L.A. Times: Extra! Extra! Fox News’s Ratings Plunge 17%!!!! (In a Much Less Important Story, CNN’s Ratings Slip by a Modest 38%)
Get a load of the headline and opening paragraphs of a article [UPDATE: actually, a TV column] in this morning’s L.A. Times:
A RATINGS DOWNER FOR FOX NEWS
Some recent ratings news no doubt gladdened the hearts of Fox News Channel haters.
First, Nielsen Media Research reported that Fox News’ overall prime-time lineup dropped 17% last month compared with a year ago (MSNBC grew 16% during the same period, while CNN plummeted by 38%).
You must be thinking that I’m making this up. But I swear I’m not. Follow the link if you don’t believe me.
So, let me get this straight. CNN did worst, dropping 38%; Fox dropped 17%; and MSNBC gained 16%. Fox is just about in the middle.
So naturally, the whole focus of the story is how terrible Fox is doing! And in the above passage, CNN’s precipitous plunge — more than double that of Fox — is relegated to a mere parenthetical. (Oh, yeah . . . that.)
Obviously, the real story here is that Fox’s ratings went down. There’s no bias there. That’s just solid, down-the-middle news judgment. Because, you see, Fox News’s woes “gladdened the hearts of Fox News Channel haters.” And when we say “Fox News Channel haters,” we mean, of course, the editors of the Los Angeles Times. And since they’re the ones who decide what’s “news,” then Fox’s decline is the story — not CNN’s plunge.
Priceless. I’m filing this one away. When people ask me for an example of blatant partisanship at the L.A. Times, I couldn’t do much better than simply reading the beginning of this story out loud, giving special emphasis to the opening and closing of the parenthetical phrase.
(Thanks to alert reader Hank K.)
More ranting in the extended entry:
The story quotes Jonathan Klein, who is the guy who famously characterized the prototypical blogger as “a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.” Klein now runs the U.S. news department at CNN — which is, just to remind you, the network whose prime-time ratings nose-dived by 38%, over twice the rate of Fox’s loss. The Times lets Klein get away with theorizing that Fox is losing viewers because . . . it’s being too partisan! This is a theory that, unsurprisingly, is shared by MSNBC dimwit Keith Olbermann:
“When the stock market was through the roof in the ’90s, people used to sit around and watch CNBC and slap high fives and say, ‘I made another hundred bucks today!’ ” said MSNBC host and O’Reilly foe Keith Olbermann, adding that CNBC’s ratings quickly went south when the tech bubble burst.
“I think the same psychology applies to Fox. They’ll always have their hard-core audience that wants to hear, ‘Everything’s great! [Bush is] doing a great job.’ ” But less-partisan viewers are drifting away, Olbermann argued.
Jonathan Klein, president of CNN/US, agrees. “Maybe this is part of the deal with the devil you make when a supposed news network allies itself so closely with one point of view,” he said.
One wonders how it is that CNN’s ratings plunged at a rate more than double that of Fox. Could it be that CNN allies itself closely with a leftist point of view? Could it be that CNN’s leftist partisanship is driving away viewers at a rate more than double the loss suffered by Fox? Nah. Klein is allowed to explain away his network’s woes as evidence of success:
As for CNN, its lineup showed far greater erosion last month than Fox’s. “We’re down because we had such a phenomenal year last year,” Klein said.
Oh, I see! You can’t help but do badly now, because you have recently done so well!
Yet Fox has been absolutely clobbering CNN and MSNBC in the ratings. Does the same explanation work for Fox? Not on your life! While the story doesn’t seriously challenge Klein on his proffered excuses, it picks apart the excuses offered by a Fox executive, and goes on for paragraphs about the possible reasons that Fox is doing so badly:
Fox News says CNN is merely trying to deflect attention from its own woes. “It’s always amusing to watch Jon whistle past his graveyard of failures like Anderson Cooper and ‘American Morning’ as Fox trounces CNN in breaking news and ratings,” Fox spokeswoman Irena Briganti wrote in an e-mail. “We suspect Dick Parsons isn’t nearly as entertained.” Parsons is the chief of Time Warner, CNN’s parent.
