So, last Tuesday, mere hours before the presidential debate, MSNBC disappeared from basic cable on the Comcast system in Portland. I waited on hold, forever, to find out what happened - and then posted a rant here at BlueOregon. After all, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is just about the only progressive voice on cable news.
For example, check out Olbermann's "Special Comment" tonight regarding torture, the Mukasey nomination, and George W. Bush. It's powerful stuff.
As I wrote last week:
Please, oh please, tell me that this isn't Comcast turning out the lights on the only cable news channel that even bothers to air one progressive voice. If it really is MSNBC's call, that sucks, but OK. But not if it's Comcast's decision.
And now we know. Over the weekend, I got an official statement from NBC's corporate headquarters. An MSNBC spokesperson (who asked to be otherwise anonymous) wrote me this:
The decision to move MSNBC from its existing channel in Portland, Oregon was 100% Comcast's decision. MSNBC reaches more than 91 million U.S. homes and leads the industry in political news coverage. We believe it should be offered in every basic cable package.
This is outrageous. The cable news lineup in Portland is now: CNN, CNN Headline, CNBC, Weather Channel, FOX News, NW Cable News. Seriously. Weather.
And I'm not alone. I was hoping the Oregonian's Peter Ames Carlin would dig into this - and he has. Turns out, Comcast has some explaining to do.... and not just to bloggers.
[On] Thursday Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the city's cable communications and franchise management office, fired off a letter to Comcast complaining that the MSNBC move amounted to a backdoor rate increase. And on Friday, David Olson, the Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission director, said his office was preparing to send a complaint to Comcast because the cablers had yet to provide its regulators with any official notice of the lineup change.
What's Comcast's reasoning?
[Comcast spokesperson Theressa Davis] was vague about the criteria used to decide which news channel had to move -- she ticked off something about content, quality and viewership -- but it's worth noting that MSNBC consistently scores the lowest ratings of all the major cable news outlets, even in liberal Portland.
Seriously. Content? Quality? They've tons of home shopping and televangelism channels, not to mention channels devoted to re-runs and other stupidity. Want to charge someone extra money? How about moving the Golf Channel?
We're heading into a presidential year, and they're pulling the one channel that's devoted entirely to politics - and the one channel that's got one show with a progressive host? And they're leaving on FOX's entire right-wing lineup, plus CNN - with its idiotic Glenn Beck?
One more thing: MSNBC is still posted as Channel 47 on the TV-Guide channel, where they list all the upcoming shows. More and more, this seems like a half-ass decision made by a programming executive who just got tired of Olbermann's speaking truth to power. Especially since they're slowly rolling this out across the county - Atlanta, Denver, now Portland. (h/t to Darrel Plant)