Part 1—An eternally popular story: Bill O'Reilly is gone from Fox. In the world of profit-based cable news, we liberals are suddenly hot.
Appropriately, the Hollywood Reporter announced the news of the latest big ratings bump. "Huge wins," last Friday's headlines said, in a bit of an embellishment:
O'CONNELL (5/12/17): TV Ratings: MSNBC, Maddow Scoring Huge Wins With Comey Coverage/Brian outperformed Tucker among adults 25-54—and those are the people the advertisers adore! The bulk of the audience doesn't matter in the dollars game!
MSNBC dominates its third night of primetime since Trump's FBI ouster as 'The Five' proves more of a draw than Tucker Carlson for Fox News.
The incredibly eventful couple of days in Washington, D.C., has been a boon to MSNBC. The cable news network, which has seen ratings surges for star Rachel Maddow, just won its third night of the week.
MSNBC easily topped Thursday in primetime among adults 25-54 with an average 635,000 viewers in the key news demo across the three-hour block. Maddow led all of cable news, with 734,000 demo viewers and 2.87 million viewers, but the most interesting victory might be the one Brian Williams scored in late night. His 11 p.m. show, which trailed lead-in Lawrence O'Donnell for No. 3 status in all of cable news last night, actually outperformed Fox News' Tucker Carlson by 12 percent among adults 25-54.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, such across-the-board MSNBC advantages over Fox News Channel and CNN are in the realm of unprecedented—and offer the most substantial proof to date that viewers are tuning into MSNBC for coverage of the embattled Trump administration.
As you may recall, Rachel Maddow barely cares about this sort of thing. How litle does she care? So little that she once told Charlie Rose that she didn't even know who her cable competitors were at the 9 PM hour.
Charlie didn't question the claim, which some people likely believed.
That said, Maddow and her fellow "cable liberals" produced very high numbers last week. In primetime, these were the numbers among all cable news viewers last Wednesday night, May 10:
Total viewers, Wednesday primetime, May 10Cooper's number is an average across his two broadcast hours. At 11 PM, Brian Williams scored 2.050 million viewers, outdistancing a Carlson rebroadcast on Fox (1.499 million).
Tucker Carlson: 2.991 million
Rachel Maddow: 2.739 million
Sean Hannity: 2.581 million
The Five: 2.500 million
Lawrence O'Donnell: 2.450 million
Chris Hayes: 1.864 million
Anderson Cooper: 1.457 million
Don Lemon: 1.357 million
(For whatever reason, "primetime" is generally defined, in such calculations, as 8-11 PM Eastern. When Brian was beating that Carlson rebroadcast, it was 8 PM on the west coast.)
For MSNBC, those are amazing numbers. They seem to represent an end to Fox's traditional dominance during primetime. For CNN, those numbers seem to say that we the people like our "cable news" with an undisguised partisan slant.
In our view, the rise of baldly partisan news orgs largely explains our ongoing state of political disintegration. Our tribes now receive their own sets of frameworks and facts.
They also receive their own sets of villains. As this pattern advances, it becomes harder and harder to function as intelligent individuals, let alone as a nation.
In our rundown of last week's numbers, we picked Wednesday night for a reason. On that evening, we liberals received a treat:
We were handed our latest villain by our biggest "cable news" star.
That villain's name is Andrew McCabe. Early last week, he became acting director of the FBI when James B. Comey got fired.
Is Andrew McCabe a villain? For ourselves, we have no real idea. But that's what we liberals were told that night by a highly convincing Rachel Maddow, our top-rated cable news star.
Indeed, Maddow's ratings rise in recent years has been fueled by the way she has supplied us with story-lines about the nation's villains. At one time, a certain type of analyst found communists under every bed. Although she often takes a dive on the most destructive political jihads, Maddow has been finding villains under every bed for the past several years.
Objectively, the world does contain some real villains. That said, given our inbred human desire to identify such monsters, it may not be the greatest idea to build our picture of world events around this eternally popular construct.
That said, we human beings love being told that villains are lurking under every bed. Last Wednesday night, Maddow sold us the villain McCabe. Tomorrow, we'll review the wonderfully scary claims she advanced on that high-rated program.
Warning! Maddow told you, last Wednesday night, that McCabe did something disturbing and bad on February 15, 2017. This alleged disturbing behavior represented Maddow's full indictment of this newly disturbing figure.
As has been true through the annals of time, last Wednesday's scary tale gave us tribals a thrill. But here's what we weren't told by Maddow last Wednesday night:
We weren't told what Maddow had said in real time, back in February. Back then, Maddow presented McCabe as the hero of the piece!
We also weren't told this:
We weren't told that Maddow's indictment of McCabe seems to be entirely based on accepting the word of Donald J. Trump's chief of staff and Donald J. Trump's press secretary!
That's right! Back in February, in real time, the accusation against McCabe was made by a pair of somewhat shaky sources. Initially, the accusation was made by Reince Priebus. It was then bruited about, second-hand, by Sean Spicer.
We know of no external evidence supporting the claim by these somewhat unreliable tribunes. Nor did Maddow cite any such evidence in her presentation last Wednesday night. In fact, she directly cited Reince and Sean, although she skipped their names.
In February, in real time, Maddow presented McCabe as the hero of the piece. By last Wednesday, though, that reading had changed. In convincing fashion, a major corporate cable star sold us our latest villain.
She'd found a new villain under our beds. Within tribal tents, beside a fire, it has always seemed convincing when we humans are told such tales.
Is Andrew McCabe a villainous figure? We have no idea. That said, our exploration of Maddow's claim may help us see the way our "news business" frequently works.
Warning! Our exploration may leave us somewhat puzzled about the major star Maddow. Also, about the work of the Washington Post, even the New York Times.
What lies behind last Wednesday night's claim? Millions hung on every word. Prepare for a bumpy ride.
Tomorrow: Maddow's indictment
The same numbers, one week before: To what extent did last week's numbers reflect a "Comey bounce?" To what extent did MSNBC's performance reflect interest caused by the firing of Comey the God?
There's no perfect way to answer that question. But below, you see the numbers from Wednesday, May 3, exactly one week before:
Total viewers, Wednesday primetime, May 3Those were already historically high numbers for MSNBC. As the Hollywood newspaper said, Comey's firing seems to have pushed those numbers higher last week.
Tucker Carlson: 2.743 million
The Five: 2.480 million
Sean Hannity: 2.268 million
Rachel Maddow: 2.096 million
Lawrence O'Donnell: 1.691 million
Chris Hayes: 1.506 million
Anderson Cooper: 901,000
Don Lemon: 805,000
We liberals were highly engaged last week. On Wednesday evening, we received a tasty, familiar old treat.