A brief message to MSNBC

A chalk outline is rarely a good sign. Photo: Alissa Walker


Sometimes, in the morning, I watch this Morning Joe program of yours. I can’t really say it’s bad, but it’s certainly not good. I think your whole network is like that. I have no problem with your show being “brewed by Starbucks” or “percolated by Starbucks” or whatever, and in fact I almost find it to be a charming call back to the days of old-school corporate sponsorship. So far, so adorable.

But there isn’t much else charming about you, MSNBC. Except that face the blonde woman makes whenever Joe Scarborough’s talking. That’s pretty hilarious.

While you’re listening, let’s talk about this whole attitude you’re copping these days. Clearly, someone at NBC Universal read an article in The Economist or something about how the abundance of media allows the modern news consumer to cherry-pick outlets that reinforce their personal worldview. I’m not saying this is good or bad, it just is. So, liberals were watching Keith Olberman’s nightly spittle showers and you decided to hire the impressively pedantic Rachel Maddow and the infuriatingly boorish Ed Shultz. And Lawrence O’Donnell, whoever that is. And you kept Joe Scarborough, just to keep things interesting. Good for you! This seems like a pretty smart strategy. I mean, Fox has got their schtick, which works pretty well, and since you can’t be right-leaning, like them, or Twitter-leaning, like CNN, you decided to be the liberal network.

Good idea. I’m from Texas, but I’ve heard there are lots of liberals in America, and there do seem to be a lot here in New York. Myself, being a distinguished magazine editor, am clearly apolitical. Just like all editors.

Anyway, the greatest symptom of this attempt at credible bias is your multi-million dollar “Lean Forward” campaign. I get it! Lean! Clever! Embrace it, tout it, lock in that liberal audience. Sure, sure, good. But these ads. Really. Who did this? You might want to remind your art directors, for example, that when your slogan is “lean forward”, you probably should not have pictures of your personalities literally leaning back. If you run an ad with Ms. Maddow standing on the edge of Hoover Dam, you probably don’t want to implore us to “lean forward”.

The bigger issue though, is not that you’re poorly promoting your bias, it’s that you’re mentioning it at all. There’s nothing wrong with embracing it — it’ll get you viewers, I promise. But don’t advertise it. It just doesn’t sit well. Everyone knows Fox’s bias, but they don’t tell you about it. They tell you that Fox is the only damn place for Americans to get the straight dope, or whatever. You have to say that. Your pitch can’t amount to “We’re the other news network, the liberal one!”. You have to say “We’re better than Fox, we’re the best”. You can still be liberal. People will pick up on that. We did before.

This, of course, does not address a few basic flaws that you share with all American cable news. Too little international reporting, a lack of in-depth and investigative journalism, shrinking bureaus, and an editorial sensibility based solely around the lowest common denominator. The economy has been bad for four years. Could you explain why? Or who’s involved? I get that Obama-Boehner standoffs are a cute narrative, but what is actually going on? Do Americans even have an idea of what it means for the U.S. to be in debt?

These are just suggestions, here. I’m spitballing. I could come up with some specifics, if you like. My consulting fees are high, but hey, you want ratings, right?

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