Fox News says it’s hardly surprising its ratings are down this year, arguing that recent weeks have been fairly tame news-wise compared with April 2005, when Pope John Paul II died and his successor was chosen. What’s more, O’Reilly took seven nights off last month, the network says, leading to lower ratings overall for his program. But Fox has clearly reached some sort of turning point in audience dynamics. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the network soared as if wearing flubber shoes, with gravity-defying, double-digit growth during news cycles slow and fast. Now it’s subject to the same laws of physics that encumber every mature network.
It’s possible, of course, that Fox’s loud, primary-color style of news packaging has gotten stale. It’s also true that there are limits on how big any TV programming can get, especially in a world of endless media fragmentation.
Maybe the real point, though, is not that Bush’s sinking poll numbers are hurting Fox News. Perhaps it’s that the network isn’t thoroughly engaging the issues that are giving the administration so many troubles.
Or maybe the real point is that, whatever Fox is doing wrong, CNN is apparently doing twice as badly — because CNN is the one whose ratings went in the toilet! But never mind that. Let’s keep hammering on Fox:
Consider O’Reilly, whose program has been the bellwether of Fox’s overall rise. Yes, he’s devoted plenty of time lately to such topics as immigration and the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
Yet on Friday, with Washington abuzz about the abrupt resignation of CIA Chief Porter Goss and Cheney’s combative speech on Thursday assailing Russia over human rights and other matters, “The O’Reilly Factor” temporized with segments about a sex offender registration law, the evidence behind date-rape claims and a controversy over Condoleezza Rice’s getting an honorary degree. (Larry King, who hosts CNN’s top-rated program, was only slightly more topical, by the way; after chatting with Christopher Kennedy Lawford about whether there might be a family curse given Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s recent drug-related traffic accident, King turned to attorney Robert Shapiro, who discussed his son’s death from a drug overdose.)
Each of these subjects has its own merits, but few would claim they dominate Americans’ thinking these days, during times of a growing energy debate, ongoing controversy over Bush’s handling of the Iraq war, worries over Iran’s nuclear aims and pending midterm elections. Talk about changing the subject.
Fox News didn’t get to be No. 1 by avoiding tough issues. Why start now?
Is CNN tackling these tough issues, Times editors? Your parenthetical — note how, once again, CNN’s failings are mentioned in a parenthetical — suggests that it is not. So why not go on and on about CNN? Why is CNN’s fluff worth only another parenthetical?
Why isn’t the whole story about CNN and its pathetic ratings?
The answer is obvious. It all makes perfect sense when you consider that the paper has had an ongoing feud with Fox News for years, starting with a well-publicized battle between its former editor John Carroll and Bill O’Reilly, and continuing with regular diatribes filed by Tim Rutten in his leftist “Regarding Media” column. Once you understand that, you immediately understand why the L.A. Times chose to focus on the declining ratings of Fox, when CNN’s ratings have tanked in a far more dramatic fashion.
UPDATE: A couple of commenters have suggested that, because Fox’s ratings are higher, it may be fair to focus more on Fox’s decline. That observation might have justified a slight emphasis on Fox in a sober and balanced news story. But an article like this — which does a virtual dance on the supposed grave of Fox’s ratings, uncritically highlights quotes from executives in organizations doing far worse, and wonders at length what Fox (and only Fox) is doing wrong — this sort of slanted story is not even remotely justified by Fox’s higher ratings. The spin is furious, and can be explained only by the paper’s historic hostility to Fox News.
UPDATE x2: Commenter
jmaharry “drummaster” masquerading as jmaharry jmaharry masquerading as “drummaster” notes that this piece is actually a television column. (The editors probably could have labeled it more clearly.)
This doesn’t change my criticisms in the slightest [UPDATE: except that I would have referred to the editors’ “news judgment,” but rather their judgment in general]. It simply means that my vitriol should have been directed primarily at Scott Collins, the columnist who wrote this silly, unreasonably biased piece — and only secondarily at the editors who greenlighted it.
By the way: jmaharry. If you’re going to comment here, have the guts to do so under the name you have always used. Don’t come on here under an assumed name and suggest that I’m a liar. On a lot of blogs, that’s a banning offense. You may not be a journalist, but have you learned nothing from the Michael Hiltzik affair?