Bill O’Reilly’s NBC Anchor Attack Leads To Best (Demo) Night Of 2009

Cable news ratings, August 19, 2009: Check out the highlights, and see the full ratings below:

• Fox News’ 8pmET host Bill O’Reilly had his best night of 2009 last night — a show during which he went after NBC anchors — in the A25-54 demographic, averaging 1,101,000 viewers. That means the program had more demo viewers than every prime time CNN show had total viewers. O’Reilly also had the top program of the night in total viewers, with 3,701,000.

• The best non-FNC show was once again Countdown with Keith Olbermann in both the demo and in total viewers, with 476,000 in the demo and 1,207,000 total viewers.

• Fox News continued the streak of topping all the cable competition combined, beating CNN, MSNBC, HLN and CNBC during prime time in total viewers and the demo.

Check out all the ratings below, and leave your own thoughts in the comments:

Fox News CNN MSNBC CNN Headline News
5 pm Beck












6 pm Baier












7 pm Shep












8 pm O’Reilly












9 pm Hannity












10 pm Greta












11 pm O’Reilly












TOTAL DAY 415 167 155 127
PRIME TIME 859 214 375 186
Data by Nielsen Media Research. Live and same day (DVR) data.
Fox News CNN MSNBC CNN Headline News
5 pm Beck












6 pm Baier












7 pm Shep












8 pm O’Reilly












9 pm Hannity












10 pm Greta












11 pm O’Reilly












TOTAL DAY 1565 569 445 293
PRIME TIME 2865 718 1002 496
Data by Nielsen Media Research. Live and same day (DVR) data.

O’Reilly/NBC Feud Takes New Turn; Network Exec Happy It “Has Nothing To Do With Us”

gregory_8-20When we talked to CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus this week about the network’s big victory Sunday, we ended the conversation with a question about the GE/FOX feud. “Thank heavens it has nothing to do with us,” he told Mediaite.

The GE/FOX feud shows no signs of letting up, with Keith Olbermann again targeting Fox News hosts during his “Worst Persons” segment last night, and still throwing in a Bill O’Reilly reference at least once a week. And on The O’Reilly Factor, the Fox News host turned his attention to a new NBC News anchor.

In a segment that was teased online and on-air all day yesterday, O’Reilly had Bernie Goldberg on to talk about several stories, including a comment from David Gregory during Sunday’s Meet the Press. “The show is now declining in the ratings fairly quickly, because Mr. Gregory is a left-wing guy, and says stuff like this,” said O’Reilly, before playing a clip of Gregory describing the New Hampshire gun carrier at the town hall event while also talking about Timothy McVeigh.

“If you look at the sum of NBC’s reporting on the protests for the last five weeks, it’s all the same,” said O’Reilly. “It all comes down to groupthink. And the groupthink is ‘these people who come out to the town hall meetings, protest health care, are all a bunch of yahoos.”

Attacking NBC News anchors, whether it be Gregory, Brian Williams, Matt Lauer or others, has a more stinging effect than again going after MSNBC (or “NBC properties” in general). And the cycle continues…

Here’s the clip from The Factor (segment begins around 1:45):

Now Would Be A Great Time For the MSM to Prove It’s Still Relevant

Picture 5Yesterday on our Office Hours show guest Garrett Graff noted that every August when congressman and senators return to their states and some story arises out of a public disaffection over the issue of the day and grabs the national spotlight. This year it is the Health Care debate. Last year it was…well it was the campaign. There was no summer news slump last year to hijack (unless you count the brief appearance of the Montauk Monster!). Both the conventions landed at the end of the summer and it was full steam ahead throughout the weeks leading to them. The summer before? Well believe it or not that was the campaign also. It’s hard to recall now, but the presidential debates started eight months before the primaries officially began in January ‘08, and they kept the MSM fairly occupied throughout.

So what was the summer slump storyline of 2006? No idea. A quick scan of TVNewser’s headlines from August 2006 (which give a sense of what the cablers were talking about at the time) show that no one story dominated. A glance at Frank Rich’s columns from the month are equally non-revealing. Point being, it’s been quite some time since a summer news story high-jacked the national headlines the way the shouting over the Town Hall-Health Care debacle has managed to do. The ratings gods must be very grateful!

The question now, of course, is does anyone actually know what they are shouting about? The proposed Health Care bill is currently 1000 plus pages of policy wonkiness. That’s a lot of complicated reading. That’s a lot of opportunity for certain people to paint it in broad strokes. It’s also a lot of opportunity for people in need of a narrative to create one! But has it gone too far? A lot of people think so. Namely Glenn Beck’s advertisers who did not take too kindly to his comments that the President was racist and the Health Plan was actually a secret eugenics program. In fact Fox News as a whole is lately coming under some fire for inciting the unrest (Gawker’s John Cook had a most excellent piece on this the other day: “It’s as if there had been a 24-hour cable news channel in 1981 devoted to coverage of Jodie Foster, and what it would take for someone to get her attention.”). That said it’s not like the other cablers are adding much insight beyond a lot of additional chatter/yelling. MSNBC and CNN are just as guilty of latching on to the town hall “controversies” as anyone. You know what would be great right now? Some MSM intervention.

There is so much disinformation flying around at the moment wouldn’t it be great to have someone in the media who had at their disposal the time and resources, step in and separate fact from fiction. And we mean really separate it in a slow and deliberate way. Like, say, a Sunday Times in-depth expose about what we are hearing on TV vs. what is actually written down in the bill. Or, how about a serious rebuttal of Sarah Palin and Senator Grassley’s assertions. Not just what they are saying, but what they are saying wrong. And why isn’t someone in the MSM calling out Fox (Keith Olbermann doesn’t count, in fact he should probably be added to the list)? What about devoting five minutes of every network news cast next week to truth squading the Death Panel claims! This is what the MSM does well: a longer, slower, prepared news report. Details! Digging! Everyone still employed by newspapers and networks is so keen to tell us that newspapers and networks are still relevant, wouldn’t now be a great time to demonstrate that fact? With facts? People will listen. The MSM is down, but not out. People — meaning bloggers, cablers, and town hall attendees — still listen to what they say. We’ve seen a bit of what they are capable of today with the NYT expose of Betsy McCaughey. It would be nice to see that “public trust” leveraged in a more consistent and useful way while we still have it at our disposal.

Panel Nerds: Corporations and Cable News

pnerdsWho: Brian Stelter and Steve Rendall

What: Gelf Magazine’s Media Circus “The Corporate Influence on Cable News”

Where: JLA Studios Art Gallery

When August 13, 2009

Thumbs: Up

When people talk about bias on cable news, they are usually referring to the political leanings of the networks’ hosts, pundits and reporters. But recently discussion has centered more on the bias imposed by corporate influence and interests.

Steve Rendall says that cable news is a tricky term since there’s very little news as part of it. He said that reporters have revealed to him that their networks won’t cover certain topics because they are of a sensitive nature to parent companies. Legally, networks must cater to their shareholders’ best interests, with public interest coming second.

In his recent New York Times story, Brian Stelter uncovered what happens at some of those closed-door meetings. He reported a truce that was struck between NewsCorp., which owns Fox News, and General Electric, NBC’s parent company. The story made Stelter some enemies at the networks (video below).

As Stelter began to investigate these claims in June, he said that sources at the networks repeatedly compared their corporate marching orders to the pressure other reporters felt in Iraq at the start of the war. This comparison didn’t sit well with him. Further complicating this matter, Stelter said, was a Fox source who indicated that the network strove to counter-balance the bias he and his colleagues saw taking place regularly on MSNBC. Stelter correctly pointed out that Fox’s mantra – to remain “fair and balanced” -had turned into something else altogether – a spirited need to provide “balance” between networks.

Both Stelter and Rendall pointed to ombudsmen as the solution. As of now, outside groups have stepped in to monitor the networks for accuracy in reporting. But Stelter urges the networks to appoint their own ombudsmen to chime in during broadcasts when they hear misleading remarks. While he thinks we’re a long way from seeing networks address their own issues on air, he says it’s good that someone, whether competitors or critics, is watching the networks closely.

What They Said

“The media could have done something about it. They could have put out that fire well before. It shows a real double-standard. If Michael Moore said that about people on the right, it would be a far different story.”

– Steve Rendall says that the birthers should have been handled better when they first emerged

“If I was CNN, I’d do Twitter on TV. I’d take the top story that hour and cover that.”

- Brian Stelter would change many things about cable news

“When people ask me how to save the future of journalism, I say ‘Let’s take a step back and figure out what’s worth saving.’”

- Steve Rendall doesn’t have the business model to procure a sounder foundation for news reporting.

What We Thought

  • We liked Stelter’s point that CNN has come out being perceived as the most reliable of the news channels. It’s also to some degree been labeled as the dysfunctional one.
  • Rendall said that its not accurate to judge based on ratings, where Fox News is #1. He said that Bill O’Reilly salaciously panders to porn stars and other attention-grabbing guests. Say what you want about MSNBC’s hosts or bias but at least the network sticks to the issues.
  • We liked the passion that these two panelists brought to the discussion. They provided both anecdotal and documented evidence to back up their claims. In discussions like this one, it’s important to hear both reflections on what they see happening on television each day and also what the research and statistics substantiate.


Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like…9/11 Sleuthers

9/11 was a terrible tragedy. But you don’t have to seek it out as the cause of every mysterious wrongdoing. Even if you think that we’re still dealing with a litany of new laws and repressive governmental acts from then (which you do; that was clear), that doesn’t mean it has anything to do with the delivery of cable news. 9/11 isn’t the cause of everything.

Panel Nerds Etan Bednarsh and Danny Groner are New York-based writers and avid panel-goers. Want them at your panel? Email them here:

The REAL Health Care Debate: The Obama Administration Vs Fox News

Picture 28Watching a few hours of Fox News these days amounts to a non-stop infomercial opposing  the Obama Administration’s effort to reform Health Care.  While there is always room for a healthy debate on the issues, please don’t look to Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck for a measured discourse - they  rarely, if ever, present a constructive solution to the current health care problems (though there is the occasional admission that there is need for reform.) No single entity seems more entrenched in the opposition to the health care reform than Fox News.

The political bias of cable news is a time-worn tale, particularly with Fox News. But  it seems like that narrative has made us so numb to blatant subjectivity that we can no longer see clear bias when its right in front of our faces. Does no one care anymore? Or maybe it’s just August and everyone’s on vacation?  Simply put — the amount of propaganda put forth from Fox News is far from fair and balanced — they are very near inciting riots.

Not so? If you watch Glenn Beck or listen to his radio show, you hear a lot of phrases like “waking the sleeping giant” and “we don’t want this country to become Russia.” Cut to the language of protesters confronting their elected officials in the town halls of the past week and one hears the same exact phrases spoken through held back tears and barely restrained emotion.

During Wednesday’s “Talking Points Memo,” O’Reilly made the rather bold claim that the Obama administration is specifically targeting Fox News. How did he make the deduction? Because White House spokesman Robert Gibbs recently said “Well, I think we all have something to lose, Matt, if we let cable television come to town hall meetings and kill health care reform for another year and put the special interests back in charge.

Fox News – particularly O’Reilly – have always been quite savvy at “punching up” – that is, targeting entities that are well above their accepted station (i.e. their current debate with GE). Does claiming to be engaged in a “fight” with the White House serve their purpose? In terms of pleasing their audience it does — just hear the rabble rousers yell to their democratically elected representatives that they want their country back. From a publicity standpoint it’s a genius move – evil genius maybe.

There is  legitimate criticism that the Obama White House has not been able to articulate their new health care agenda in a simple and understandable way. The truth is that it’s currently a very complicated issue. But isn’t that part of the problem — that unnecessarily complex solutions create a multitude of loopholes that allow big corporations to turn a healthy profit? Is that how a free market is supposed to work? Is that the American way, or is it the problem?

The problem is not just with Fox News, nor with cable news in general. We are truly in a nation divided by media consumption, exacerbated by the rise of opinion journalism (at the cost of capital J – journalism). As Kurt Andersen has said, American’s now only consume media the reaffirms their pre-existing opinions.  The vacuum of differing views has been profitable for a number of media outlets, but what cost victory?

Mediaite Mash-up of Glenn Beck’s take on the health care debate:

Stakes Get Higher: GE Takes the Bait Against “Maliciously False” O’Reilly Report

oreilly_8-13General Electric is no longer letting Keith Olbermann take the lead in responding to Bill O’Reilly. After O’Reilly’s segment Tuesday night attacking GE, the company is coming out and responding for the first time to the FNC host.

GE tells the Associated Press the thinly-sourced report was “irresponsible and maliciously false” – and last night, Olbermann took it even further.

O’Reilly’s report included the caveat that he “has been told, but cannot confirm, that the General Electric corporation is under suspicion in the case.” And this lack of sourcing meant, according to GE, an egregious error.

GE does not do business with Corezing, and does not produce the radio frequency modules that were described in the report, he said.

“We usually do not respond to the misleading and inaccurate claims made on this program because very few people take them seriously,” Sheffer said, “but tonight’s report took this smear campaign to a new low.”

GE better not be wrong about either of these facts, because O’Reilly will only use this as a reason to hammer the company that much harder and more often. But if it’s true GE has never done business with the company in question, and that they don’t even produce the modules, O’Reilly should (and has proven in the past he probably will) apologize to his viewers for getting the facts wrong.

Then there’s Olbermann. Naming O’Reilly the “Worst Person” again last night, he spun the GE errors into a much larger problem. “You can talk all you want about feuds and ceasefires and childishness, but if I, or any actual reporter like me, had gotten as much wrong in any story as Bill O’Reilly got wrong in this one, I’d be fired in 15 minutes, as he should be now,” said Olbermann. Wait, Keith thinks he’s an “actual reporter”?

(On a slightly different note: here’s more on Olbermann and ‘Truce’-gate, from a disenchanted fan.)

Here’s Olbermann’s segment last night:

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Big Bad Wolffe: Different Standards for Moonlighting Television Pundits

wolffeolberman-300x225Almost lost in the brouhaha over the reported truce between GE/Keith Olbermann and Fox News/Bill O’Reilly was the news that Olbermann had kicked replacement host Richard Wolffe off of Countdown. Olbermann cited the appearance of a conflict of interest between Wolffe’s consulting job and his duties as a political analyst for MSNBC. But given the landscape of cable news, in which many big name “politicos” consult on the side quietly or not-so-quietly, why was Wolffe singled out?

Wolffe consults for a firm called Public Strategies, Inc.: in his Salon column, Glenn Greenwald made the point that “Wolffe’s role in life is to advance the P.R. interests of the corporations that pay him, including corporations with substantial interests in virtually every political issue that MSNBC and Countdown cover.” Responding on Daily Kos, Olbermann wrote, “What appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job … until we can clarify what else he is doing, he will not be appearing with us.”

But nearly all of the established political analysts in cable news do exactly the same thing. In fact, many of them would consider themselves consultants first, who then appear on television as a means to a larger end. Should they disclose any conflicts of interest? Absolutely. But it makes little sense that Wolffe would be singled out for so commonplace a practice. Consider these pundits, all paid contributors to the networks:

  • CNN’s Donna Brazile is the founder and managing director of Brazile & Associates. From their website: “Brazile & Associates LLC assists corporate clients with diversity training, earned media strategies, crisis management and message development. Working with groups of all ages and orientations, Brazile & Associates seeks to provide its clients with the skills to develop a greater civic focus with a stronger advocate voice.” When we called the firm, a spokesman declined to name any clients.
  • Fox’s Newt Gingrich founded The Center for Health Transformation, a for-profit network of health care professionals and companies “striving towards system-wide transformation.” His client list includes AstraZeneca, Microsoft, UPS, NextGen, and the American Cancer Society.
  • MSNBC’s Mike Murphy has independently consulted for senators and governors including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney (not presidential campaign), Christine Whitman, and McCain’s presidential campaign.
  • CNN’s James Carville has consulted for many foreign leaders.  To name a few: the former PM of Israel, the former PM of Greece, Bolivia’s former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and now, Ashraf Ghani, a challenger in Afghanistan’s presidential election.
  • MSNBC’s Harold Ford works as vice chairman and senior policy advisor for Merrill Lynch where he “advises senior management on domestic policy issues, and supports a variety of business development initiatives in the institutional and retail markets”.
  • Fox’s Frank Luntz’s Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research has consulted for, among others, AOL, 20th Century Fox, Pfizer, NBC, Freddie Mac, and USA Today.
  • CNN’s J.C. Watts’s Watts Companies consults for, among others, ACLU, AT&T, NASCAR, West Point, Aetna.
  • Fox’s Al D’Amato’s Park Strategies has a $50,000 contract with World Trade Center Memorial Fund.
  • CNN’s Ed Rollins‘ New Strategies Group consults for; they would not disclose other clients when we called them.

If we were to hold these commentators as the same standard that took Wolffe off the air, cable news would be dangerously low on punditry. So, why did Richard Wolffe get singled out?

Kevin Gotkin contributed additional reporting.