Bruce Lindner: A Fair & Balanced Look at Cable News (OP-ED)
FOX NEWS ~
The undisputed champ of corporate-friendly and/or owned cable “news” channels. Unabashedly conservative, occasionally (usually mistakenly) accurate, but more often than not, a 24/7 Republican party infomercial that suppresses any news that might be viewed as negative by their base, while highlighting and exaggerating any negativity regarding their quarry, the Democrats. A brazen purveyor of propaganda, and not above outright lying. They characterize their primetime propagandists as “opinion guys” and their so-called regular reporters as “news guys” though the difference between the two groups is often indistinguishable. Setting up a guest with trick questions, packing the panel against him or her, hiring token Democrats to use as fodder, interrupting, and even cutting their microphones are methods for dealing with troublesome progressives who dare to make a valid point against one of their hosts. Based on a concept originally proposed by Roger Ailes and submitted to the Nixon White House over 40 years ago as a “Republican alternative to the nightly news,” it found its financial backer in Rupert Murdoch, publisher and founder of some of the most disgraceful, libelous rags since Der Stürmer.
Target Audience: Older, generally rural, easily manipulated, fearful, white, “traditional values” voters, concentrated in the red states, but by no means exclusively.
Method of Propagation: Via the Republican echo chamber, talk radio, highly promoted as the “go to” cable channel set in truck stops, bars, NRA conventions, Klan meetings, hootenannies, hoedowns, tractor pulls, any place with a waiting room filled with bored, disgruntled, Caucasian sexagenarians+.
Moto: “Fair & Balanced,” which of course, it is neither. Their very motto is their first lie, which should be your first clue of what’s to follow.
Unofficial Rule No. 1: Never, ever, EVER admit you’ve made a mistake. Spin it, deflect to another subject, avoid discussing it, or just ignore it and wait for it to blow over. And if some pain in the ass guest brings it up, drown him out and go to a commercial break. (Buy gold!)
Status: The 800 pound gorilla. Fox is #1 and will probably always be #1 due to their targeted demographic – a population that watches more television and reads less than the nation at large. One key part of Fox’s success has been their demonization of the “mainstream media,” as being too liberal. The “I Don’t Believe What I Read in the New York Times” campaign being a prime example.
What began as an amalgam between NBC News and Microsoft, originally conceived as a cable channel for techies, soon realized they were being drowned out by Dr. FrankenAile’s monster. MSNBC has since adopted one major element from FOX NEWS, that being, a cheerleader for a major political party, the Democrats. The primary differences being, while their on-screen talent may be openly pro-Democratic, they don’t claim to be “fair & balanced,” though their obvious bias aside, they often are. When one of their talent makes an error in their reporting, their policy is to always issue a retraction, as soon as it’s discovered, often during the same broadcast. Also, MSNBC isn’t averse to giving prominent conservatives an open forum to make their case. In fact, MSNBC’s only three-hour time slot, Morning Joe, is hosted by Joe Scarborough, a conservative Republican who regularly uses his platform to take potshots at the Obama administration. Try to imagine FOX giving a three-hour program to some retired liberal Congressman… Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. Are both Fox and MSNBC politically biased? You betcha. But beyond that, any comparisons between what FOX does and what MSNBC does are absurd.
Target Audience: Younger, mostly cosmopolitan or suburban, intellectually curious, multicultural, moderate-to-liberal viewers concentrated in the blue states, on the East and West coasts, but by no means exclusively so. Not popular with the NASCAR crowd.
Method of Propagation: Word of mouth via the Democratic party, left-leaning websites, any place with a television that’s set to FOX NEWS, where an enlightened person might take advantage of the stupor amongst the crowd to change the channel to MSNBC.
Motto: “Lean Forward,” which drives FOX nuts, because it implies FOX leans backwards. Which they do.
Unofficial Rule No. 1: Appeal to an all-inclusive audience — Women, minorities, younger, hipper, college educated, LGBT, more broadly-based viewers than FOX, because in the game of “He who lures the most consumers,” that’s their best hand.
Status: Number 2 in the ratings race, though they occasionally nip at the heels of certain FOX programming in key demographic groups. MSNBC is, and will probably always be hampered by the fact that fewer liberals get their news from television than via other sources, mainly the Internet or print media. Many under-thirty year olds don’t even own a television these days, preferring to stream media on their MacBooks and iPads.
Ironically, the original 24/7 cable news outlet, and once upon a time, a damned good one. But that was two decades ago. Blindsided by the juggernaut that is FOX, CNN has struggled to find its place in this not-so brave new world, and has since been reduced to a shadow of its once respectable self. They now rely on sensationalism, wowie-zowie graphics, repeating the same “breaking news” stories for days on end, offering hypotheticals and conjecture in place of actually reporting news.
Target Audience: At this point, anybody who’ll watch.
Method of Propagation: Airports. Oh, and dentist offices. Yeah, that’s about it.
Motto: “The Most Trusted Name in News”
Unofficial Rule No. 1: Try to remain relevant.
Status: Number 3, but only on a good day.
If you want actual NEWS, your best hope is to tune in to a bona fide news station. The BBC and NPR are still my favorites, though not even they are without their criticism anymore. All three of these cable channels (occasionally) deliver it. Sometimes. If you’re lucky. But more often than not, you’re watching someone else’s idea of what they wish the news was, rather than real time events. As long as monied interests can define and trim current events to satisfy the demands of a specific constituency, there will be those who will spin it in their favor and call it “news.” But make no mistake, none of these three channels are exclusive sources of news. They’re more like 5% actual news, assuming anything newsworthy is available, 65% chatter, and 30% Shamwow and Snuggy sales pitches. I don’t know who said it first, but as the saying goes, if you want a friend, get a dog. Similarly, if you want actual news, prepare to hear it in black and white; listen to the BBC. Or better yet, Comedy Central.