Fox, and more importantly it appears the morning crew—Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski are getting special access to the Donald. Long before the presidential race Donald Trump was a frequent guest on Morning Joe. Throughout the campaign there was criticism that Trump was allowed to phone in for interviews where other political interviewees had to show up at the studio. Scarborough was granted an exclusive background briefing with the President and some of his senior staff on January 29th. It appears this special access will continue (until Scarborough says something that Trump doesn’t like) and as a result I have reverted back to watching MSNBC. I had tuned them out because I got sick of Joe always talking over people, but if he’s getting the inside skinny I will have to put up with Scarborough’s idiosyncrasies. Meanwhile CNN, always seen as the more neutral of the all-news channels continues its downward spiral into partisanship. The instructions to its hosts seems to be to argue and harangue with their guests from the new administration constantly interrupting them and the entire result is unseemly and unwatchable.
The changing of the guard in the White House seems to have triggered a similar phenomenon in the cable news universe.