Why MSNBC Isn’t The Liberal Fox News


The network just gave an “indefinite” suspension to its star pundit, Keith Olbermann, for giving money to three Democratic candidates. The president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, explained that this doesn’t meet “NBC News policy and standards.” People will instantly be checking to see if Fox News has a similar policy; a quick search at Opensecrets.org reveals that Sean Hannity has personally donated money to a Republican running in his district, as well as to Michelle Bachmann’s PAC. It might be different because Olbermann donated to specific people who lived nowhere near him. But whatever the official policies are, it’s a reminder that while MSNBC has shifted left in recent years (though they still have Chris Matthews, who had as big a crush on Bush as he currently has on Obama, plus Joe Scarborough), it has no desire to be what Fox is — an outlet that works round the clock to boost the fortunes of a particular political party.

Some would argue that that’s what they should try to be, that if Fox News is going to exist then there should be a true liberal counterpart. But Griffin is no Roger Ailes. Ailes is a rare combination of businessman and ideologue: he wants to help his party and he wants his network to be profitable and entertaining. (This makes Fox News different from other ideological media projects — left and right alike — which are often not expected to make money. Murdoch’s magazine The Weekly Standard isn’t a money-making operation, but it helps create material and media personalities that Fox News can draw on.) Griffin will dump his most profitable host rather than let his network be seen as ideological — in other words, he’ll sacrifice the bottom line for the sake of not being tarred as liberal.

Of course, since Olbermann is despised at his network (in part because he’s obnoxious and in part because NBC people are uncomfortable, like most network types, about being seen as liberal), this may simply be a way of keeping him in line or even easing him out. MSNBC has never been sure about whether to go in a more liberal direction, and the latest election results may well have convinced them that there’s no future in it. We might well see a replay of 2003, when after a Republican victory in the 2002 midterms, the cable networks moved closer to the Fox News format in a belief that conservatism was where the money was. That didn’t work for them either.

Update: MSNBC’s most liberal host, Rachel Maddow, explains why Olbermann had to be suspended but mostly dwells on the differences (as she sees it) between her network and Fox.

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Why MSNBC Isn’t The Liberal Fox News

  1. My first reaction to the suspension was, "Is that legal?" Financial contributions to politicians have been ruled a freedom of speech issue in the US.

    • Well, what if he had come out and said "I f***ing hate all n***ers." Everybody would expect him to be fired even though him saying that is legally protected.

      • Well he didn't get fired for calling Michelle Malkin a "mashed up bag of meat with lipstick"…

        • Because that's the same thing…

    • The US Constitution only prohibits the *government* from restricting speech. Private companies are free to suspend or fire you for commentary or political activity. Same distinction applies to Dr. Laura, Juan Williams, Rick Sanchez, Don Imus, etc. Thus why their firings weren't 1st Amendment issues either.

    • Federal employees have severe limitations on their political activity because the framers of The Hatch Act didn't want government jobs to be no show paychecks for campaign workers. Government employees for instance, can't put a bumper sticker on their car if they use it as part of their work.

      Those laws date from the 1880's.

  2. while MSNBC has shifted left in recent years…it has no desire to be what Fox is — an outlet that works round the clock to boost the fortunes of a particular political party.

    in part because NBC people are uncomfortable, like most network types, about being seen as liberal

    Griffin will dump his most profitable host rather than let his network be seen as ideological — in other words, he'll sacrifice the bottom line for the sake of not being tarred as liberal.

    Good God Jamie. Are you serious?

    • Seriously I'm serious. It's been a persistent thing for a long time: U.S. media people really, really don't like being considered liberal. Combating accusations of liberal bias has been a major thing for quite a while. Whether they are personally liberal (the old thing: the employees often are, the owners often aren't) isn't as relevant as the fact that they hate being accused of liberalism.

      In the case of MSNBC, they famously commissioned a study in 2003 that told them the reason for Phil Donahue's bad ratings was that he was "a tired left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace" and that this provided "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war."

      I don't think there was an anti-liberal conspiracy in canceling Donahue due to his bad ratings, but they certainly seemed to chalk up the bad ratings to liberalism, and the network went quite a bit to the right for a couple of years before Olbermann took off.

      • And, of course, advertisers prefer to impact as many eyeballs as possible, whichever the political stripe. it's good business to not scare off %40 of your potential customers with an acknowledged bias. And boycotts can be a pain in the butt.

      • Jamie, for the love of God wake up. They are advertising themselves as "progressive" in their own press releases for their new branding campaign. They make no effort to pretend they are anything but liberal. They are not trying to hide it.

        Cable news network msnbc said Tuesday it is launching a two-year, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, embracing its politically progressive identity with the new tagline “Lean Forward.”…With the addition of left-leaning anchors including Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz, the network increasingly became identified with a rising tide of progressive political sentiment. The new branding campaign, while not overtly political, implicitly embraces the network's progressive identity.

        What are you smoking if you believe MSNBC is pretending that they are not liberal? That is from their own press release! They are embracing it.

      • If MSNBC does not want to be Liberal they are doing a really bad job of hiding it. They are Liberal and it is disgusting trying to watch Olbermann and his ilk on that network.
        I confess I watch Fox News and there must be a lot of Canadians who are doing it. That's why CBC, Shaw Cable, CPAC, Sasktoon Blades advertise on it. The ratings must tell them there are plenty of eyeballs from Canada watching.
        Trying to watch Canadian news with its never ending news loop, fake political panels and boring announcers is like watching paint dry. No thanks I will take Fox News. By the way you should watch it there is plenty of left/right dialogue on the network.

        • "Trying to watch Canadian news with its never ending news loop, fake political panels and boring announcers is like watching paint dry. No thanks I will take Fox News"

          I used to feel the same way, but Fox News has been boring lately. Have you seen "Ow, My Balls!"? Now *that* is exciting entertainment.

        • "That's why CBC, Shaw Cable, CPAC, Sasktoon Blades advertise on it."

          As one who has bought large blocks of ad-time for work in the recent past, they often add in a handful of specialty channel ads with each purchase. Few large retailers will specifically target those channels, unless there's a product/market tie-in. It does happen, but usually for very specific things like gardening stuff got HGTV, etc. Fox News doesn't present a specific enough market. And, most specialty channels have small audiences, rarely above the hundred thousand level. A few are in half-million range.
          Latest Top 10 specialty channels ratings here. .http://www.channelcanada.com/Article5205.html

          • I doubt CBC is advertising on the O'Reilly factor simply because it wants to include some of its ads on a specialty channel. I doubt whether any of these Canadian companies are advertising because they want to include "a handful of specialty channel ads with each purchase". Fox beat all the cable networks on election night with 7 million viewers.

          • You get that none of those 7 million viewers in the states see a single Canadian ad, right?

          • Unless I misunderstand what you said the fact is CBC is not trying to attract U.S. viewers but those Canadians that are watching the O'Reilly Factor etc. Am I misunderstanding what you are saying?

      • If MSNBC went any further left, they'd have to hire Hugo Chavez. That's why the viewers have abandoned them in droves for Fox. CNN and MSNBC have been fighting over 33% of the US population and leaving the other 66% to Fox. This is evident in the ratings, where CNN and MSNBC combine for 33% of the viewers, while Fox has the other 66%.


        The network is as ideological as it gets. Fox makes an effort to put opposing viewpoints on the air. MSNBC covered the elections with a gaggle of liberals and nobody else. They covered the elections by trying to ridicule the winners of congressional races (eg Michelle Bachman). Yes, can you believe it? They put the winners on the air and make their best attempt to try to embarrass them somehow. They make absolutely no attempt to appear even-handed.

        The network screams liberal. Fox is no doubt conservative, but when you're capturing 67% of the viewers, you're not just capturing the, right, you're also capturing the center. There is more balance on Fox than the other networks.

        I gotta agree with john g, you're smoking some powerful substances.

  3. Fox News doesn't have a similar party. Fox News donated its own money to Republican campaigns.

  4. Keith has too many creative abilities, intelligence and let’s not forget the humanitarian efforts to people he helped to continue his using special gifts to remain with msnbc. Are they Manning Up by allowing this rare entity to be shoved out of the door? Run Keith, do not pass go, do not collect the $200, just get away from that negative energy currently known as GREED. There is a world where the sane abides awaiting for you with open arms.

  5. Lots of journalists donate to politicians.

    Hannity gave 10K to Michelle Bachmann for example.

    'Morning Joe' donated to politicians as well.

    Everyone knows what party these people back, so there's no conflict of interest…..and anybody that believes that old canard about the 'librul media' has mush for brains. Networks support the 'govt', whatever it is. It pays better.

  6. Isn't it a little nutty to expect the General Electric Corporation (owner of NBC) to act as the progressive counterpart to the Murdock empire?

  7. I see why they did this…it's all about appearances. The reality is that journos have always been able to donate, as have public servants, union members, bus drivers and people who work directly for the parties. Taken to a logical conclusion, will the ability to vote now be suspended? I know of only one journalist who ever went that far, and that was Don Newman. Even he admitted it might be a tad over the top.

  8. Does anyone see a distinction between "commentators" like O'Reilly and Hannity, and "journalists" as Olbermann claimed to be?

    I am old enough to remember the "good old days" when I couldn't tell if Huntley and Brinkley even registered with a party, much less which one.

    Now days the political slant of a supposed news reporter is evident 30 seconds into his or her dialogue or column.

    • That's Fox's argument – that they employ journalists, but that Hannity doesn't claim to be one. Given that it's not a distinction that viewers appreciate, that might not be a smart policy.
      NBC's policy, on the other hand, is the whole source of their conundrum – drawn up for another era, when news coverage was not the same as, and more important than, mere entertainment. Olbermann came out of journalism, but the appeal of the latter (for him and probably the audience too) was too great to resist. MSNBC has to decide what Olbermann's show is.

  9. I am admittedly one of those people who do believe that most of the media is centre-left, but I don't believe that there is any major news org as liberal as FoxNews is conservative.

    I always thought of it like a see-saw: There's more people on the left side, so the people on the right have to climb way out to the far end to balance it out.

