FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How MSNBC Sabotaged Donahue

Monopolist Microsoft and oligopolist General Electric–the co-owners of MSNBC–took their highest rated show off the air and sent Phil Donahue away on February 25, 2003. After choosing Donahue to host his own 8pm daily show only six months ago, the corporate managers micromanaged, mismanaged and refused to let Phil Donahue be Phil Donahue.

About the only freedom Donahue had was the freedom to say what he thinks. Beyond that he was often told what kinds of subjects to showcase and what kind of guests to have. And he was often chided for being too tough on some guests–shades of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, his competition for that hour, and the spitting, screeching, viper-like Sean Hannity.

In the past few months, the corporate “suits” even told Donahue that he had to have more conservative or right-wing guests than liberals on the same hour show. Still, Donahue persevered. His ratings were slowly increasing, despite the regular lacerations that the top brass inflicted on a show that was supposed to be the liberal counterpart of the right-wing, bellicose Fox fare stitched together by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

MSNBC, which was receiving ratings of about 440,000 viewers for Donahue, was aiming for1,000,000 people. Were they interested in one million predominately liberal viewers attracted to the legendary talk show host who, starting in the Sixties, broke apart on morning television the biases or taboos against women, minorities, gays and lesbians, downtrodden workers, consumer and environmental rights? Doubtful. For if they were, some of their promotional budgets would have gone for reaching liberal audiences of the kind who read Utne magazine, Mother Jones, or who watch various PBS outlets and other serious programming.

What emerged was quite different than that described by Steve Friedman, former producer of NBC’s “Today” and the CBS “Early Show,” who told a reporter: “I think MSNBC felt the way to beat Fox was to do a liberal version of what Fox was doing, and Phil was a good person to do that. I don’t know if they were really committed to that.” They were not. Instead, the top brass allowed other pulls to shatter the identity and consistency of the show–which, by the way, would have always provided for contrary views to those held by Phil.

First, always hovering in their minds are the corporate advertisers, who do not exactly like a Dr. Sid Wolfe exposing the harmful effects of brand name drugs. Right-wing radio and television talk show hosts dominate the electronic media because, unlike the rare liberal host, they attack government regulation, while the rare liberal may go after corporate crimes and abuse. Guess what? Corporations advertise and governments do not.

But there was more to the NBC officials’ calculations. A commissioned report for NBC’s internal purposes in December put the concern this way: Donahue was described as “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” Continuing, the study said that Donahue is “a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war…he seems to delight in presenting guests who are antiwar, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” Unmentioned was that there were more pro-war guests on the Donahue show than those espousing an antiwar viewpoint.

In a pointed but polite manner, Donahue issued a statement that indicated what was going on behind the scenes: “We were hoping to break through the noisy drums of war on cable and become a responsible platform for dissenters as well as Administration supporters. The New York Times op-ed page features a variety of views regarding the Bush war on Iraq,including regular columnists who have been critical of the Administration’s foreign policy team. MSNBC’s voice should be no less diverse. The hiring of Mike Savage, Dick Armey and Joe Scarborough suggest a strategy to outfox Fox.”

Starting last fall, leaks from top NBC sources badmouthed their own Donahue show, leading to regular trade press rumors about the demise of the show. This is no way to maintain morale, much less run a business supposedly endowed with at least some recognition of the public’s right to diverse information and opinion. Top NBC executives, given their enormous pay, should start paying attention to simple improvements. For example, in about half the country, MSNBC is not even listed in the daily and Sunday TV cable guides, including Washington, D.C. If your programs are not even listed alongside CNN and Fox programs, there will be fewer viewers. I notified a top NBC executive late last fall about this remarkable omission. His response: “I’m astonished to hear that,” and he pledged to rectify the situation. Nothing has changed to date.

Donahue, in his gracious manner, paid tribute to the “worker bees” at MSNBC’s Secaucus, New Jersey headquarters. These are the same workers whose state income tax payments are in effect refunded to profit-glutted Microsoft and General Electric under a corporate welfare scheme that the two companies demanded from then Governor Christie Todd Whitman. Now that would have been a great Donahue show!

 

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail