MSNBC President Says Fox News Isn't Always 'Based in Fact,' While He Claims 'We're Not a Frat House'

MSNBC president Phil Griffin gave an interview to Jeff Bercovici of Forbes, and said all the usual things about how MSNBC is less ideological than Fox News and Fox is a success despite not always being based in fact. But Griffin claimed no one ever knew what Tim Russert’s politics were and insisted that MSNBC is defined as "very smart progressive politics and information." 

The boss of “very smart” MSNBC is not going to tolerate crude terms for the president (well, this president) on its airwaves, because “We’re not a frat house.” At MSNBC, Griffin claimed, "name-calling and just getting overheated in a way that's not constructive is not welcome." See NewsBusters for daily evidence of how much Griffin is "based in fact." Here's the exchange:


BERCOVICI: How do you know that something like calling the President a dick is across the line when standards on TV and across journalism are changing so rapidly? You wouldn’t bat an eye if you read that sort of thing on a blog.

GRIFFIN: It’s across the line. We’re just not going to have that kind of name-calling on our air. We’re not a frat house. We’re a place where you have the smartest conversation about politics and what’s going on in the world, and I want to be respected for that. And I do want people who don’t necessarily agree to feel comfortable watching. Name calling and just getting overheated in a way that’s not constructive is not welcome.

All our people are passionate and I want their passion to come through, but I don’t want them making the news. I want their ideas to be the news.

Earth to Phil: suspending Mark Halperin indefinitely into cable-news Siberia is what made news, not the original comment, which could have been just a blogosphere moment. Griffin prefaced that by boasting "One of the great things we’ve done here is 99 percent of the time we bring on people who are really smart, who know their stuff and they want to talk ideas."

This is the Fox News part of the interview:

BERCOVICI: What part has Fox News played in your strategic thinking? Are they a model for you, or a bete noire, or a cautionary tale?

GRIFFIN: I think what they’ve done has been pretty incredible over the last 15 years. They saw an opening and grabbed it, the whole area of conservatives who felt disenfranchised, and they own it. I don’t agree with how they approach news, because I don’t always think they base it in fact, but I respect how they went out and got this huge audience. I think I’ve looked at them and recognized that you’ve got to find your space. I don’t think there’s equivalency between Fox and MSNBC, although I do think a lot of people are glad there is an MSNBC to take on the big, bad Fox. I don’t think we’re nearly as based in ideology the way they are, but we definitely have tried to find a space the way they found their space.

The Russert thing came up when Bercovici asked if CNN's "centrist" pose was just outdated:

BERCOVICI: What does that mean for CNN? They’re general interest. Is it too late for them? Has the music stopped with all the chairs taken?

GRIFFIN: Not at all. They can figure it out. You can own that space, and you can be the most successful channel. But you’ve got to be smart, you’ve gotta evolve. You’ve got to have a passionate following.  Listen, one of the most successful people I worked with was a man who, you didn’t know his politics but he had as passionate a following as anyone I know, and that was Tim Russert. And it was the qualities that he had that will make a journalist popular. Nobody was more passionate about politics than Tim, and that’s what came across. You had to watch him.

Griffin claimed MSNBC is somehow a ratings success (if you overlook, well, the cable-news leader), that they've somehow "taken off."

BERCOVICI: If you were to boil down what you’ve learned in the course of making MSNBC into a success story into a business school case study, what would the lesson be?

GRIFFIN: Know your audience. Look, the world changed with the computer. All of a sudden there are thousands of information places where you can get very specific news, information, headlines. And because people can get news when they want it on the web, on smartphones, wherever, there wasn’t a need for a broad-based, general headline news service. So you have to have an audience. Ours we defined as people who are interested in politics, and in our prime time we pretty much go progressive politics.

Just in prime time? Once again, Griffin "isn't always based in fact."

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Jeff Bercovici
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