The problem with liberals on TV


As any Philadelphia sports fan could have told you -- before YESTERDAY -- there's pretty much an 100 percent correlation between the terms "disarray" and "loser." In sports, when a winning team has a lot of infighting and intrique, they may get joked about like the 1970s' Yankees as "The Bronx Zoo" -- but a ballclub in disarray must be headed for an 100-loss season.

In the world of TV news, all we've been hearing this summer and fall is that MSNBC is a network in disarray. Here's a typical story from the Politico that ran during the Democratic National Convention on Denver:

DENVER — Amid a spate of awkward on-air conflicts among MNSBC anchors at this week’s Democratic convention, some staff members say there are sharp internal disputes at the cable network over whether its opinion and personality-driven political coverage has crossed the line. 

“The situation at our channel is about to blow up,” a high-ranking MSNBC journalist told Politico on Wednesday. 

Two other MSNBC sources said some of the testy on-air exchanges between Keith Olbermann — whose quick-witted and often caustic commentary has fueled ratings growth — and other network personalities were a public glimpse of much more intense behind-the-scenes turmoil. 

I've seen this story line repeated countless times, a mix of gossips dishing dirt on the latest MSNBC in-house spat and journalistic ethical scolds worrying about whether the network and its occasional liberal rants were crossing some kind of line that was never drawn for the conservatives over at fair-and-balanced Fox News. Given all the "turmoil," there must be hell to pay in the ratings, right?

Uh, not exactly. Check out (h/t Atrios) these overnight numbers for the leading cable news networks on Wednesday night (when you and I were watching something else). You can see that -- helped, no doubt, by the notorious Obama informerical -- MSNBC trounced CNN and gave Fox News, usually the overwhelming winner, a run for its money. The star performer is newcomer Rachel Maddow, who easily defeated CNN stalwart Larry King (whose guest was John McCain) and came closer than ever to the longtime leader in her 9 p.m. time slot, which is FNC's "Hannity and Colmes."

In other words, viewers could care less about what a few gossip columnists and some old-media cranks have to say. They want a diversity of views on their television, which explains the surge in popularity for Maddow and her brainy-but-never-shouted liberal-oriented perspective on the issues of the day. And the thing that is so terrible about two hours of fairly liberal (one of those hours belongs to Keith Olbermann, who is really more a basher of Bush and Cheney power abuses than a traditional liberal) news on cable TV is...absolutely nothing.

Here's a couple of concepts that get bandied around quite a bit: Free speech, and free enterprise. With cable TV and its virtually unlimited channels, there's nothing that should prohibit any particular outlet from having a point of view at times, either liberal or conservative. And if you believe in a free market, then viewers -- or a lack of viewers -- should be the only thing that determines whether they stay on the air. MSNBC is giving American news watchers a different point of view at night, and more viewers are watching MSNBC than ever before.

Who has a problem with that?

I don't.