As his sinking poll ratings have demonstrated, a lot of Americans are unhappy with President Obama. Weak leadership abroad, ObamaCare, and various scandals have all combined to send his popularity into a tailspin from which he is not likely to recover before the end of his term in office. But perhaps the ones who should be most angry with him are his biggest fans in the media rather than his conservative antagonists. Like the World War Two era pop classic teaches us, Obama is demonstrating that “you always hurt the ones you love.”
As Dylan Byers notes today in Politico, a new study from the Pew Research Journalism Project that incorporates Nielson ratings data shows that MSNBC is bleeding viewers and revenue at a pace that outstrips the rest of the cable news market. While Fox and CNN have both lost ground as the television market becomes more fractured by the vast number of choices available to viewers, in 2013 the left-wing network lost a staggering 24 percent of its prime-time audience and 15 percent of those who watch during the day. That is double the losses experienced by CNN and four times those of Fox. On the revenue side of things, while Fox and CNN are growing, MSNBC is losing income.
What’s the reason for this? The answer, according to Byers, is obvious. The network established itself as a liberal destination by being the place where viewers knew to go for criticism of George W. Bush and then celebrations of Barack Obama. But as Obama begins his slide into second-term irrelevance, left-wingers are no longer finding it entertaining to tune into the NBC knock-off network to watch talking heads parrot administration talking points and trash Republicans. Like fans of a sports team that is playing out the string in a season where they won’t make the playoffs, liberals are giving up and tuning out.
All cable stations are hurt by the digital revolution that has transformed television watching and diminished the clout of all stations on the dial. Cable news networks are also particularly vulnerable to the political cycle, with boom times during elections and important events and declines when nothing particularly interesting is happening. But MSNBC is in a particularly tight spot because of the nature of their political bias.
As I wrote last year when the previous Pew report on the media was published, the research breaking down the various cable news stations’ broadcasts showed that MSNBC was the most biased of all the networks. While the majority of commentary on Fox is conservative, they still run a respectable amount of straight news and generally always provide a liberal foil to their right-wing talkers even if the sole left-winger is always outnumbered. But on MSNBC, the liberal mindset is uniform with few of their shows even bothering to interview stray conservatives, let alone let alone feature them on a regular basis even as tokens. Other than Chuck Todd’s Morning Rundown which provides relatively fair coverage and as good a daily take on the political scene as is available on television, the only break on their schedule from left-wing uniformity comes from Joe Scarborough, the co-host of their morning show. But though Scarborough can go off on rants that displease MSNBC’s viewers, he spent much of 2013 reading from the liberal hymnal about gun control and denouncing the Tea Party. Meanwhile just about everyone else on that show and the rest of their network lineup is a reliable font of left-wing conventional wisdom.
MSNBC’s efforts to counteract the effect of an aging audience with younger, inexperienced, and often incompetent hosts like Ronan Farrow have been laughable failures. As Byers rightly points out, any thought about lowering the age of the average viewer is belied by the catheter ads that punctuate the shows hosted by such ingénues. Having bet their future on the concept of a network that would be more liberal than Fox was conservative, the network has a lot to lose if Democrats become apathetic in the waning days of a lame-duck Obama administration. But its corporate masters at NBC should cheer up. If conservatives do take back Congress this year and perhaps even elect a Republican in 2016, depressed liberals will need an outlet for the derangement syndrome that will be named after whomever it is the GOP nominates for the presidency in two years. If so, MSNBC will be there to give it to them.