  10. This is just a precursor to Comcast 's takeover of MSNBC.and their attempt to make MSNBC into a viable competitor to Fox and to some extent CNN. Right now they are running an abysmal 3rd place and are getting crushed by the competition. Make no mistake about it this is about ratings and profit. I would guess this is the first of many anchor heads to roll. Maddow, Ed, Dylan there all replaceable
    This isn't about Campaign contributions, that's just the excuse….

  11. This post is rediculous.

    The news part of Fox news is as straight and good as it comes.

    The commentary is mostly right leaning, though they have some non right leaning.

    MSNBC is about as far left as they come, both in terms of commentary (which is often just ridiculing and insulting "non progressives") but more importantly, the purported "news".

    That's why MSNBC has a fraction of the ratings fox does. It's not a serious news organization.

    • This comment is rediculous.

      The news part of NSNBC is as straight and good as it comes.

      The commentary is mostly left leaning, though they have some non left leaning.

      FOX is about as far right as they come, both in terms of commentary (which is often just ridiculing and insulting "progressives") but more importantly, the purported "news".

      That's why FOX has a fraction of the respect MSNBC does. It's not a serious news organization.

      • There is a reason it's called Faux News.

  12. The overwhelming majority of newspeople who gave to parties gave to Democrats.

    This firing of Olberman is not some new standard, and if it is, every MSM outlet would be emptied.

    • Mmm no, they didn't. In spite of your best efforts at propaganda, neither the news media nor Hollywood is 'librul'.

      Olberman hasn't been fired either.

      • Check the stats Emily. 88% of political donations by media types in 2008 went to Obama.

        And if you think Canada is any better, check this out. The CBC's board of directors gave 82% of their political contributions to the LIberals. Does that sound appropriate for our non-partisan, fair and balanced state broadcaster?

        Notwithstanding that Olberman hasn't been fired, Chet is not spewing propaganda. He speaks the truth here.

  13. This network has gotta be crazy.. This guy was the network and the only mouth/brain which told it the way it was and didn't waste any motion on it… You Americans and Freedom of whatevers, no wonder the world dislikes your type . You wouldn't recognize the truth if it got stuffed into you..

  14. Ironically, the company that employs Olbermann recently gained the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections with total anonymity.

  15. MSNBC has shut down it's fax machines and computers etc due to the heavy influx of messages from people telling them where to stick their 'policy'.

  16. When you accept a job you agree to follow the standards of that company. Perhaps Mr. Olbermann is above the corporate policy. It has reached the point that I cannot watch MSNBC because they just rip into the people they don't like and give very little reason for their position. I look for facts not a angry people telling me why I should dislike this guy or gal simply because they are a Republican or whatever. We have problems in this country because you don't listen to the other person. They may have a good idea that could help us come out of this mess. Could our problems come from NAFTA, outsouring jobs to outher country. Where are your clothes manufactured? Does the lable say.."Made in the USA". If not, why are you buying it. Stop yelling and starting listening and ask.. WHY!

    • You better all stop shopping at Walmart then.

  17. OMG! Olberman is a liberal?! I don't like the guy, but he is the counter turd to Beck and both are for amusement and self grandification of your own non-thinking-but-wanna-be-agreed-with political nonsense (although I wish not so much on so-called 'News Channels'). For someone in corp to come along and suddenly draw a line is weird and smells more like a production play.

  18. "Griffin will dump his most profitable host rather than let his network be seen as ideological — in other words, he'll sacrifice the bottom line for the sake of not being tarred as liberal."

    Forgive me, but this is nuts. MSNBC, a station whose weekend programming consists of reality prison shows and murder and sex stories, is trying to differentiate itself as a purveyor of "objective news" is dumping Olbermann as a matter of principle!?! Not worthy of you, sir.

    That said, this kind of explosion isn't exactly unprecedented in KO's career.

    • I don't think it's a matter of principle solely, also a combination of (understandable) dislike of KO as a person combined with a worry, as in 2003, that getting too liberal will be bad for business in the long run. I do get the impression that Griffin doesn't want his network to be seen as a Democratic party organ (even if it already is seen that way, particularly by Fox viewers) and that might be part of the reason for such a heavy crackdown on Olbermann ("indefinite" as opposed to temporary suspension).

    • Followup: It appears the only difference was that Mr Olbermann didn't ask for permission, while those other folks did. In that vein, I would have to say that Olbermann's suspension is merited.

  19. Olbermann was suspended not because he is a Liberal amongst Liberals but because of bad ratings.

  20. He's back as of Tuesday night.

  21. "will dump his most profitable host rather than let his network be seen as ideological"

    There's got to be another reason behind this.
    Unless you've been blind and deaf the past five years, you couldn't help but notice that they're not a station with a progressive outlook; but an official party organ.
    Their reporting and comment sound like party politicals, and when they do criticize it goes like this; "Because Democrats are so clever and smart, their excellent policies fly far over the heads of the backward-god-bothering-ignorant-average American. Will this be a problem for them? Are they just too smart and good and beautiful for their idiot constituents to appreciate?"

    • Well, no. No they're not. But Maddow is.

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