John Ziegler: What The Hollywood Reporter Missed About MSNBC and Sarah Palin


On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter published an article on the relationship between Sarah Palin and MSNBC, and its role in the network’s success. In a guest column, John Ziegler, radio host, Palin confidante, and the filmmaker behind Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted, offers his analysis of the Hollywood Reporter piece, including exclusive details of Hollywood Reporter’s Q&A with Ziegler which were never printed.

The views expressed in this guest column are those of John Ziegler alone.

What the Hollywood Reporter Missed About MSNBC/Palin by John Ziegler

Yesterday, the Hollywood Reporter waded into the important and fascinating subject of why MSNBC seems obsessed with Sarah Palin. Since I was interviewed for the article, produced a high-profile documentary about the media coverage of the 2008 election, have had my microphone cut off by MSNBC while defending Palin, have offered Keith Olbermann $100,000 to debate me about Palin (a proposal no longer valid for obvious reasons), and the evidence indicates I have been barred from the network, I figure I have the “standing” to scrutinize the subject and try to take it to the next level.

While the Hollywood Reporter piece was well done in many ways, it left a lot out of the equation in its attempt to understand this complex subject. As is almost always the case in such situations, the vast majority of what I said to the reporter was not used in the article. What follows is the complete question and answer session I had with the Hollywood Reporter. I share this to give some insight as to how the article took its shape and set the stage to explain what I think is missing from the HR analysis.

HR: Why is the media still obsessed with her (especially cable news)?

Ziegler: In order to maintain a sustainable base audience to support sufficient advertising, “news” channels of all types require a “go to” topic
during slow periods which instantly captures their core audience’s attention without requiring the time and effort to introduce a brand new character into the soap opera. Sarah Palin is the perfect subject to fit that mold. She is already known by everyone, which is very rare in this era, she creates beautiful pictures, she riles up the extreme partisans on both ends of the political spectrum who tend to watch cable “news,” and there is the continuing narrative of whether she will run for president which creates the drama needed to fuel the story into perpetuity and let’s them pretend they are following her just because it is “news.”

HR: If MSNBC and others didn’t have Palin to discuss would it hurt their ratings?

Ziegler: Absolutely! They would have almost nothing to talk about. With their favorite candidate in the White House they need a “bogeyman” to excite the far left into watching. Without Palin who would it be? John Boehner? Please. That would be ratings death. MSNBC will never find anything like Sarah Palin. All of those liberals who watch them 24/7 are made to feel better about their miserable lives by seeing someone who appears to have it all, like Sarah Palin, be made fun of. It is all very insidious but really rather transparent. They know exactly what they are doing and it is disgraceful.

HR: What topic would fill the void?

Ziegler: Real news coverage is far too expensive to do on a 24/7 basis for the rather small ratings that the cable networks get when there is not a
massive story going on. This why the “debate” format takes up so much air time. It is much cheaper than real news and Sarah Palin is the easiest topic to debate that producers know will get ratings, or at least won’t get them in trouble if it doesn’t work. When in doubt, just take Sarah Palin,
add guests, some hatred, and mix. No other topic can replace her right now because that would require actual reporting which doesn’t exist anymore or at least a populace that cares about real news, which doesn’t either.

Journalistically, my biggest complaint that about how my interview was used (other than most of it being cut) comes from one paragraph from the article, wedged between quotes from me, which edges right up to precipice of plagiarism before stopping. Here is what the Hollywood Reporter wrote:

Plus, MSNBC and, to a lesser extent, CNN viewers are overwhelmingly partial to Democrats (73 percent of MSNBC viewers and 63 percent of CNN viewers voted for Obama, according to a Wilson Research Poll) and like all good TV, drama is necessary to keep it going. They crave a boogeyman to fill the void created when President George W. Bush left office, and she’s now the face of the opposition. Palin fits the bill nicely, given her presentability (just imagine seeing John Boehner’s face all the time on TV), malapropisms and endless stream of controversial tweets and Facebook posts.

First of all, not mentioned is that the poll referenced there was commissioned by me for my documentary. Second, the most relevant part of that poll (indicating that MSNBC viewers knew more of the negative “information” about Palin than consumers of any other news source) was left out. Thirdly, the word “boogeyman” and the John Boehner reference are used just as I did (though with far more negativity thrown into the mix) in my second answer, without attribution.

But more importantly, the article soft-pedals the level of agenda that MSNBC clearly has against Sarah Palin. It actually takes seriously MSNBC programmer Bill Wolff’s laughable assertion that it is “ridiculous” that his network is “beholden to one side or the other.”

Really? Just a cursory summary of only my experience with MSNBC as a prominent “Palin Defender” leads one to a very different conclusion.

  • When I was interviewed by MSNBC just after snippets of my first Sarah Palin interview was released, I was misled (while live on the air) into believing that Palin had released a statement condemning me. It was clear to me that the intent was to try and get me to say something negative about her, something far more befitting of a political party, and not a “journalistic” organization.
  • When I released the initial version of the documentary’s DVD on the “Today Show,” the intro piece was done, with extreme bias, by the same MSNBC anchor who misled me on the air, and who had previously erroneously claimed that Palin had called Barack Obama a “terrorist.”
  • When the David Letterman/Sarah Palin flap occurred, I had my microphone literally turned off by an MSNBC anchor, for no apparent reason.
  • I was accused by Keith Olbermann of defending Palin because I had a “crush” on her and then he didn’t even respond to my offer to give $100,000 to his favorite charity if just he agreed to debate me about her on his show.
  • Chris Matthews (whose Palin fetish appears to be most fully developed at the moment) is a family friend from Philadelphia, but despite the fact that we have exchanged numerous e-mails over the years and the network has run promotions bragging about his willingness to debate the other side, Matthews has never accepted my offer to appear on his program or even explained why he hasn’t.
  • The network’s token “conservative” Joe Scarborough, whose program I have appeared on many times since 2004 (mostly back when he was a real conservative) recently reneged on a steady promise to have me on to discuss Palin when my film was re-released late last year. Reading between the lines of what he has said to me on and off the air, I have surmised that I have essentially been banned from the network.

Whether that is true or not, it is quite obvious that anyone who is capable of defending Sarah Palin is simply not likely to appear on MSNBC and that fact alone is proof that there is no journalism in that network’s Palin fixation. Instead, it is really all about making the many Palin haters in their audience feel better about themselves and reaping the ratings that apparently comes with engaging in such communal therapy for liberals.

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