MSNBC's Futile Quest to Beat Fox News at Its Own Game

"Brand is everything," said recently departed failed NBC boss Jeff Zucker. And at long last, MSNBC has found its brand: "Lean Forward." That really says it all, right? "Lean Forward." What?

"For a long time, MSNBC floundered with its identity," Zucker told Gabriel Sherman. Indeed—though MSNBC was clearly in position to be the liberal alternative to Fox News, it always seemed hesitant to embrace that role. No more! With a Spike Lee-directed ad campaign and this here new slogan, "Lean Forward," the network's finally given into its fate. Is that really a good thing?

The resulting ads are not day-and-date promotions for specific programs; rather, they are emotional set pieces about the national debate that moves America forward. The MSNBC brand "is about ideas and change and making the country a better place," [MSNBC's Phil] Griffin said.

"It's an umbrella that's pretty wide, but that does have a progressive sensibility," he continued. "We're confident. We're strong. Let's not live in the past, let's not live by fear."

CNN tried the down-the-middle impartial cable news racket, and failed. MSNBC's tried the liberal-but-silent racket, and is getting thumped by Fox. So now they're gonna try the full-speed-ahead "progressive" news racket—unless it doesn't work, at which point they'll try something else.

Fox News has an ideology. MSNBC is just trying to compete. Fox News would happily go down in flames with its politics intact. MSNBC will follow the liberal viewers just as far as the Nielsen ratings. Until a cable network is really ready to go for the gusto, to be just as brazen and committed as Fox is, then Fox will always have the upper hand. Fox News is full of ideologues. NBC is full of technocrats.

Plus "Lean Forward" is dumb. Sorry. Not that that was ever a barrier to success, on television.

[NYT, NYM. Pic via]