It was a marriage made in whatever lefties call heaven – a brand new president, destined for media success, and an offshoot network trying to make its mark as a TV organization after years as an also-ran. In just less than three years, it has all-but collapsed.
Back in the beginning of 2009, the new president was at the height of his popularity. According to Gallup, Obama had a 67 percent approval rating and just 13 percent disapproval at the time of his inauguration. Of course, he hadn’t actually done anything yet.
The same time period was wildly generous to Team Obama’s pet TV network MSNBC. “During the three most lucrative and widely watched hours of TV, the cable news channel MSNBC outranked CNN for the first time ever in March,” wrote The New York Times in 2009 based on figures from Nielsen Media Research.
They were heady days. MSNBC had more than doubled its ratings during the beginning of 2008, when the Obama star was in ascendance. But its cast of characters was also a bit different. The Mouth That Roared, Keith Olbermann, was still sitting in an anchor chair during prime time, appeasing loony left audiences with his constant attacks on all things George W. Bush.
As 2009 continued, it looked like the future was as bright as Che Guevara’s halo in liberal dreams of the after life. (OK, they don’t really believe in heaven, but they still think Che’s there.) But if Che’s in heaven, the left’s beloved K.O. now broadcasts from purgatory, also known as Al Gore’s CurrentTV. The network he left behind lacks the impact it once had.
In fact, the decline of the all-lefty network mirrors the decline of the all-lefty operation in Washington, D.C. – also known as the Obama administration. Critics long ago nicknamed the U.S. under Barack as the “Obamanation.” Now that term reflects his popularity as well. Gallup measures Obama’s approval rating nine points below his disapproval rating – 41 to 50. To muster those kind of numbers usually takes sending out naked pictures of yourself to voters by e-mail or spending extra time with select members of your internship staff.
So how did the two leading lights of lefty luminescence dim so readily?
The short answer is we got to know them better. If familiarity breeds contempt, Americans got very familiar with both in 32 months. Whether you were working at 30 Rock for MSNBC or 1600 Pennsylvania for Team Obama, the past two years, eight months and 17 days have seemed more like an epoch than a few years.
Internet years move even faster than dog years, so lefty dominance is already fading. Adweek said MSNBC “is apparently on the precipice of falling back into third place among cable news networks,” Instead of MSNBC’s “lean forward” slogan, maybe the one for this epoch ought to be “fall off a cliff.” Every one of those ratings point losses was well-earned by both MSNBC and Obama.
Soon after the inauguration, MSBNC added talk radio ranter Ed Schultz to its evening lineup. Schultz had infamously called Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama “a terrorist on the American worker. He is a terrorist on wage workers.” These days, comments like that get you pulled from “Monday Night Football.” At MSNBC, they’re a job requirement.
It’s also a sure route to liberal love. When the Tea Parties formed, MSNBC was at the forefront of the foul attacks on the ordinary people out protesting. Host Rachel Maddow and her guest, liberal Air America’s Ana Marie Cox, combined to use the sexual term “teabag” at least 51 times in a 13-minute segment. At one point, Cox said there’s “a lot of love in tea-bagging.”
By August that year, MSNBC had resorted to fictionalized attacks on the conservative protesters. The network created a bogus story that accused a supposedly white health reform protester of carrying a gun out of racial hatred for Obama. MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer worried over “white people showing up with guns.” The problem? The protester was African-American. MSNBC edited the picture so closely that you couldn’t tell.
The subsequent two years have been so laughably disastrous they could send a thrill up the leg of any conservative. From the firing of Olbermann to Schultz calling Laura Ingraham “a right-wing slut” to Olbermann’s replacement by the boringly venomous Lawrence O’Donnell. Every day has continued to earn the network the nickname “MSDNC” for its unending support for all things Democratic. And as support for those positions declines, so have its fortunes.
They can thank Obama for that much. After a hopeful victory, the first big change he brought to Washington was a $787 billion stimulus that was supposed to keep unemployment from topping 8 percent. Instead, it’s done the opposite. Unemployment has never gone below that mark. Unemployment near 5 percent became the gold standard for both Clinton and Bush. Obama’s new normal is close to twice that at 9 percent unemployment.
That became the Obama administration’s Mendoza Line and they’ve never seen to get past it. Despite passing ObamaCare, every move they’ve made has damaged relations with the left, antagonized the right and annoyed independents.
In those intervening years Obama has received an undeserved (and pre-Libyan War) Nobel Peace Prize, promised and failed to close Gitmo, offended our closest allies Britain and Israel and run up epic, trillion-dollar deficits. That all led to what Obama himself called a “shellacking” in 2010.
Not to be outdone, the White House has proven itself even more incompetent since. The deadly Fast and Furious scandal and the failed $535 million Solyndra loan show the administration can’t be trusted with any of the tools of adult responsibility. Now it’s beset by multiple scandals and 2012 looks bleak.
With a bit more than a year before the 2012 elections, both the bastions of liberalism are in trouble – secretly praying that the Occupy Everything crowd has enough energy to motivate the hardcore left and stop their ratings slide. As one ‘90s song put it: “All is not lost, not yet.”
Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. He may also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.