- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

Are pretty faces and shrill headlines obsolete? The gutsy patriotic touch is now the mode of choice for broadcast news.
In an effort to leave a bigger TV footprint, MSNBC has hired he-man journalist Jerry Nachman to direct its news coverage, host a talk show and personify their reinvented image. The network has proclaimed itself "America's News Channel," complete with an on-screen red, white and blue peacock and an eagle.
"They're following the Fox News model," noted one observer from another news network. "That's all it is."
Indeed, Fox knows what works.
The network has topped both CNN and MSNBC in ratings over the last four months, its success often linked to conservative sensibilities and flag-pin-wearing anchors. Fox has been called the "conservative" network, though executive Roger Ailes has recently sidestepped the label, claiming the network is simply "fair and balanced."
Meanwhile, MSNBC is placing its fate in the hands of a tough guy with newsprint roots and his own conservative underpinnings.
Mr. Nachman, 55, has been described as brash, street smart, flamboyant, a tough-guy editor, veteran newsman and "Lou Grant barking in New York-ese," among other things.
The editor of the New York Post from 1989 to '92, Mr. Nachman was news director at New York's WCBS and WNBC, produced ABC's late-night skirmish "Politically Incorrect" and hosted a local PBS political talk show in California.
He has also been called "conservative" in years past, though his ideology is muted by a voracious hunger to shape, rattle and roll in the news.
Mr. Nachman was not shy during the 2000 election, for example, when he advised fellow journalists to "wear delegate badges rather than press passes," at political conventions. "What's not new is that most news people are Democrats, even liberals. What is new is that newsies no longer try to keep their politics personal."
At the Post, Mr. Nachman published the answers to Regents exams after a high-school student faxed them to the paper. The state cancelled the exams, the Post was denounced by politicians but lauded by the New York Times, which noted, "What really happened is a mischievous newspaper did its job; it exposed a cheating scandal."
MSNBC is counting on just such mischief.
Network President Erik Sorenson praised Mr. Nachman's "leadership, his aggressiveness, his competitiveness and his wisdom about TV news," adding he would set the "journalistic agenda."
Mr. Sorenson has gushed over MSNBC's patriotic pomp. "We are part of a terrific American tradition a tradition of free speech and free thought," he wrote in a staff memo in mid-April. "America's News Channel is a new name for a new day."
The road to a retooled identity is never easy, however.
"MSNBC is feeling like RC Cola in a Coke and Pepsi world," said Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs yesterday. "To the casual observer, this seems unbelievable. How can a network with the news resources of NBC be faltering so badly?"
"They can't succeed if they continue to play by Fox News Channel's personality programming paradigm," Mr. Felling continued. They need to set their sights on the actual news and find the happy medium between mealy mouthed and smash-mouth."

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