In late August, the gang on MSNBC’s Morning Joe was discussing a Quinnipiac University poll that asked voters for the first word they associated with various presidential candidates. The top word for Hillary Clinton was “liar”; for Donald Trump, “arrogant”; for Jeb Bush, “Bush.” After everyone had riffed on just how bad the word “Bush” is, the show’s conservative co-host and alpha dog, Joe Scarborough, complained that he’s been the subject of this sort of poll question, too.
“What were some of the worst [responses]?” co-host Mika Brzezinski asked.
“‘He works for MSNBC,’” replied Scarborough, who has long felt trapped in liberal-media hell. “That’s always the worst.
“Not anymore, though, ’cause things have changed,” he added, brightening up. “Thank you, Andy.”
That’s Andy Lack, the NBC News and MSNBC chairman who, since taking over in April, has wiped out all of MSNBC’s daytime liberal opinion shows that network president Phil Griffin hadn’t already cancelled..* The idea, the network says, is to rebrand dayside as an extension of NBC News. As for prime time, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews will keep their shows, but the future of Chris Hayes’s All In and Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word are up in the air.
MSNBC will also reportedly expand Morning Joe, a show with low ratings but an influential Beltway audience, from three to four hours a day. The extra hour would give center-right and center-left opinion shows roughly equal airtime on the network that’s considered the left’s best answer to the mighty Fox News.
So if Joe Scarborough, who regularly browbeats any libber ooze out of his co-hosts and guests, is thrilled with the changes at MSNBC, where does that leave progressives? Should we mourn that, along with Jon Stewart’s exit, one of the few venues for daily progressive politics on TV is, at best, shrinking? Or should we shrug—since how much of a force for lefty ideas can any corporate-owned commercial entity truly be?
One thing is clear: MSNBC’s parade of liberal anchors over the past several years—all pretty much following the same host-desk-panel formula—tanked in the ratings game. In the first quarter of this year, MSNBC’s numbers in the desirable 25-to-54 sales demographic hit an all-time low, dropping 39 percent compared to the same period in 2014. In February, the low-rated Joy Reid and Ronan Farrow shows were axed. In July, it was Now With Alex Wagner, The Cycle, and Ed Schultz’s The Ed Show. Reid, Farrow, Wagner, and The Cycle’s Ari Melber landed other gigs at the network; Ed Schultz, the only consistent voice for labor on all of television, did not. Al Sharpton’s Monday-to-Friday show has been squeezed to just one hour: 8 am on Sundays. (It’s all good, the reverend claims: “I wanted to be Dr. Martin Luther King, not Larry King.”)