Credibility is critical to the success of anyone who wants to be considered a broadcast journalist. Lose your credibility, and you’ll likely lose your viewers.
The latest example of that may be playing out with one of MSNBC’s more popular hosts.
Weekend host Joy Reid has seen a drop in viewers since she claimed homophobic posts on her blog from more than a decade ago were actually the work of hackers. Whether the decline is a direct result of the hacking claim remain to be seen.
Viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen Media Research show Reid’s numbers for the first hour of her program (10 a.m. Eastern) this past Saturday were down 25 percent from her April 21 broadcast, which was the last show before she claimed she had been the victim of a hack. Her second hour’s viewership was down 22 percent.
In the key 25-54 demographic, the demo most coveted among advertisers, the drop was even more significant. In the first hour, viewership within the demo was down 34 percent from April 21, and 38 percent in the second hour.
The claims of hacking were made by Reid on April 23, less than a week after a Twitter user who goes by @Jamie_Maz used an Internet archiving service to uncover posts on Reid’s blog from more than a decade ago. Among the posts uncovered were Reid saying she opposed gay marriage, a listing of celebrities who Reid believed were gay but had not come out, mocking the “lesbian” haircuts of the women who were the directors of the National Organization of Women and the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and described the working relationship of then-President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain as being homosexual in nature.
In December, when that same Twitter user found blog posts from Reid that made homophobic remarks about former Florida Congressman Charlie Crist, Reid apologized for what she described as her “insensitive, tone deaf and dumb” remarks.
But after the most recent discovery of her old blog posts, Reid claimed in a statement to Mediaite she had worked with a cybersecurity expert to determine the homophobic posts were the work of an “external party” that “manipulated material from my now-defunct blog.”
Experts in the tech community quickly raised doubts about Reid’s claim, pointing out that someone would have had to have hacked into her blog at the time she was working on it, and then not have the hack be noticed by Reid or anyone else for nearly 12 years in order for her claim to be accurate.
Within a week, Reid backed off the hacking claim. She began her April 28 broadcast by addressing the controversy and admitting her cybersecurity experts had “not been able to prove” her blog had been hacked.
But Reid refused to take ownership of the comments, saying instead, “I genuinely do not believe I wrote those hateful things because they are completely alien to me.”
Its likely too early to conclude if viewers have abandoned Reid because of the questionable nature of her hacking claims. While her Saturday viewership has declined significantly over the past three weeks, Contemptor.com points out her Sunday viewership has only declined by 10 percent during the 10 a.m. hour and her 25-54 viewership has decreased by just 7 percent. Her audience at 11 a.m. has actually increased slightly from three weeks ago.
Reid, of course, is not a journalist in the way Brian Williams was when he embellished stories of his experiences during the Iraq war. Williams was the lead anchor of NBC’s Nightly News. The network could not risk having its highest-profile newsman being an admitted embellisher of stories, and Williams was suspended for six months, eventually losing his anchor spot on NBC and being relegated to MSNBC.
Reid’s program, on the other hand, is more about her opinions about the news, and her regular criticism of President Donald Trump and Republican policies have made her a popular figure on MSNBC.
But her reputation within the gay community took a hit with the discovery of these latest blog posts. The gay rights group PFLAG National rescinded an invitation for Reid to receive the group’s Straight for Equality in Media award, which Reid was scheduled to receive at a gathering this month honoring the group’s 45th anniversary.
May is a critical month for ratings among TV networks. The numbers are the benchmark within the second quarter for establishing advertiser rates. Reid’s numbers over the next few weeks will paint a much clearer picture of how much damage has been done to her credibility among viewers.
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