According to the founder and former CEO of CBS Marketwatch.com, Larry Kramer, too many viewers rely on Fox and MSNBC to form their opinions about the issues and that leads to a ‘less informed but more opinionated public’ and that is bad for democracy.
This year, for the first time, MSNBC has moved into second place, with CNN dropping to third place. CNN’s marquee shows-–Anderson Cooper’s 360 and Parker-Spitzer have been extremely weak.
Politics and prejudices aside, there is a central theme to this change, and it’s not an altogether positive one. I don’t believe this is about one political opinion versus another. I believe this is about people wanting, and needing, to form opinions faster and with less work on their own part.
It is, frankly, easier for someone to turn on either Fox News or MSNBC, listen to the frequent opinion expressed, right or left, and benchmark themselves against that opinion rather than forming their own opinion based on independent thinking.
So if a new Supreme Court Justice was named tomorrow, more people would check out what Fox and MSNBC said about him or her, and then quickly decide whether or not they were in favor or opposed to approving the candidate. “If Fox (or MSNBC) like him, so do I,” a viewer can decide, (or the opposite) based totally on that viewer’s political stance and how it relates to Fox or MSNBC.
In the past, many of those people would have spent the time with a more objective outlet, like CNN or the New York Times, done more research of the candidate, and made up their own minds. Now, it’s just faster to have someone do that for you.
It’s a bad thing for democracy. We are creating a less-informed but more opinionated public.
By the way, it does not mean that more objective sources CAN’T be more interesting. They just aren’t. In an effort to appear totally unbiased, CNN ridded itself of opinion or emotion. You CAN express opinions and still present a balanced report. It takes more work on the news gathering side to both report and curate.
But that will be the future of Journalism.
Granted that there is a wide divide of opinions when comparing Fox and MSNBC, but Kramer is giving the cable news networks far too much credit for shaping opinion.
The top rated cable news program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” attracts about three million people every night, while its closest competition, “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” draws about a million a night. By comparison, nearly nine million people watch the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, and overall the three broadcast networks combined draw an audience of about 22 million for their 30 minute evening news program.
Kramer is also ignoring the influence of the internet which has exploded with opinions from every side and angle. If there is anything that is shaping public opinion it is the internet, along with blogs and social media that are fanning the flames far more effectively than television. Neither cable nor network news can compete with the speed of Twitter where news travels at lightning speed and has become a newswire of sorts to many including media professionals.
Yes, Fox and MSNBC are full of opinions from opposite sides of the political spectrum, but to call CNN and The New York Times objective and suggest that’s where viewers and readers can turn to for a more unbiased opinion is laughable.
CNN is full of liberals trying to hide their liberalism, to create the perception of being in the middle, but who often fail. The New York Times is one of the country’s most liberal newspapers and to call it anything else is a farce.
What Kramer is really worried about is that liberals no longer have an iron grip on the media and what the public thinks. Fox News has provided a small (by comparison to broadcast TV) outlet for conservative thought and opinion that is only partly countered by MSNBC, but the broadcast networks are still overwhelmingly liberal and attract a large audience each night. But Fox has become that chink in the armor on television where the internet has totally upended the print news side of the equation creating a more, not less, informed public. There is a saying that knowledge is power and during the pre-internet and pre-cable news days that knowledge was controlled by the liberal mainstream media. But now the genie is out of the bottle and that knowledge is now available to everyone and that is what scares the liberals. They have lost control over the message and medium and now have to deal with a public that is actually questioning their reporting and they don’t like being held accountable for their actions.
Yes, this is the future of journalism. A more open and widespread system that for the first time gives all sides an opportunity to express their views and in the long run that should be good for democracy.