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The answer is access as capital June 5, 2009

Posted by Paige of Quarrel in cult of lack of personality, we're only gonna die.
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A lot of people are shaking their heads watching Dick Cheney  and his daughter Liz do their seemingly never-ending media tour, and watching the former VP’s once-dismal poll numbers steadily rise, and can’t understand why it’s all happening.  Why are they being granted all the airtime they want?  How is their message actually working?  What’s wrong with this world?

Here are your two simple answers for why they’re allowed so much airtime:

#1 – Dick Cheney’s appearances rally a thoroughly depressed right wing base at a time when little else is going their way, while simultaneously outraging the left wing base.  So-called cable “news” shows rely on TV ratings, pure and simple, just like any sitcom or Jerry Springer.  They know that getting both bases to tune in and pay attention not only increases viewership while the former VP is on, but it energizes the entire news cycle, and ultimately, they hope, increases ratings.  So, they all, even MSNBC, invite the Cheneys on as often as they’d like to appear.

#2 – Since it’s well known that Richard “Go %*!$ yourself!” Cheney doesn’t like to be questioned or challenged, the networks allow him to trade access as capital.  Like most well-known politicians, he’ll only come on if he’s not going to be challenged, say by playing a gotcha tape of him saying the exact opposite of what he’s saying now, which is readily available and some networks will play later.  They want the ratings that come with his appearances, so they allow him to buy their silence in exchange for access to him, for what little that access is worth if you can’t, you know, actually question him.  Trading access as capital is how the talking heads allow politicians to control news cycles and get their messaging out unchallenged and it’s what stops cable “news” from being real news.

In case you think I’m making this stuff up, check out this brilliant gem TPM Muckraker‘s Zachary Roth picked up about MSNBC’s Morning Joe:  MSNBC’s obvious left-slant during prime time is meant to be balanced out by former Republican Representative Joe Scarborough.  Joe’s a basic party hack and all-around crank, so he’s clearly not going to challenge Liz Cheney’s attempted defense of her father’s seemingly indefensible support of torture of US detainees.  The closest to balance they’ll offer is also bringing on the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson, a liberal, but not much of a fighter.  However, rather than even letting Robinson say his piece in peace, Cheney invites herself to stay in order to ambush Robinson.  At one point, co-host Mika Brzezinski actually has to stop everyone else from speaking over Robinson and say, “We keep cutting Eugene Robinson off, go ahead Eugene.”  When the co-host has to act as referee in order for you to get a word in during your own segment of the show, the part you were specifically invited for, you know you’ve been ambushed.  It was revealed by Morning Joe Producer Chris Licht on Twitter that this was Cheney’s idea though.  “Cheney asked to stay on set to talk to Eugene..  glad she did. [sic] Great conversation.”  The “conversation” is a verbal bloodbath, a second generation attack dog versus a quiet intellectual.  Poor stammering Robinson, relegated to sharing a split screen with the previous guest,  never stood a chance.

Morning Joe has a decent get (TV term for high-value guest appearance) to compete with the conservative ratings leaders, CNN and FOX.  But it’s a double win for MSNBC as a network, because later in prime time, both Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow will discuss the confrontation and possibly play a clip, along with one of those gotcha clips they chose not to air earlier.  The left-wing base is fed and then the drama goes up another notch and drags on through another news cycle.   In effect, MSNBC manufactured it’s own “news” to cover.

This is just one example of how the cable “news” industry is complict in allowing the news to be controlled using access as capital.  Access to Eugene Robinson is worth very little, much less than access to Cheney while she’s discussing her father.  She used that access as capital to shut down the other side’s access.  Robinson could hardly get his opposing message out, while she doubled her own airtime.  As long as the so-called cable “news” shows allow that, they’ll never be factual, fair, balanced, informative or, you know, news.