In a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Beast, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack admitted that MSNBC’s devotion to liberal programming was a failure, and that if the network hadn’t switched to covering more breaking news it “would have been clobbered.”
“Had we not made this turn to breaking news with seriousness of purpose, in these times and in this election, we would have been clobbered,” he said. “As reasonable as that [discarded liberal] programming was for when it was created, we’re in a long game now… This is maybe the most interesting election of my lifetime… The world has never been more dangerous in my lifetime.”
The liberal programming worked for a couple of years and vaulted MSNBC to second place in the cable news ratings, ahead of CNN. But after the 2012 elections, the wheels came off the bus, as MSNBC president Phil Griffin tinkered with the lineup and watched the ratings tumble.
Lack denied that he was feeling any pressure about the weakest link in the primetime lineup—All In with Chris Hayes—saying that Hayes is “a good guy and he’s doing a good show.” Yet no one watches it.
One thing that’s working is the network’s almost incessant coverage of Donald Trump. Despite its still liberal tilt, MSNBC has readily covered Trump rallies live and even aired a one hour documentary on Tuesday, “Citizen Trump,” which drew over one million viewers—far more than Chris Matthews normally attracts in the 7 p.m. time slot.
Lack was unapologetic about all the attention lavished on the GOP frontrunner:
I think it’s a helluva story—and I like big stories.
Donald Trump is leading our news coverage, and everybody else’s, because Donald Trump has cut a path through the Republican Party that is profound right now…The coverage we’re giving to Trump is arguably 24-7 because he’s got 40 percent in the polls.
Even though the ratings have rebounded somewhat since Lack started to revamp the lineup, MSNBC still trails CNN in the race for second place in the ratings. And no matter what other changes Lack makes, MSNBC will never be more than a third-rate cable news network.