MSNBC bills itself as the “place for politics,” but if you’ve been watching the network lately, it’s been all of the Zimmerman trial, all the time. Political director Chuck Todd grew so frustrated with the coverage preempting his Daily Rundown show that he barely concealed his exasperation on-air, as evidenced by a video from the Washington Free Beacon that quickly went viral. Most of the network’s flagship news shows, from Hardball with Chris Matthews to Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, seem to spend more time talking about Trayvon Martin than President Obama.
It’s nothing new for cable news these days – CNN, FOX News and Headline News have all put the trial at the center of their coverage. But the strategy is especially noticeable when it comes to MSNBC because its numbers have been in sharp decline over the last few months. The network that found success being the aggressively liberal alternative to CNN during the 2012 presidential election is now finding itself with a ratings headache on its hands. And it seems to be abandoning its politics-first play for the easy ratings of nonstop courtroom coverage – following CNN’s tabloid turn, if you will.
Asked if the amount of Zimmerman mania was causing any eye rolling at the network, one MSNBC insider said: “It’s less the amount of coverage because everyone does that and especially after CNN covering [Jodi] Arias [murder trial] did so well. And we have a large African-American viewership that’s interested. The issue is whether we cover it the right way, as a legal issue, which we’re mostly doing or does it get covered like it’s 2012, when there was no indictment, as a political fight. I worry.”