On Friday, the big news within the cable news universe was the announcement by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry that she was effectively walking out on her weekend program and the network. Her decision came on the heels of numerous pre-emptions over the past couple of months ostensibly related to live election coverage. She was also upset about losing editorial control over her show as well as the network not utilizing her for election commentary and opinion.
This incident seems to be part of a larger trend going on with the network itself. Like the rest of the cable news industry, MSNBC has gone all in with this Presidential election, and specifically, Donald Trump. However, unlike the two other major cable networks, CNN and Fox News, MSNBC has made large-scale staffing and programming changes to take advantage of this news landscape. And, upon closer review, it appears that their decisions seem to be to make things much easier on the star attraction of this reality show election.
Before Trump was on the precipice of snagging the GOP nomination for the White House, there was the Summer of Trump. Shortly after his rambling and at the time much-mocked announcement of his candidacy in June, the former reality TV star’s campaign soon became the most covered subject on cable news. At first, it mostly centered on his offensive remarks about Mexicans being rapists, but then it switched to live coverage of his campaign rallies and lengthy discussions on the celebrity billionaire.
Before you knew it, every program on cable news was seemingly allowing Trump to call in for stream of consciousness interviews, letting him bogart as much live airtime as he wanted. During this period, MSNBC execs decided that they were going to cut three mid-afternoon shows so they could supposedly focus more on breaking news coverage and ‘hard’ news and less on commentary and opinion, especially of the liberal kind.
Thus, we saw NOW with Alex Wagner, The Ed Show and The Cycle given the boot on July 31st. A month later, PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton was shuffled from its 6 PM weekday slot to 8 AM on Sundays. Meanwhile, Chuck Todd was given a daily show once more, Kate Snow and Brian Williams were utilized during the day during MSNBC Live and, eventually, the network filled one of their open spots with re-airings of Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, hosted by Mark Halperin (a man who Trump knows well) and Jon Heilemann.
With the purposeful disrespect shown to MHP, essentially forcing her to react and walk out, the network’s strategy for this election has now come into focus. They’ve made MSNBC a safe space for Trump. Early on, Morning Joe let it be known that they would provide tons of positive coverage to Trump and allow him to appear or call in on a daily basis. Knowing that they could possibly be Trump’s preferred media outlet, the execs needed to make sure that they had reporters and hosts on the air that would be less combative towards the Republican candidate. And it helped more if they were white.
They will point to the need to improve their ratings, but the fact is, during an election year ratings for all cable news programming is going to go up. Nah. This was more a ploy to not only free up space for live look-ins at Trump events or endless loops of him making dumbshit comments, but also a way to let him feel more comfortable with the network. With him constantly making racist and xenophobic remarks, MSNBC couldn’t have minority hosts on during the day. Hell, they might say be kinda critical of the meal ticket.
However, it is starting to become overtly obvious at this point. Over the past few weeks, media critics have been specifically targeting Morning Joe for its blatant pandering to Trump. It hit critical mass after leaked audio was released showing Joe and Mika being super chummy with the former reality TV star during the town hall/Trump infomercial the network aired earlier this month. While the network has stood by the pair, and they have both vociferously denied they’ve gone easy or are in the tank for Trump, fewer and fewer people are buying it.
Add into the mix this flap with Harris-Perry, and you have a situation where the cable news network may have lost the last little bit of credibility it had left. As MHP said herself, she doesn’t mind being told her show is canceled or they are going in a different direction. But to bench her — someone with tons of experience and a Ph.D. in political science — while simultaneously using novices or partisan mouthpieces during election coverage, forces one to pull out their bullshit detector.
Elsewhere, Trump is telling his supporters that he wants to make suing the media for libel much easier, and will seek that out of he’s elected. MSNBC doesn’t need to worry. They were well ahead of the curve.