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Mock the Vote

Oct 10, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 04 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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There’s a hilarious passage in a memoir (Crisis, 1982) by Jimmy Carter’s late chief of staff Hamilton Jordan, in which he flies to Panama to plead with the resident dictator to offer safe haven to the ailing ex-shah of Iran. Not only does Gen. Omar Torrijos agree to Jordan’s proposal, but he does so (in Jordan’s admiring account) almost instantly—and with no recourse to any argumentative legislature! What a contrast, Jordan reflects, with politics in Washington, where an irritating system of checks and balances prevents President Carter from snapping his fingers and demanding obedience. 

If this were Europe in, say, 1932, The Scrapbook would be worried about where such sentiments might lead in the wake of an economic and political slump. But since it’s America in 2011, these Democratic dreams of authority just sound absurd, and we thank whatever gods may be that we all get to vote again in just 13 months.

 

Lean Backwards

Last week, Fox News was in the middle of a cross-country tour celebrating the network’s 15th anniversary. It seems they have good reason to celebrate. The network remains the undisputed cable news ratings champ, and while it’s hard to pin down the exact figures, it’s estimated that Fox News made $700 million in profit last year. That’s more than “CNN, MSNBC and the evening newscasts of NBC, ABC and CBS combined,” reports Business Insider

Given Fox’s competition, their continued success is hardly surprising. “The genius of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes,” as Charles Kraut-hammer once remarked, “was to have discovered a niche market in American broadcasting—half the American people.” Krauthammer’s observation seems to be reinforced by the fate of the more liberal news network, MSNBC. While Fox was breaking out the party hats last week, the New York Times reported, “MSNBC Is Close to Falling to Third Place in Cable News Ratings.” Not only that, TV Newser reports that CNN’s ratings are up double digits this month, mostly at the expense of a slipping MSNBC. CNN now beats MSNBC in just about every hour of the day outside of primetime. And even in primetime, MSNBC’s ratings advantage is very narrow.

The Times attributes MSNBC’s ratings plunge to the departure of the famously difficult-to-work-with Keith Olbermann earlier this year. It’s true that Olbermann’s replacement on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell, has brought in significantly fewer viewers. But Olbermann has a news show on Al Gore’s Current TV channel, and he hasn’t exactly taken his audience with him. The number of viewers for Olbermann’s new program could probably fit comfortably into the former vice president’s Prius. If MSNBC rose to prominence by voicing a fiery liberal opposition to George W. Bush, that era is definitively over. In a center-right country, there’s just no demand for a combatively liberal network. 

In case anyone thought that Olbermann’s departure might cause the network to reevaluate the utility of putting a liberal spin on the news, the answer is “no.” MSNBC’s big moves this year have been its oft-mocked “Lean Forward” marketing campaign and the hiring of Al Sharpton, a commentator not exactly known for his Murrow-esque commitment to veracity.

Meanwhile, CNN has been courting the center. While those attuned to liberal media bias can still find much at CNN to complain about, the pretense of objectivity at least matters to the network. And it has rounded out its commentariat by employing figures popular among grassroots conservatives, such as Dana Loesch and Erick Erickson. Even a slight attempt to cater to the political perspective of half the American public might be paying some ratings dividends. 

Speaking of dividends, we assume that Comcast/General Electric/NBCUniversal shareholders will at some point care whether their cable news network makes money. When that time comes, it won’t exactly be a difficult decision to throw in the towel and clean up the hot liberal mess that MSNBC has become. The Scrapbook suspects they’ll replace the current lineup with something that’s more, well, fair and balanced.

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