Here’s something few people probably remember. In 2003, Phil Donahue had the most popular show on MSNBC. And he was fired. And a leaked memo from network executives said that he was fired because his strong stand against the impending invasion of Iraq made him a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.” Donahue was on Democracy Now on the 10th anniversary of that invasion to discuss it:
PHIL DONAHUE: Well, I think what happened to me, the biggest lesson, I think, is the—how corporate media shapes our opinions and our coverage. This was a decision—my decision—the decision to release me came from far above. This was not an assistant program director who decided to separate me from MSNBC. They were terrified of the antiwar voice. And that is not an overstatement. Antiwar voices were not popular. And if you’re General Electric, you certainly don’t want an antiwar voice on a cable channel that you own; Donald Rumsfeld is your biggest customer. So, by the way, I had to have two conservatives on for every liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone, but I couldn’t have Dennis Kucinich on alone. I was considered two liberals. It really is funny almost, when you look back on how—how the management was just frozen by the antiwar voice. We were scolds. We weren’t patriotic. American people disagreed with us. And we weren’t good for business…
Well, you know, the coin of the realm is the size of the audience. It’s important to see this. When a broadcasting executive gets out of bed in the morning, before his foot hits the floor, his thoughts are ratings. “What are my ratings?” Not unlike Wall Street people, who get their—and CEOs, their first thought is the price of their stock.
A quote long attributed to Voltaire says, “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.” But it’s also dangerous to be right on matters where the public is wrong — especially if your first concern is TV show ratings.