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Horowitz: MSNBC Gaining From Trump Presidency

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


Rob Horowitz

Perhaps the biggest media winner of the daily wreckage and dysfunction of the Trump Presidency in its first 6 months is  MSNBC. As the now big tent cable home of Trump critics ranging from its liberal prime time hosts to “Never Trump” conservatives, MSNBC is now more than occasionally beating Fox News Channel in the weekday prime time ratings and becoming more competitive in other day parts.  Rachel Maddow has emerged as the top- rated host in all of cable news, attracting nearly 3 million viewers nightly.  In a recent week, she garnered the second highest ratings in all of basic cable, trailing only professional wrestling.

MSNBC has certainly benefited from the removal of cable ratings leader Bill O’Reilly from the Fox prime time lineup and other disruptions on the still leading cable news network. But, the main impetus behind MSNBC’s dramatically increased ratings is the intense negative opinion of Trump among liberals and moderates and the plentiful story lines that evoke strong reactions and high interest from their growing audience.   Given the stepped-up activity of the Special Prosecutor and Trump’s penchant for saying and doing things that most of the nation finds outrageous and un-presidential, the audience is likely to stay tuned for the foreseeable future.

In this era of niche, partisan media, where people can and do choose the news and information that confirms and reinforces their ideology and opinions, it is not unusual for vocal media opponents of the party and President in power to benefit ratings wise. Fox News increased its already sizable ratings lead during the Obama Presidency and other conservative media outlets benefited as well.  MSNBC had its first ratings spurt when George W. Bush was President and public opinion turned against the Iraq War. Keith Olbermann emerged as a ratings success by pretty much spending every night explaining why Bush was the worst President ever and his fellow MSNBC prime time hosts, including Rachel Maddow, followed suit.  That is when MSNBC essentially became Fox News for liberals.

MSNBC has also made its own luck, upgrading its programming substantially. The addition of former Bush Communications Director, Nicole Wallace at 4;00 p.m., Meet the Press Daily hosted by Chuck Todd at 5;00 PM, and The 11th Hour with Brian Williams at 11:00 p.m. have greatly enhanced its line-up. When there is breaking news, Williams usually anchors and he has lost none of his wit and television chops. Additionally, the cable news network has broadened out its commentators and pundits as the broad opposition to Trump has enabled anti-Trump conservatives, including Brett Stephens, Charlie Sykes and George Will to find a welcoming home.  And their conservative views, which in a different context, the core MSNBC audience might find off-putting, in this anti-Trump moment, simply provide further confirmation to viewers that Trump is beyond the pale.

It is no small irony that President Trump has made the most anti-Trump cable news network, a big ratings winner.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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