- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

An unabashed liberal is up on his hind legs and ready to take on conservatives, one and all.
Phil Donahue is back on the airwaves for the first time in six years, ready to rumble on MSNBC, which tonight debuts a new prime time line-up of talkers, screamers and mellifluous persuaders.
Mr. Donahue describes himself as "left of Bill Clinton" and has already hosted more than 7,000 hours of chitchat over the decades. Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair was his first TV guest back in 1967, and he once gave over his show to an unmoderated debate between Mr. Clinton and Jerry Brown when both had their eyes on the White House.
"I'm sure the e-mails will come in: 'I knew you were liberal, and now you've proven it,'" Mr. Donahue said during a press conference last week.
"I think we also have a chance to grab a significant number of viewers out there who are conservative, who can't wait to see what this irresponsible liberal is going to do," he vowed.
"He's not going to be neutral," said MSNBC President Erik Sorenson, who has placed Mr. Donahue's hour of charm opposite Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and CNN's Connie Chung at 8 p.m.
Meanwhile, the old liberal bias in the media is only a myth in Mr. Donahue's world. He frets that broadcast in particular is now dominated by conservatives and hawks who only want to "bomb, bomb, bomb" after September 11. He took to "yelling at the TV set."
But the siren call of showbiz sounded.
"For all the screaming heads, these folks are discussing serious issues, and this excites me," Mr. Donahue said. "Free speech is more important than ever. There are 50,000 service men and women overseas defending us, and we owe it to them to exploit the Bill of Rights now more than ever."
MSNBC Editor-in-Chief Jerry Nachman gleefully summarized Mr. Donahue's activities over the past few years as "running Ralph Nader's campaign and clipping coupons," plus a little "singing 'Kumbaya.'"
Mr. Nachman himself will host his own hour of analysis with urban underpinnings; city-hall-style politics, cops, robbers, racketeers and "show goils" will be among the topics. The move makes sense Mr. Nachman was editor of the New York Post from 1989 to 1992.
And the former editor is certainly starting off with a bang. The spirited Mr. Nachman recently wrote CNN and the Washington Post management, asking "How do you guys maintain an ethical fig leaf over Howard Kurtz's getting paid to work on CNN while also covering that outfit and its competitors for the Washington Post?"
"I've heard Howie's defense: that he criticizes CNN in his column and would never allow that relationship to color his coverage of CNN or its competitors," Mr. Nachman continued. "But the issue of conflict of interest and its first cousin, the appearance of conflict rears its head every time Howie writes or broadcasts about CNN or Fox or MSNBC."
Mr. Kurtz told the Chicago Tribune that he stood by his record and called the charges "a partisan attack."
In addition to Mr. Donahue and Mr. Nachman, legal analyst Dan Abrams, talk-show veteran Chris Matthews and bespectacled broadcaster Ashleigh Banfield will also have a chance to reinvent MSNBC between 6 and 11 p.m. Ideological hijinks are slated for the dayside as well, featuring CNN alumni Patrick Buchanan and Bill Press.
MSNBC has been third in the ratings behind Fox News and CNN; tonight's new offerings are part of an effort begun in May to turn the network into "America's News Channel," complete with star-spangled trimmings.
Analysis and commentary are part of the skeletal structure here.
"We are the most hyper-informed society in the history of humankind," network president Mr. Sorenson said last week. "At the same time, the world is more complicated and people are looking for ways to make sense of it."


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