Accuracy in Media

During an interview appearing on July 9, MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson was asked by Bill Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review what it’s going to take, ratings-wise, for MSNBC to keep him around. Carlson, the host of the show, “The Situation,” replied that “I haven’t felt any ratings pressure at all?They understand that it’s going to take time for people to find the show, and they seem patient enough to wait for that. And I’m grateful.” About two weeks later, however, it was announced that the show is being moved out of prime time to the 11 p.m. time slot, effective August 8. Carlson’s former 9 p.m. time slot is being taken over by Rita Cosby, formerly of the Fox News Channel, who scored “a world exclusive interview with Jermaine and Tito Jackson when the Michael Jackson verdict broke,” according to MSNBC.

Cable TV news is supposed to be an alternative to the broadcast networks. Now, MSNBC’s important 9 p.m. time slot is being turned over to a Barbara Walters wannabe.

I’ll never forget one of Cosby’s more memorable interviews on the Fox News Channel. She hyped a pay-per-view cable show, “Can you be a porn star?” and interviewed Tabitha Stevens, a veteran of 300 “adult films” and the host of the show. “Any pointers?” asked Cosby.

Carlson was dumped from prime time because of ratings pressure. But MSNBC President Rick Kaplan explained the switch by saying, “The fast-paced style of ‘The Situation’ is best suited for a late-night audience.” This makes no sense. When Cosby was hired, MSNBC claimed that her program was “in development” and would debut sometime near the end of the year. Clearly, she was given the 9 p.m. time slot because Kaplan decided that they could not continue with the numbers generated by “The Situation,” averaging only about 200,000 viewers per show. But that’s his fault, not Carlson’s.

The problem with the Carlson show is the format, which places too much emphasis on his guests, including a regular named Rachel Maddow, a radio host on Air America who is described as the first out-of-the-closet lesbian to be named a Rhodes Scholar. She is a lesbian with hair so short that she looks like a man. Maddow’s bio says that she “enjoys appearing on right-wing TV shows as the smiling-but-obstinate liberal.” She may smile, but her opinions are entirely predictable and far-out. When Helen Thomas announced she would kill herself if Vice President Cheney ran for president, Maddow said on the Carlson show, “I like Helen Thomas,” and then delivered a typical left-wing diatribe about the administration’s Iraq war policy. This is precisely what people don’t want to see or hear on a show that is supposed to feature a conservative.

The format was dictated by Media Matters, a left-wing media “watchdog” group, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to stifle conservative media voices. After MSNBC’s deal with Carlson was announced, it wrote to Kaplan worrying about the prospect of “adding yet another conservative as sole host of a prime-time show.” The group, led by homosexual conservative-turned-liberal David Brock, urged Kaplan to “allow some progressive voices to be heard” on Carlson’s show. This is apparently how Maddow got to be a regular.

Carlson described himself in that Pittsburgh Tribune-Review interview as a traditional conservative. He flip-flopped on the Iraq war, going from a supporter to an opponent, but that’s an issue that conservatives can reasonably disagree about. He said, “I don’t trust the post office to deliver the mail and all of a sudden you get conservatives trusting government to create a brand new society in a place that has remained unchanged for thousands of years.” Even conservative supporters of the war have to admit that the occupation is a big gamble and that it’s not clear whether a democratic society in Iraq can succeed.

The point is that the show, as currently designed, is so fast-paced and diluted by liberals that it does not allow for Carlson or anybody else to present a consistent conservative point of view.  If anything, the show’s poor ratings should be seen as a verdict on the appeal of Maddow rather than Carlson.

Kaplan has blown a great opportunity with MSNBC. But Carlson isn’t the only casualty.

MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, featuring Joe Scarborough, has also been playing down the host’s conservative political positions so that flashy missing-person stories can be played up. On July 25 the show began this way: “Now, we’ve got a big night straight ahead for you, breaking news out of Aruba to a possible murder mystery in the Mediterranean.”

On July 26, the show began: “Breaking news tonight from Aruba. Right now, investigators are draining a lake in the area where Natalee went missing eight weeks ago.”

On July 27, the show began: “Tonight’s top headline, tonight, right now, the frantic search is going on at this minute for Natalee Holloway, as authorities drain a swamp where they believe the Alabama teen may be buried.”

Finally, on July 28: “Now, tonight’s top headline: The frantic search for Natalee picks up steam, as cops search a swamp and a landfill.”

Scarborough ought to go to Kaplan and say, “enough is enough.” If he doesn’t, he may soon be interviewing Tabitha Stevens.

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