By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Jeff Cohen on cable news

I have an interview with veteran media activist Jeff Cohen in the new issue of the Boston Phoenix. Cohen has just written a book on his years with CNN, Fox News and MSNBC called “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” He’s also the founder of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a left-liberal group that monitors media bias.

The bulk of the book is about Cohen’s stint as senior producer for his friend and fellow progressive Phil Donahue, who landed a show on MSNBC only to be muzzled by executives terrified that they would be accused of liberal bias. Cohen tells me:

We could have had a show with aggressive, articulate, passionate people saying things on national TV seen nowhere else. And it would have happened night after night. This was the time that independent, smart, active news consumers were turning away from the mainstream and looking for alternatives. MoveOn was doubling its size during this time, and we were being muzzled. We could have been an alternative in the mainstream. The best of both worlds. And our ratings would have climbed.

Instead, “Donahue” was canceled in early 2003, just before the war in Iraq got under way.

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How’s that trade working out? (XIII)


  1. Steve

    After episodes like this, after the mainstream media’s treatment of Gore in 2000, after “The Path to 9/11”, is the myth of liberal media bias finally dead?

  2. tony schinella

    In addition, cancelling Phil Donahue’s show WHEN IT HAD THE BEST RATINGS OF ANY SHOW ON MSNBC!!! Replacing him with Scarborough Country who has never been able to even come close to Donahue’s ratings! Amazing. Can’t wait to read the book.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Tony — True, but the ratings for all of MSNBC were disastrous. Donahue’s were just slightly less disastrous than everyone else’s. Cohen argues that if MSNBC had let Phil be Phil, he could have done much better, and he may well be right.

  4. Anonymous

    Listen to yourselves, guys. The media is no more monolithic than any other institution.The question is: why do journos, who purport to play it straight down the middle, instead flog agendas of ALL persuasions, right and left? (I suppose the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is to blame for Air America’s results?) Whining is no substitute for leadership.

  5. Don

    Mercy! A left-liberal group that monitors media bias is EXACTLY like a fox guarding the hen house.

  6. Steve

    Hatlo – I wish you would explain your remark, in all the detail you can muster. I hear lots of non-specific arguments of the like by conservatives, but they are seldom backed by substance.(note to Dan – feel free to filter this response if you don’t want to host this discussion here, on the off-chance hatlo really has something to back up his opinion.)

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