Time to Pull the Plug on MSNBC?

Last Friday, MSNBC anchorman Martin Bashir suggested that anyone who uses the word “slavery” too lightly should be forced to eat human feces. Although Bashir had Sarah Palin in mind for this torture, his own standard might have necessitated its infliction closer to home -- as Bashir has used the same metaphor himself. Bashir’s detractors immediately pointed out this inconsistency. Several of these critics said this disgusting punishment would be more befitting Bashir. I have a better idea. NBC could just yank this kind of programming. If it did, the network that provides its anchors a platform for crude daily rants would be honoring its own legacy, which harks back to the very beginning of the medium.

NBC’s roots date to 1916, when a Russian immigrant named David Sarnoff wrote a prescient memo to his boss, Edward J. Nally. Both men were up-and-coming executives with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America, a firm founded by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi. Initially, Marconi hoped the telegraph would improve maritime safety. (Two of his operators -- only one of whom survived the voyage -- were aboard the Titanic the night it sunk 101 years ago. Their last message: “We are sinking fast, passengers being put into boats.”)

From the start, visionaries saw wider applications for this technology. In May 1914, shortly before World War I made sailing the Atlantic a dangerous undertaking, Wanamaker’s department store in New York used the technology to transmit music to ships at sea. One of those who heard those tunes was David Sarnoff.

Subsequently, he began communicating with Nally about his “music box scheme,” by which he meant using the airwaves to transmit sound around the country instead of just sending messages in Morse code. After the war, Marconi’s company was bought out by General Electric, which formed RCA. It spun off the National Broadcasting Co. in 1926.

While the golden age of radio was still in its heyday, Sarnoff foresaw the possibility of transmitting images over the airwaves. On April 20, 1939, at the dedication of the RCA building at the New York World’s Fair, he said, “Now we add sight to sound.”

“It is with a feeling of humbleness that I come to this moment of announcing the birth, in this country, of a new art so important that is bound to affect all society,” Sarnoff added. “It is an art which shines like a torch in a troubled world. It is a creative force which we must learn to utilize for the benefit of all mankind.”

More than seven decades later, at least on commercial cable news programs, Sarnoff’s “torch” is often employed more like an arsonist’s weapon than a beacon.

Success Breeds . . . Vitriol

Change occurred gradually, but the eventual runaway commercial success of Fox News Channel left rival cable networks scrambling to adjust. Fox’s roster of talk show hosts was undeniably conservative. The same was true, said critics, of its news reporting. Although Fox executives asserted they were presenting a “fair and balanced” report, occasionally they would concede that they see themselves as the counterweight to an overwhelmingly liberal media establishment.

But the suits at those traditional news outlets soon confronted a problem of their own.

Although their newsrooms were indeed full of liberals, these organizations attempted to present opposing views. But cable technology had splintered the public into niche audiences. This implied a new economic paradigm. Fox surpassed cable news pioneer CNN, attracting huge audiences (at least by cable television standards). These viewers were loyal, too. They watched Fox every day, meaning that advertisers could count on them. “Branded” news programming became profitable.

Third-place MSNBC took note and, in 2008, it emerged as a reliably sympathetic outlet for Barack Obama. The same year, MSNBC veteran Phil Griffin was made network president, and he began stocking MSNBC’s airwaves with commentators who were not only liberal Democrats, but openly hostile to Republicans.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/11/22/time_to_pull_the_plug_on_msnbc_120753.html

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