MSNBC spent considerable time Monday reporting on the aftermath of an attempted Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, but its executives didn't want to talk about why the story received little attention as it was breaking.
Competitors CNN and Fox News Channel gave much more extensive attention to the story on Christmas night as MSNBC stuck with taped programs on a murder mystery and environmental issues, along with an "undercover" report on the teenage sex trade.
MSNBC has been criticized in the past for failing to respond quickly to breaking news during off-hours, a choice that may complicate its efforts to be seen as a go-to news source. The network is revamping its daytime schedule to be more news-oriented than personality-driven, since the latter approach has proven to be a ratings failure.
On Christmas, an anchor did live cut-ins about once an hour to pass on news of the attempted terrorism, said Jeremy Gaines, network spokesman.
Fox mixed live coverage of the story Friday night with a taped year-end retrospective show with Bill O'Reilly. CNN devoted virtually all of its prime-time hours to the incident, its coverage anchored by Ali Velshi.
Neither Gaines nor Phil Griffin, MSNBC's top executive, would discuss the judgment call on Monday.
MSNBC's choice was noted by Rachel Sklar, a blogger for the Mediaite Web site: "If you're going to call yourself a news network, then cover the news," she wrote.
MSNBC faced similar criticism earlier this year when it stuck with taped programming during a weekend that other networks were covering protests over the election in Iran. CNN and Fox similarly stayed with the live story longer during the terrorist attacks in India last year.
At the time of the Iran protests, the Daily Kos Web site wrote: "What are they, a high school radio station left on autopilot from Friday night to Monday morning? ... If MSNBC wants to be a force, when will they wake up?"
For its part, MSNBC has noted that its long-form taped programming have been successful in the ratings during weekends.