MSNBC’s ratings are sliding, according to a new Pew Research report. While primetime audiences are down for CNN, Fox News and MSNB, it is MSNBC that “dropped 11% to about 3 million, the smallest it has been since 2007.” The report continues, “The Nielsen Media Research data show that the biggest decline came at MSNBC, which lost nearly a quarter (24%) of its prime-time audience. CNN, under new management, ended . . . in third place, with a 13 percent decline in prime time. Fox, while down 6 percent, still drew more viewers (1.75 million) than its two competitors combined (619,500 at MSNBC and 543,000 at CNN). The daytime audience for cable news was more stable, holding flat at about 2 million viewers across the three news channels. CNN (up 12%) and Fox (up 2%) actually experienced growth here. That was counterbalanced by more deep loses at MSNBC (down 15.5%).”
It is also bleak on the revenue side for MSNBC. (“Fox News was projected to increase its total revenue, according to research firm SNL Kagan, by 5% to $1.89 billion. CNN was projected to increase just 2% to $1.11 billion, and MSNBC was projected to decline by 2% to $475 million. Both CNN and MSNBC experienced advertising revenue losses year over year.”)
But it isn’t only MSNBC. NBC’s “Meet the Press,” once the Goliath of the Sunday Morning shows, now comes in third, behind ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Meet the Press” and the daytime “news” programming for MSNBC have, it seems, been thoroughly tainted by the far-left MSNBC image, and it didn’t help when MSNBC’s chief announced it was out of the breaking-news business. It doesn’t help “Meet the Press,” as I’ve written before, to have a biased, lackadaisical and unprepared host along with long-in-the-tooth panelists.
The MSNBC results are hardly surprising. Liberals are down in the dumps with a failing president and the likely loss of the Senate. And screechy liberal news tends to wear thin, as we saw with Air America, the left wing’s failed attempt to imitate the success of right-wing talk radio. Liberal apologists for MSNBC can claim that MSNBC’s hard-left lineup has “powerful brands,” but the numbers say otherwise. The homogeneity of views, the gap between their spin and reality and the lack of drama (for drama you need conflict and for conflict you need contrasting views) all contribute to the problem.
Consider, then, what this suggests about the Democratic Party and the president.
The White House makes no bones about the president’s news habits. The same hosts whose network suffers from a shrinking audience show up regularly at the off-the-record friendly spin sessions and then go out to defend the president’s blunders. If you want to know why the president seems blissfully unaware of so many facts, you need look no further than the tiny enclave of left-wing spinners whose appeal and perspective are horribly skewed. No wonder he thinks the rest of the media is “falsely balanced.” It is very easy to see that Obama, like the remaining MSNBC viewers, suffers from confirmation bias — the predilection to search out views that simply reinforce what you already believe.
One might gather from this that the vast majority of interest and excitement in current events for liberals has become personalized to Obama. This is to be expected to a certain extent, and members of both parties focus on the president when he’s “their guy.” But the degree to which Obama has sucked up all the oxygen, aggrandized decision-making and separated himself from the interests of the party at large is unprecedented. When he’s in a slump his fans literally can’t bear to watch the news. If they also can’t bear to engage in the election, as polls measuring relative excitement of Democratic and GOP voters for the 2014 races indicate, the Democratic Party is in for problems come November.
And finally, whatever you think of conservative media (and I’ve certainly been critical) it has always been about more than a particular politician. The big themes — religion under attack, liberals wanting to run our lives, schools trampling on students and parents, activist courts, the bane of radical environmentalists — extend beyond particular administrations. They are indicative of the difference between the parties: The GOP is the party of causes (ideas, if you will) while the Democratic Party is the one of constituencies.
The focus on ideas, causes and grievances holds conservative audiences together and keeps them engaged in the political process. The Democrats’ dependence not on an idea or a specific agenda (other than defending the status quo) bodes ill for them once the “historic” president is off the stage. Well, there is always Hillary! Ah, but it is easy to forget her limitations as a campaigner. (Interestingly her own approval is down about 20 points since she left Foggy Bottom.)
MSNBC and NBC’s decline can be seen, on one level, as simply indicative of bad news programming. But in a larger sense it says something about a party and a movement that is overly insular, highly personalized and very angry. Republicans seem to be executing a course correction to avoid this fate; Democrats might need one themselves.