We face three current problems:
1) Television news outlets, in particular cable news outlets, try to receive higher ratings not by reporting the news, but by reporting news that they think the audience wants to hear. In order for a network news program to run in prime time, it invariably focuses on celebrities, diet tips, crime stories, or something similarly titillating. Cable news focuses on the same: for those who doubt, how on Earth would any news organization (granted, CNN Headline News isn't known for their brilliance, but bear with me) give Nancy Grace an hour of a network’s time every night if they cared about informing the public?
2) In the past, news anchors and reporters were primarily hired from print journalism. Ed Murrow, for example, hired William Shirer as his Berlin correspondent not because he had a terrific voice (by all accounts, he didn’t) but because he was a talented and brave reporter with sources throughout Berlin (not just the Berlin Hilton). Now, the farm system for cable news seems to be local news, where there is more focus on market demands (emphasis on happy banter between anchors, consultant’s reports concerning the marketplace, crime reports, sensationalism). The result: with a few notable exceptions, news anchors and reporters are not rewarded for informing the public, but for “screen presence” (e.g. cute and non-intimidating) and acceptability to the audience.
3) More and more citizens in this country, indeed all over the world, tend to seek out news outlets that will tell them what they want to hear. Fox News is dangerous not because it is conservative, but because it is incredibly successful by pandering to their audience. If you are a conservative and disagree that the network is pandering to you, ask yourself when the last time FNC ran a story that challenged the audience?
So Fox News is successful and market consultants increasingly tell their employers that the “cable news audience” is “conservative” and hiring conservative commentators might boost ratings. Missing, of course, is the fact that while the “cable news audience” is “conservative”, that is largely because no one is trying anything else (much like market analysts suggested that Air America wouldn’t succeed because liberals don’t listen to AM talk radio). As a result, MSNBC, intimidated by FNC’s success and facing an identity crisis, frequently attempts to hire conservative commentators (Carlson, Savage, Scarborough, Alan Keyes, etc…). CNN attempts to emulate FNC in another way, by usually creating panels of one rabid conservative and one cowed moderate where they are to “debate” (e.g. yell) the issues of the day.
Stating that networks find it profitable to pander to their audience's beliefs isn’t a conservative or liberal critique (Al Jazeera’s success in the Arab world is predicated on the same premise, it seems to me). We as liberals are shut of this and will create a cable network of our own – one focused on presenting the news from a “liberal” point of view, which I also find dangerous.
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