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April 23, 2009

Why would GE shareholders complain about successful MSNBC?

NUP_132585_0056 In The Princess Bride, a character is told that the most classic blunder is to "get involved in a land war in Asia."

In media, the classic blunder is to get involved in any fight between the cable news networks.

You have never witnessed more gonzo determination to undermine the competition at all costs.

In the latest dramatic volley, a producer from right-leaning Fox News and some other unidentified individuals pelted chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt with complaints about left-leaning MSNBC during the company's shareholders meeting.

The thrust of the headlines has been that GE has to cut its dividend 70% and shareholders are grilling the company brass about putting partisans like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow on the air.

Does anybody else recognize how nonsensical that is?

First, MSNBC is a tiny part of the company's empire. GE Capital, which took a hit during the global economic collapse along with every other financial institution, has been called the biggest culprit in the company's stock woes.

Second, MSNBC is posting record ratings growth.

During the first quarter of this year, the increasingly liberalized MSNBC overtook CNN in primetime viewing among adults 25-54 for the first time in its history.

And, according to Kagan, the network's ad sales are projected to grow by about 4% this year, to about $235 million -- and that's in a year when most other networks, including CNN and Fox News, are predicted to post declines.

GE shareholders may have complaints, but the political proclivities of MSNBC's on-air talent that have helped define the network's brand shouldn't be one of them.

Financially, it's a bit like CBS Corp. stock holders deriding freshman breakout hit The Mentalist, or, exaggerating further, like Apple shareholders whining about the company making iPods. It doesn't make sense. It's pure land war partisanship.

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