“MSNBC, once the also-ran but now the No. 2 cable news channel, has a new tagline that embraces its progressive political identity.

“The tagline, ‘Lean Forward,’ will be publicly announced Tuesday, opening a planned two-year advertising campaign intended to raise awareness of the channel among viewers, advertisers and distributors.

“The tagline ‘defines us and defines our competition,’ said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, his implication being that the Fox News Channel, which is No. 1 in cable news and a home for conservatives, is leaning backward. Fox’s best-known tagline is ‘Fair and Balanced.’…

“The resulting ads are not day-and-date promotions for specific programs; rather, they are emotional set pieces about the national debate that moves America forward. The MSNBC brand ‘is about ideas and change and making the country a better place,’ Mr. Griffin said.”

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“‘Fox figured it out that you have to stand for something in cable,’ MSNBC president Phil Griffin says. Since Griffin was appointed in 2008, the network has adopted much of the Fox News playbook. ‘What we’re doing is targeting an audience,’ Griffin says. ‘In television, and in particular cable television, brand is everything,’ NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker told me, before he announced his departure two weeks ago. ‘For a long time, MSNBC floundered with its identity.’

“The cable-news business is creating politics in its own cartoonish, desperate, loopy, egomaniacal image. While Zucker and Griffin are both liberals, they got in the politics business for the ratings, and MSNBC’s new identity has been a ratings boon. Its audience is less than half the size of Fox’s, partly because liberals tend to pride themselves on being part of the fact-based community and may prefer media products like the New York Times, or the PBS NewsHour, which make their points without shouting. Griffin, now that he’s found ratings religion, is doubling down. In April 2009, he hired the liberal radio host Ed Schultz for a 6 p.m. show. This past summer, MSNBC announced it was developing a 10 p.m. show for Lawrence O’Donnell to replace reruns of Olbermann. Recently, MSNBC tried to buy the Huffington Post (Huffington Post founder Ken Lerer rejected the offer). The network hired Spike Lee to shoot a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign and developed its own obtuse slogan: ‘Lean Forward.’…

“[W]ith liberals ascendant in Washington, there was a new appetite for programming that tapped the fervor on the left. Zucker saw a business opportunity. ‘We’re failing,’ he told Griffin. ‘We cannot fail. Have a sensibility. Put Keith out there.'”

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