MSNBC and parent network NBC have recently drawn some unwelcome publicity for their handling of reporter Dr. Bob Arnot, while at the same time bringing in a former advocate for Bill Clinton as president of the cable news network. On February 17th, it was announced that MSNBC was bringing in former ABC executive and CNN chief Rick Kaplan. He is heralded as some kind of network savior, but his past suggests that he believes in a left-wing brand of “journalism.” At ABC, he coached then-candidate Clinton on how to handle his famous 1992 60 Minutes interview, which dealt with the brewing scandal over his illicit affair with bar singer Gennifer Flowers.
Kaplan’s biggest help to Clinton was in setting the stage for his explanation on ABC’s Nightline to minimize the damage from his Vietnam draft-dodging problem. Kaplan had received a letter from a retired officer that revealed Clinton’s contempt for the military, with the understanding that it would be aired immediately. But Kaplan gave the letter to Clinton and allowed him three days to prepare his response. Clinton claimed he was troubled by the war in Vietnam and that he regretted not having served.
Kaplan went to CNN, where he said he considered resigning after the airing of the disastrous Operation Tailwind story in 1998, which falsely claimed that the U.S. had used nerve gas to kill American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam war. The two producers of the story were fired, but Kaplan kept his job.
Faced with the challenge of lifting the ratings of a network mired in third place out of three cable news networks, Kaplan might do well to bring back Dr. Bob Arnot. Against the drumbeat of negative news out of Iraq, Arnot did stories last November for MSNBC about the successes that were occurring for the U.S. military and for the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority, the CPA. It has now been disclosed that Arnot fired off a long email to NBC News president Neal Shapiro, calling their coverage of Iraq “biased.” While Arnot’s stories had been airing on MSNBC, he claims that the stories he submitted to NBC News showing progress in Iraq were rejected because Shapiro thought they were too “positive.” The response was to let Arnot go.
Arnot’s firing was reported in the New York Observer, but got little attention elsewhere. MSNBC is a network in trouble, and NBC should be in trouble for its handling of Arnot. Going from bad to worse, MSNBC has now brought in tabloid TV star Deborah Norville as a host, and continues to stick with the unorthodox Keith Olbermann, whose attempts to be funny usually fall flat.
Chris Matthews is also a host and anchor of the network’s political coverage. A Democrat, Matthews was critical of Clinton but seems even more critical of Bush, especially on Iraq. MSNBC canceled liberal Phil Donahue when he couldn’t attract a sizable audience and hired former Florida congressman Joe Scarborough, a conservative. Now, with Kaplan in, it doesn’t look too good for Scarborough. Some think Kaplan may try to position MSNBC as the “anti-Fox” network. That will mean even fewer viewers.