Symposiums can be snoozy affairs, but last week at the annual media gathering wrangled by former Hearst Entertainment President Ray Joslin at Trinity College in New York, NBC Universal President Bob Wright and the person interviewing him—MSNBC host Tucker Carlson—veered into some interesting territory.
Waxing nostalgic for the days when networks played current events “down the middle,” Wright lamented the over-the-top tone that cable-news channels are increasingly embracing. And, of course, he laid responsibility for it all at the feet of Fox News Channel.
Given that Carlson, a conservative in good standing, was hired earlier this year by one of Wright’s own channels to host The Situation with Tucker Carlson—a move by the perennially struggling MSNBC that was seen as hoping to snag some of Fox’s reflected ratings glory—he might have been expected to quiz his boss a little more closely on this point.
But instead, Carlson made a suggestion: Why not start a channel that overtly caters to liberals? “There’s tons of liberals out there,” Carlson said.
Going after a lefty audience would be futile, Wright said. “For some strange, probably genetic, reasons”—we’re pretty sure that was a joke—”they don’t listen to a lot of radio and they don’t watch a lot of television.”
Another disincentive: Despite all the media attention given to cable-news programming—from Bill O’Reilly’s histrionics on Fox to Anderson Cooper’s exhibitionistic empathy at CNN—American viewers are not all that interested. Wright pointed out that the cable-news networks combined draw fewer unique viewers all night long than a single half-hour of NBC Nightly News.
“You’d think it would be 25 million people. It’s smaller than that, it’s 5 million-6 million,” Wright said. “It’s not a very large group.”