Off-Balance FOX NEWS' ELECTION NIGHT DEFEAT: On Election Night, Fox News -- for years a ratings juggernaut -- had fewer views than CNN in the key demographic of adults 25 to 54. CNN also edged out Fox in total viewers on election night between 7PM and 2AM "drawing 2.54 million viewers to Fox's 2.39 million and MSNBC's 1.58 million." (Fox News edged out CNN in total viewers during prime time.) It's a dramatic fall from grace by Fox News. In 2004, for example, "Fox beat CNN by nearly 2 million viewers." FOX NEWS' RATING SAGGING OVERALL: Fox News' election night woes were part of a much broader ratings slump. For the last 12 months, Fox's "prime-time audience has been smaller than the year before." For the first 8 months of this year, viewership "was down 5 percent compared to 2005, with a steeper 13 percent decline in prime time." In October, ratings were "down 17 percent." FOX NEWS' VANISHING CREDIBILITY: Fox News has developed a reputation as a channel for incendiary political commentary, not news. A Fox News editorial memo by network vice president John Moody recently leaked to the Huffington Post reinforces that view. The day after the election, the memo instructed Fox News staff to "be on the lookout for any statements from Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled congress." Two other memos surfaced in recent days target incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). AP reports, "Some of the bigger stories of the past year, such as Hurricane Katrina and the wars in the Middle East, played better to the newsgathering strengths of CNN." THE OLBERMANN FACTOR: As Fox News sinks, MSNBC is on the rise. Its ratings for October, for example, were up 14 percent over last year. One of the keys to MSNBC's recent success: progressive political commentary, spearheaded by Keith Olbermann. Compared to October 2005, Olbermann's ratings are up 67 percent. Since election day, Olbermann has been nipping at Bill O'Reilly's heals in the coveted 25-54-year-old demographic -- Olbermann is drawing 321,000 people in that group to O'Reilly's 405,000. Overall, Olbermann's ratings are up another 32 percent since the November 7th election, while O'Reilly is down 5 percent.Now, Fox news is a publicly held company, responsible to stockholders. Even before the tidal wave election that brought the Dems into power, FOx News was showing signs of weakness. THis is an incredibly opportunity for the Democrats to play the same game the whitehouse has played with the media on the left, with people like Helen Thomas and other more progressive media. THe Dems could freeze Fox News out of the "inside," out of the exclusives, out of the choicest interviews and media opportunities. If they're smart, that's exactly what they will do, but not to punish, rather, to persuade Fox to start hiring real progressive anchors and journalists, not neutered political castratos like Alan Combs, who serves as a weak foil for Sean Hannity. They need to bring in someone who can compete with Keith Olbermann-- someone who is a solid media persona with a strong personality and with solid progressive credentials-- not another DLC Clinton cabinet has-been like James Carville. They need to find a tough talking, smart, credible voice who is not seen as a liberal extremist. That won't work. But if they find someone who can talk about the middle class, and talk about middle class values-- and about democracy and American values-- they'll have someone who will, though a progressive, on the left-- will be able to hold his own in their otherwise right wing line-up. So, you think I am crazy to suggest that a right wing media bastion like Fox News will hire a progressive who covers the news from a very different perspective? People would have probably felt the same way about suggestions that right wing Clear Channel would allow progressive talk radio on their stations. But they have and those stations are making profits. One of the few good things about soulless megacorporations is that they have a responsibility to make profits. This is a great opportunity for the new leaders of congress to use some of their power to control media access to actually produce a positive effect on the media. They could treat more favorably the networks that create programming that is actually fair and balanced-- that includes more progressive pundits, that is anchored and run by progressives. Of course there's the question of WHO to hire. A perfect person would be Bernie Sanders, populist, pro-worker, pro-middle class independent from Vermont-- except he already has a job, as a new US Senator. It looks like Al Franken will probably be leaving Air America Radio (AAR.) His contract expires at the end of the year, AAR is in Bankruptcy and doesn't seem able to afford his Million or more a year salary, and it appears he is on the verge of announcing that he's running for Minnesota's US senate seat. That probably leaves him out. There's Phil Donahue, who MSNBC dumped in a cowardly move, not long after the Bush Administration came into power. Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller on the Jones Satellite network are likely candidates for consideration. Shultz could fit in well, with his jock background and his midwest roots. The Young Turks, who were recently brought on AAR would be interesting candidates to reach the younger GEN x and GEn Y demographic markets. Jim Hightower, Bernie Ward, Ray Taliafero, Tony Trupiano-- are other possibilities. (I love Mike Malloy, but I can't imagine Fox ever considering him or Mike considering them.) My favorite would be Thom Hartmann, who has already beaten Rush Limbaugh in some major markets and who has already replaced Al Franken in Seattle and San Francisco. Before Lou DObbs book on the war on the middle class was out, Hartmann's book, SCREWED, The Undeclared War on the Middle Class, was already out. Hartmann is brilliant at history and at putting current news into the context of the history of the US-- from the founders and their vision to Roosevelt,Truman, to the railroad barons. Randi Rhodes is another natural choice-- AAR's golden asset. It would be great to have a female progressive anchor Like Randi, Stephanie Miller,Amy GOodman or Larua Flanders to counterbalance all the male energy generated by WOlf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, Keith Olbermann, Jack Cafferty, and the right wing stenographic propagandists currently at Fox. Frankly, CNN could do with a more progressive face in their line-up too, though they have Libertarian-like Dobbs, they really don't have anyone who reflects the perspective of the majority of the country that voted in the current congress and they just added right wing extremist Glen Beck-- "Yuk," to quote Beck. Then we have the three airhead major networks. Will they get their acts together in this new climate? Or will they continue to offer junk for the brain in the form of reality and crime TV? They may wake up to the reality that Olbermann is doing great things for MSNBC and decide it's time to hire a lefty to raise their ratings. This opportunity has a relatively narrow time window. The Dems need to get their troops to cooperate and not just, with no self control or discipline, race to grab all the media oxygen they can get. They need to close ranks on this, and use subtle but tough communications to make it clear that the networks that play ball, with BLUE balls, will get to be in the best games. And the ones who keep playing the old games, will get left behind. Frankly, the possiblity of Fox bringing in a real progressive voice may not very likely, but the overall idea of the Dems using their power to push the networks to increas the progressive voice is one whose time has come. My speculations on potential candidates have all been done without consultation with any of them.