Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Anchor's move from Fox to MSNBC a two-sided tale

Posted on Mon, May. 16, 2005

By Gail Shister
Inquirer Columnist

Who's spinning whom?

This much is beyond dispute: Former Fox News Channel weekender Rita Cosby will join MSNBC in mid-June to anchor a daily evening program, MSNBC said Friday.

Where it gets hinky is the scenario of Cosby's departure from FNC on Thursday.

Cosby says FNC made her "several" contract offers, but she chose to split. FNC says it didn't renew her contract and no offers were made.

We report. You decide.

"This was 110 percent my decision," Cosby, 40, says. "They offered me several contracts, and I chose not to accept them. I think they would have loved for me to stay. I know they're disappointed I didn't."

Cosby will serve as a special correspondent until her show - no title yet - premieres in the fourth quarter, MSNBC says.

No time slot, but look for her weeknights at 11, bumping reruns of that day's 7 p.m. Hardball, with Chris Matthews.

The rest of the lineup - Keith Olbermann at 8, Tucker Carlson (eventually) at 9, Joe Scarborough at 10 - is expected to stay. MSNBC is stuck in third in the cable news ratings, behind CNN and prime-time leader FNC.

Cosby, who anchored FNC programs at 9 p.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays, wanted to break into weeknights. Its powerful lineup, including Bill O'Reilly and Shepard Smith, wasn't going anywhere.

"I wasn't unhappy," Cosby insists. "I totally understood. Fox is doing terrific in prime time. The chance of turnover is fairly minimal. They have a lineup that works."

Leaving FNC "was a gut-wrenching decision. I loved Fox News. I was there from the very beginning. I was their first on-air hire," in July '95. FNC launched in October '96.

Not true, FNC says. Its first on-air hire was Lauren Green, on Aug. 5, '96. She's now a regular on the morning show, Fox & Friends.

Actually, Cosby was part of the old Fox News Affiliate Service, which distributed stories to broadcast affiliates, says FNC. She was among those absorbed by the cable news network, it adds.

While at FNC, Cosby "secured a host of exclusive interviews with world leaders," according to MSNBC, "including former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from The Hague."

She was also "the first journalist to report the identities of the Washington, D.C.-area snipers," MSNBC says.

Cosby says she was contacted by MSNBC "several months ago." Contractually, the timing was "within my legal rights to speak to the competition."

No word when Cosby's contract was up, but a Fox executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, says it expired in November.

Fox had the right to match MSNBC's offer, Cosby says. FNC confirms this, adding that it didn't make a counteroffer. Cosby says she "basically told them I was ready to go."

Competing with her old shop "is going to be interesting," says Cosby, who'll be up against O'Reilly reruns at 11 p.m. "I've always believed that you just work your heart out and do the best you can, and not think about the other guys."

Contact TV columnist Gail Shister at 215-854-2224 or gshister@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/gailshister