- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

Despite evidence to the contrary, MSNBC claims it is not turning into a conservative news channel to shore up ratings and shake up the marketplace.
"The channel has not adopted a single political viewpoint. We're a big tent, and we're bringing in people with opinions from all over the political spectrum," an MSNBC spokesman said yesterday.
"This is not a reinvention," he added.
Deposed talk show host Phil Donahue might disagree.
MSNBC fired Mr. Donahue with little warning on Tuesday, ending a vexing six-month prime-time tenure plagued by low ratings and inconsistency.
Within 24 hours, Mr. Donahue issued a statement accusing the network of impatience and a change of ideology.
He said he had been fired too soon, granted just six months to topple Fox News and CNN with his noble effort to "break through the noisy drums of war."
But Mr. Donahue's own drums were not quite noisy enough, apparently.
In the past two weeks, MSNBC has hired former House Republican leader Dick Armey, former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough and conservative talk radio host Michael Savage as commentators.
The three hires were an effort, Mr. Donahue said, "to out-Fox Fox," and advised MSNBC to be as diverse with its political opinions as the New York Times op-ed section.
Fox News declined to comment yesterday on Mr. Donahue's observations.
Meanwhile, MSNBC President Erik Sorenson insists his network is rife with diversity, describing it as a "kaleidoscope of perspectives, a place where a range of voices have their say."
The new hires, he said, are "destination television." MSNBC also has hired former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura who considers himself an independent "populist" as a new host.
Still, an internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press Wednesday revealed that Mr. Donahue was deemed "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace" in an analysis from an outside focus group.
He was also not very marketable. According to the memo, Mr. Donahue represented "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. … He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives."
Indeed, Mr. Donahue featured Rosie O'Donnell as his very last guest, dwelling upon her feelings as a "mother" and a pacifist.
The analysis warned MSNBC that its flagship show could become "a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."
Such things get ratings. Though his viewership had risen lately, Mr. Donahue averaged 446,000 viewers a night, compared with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who attracted 2.7 million, according to the latest Nielsen numbers.
The Fox audience grew by 36 percent in 2002, according to a final tally released by Nielsen in January. Fox averaged 1.2 million viewers a night in 2002.
CNN attracted 898,000 and MSNBC 382,000. Ratings at Fox's two chief rivals fell 8 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
"Is MSNBC imitating Fox? Yeah. It may be flattering, it may seem like a smart thing to do. But it just doesn't work," noted one broadcast source yesterday.
"CNN already tried it and found that success isn't guaranteed by bringing in new faces or graphics. It's the balanced approach," the source continued. "Fox stays focused and stays fair. And that resonates with viewers."


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