MSNBC's meltdown

The station's feuding anchors add an acrimonious subplot to the Democratic convention.

Published August 28, 2008 10:00PM (EDT)

So "Jerry Springer" it's not, but MSNBC's coverage of the Democratic convention has often seemed a lot like one of Springer's old-time episodes of hair-pulling, shirt-ripping, expletive-dropping, diaper-wearing transvestites and the women who love them fun.

OK, that's an exaggeration. But the recent, widely publicized on-air disputes among MSNBC's anchors are grabbing headlines.

Let's start at the beginning. Huffington Post has compiled a handy round-by-round guide of the pundit bouts, the first of which occurred Monday when Keith Olbermann derisively told conservative Joe Scarborough to "get a shovel" after Scarborough claimed presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain was gaining in national polls.

Then came perhaps the biggest blowup of the entire week, a nearly 10-minute exchange Tuesday during which Scarborough and David Shuster yelled back and forth. Scarborough concluded the discussion by calling Shuster "Rip Van Shuster" and saying, "Shuster, I have no idea what you're talking about ... Have you been sleeping the past couple months? ... Do you never watch this show? ... You usually sleep through this show because you didn't show up three times in a row ... Somebody got into some bad acid at the protests and this conversation turned terribly wrong."

Not to be outdone, Chris Matthews then got into the act Tuesday. While House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer waited to be interviewed, first Matthews yelled to someone off-camera that he would "wrap in a second." Then, after Olbermann introduced Hoyer, Matthews went after his coanchor, saying, "You made that sound, Keith. I can do the same to you. That's what I thought and I said it."

Finally (at least for now), Wednesday night, after Republican pundit Mike Murphy opined that he believed Hillary Clinton would vote for John McCain, Olbermann said loudly, "Let's wrap him up, all right?"

Add to these incidents MSNBC's horrible decision to position its outdoor set in front of Denver's Union Station, so that both train whistles and screaming protesters frequently interrupt its broadcasts, and you have a television meltdown on your hands. And it comes at an awful time -- right in the middle of one of the network's most important spans of coverage for the entire year.

The Politico and the Wall Street Journal have documented the on-air grudge matches in articles over the past two days. The Politico quotes an anonymous "high-ranking MSNBC journalist" as saying, "The situation at our channel is about to blow up." And the Wall Street Journal quotes former MSNBC host and "CBS Evening News" coanchor Connie Chung, who said, "My reaction to that is: 'Grow up!' They have to just grow up."

Despite all the attention the spats have received in the media, however, MSNBC president Phil Griffin doesn't seem worried. "Look, I want honest, authentic people on our air. I don't want phonies. So if the price of that is every once in a while one of these bubbles up, I'm not concerned," he told the Wall Street Journal. And Griffin told the Politico that "this is our team. They've served us well. We love 'em, and we're going to be at the Republican convention, and it's going to be great. And I don't have any hesitation."

And what about MSNBC's ratings? While it has improved on the ratings front during the convention, it still trails CNN and Fox News overall for convention coverage.

Clips of all four of the interactions can be viewed below.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

MORE FROM Vincent Rossmeier

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Msnbc War Room