Ed Driscoll

MSNBC Phones It In

While Keith Olbermann may engage in Walter Mitty-esque fantasies that his low-rated show is “the highest rated cable news program, period”, even the Associated Press has noticed how badly the GE-owned network that broadcasts it covers breaking stories:

MSNBC spent considerable time Monday reporting on the aftermath of an attempted Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, but its executives didn’t want to talk about why the story received little attention as it was breaking.

Competitors CNN and Fox News Channel gave much more extensive attention to the story on Christmas night as MSNBC stuck with taped programs on a murder mystery and environmental issues, along with an “undercover” report on the teenage sex trade.

MSNBC has been criticized in the past for failing to respond quickly to breaking news during off-hours, a choice that may complicate its efforts to be seen as a go-to news source. The network is revamping its daytime schedule to be more news-oriented than personality-driven, since the latter approach has proven to be a ratings failure.

On Christmas, an anchor did live cut-ins about once an hour to pass on news of the attempted terrorism, said Jeremy Gaines, network spokesman.

Fox mixed live coverage of the story Friday night with a taped year-end retrospective show with Bill O’Reilly. CNN devoted virtually all of its prime-time hours to the incident, its coverage anchored by Ali Velshi. [Who had issues of his own — Ed.]

Neither Gaines nor Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s top executive, would discuss the judgment call on Monday.

MSNBC’s choice was noted by Rachel Sklar, a blogger for the Mediaite Web site: “If you’re going to call yourself a news network, then cover the news,” she wrote.

MSNBC faced similar criticism earlier this year when it stuck with taped programming during a weekend that other networks were covering protests over the election in Iran. CNN and Fox similarly stayed with the live story longer during the terrorist attacks in India last year.

Not to mention phoning it in during this year’s elections here in the States:

It is pretty darn astounding that with all of the insistence from the White House that Fox News Channel is “not a real news network,” their preferred channel, MSNBC, did not have live coverage at 10 p.m. Eastern on ELECTION NIGHT. They reran Olbermann’s 8 p.m. coverage, which was, of course, two hours out of date. [More on Olbermann’s repeat at Newsbusters — Ed.]

No, really, when you stop covering the news, people can legitimately say you’re not a news network. That has nothing to do with percieved bias or ideology (although we can speculate as to why Olbermann disappeared from the 10 p.m. coverage, where he was previously expected); it’s because you’re not actually bringing any new information to viewers.

And that was an event that was announced in all the papers ahead of time, giving MSNBC plenty of lead time to plan their coverage, unlike the fast-breaking pantybomber story.