Appearing at a recent media conference, NBC president Bob Wright offered a novel rationale for the exclusion of liberal voices on cable news: Liberals don’t watch TV.
During an interview with conservative MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, Wright responded to Carlson’s question about offering a left-leaning channel by saying that progressives “don’t listen to a lot of radio and they don’t watch a lot of television” (Broadcasting & Cable, 11/13/05).
It is ironic that Wright would say this to Carlson; if there’s one thing many viewers don’t seem to want to watch, it is Tucker Carlson’s MSNBC show. In its first weeks on the air, Carlson’s show was averaging about 200,000 viewers (Washington Post, 7/30/05). Even with the addition of a tabloid-oriented show hosted by Rita Cosby, the channel’s prime-time audience in August was about 325,000 viewers (New York Times, 8/29/05). So if ratings are really what matter, one could argue that MSNBC‘s strategy of veering right–with shows hosted by Carlson and former Republican congressmember Joe Scarborough–has clearly been a failure.
But recent history suggests that MSNBC makes programming decisions based more on politics than audience share. That was why Phil Donahue’s MSNBC show was cancelled, even though it was the channel’s highest-rated program at the time, averaging over 400,000 viewers when it was cancelled (New York Times, 2/26/03).
Internal MSNBC memos revealed that network management was worried that Donahue would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” because Donahue “seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives” (FAIR Action Alert, 3/7/03).
The relative success of the Donahue show would seem to disprove Wright’s claim that liberals don’t watch TV, or that viewers aren’t interested in hearing left-of-center views. It appears that it’s NBC‘s corporate managers, and not viewers, who aren’t interested in such perspectives.
ACTION: Contact NBC chairman Bob Wright and let him know whether or not you watch TV, and if you would watch a cable show hosted by a progressive.
Phone: (212) 664-4444