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The Essence of Partisan Political Media


The rise of Fox News on the right and MSNBC’s follow-up pincer movement on the left have trapped and isolated CNN inside its brand, desperate to find a way forward. There are still times—presidential elections, global catastrophes—when news as it was traditionally understood can still win the ratings game. And CNN, because of its premium advertising rates, international networks, affiliates, and websites, is still surprisingly profitable: Last year, CNN generated $500 million in profit, its best year ever. But it’s a television commandment that thou must succeed in prime time. Even in prime time, CNN actually gets plenty of viewers, but they tend to click through rather than linger. And Fox’s secret is that viewers stay. That’s because Fox’s rightward flanking maneuver, capturing a disenfranchised part of the audience, was only part of its strategy. The news, especially political news, wasn’t something that happened. It was something that you shaped out of the raw data, brought out of the clay of zhlubby, boring politics, reborn with heroes and villains, triumphs and reverses, never-ending story lines—what TV executives call “flow.” And the beauty of it was that the viewers—the voters—were the protagonists, victims of evil Kenyan socialist overlords, or rebels, coming to take the government back. There was none of the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand relativity crossfire that mirrors the journalism-school ideal of objectivity. All the fire went one way. The viewers, on their couches, were flattered as the most important participants, the foot soldiers in Fox’s army; some of them even voted.

From a terrific article on American political journalism. It looks at how the CNN and MSNBC have sought to counter Fox News’ ratings dominance. MSNBC has done better by becoming Fox News –though its “talent” dispute this– for the political left.

Read it!

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