Cable News Partisanship: Good on Leftist MSNBC, Not on Anti-Obama CNBC

After celebrating MSNBC's move to the left and resulting ratings surge, the Times frets that CNBC is "making the line between reporter and commentator almost indistinguishable at times" as it criticizes Obama's spending.

CNBC's now-famous on-air "tea party" rant by correspondent Rick Santelli spread over the Internet and cemented the financial network's newfound political awareness and opposition to President Obama's mortgage bailouts. A Monday business story by Brian Stelter and Tim Arango, "CNBC Thrives as Hosts Deliver News With Attitude," found some critics of the network's newly assertive stance who worried that CNBC is "making the line between reporter and commentator almost indistinguishable at times" and that "some have perceived the network to be leading the campaign against President Obama's economic agenda."

But has the Times ever shown equal concernabout the long-term, blatantly left-wing slant of CNBC's sister network, MSNBC?

Was last week the worst one in CNBC's 20-year history - or the best?

The financial news network, a unit of NBC Universal, was savaged by "The Daily Show" in a viral video sensation. It was criticized for being too cozy with the corporations it covers. One of its stars, Jim Cramer, was ridiculed by the White House press secretary. And one of its reporters faced a new round of criticism for an on-air outburst about mortgage "losers."

The Times found critics:

But in a change from previous downturns, CNBC is now a place for politics, to borrow a phrase from its sister channel MSNBC. The network's journalists have been encouraged to speak their minds, making the line between reporter and commentator almost indistinguishable at times.

"When they are all sitting around the table it's hard to tell a business pundit versus a reporter," said Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

For instance, Larry Kudlow, a conservative economist who is considering a run for the United States Senate, is the co-host of an 11 a.m. news hour. Three CNBC employees, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that the role of opinion on the channel had been a subject of frequent discussion.

With economic attention focused on Washington, the network is spending less time on bullish stock picks and more time assessing the government's actions.

In recent weeks some have perceived the network to be leading the campaign against President Obama's economic agenda. Mr. Cramer, who calls himself a lifelong Democrat, said last week that the administration's agenda was "destroying the life savings of millions of Americans." One week earlier Mr. Kudlow declared that Mr. Obama was "declaring war on investors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, large corporations, and private equity and venture capital funds."

But the Times hasn't always chided cable networks for partisanship. In fact, the Times celebrated CNBC's sister network MSNBC's partisanship as sound business on its November 6, 2007 front page, in a story by media reporter Jacques Steinberg, "Cable Channel Nods to Ratings and Leans Left."

The Times used the lame excuse of a possible MSNBC talk show for left-wing comedienne Rosie O'Donnell (which never transpired) as an excuse for the prominent play.

Steinberg didn't raise any journalistic integrity problems from professional liberal handwringers like Rosenstiel, instead arguing that MSNBC was simply playing the same game as its opposite number, the pro-Republican Fox News, while putting the best face on angry leftist host Keith Olbermann's TV ratings. From the intro:

Riding a ratings wave from "Countdown With Keith Olbermann," a program that takes strong issue with the Bush administration, MSNBC is increasingly seeking to showcase its nighttime lineup as a welcome haven for viewers of a similar mind.

Lest there be any doubt that the cable channel believes there is ratings gold in shows that criticize the administration with the same vigor with which Fox News's hosts often champion it, two NBC executives acknowledged yesterday that they were talking to Rosie O'Donnell about a prime-time show on MSNBC.