Last weekend, Huffington Post’s Yashir Ali reported Lawrence O’Donnell’s current contract with MSNBC is down to its last month, and “the cable network does not appear to be interested in renewing his deal.” There had been, Ali reported, no active negotiations between the net and the host, a process that usually begins several months before the conclusion of a contract. And at the heart of that disinterest was a conflict with current NBC News chairman Andy Lack, who has been at the center of the network’s current, baffling attempt, in the face of their left-leaning programming’s smash success, to lean… right.
More specifically, the Lack-led NBC has attempted to rebrand the network as “hard news,” removing low-rated opinion shows from its daytime hours and creating a prime time hour for disgraced NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams, because mediocre white men get limitless second chances. But they also inexplicably scooped up exiting Fox News hosts Greta Van Susteran and Megyn Kelly. Van Susteran, who winkingly pitched her 6pm show For the Record as “fair and balanced”, has watched that hour tank in the ratings; Kelly has not yet made her NBC News debut, but has confirmed that her hour-long Sunday night news show will compete directly with 60 Minutes, which, sure, snort, okay. Meanwhile, MSNBC is handing a daytime hour to former Bush II communications director/McCain ’08 senior advisor Nicolle Wallace, and is “in talks” to do the same for loathsome right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt. (Also worth noting: while they’ve hired up all these white people, commentators of color like Tamron Hall, Reverend Al Sharpton, Goldie Taylor, and Melissa Harris-Perry have either been shown the door or exited following well-reported slights.)
So the question is: why? There’s, yes, a strange strain in mainstream media at the moment of attempting to “balance” the old Liberal Media canard by boosting Trump voters and conservative commentators (putting climate change denials and “Say something nice about Trump” columns into the New York Times, that kinda thing), but the notion that Fox viewers would somehow follow Van Susteran over to MSNBC, or watch conservative figures boosted there, is patently absurd. From the moment Olbermann became the network’s loudest voice in the mid-2000s, conservative media has made MSNBC a boogeyman, and its consumers are as unlikely to switch their sets over as MSNBC’s would if, say, Fox News gave Ed Schultz a show. (A reversed hypothetical really does let you see how fucking absurd these moves are.) And there is some speculation that the network’s indifference toward O’Donnell is a matter of ego; Lack reportedly asked O’Donnell to move his show from 10pm to 6pm (perhaps to move Williams earlier in the line-up), and O’Donnell refused, with cover from his contract.
The HuffPo story and similar dispatches may have put the network on the spot; Variety is reporting that contract talks are finally underway, and last night, O’Donnell seemed to confirm as much on Twitter. “I’m sorry this situation has become public,” he wrote, and if his contract is renewed, that may end up being the takeaway: how did this even become a thing? This, from Ali’s report, is telling:
If MSNBC failed to renew O’Donnell’s contract, it would be unprecedented, given his high ratings, but multiple sources tell HuffPost that Lack attributes O’Donnell’s high-ratings to heightened interest in Trump and the fact that his program’s lead-in is the top-rated Rachel Maddow show, and doesn’t credit O’Donnell’s star power and fan base for the high-ratings. Despite this, Lack is said to dislike when people attribute his cable network’s blockbuster ratings to Trump: He believes, according to multiple sources, that the high ratings are largely a product of his programming decisions.
So we end up right back where we started: most of the time, these people really have no idea what the hell they’re doing.