* MSNBC could use coverage to galvanize audience
* Critics says networks too positive in reporting
By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK, Oct 12 Just as Fox News has staked
out the conservative Tea Party movement as a pet topic, the
unabashedly liberal MSNBC television news network appears to be
doing the same with the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Experts say MSNBC's strategy could pay dividends for the
cable outlet: The protests could draw liberals to their TV sets
and turn up-and-coming hosts such as MSNBC's Ed Schultz into
stars heading into the 2012 presidential elections.
"Big events turn careers, we've seen that throughout
journalism history," said Rich Stockwell, executive producer of
Ed Schultz's show on MSNBC, one of the first national programs
to broadcast from Zuccotti Park, the lower Manhattan site of
the Wall Street protests .
Stockwell brushed off critics who say Schultz is
cheerleading for the demonstrations against greed.
It's not just MSNBC that is devoting more air time to the
protests. Liberal commentator Keith Olbermann, who hosts a show
on the Current network founded in part by former Vice President
Al Gore, has been featuring the protests since their earliest
days. And, after a slow start, coverage by mainline outlets
like ABC, NBC and CBS has sharply picked up.
Across cable, the anti-Wall Street protests received 12
times more coverage last week than the previous week, according
to early estimates from the Pew Research Center. Coverage by
the broadcast networks rose 5 percent.
Conservative media groups complain reporting on the
protests has been far too upbeat, in contrast to what they say
has been unfairly negative reporting on the Tea Party.
"The networks are certainly focusing on Occupy Wall Street
more than they did the Tea Party when it got off the ground,"
said Brent Baker of the Media Research Center. "They have been
almost completely ignoring any critics. The coverage has been
almost totally promotional."
Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp . MSNBC
is a venture of Microsoft Corp and NBC, the
broadcast network controlled by Comcast Corp. . CNN is
a unit of Time Warner Inc and ABC is a unit of Walt
Disney Co. .
SPLIT IN RANKS
The protesters make no mystery of where they stand. When
Fox's Geraldo Rivera reported from the park, he was taunted
with chants of "Fox News lies!" MSNBC's Schultz and Tamron Hall
were greeted much more warmly.
But its remains to be seen if MSNBC can use its popularity
with liberals and its coverage of the demonstrations to win
viewers who will stick around once the protests end,
particularly the 18- to 34-year-olds advertisers favor.
TV news is struggling to find its way in the new media
world. Not only are they battling one another for audience,
they have stiff competition from Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Industry observers say in the aftermath of the 2008
election and the departure of Olbermann, MSNBC has needed a
jolt. Last month, it averaged 269,000 viewers aged 25-54 during
prime time, just 12,000 more than CNN. Both trail Fox.
"MSNBC has a problem because of the apparent split in
liberal ranks between those who believe Obama has stayed true
to his message and those that think Obama has not been a great
help to their causes," said Richard Wald, a professor at
Columbia Journalism School. "Once an audience splits, it isn't
as neatly predicable as it used to be."