NBC Quietly Marks the End of an Error

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If you missed the news about NBC Universal buying most of Microsoft’s stake in also-ran news network MSNBC (the two entities remain 50/50 partners in the thriving Web site MSNBC.com), that was the whole idea.

NBC pulled the oldest bad-news trick in the book.

When you don’t want anyone to write about something you’re ashamed of, put out a release on a holiday weekend. NBC quietly dropped news of the deal on Friday, Dec. 23, after most of their executives had skated away for the long weekend. (The only way they could have done the deed even quieter would have been if NBC just announced it on MSNBC itself.)

It’s easy to see why NBC wanted to bury the news. The break-up shines the harsh spotlight on how miserably MSNBC has performed since its inception in 1996, when it was launched with much fanfare by NBC boss Bob Wright and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Andy Lack, then the president of NBC News, predicted, “This is going to be the engine of growth for my organization.” Oops! (Lack exited NBC in 2003).

Today, NBC is in the uncomfortable position of running the strongest broadcast news operation, yet the weakest one on cable.

After the split-up, NBC News President Steve Capus, in a statement, claimed the new arrangement would allow him to “fully integrate” MSNBC into the NBC News family.

But the view from the Microsoft bunker in Redmond, Wash., was that NBC was already fully integrating Microsoft’s millions to help underwrite the news division in all its flavors, whether is was wasting it on loser MSNBC hosts like Michael Savage or paying to cover the war in Iraq for the mothership.