With the announcement that Rachel Maddow will start hosting a 9 p.m. weeknight show, hardcore liberals and hardcore conservatives now have pretty clear cable news choices between 8 and 10 p.m.
That’s upset a few Republicans. Last week saw the latest flare up, as officials for presumptive presidential nominee John McCain lashed out at NBC news correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Her crime was airing an allegation by the campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama that McCain might have cheated in a presidential forum at Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.
“We are concerned that your news division is following MSNBC’s lead in abandoning non-partisan coverage of the presidential race,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis wrote in a Aug. 17 letter to the president of NBC News, Steve Capus.
Is he talking about the same MSNBC where, after that Aug. 16 forum, three commentators tripped over themselves to declare McCain the winner, although the event could have just as easily been defined as showing McCain and Obama’s contrasting styles?
Is he talking about the same MSNBC that greets most weekdays with The Morning Joe, a political chat show hosted by former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough, often with conservative icon Pat Buchanan literally and figuratively to his right?
Is he talking about the same MSNBC where every superficial question about Obama — Is he tough enough? Is he too skinny? — gets as full an airing as anywhere on the dial?
Or, are Davis and several other conservatives who have leveled similar charges at MSNBC engaging in that time-honored political practice of working the refs?
Methinks as the party conventions get under way this week and we start a sprint toward Nov. 4, we’ll hear this charge again.
But MSNBC is no Fox News.
Yes, the Peacock’s news net has a couple of prime time shows that show liberals can go toe to toe with conservatives such as Hannity, O’Reilly and radio icon Rush Limbaugh in vigilant, sometimes myopic partisanship.
If you want the view from the left, you can tune in and get a passionate, snarky dose from Olbermann, whose “Special Comment” segments lambasting McCain, President Bush and others, have become events in the liberal blogosphere.
And Maddow, a host on liberal Air America radio and an MSNBC commentator, will likely extend the franchise.
But throughout the day, MSNBC is like any other broadcast news outlet, often leaning too much on salacious headlines about missing white women and leaning a bit hard right to avoid that old liberal bias charge.
When they go to pundit panels, they’re usually balanced right and left, and they regularly present stories that favor McCain and Republicans in general.
A case in point is the question of whether Obama has the experience to be president. It’s an argument that has been made over and over again, though no one ever takes the next step of defining what the requisite experience should be — something that is relevant when you consider Obama’s political résumé isn’t much shorter than several presidents, including the current one.
MSNBC was also among the outlets that fanned the flames of several Obama controversies, including his former pastor Joseph Wright.
If this network is supposed to be a Democratic mouthpiece, it’s doing a lousy job.
The bottom line is MSNBC has a couple of ideologically liberal commentary shows at night. Fox News has staked out the conservative market around the clock.
If MSNBC is really going to become a liberal Fox News, it’s got the better part of a day to go.