Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote this howler today in a story on how MSNBC's leftishness rubs off on the mothership: "No one is suggesting Brian Williams's newscast had suddenly become biased."
That's right. Brian's show has been biased for a long time. But there's more comedy in how NBC News chief Steve Capus tries to suggest it's unfair to see NBC as liberal because of the ever-increasing left-wing shrillness quotient of MSNBC in prime time:
Capus concedes that MSNBC's lefty lineup at night--Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and, as of next week, Lawrence O'Donnell--raises questions about NBC. But cable is "narrowcasting," he says, and "I think the audience gets it, pure and simple."
Fox News, he adds, is "trying to brand us" as a liberal broadcast network because of MSNBC. "It's a classic political tactic -- they don't like Keith Olbermann, they're going to come after us. It's annoying."
NBC News has operated with a left-wing tilt going back to at least Huntley/Brinkley in the sixties, but now they have a new way of pretending to be straight news: Don't we look calm and sedate next to Olbermann?
Kurtz was also told that MSNBC was a complete programming mess for 11 years, but adding radical-left talk show host after radical-left talk show host has suddenly made the network "serious," after all these years:
Fox still dominates the cable news race, but MSNBC now regularly beats CNN in prime time, and Joe Scarborough's "Morning Joe" has become the most talked-about breakfast show. Capus attributes the turnaround to the channel branding itself "the place for politics," giving it a long-sought focus after so many short-lived programs with the likes of Alan Keyes, Phil Donahue and John Hockenberry.
For its first 11 years, "MSNBC didn't have its act together," Zucker says. "Only in the last three years has MSNBC emerged as a serious network.
Kurtz is buying the company spin on this one. Fox & Friends crushes Morning Joe in the morning (often by a gap of about 1 million to 400,000). Kurtz doesn't even note that CNN Headline News has boasted that its Morning Express with Robin Meade has beat Scarborough in the coveted 25-54 demographic for many months. Perhaps Kurtz is being charitable to NBC so he doesn't look too much like a CNN employee.
Kurtz is certainly correct that Fox News enjoys taunting NBC and MSNBC (if he doesn't mention that NBC and MSNBC often shoot back):
Fox Executive Vice President Brian Lewis responds that "NBC, and especially MSNBC, is not even a blip on our radar screen. We don't care what they do. Capus must be confusing us with CNN" as a close competitor. (Fox host Bill O'Reilly, for his part, regularly describes NBC as a left-wing network, at one point slamming "Capus and his character assassins.")