Commentary

Cable News: The True Unreality

Working from home these days, I admit to having cable news on in the background way too much.  The other day I saw an interesting story on MSNBC saying that since 1994, the percentage of Democrats who disapprove of the Republican party and the percentage of Republicans who disapprove of the Democratic party each rose from about 15% to over 50%.   

The MSNBC reporter struggled to come up with a reason, seemingly oblivious to the obvious: MSNBC and Fox News both started in 1996.

For years, MSNBC in prime time was geared toward bashing Fox News as an arm of the GOP, its reporters as boobs, and its viewers as uneducated and uninformed.  It took Donald Trump’s insults for MSNBC reporters to actually refer to Fox’s Megyn Kelly as a journalist. 

At the same time, Fox News blasted MSNBC as an elitist, socialist, politically correct tool of the far left. 

Each network’s non-prime-time “newscasts” have anchors who (with few exceptions), barely hide the fact that they are just as biased as their prime-time, opinion-show counterparts.  The vitriol and hatred spewed by Fox News toward Barack Obama and the Clintons has only been matched by the vitriol and hatred previously spewed by MSNBC toward George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

MSNBC and Fox News viewers are presented with opposite realities on a daily basis — alternate universes, if you will.  Pretend-news websites, such as The Huffington Post on the left and Breitbart News on the right (or alt-right), are often even more extreme.  The problem is, a lot of people see them not just as legitimate sources of news, but often as their only source of news.  No wonder the two parties and their constituents dislike one another more than ever.  Rather than seeking real, objective, fact-based news (was there ever such a thing?), many only look for media that validate their own biases.

Donald Trump is presented in the MSNBC/Huffington Post world as a racist, fraudulent businessman, a con artist.  This gives their audience permission to hate him and his supporters.  After all, racists, and business frauds are groups it is still very acceptable to publicly hate.

When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she had an approval rating of roughly 70% — around 50% among Republicans — and the Clinton Foundation was widely hailed as a force for good around the world.  As soon as she started running for President, Fox News and conservative Web sites started labeling both her and the foundation as secretive, lying, corrupt criminal enterprises — giving their audience permission to hate her and her supporters (lying, corrupt criminals are also OK to publicly hate).

CNN, on the other hand, pretends to be neutral, but it’s really just afraid to offend anyone or call anyone out for lying.  The network mistake false equivalency with fairness.  

No matter how absurd one side of any given discussion is, CNN will give them equal time to make their point, often normalizing some crazy views.  If CNN put on a well-known astronomer to explain how scientists discovered the earth was not flat, the anchor would say, “Just to be fair, we found this guy who thinks the world is flat.”  Then they would give him an equal amount of time to make his ridiculous point. The banner on the bottom of the screen would likely read, “The debate rages on as to whether the earth is flat.”  CNN does not seem to understand that every issue does not have two equally valid sides.

Here’s an experiment: No matter your political leaning, try switching back and forth between MSNBC and Fox News for an hour or so.  If your head doesn’t explode, you’ll be shocked at the two different versions of reality presented. Just check each network’s post-debate coverage, for example.

But you’ll start to understand why the country is so divided.  Or, you can just watch CNN for a similar effect.  

If you want real news, try Reuters, PBS, or BBC (not perfect, but beacons of objectivity when compared to cable news).

12 comments about "Cable News: The True Unreality".
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  1. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, September 28, 2016 at 4:25 p.m.

    Steve, "... real & objective" and insightful tracking this back to 1996.  You would make the BBC proud!
    Sadly we can indeed hold the media responsible, to a great extent, for the country's current bifurcated, divisive and bitter political playing field despite the increase in "fact checker" articles.   Donald Trump ("Il Duce"), of course, has been virtually made by our media, notably the cable networks, and has mined this "true unreality" situation to the hilt.
    Now if only we could get BBC to hire the terrific Dr. Rachel Maddow??

  2. Lisa Bell from Tivoli Partners, September 28, 2016 at 4:53 p.m.

    Excellent post! I too work from home often, and switch back and forth to see the diversity of media coverage. It's nothing like what I was taught in journalism school in the watergate era '70s. My J school professors drilled into us the importance of fact checking and being objective. Seems like the priority is getting the scoop out there (before the competition) to boost ratings/readership and social media buzz. :(

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 28, 2016 at 6:15 p.m.

    True that there are sides but your biases are showing.

  4. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, September 28, 2016 at 7:34 p.m.

    We all have biases. Sometimes they seep through. 

  5. Thomas Nobles from NewMedia Strategy replied, September 28, 2016 at 7:48 p.m.

    That would be the ruin of the BBC. Maddow leans so far left her arm must be asleep.

  6. Frank Marmion from Marmion Marketing Communications, September 28, 2016 at 10:21 p.m.

    This is what infuriates me about news coverage today. A Journalism major in the late 60s, I was instructed that opinion and bias had no place in the coverage of events. That standard seems to have totally disappeared. "Objectivity" seems to be a lost art.

  7. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, September 28, 2016 at 11:04 p.m.

    I think the moment real journalism started to die was when Anderson Cooper replaced Aaron Brown on CNN.

  8. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, September 29, 2016 at 12:24 p.m.

    Thomas:  For the record, based on a real and objective assessment of the political spectrum Dr. Rachel Maddow should certainly not be considered, "so far left" and would hardly be the "ruin of the BBC" and the balanced role that that network's news takes and her reflection of that mission.  What we need to remember is that the center of the American political spectrum is overall well to the right of Europe.  This is why so many Americans might suggest that Dr. Rachel is "so far" left and probaly called Bernie Saunders a "socialist".  Nothing could surely be further from the politcal truth.  He is best described as a social democrat. 

  9. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, October 6, 2016 at 8:58 a.m.

    To Steve, I have nothing against Anderson Cooper but I dearly miss Aaron Brown. He was the voice of calm and reason during 9/11 and it kept me sane (I was stuck overseas at the time so only had CNN to watch), I keep hoping that someday he will be back on CNN. To Tony are you really being objective by referring to Rachel Maddow as "Dr"?

  10. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, October 6, 2016 at 10:41 a.m.

    Patty:
    I always try to be objective and check the facts as best as possible although that is becoming more and more difficult.  Rachel Maddow is not only a Dr., from Oxford no less, but also a Rhodes Scholar according to Wikipedia:
    "She was also the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship and began her postgraduate study in 1995 at Lincoln College, Oxford. This made her the first openly gay or lesbian American to win an international Rhodes Scholarship.[23] In 2001, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in politics at the University of Oxford.[24]" 


  11. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, October 6, 2016 at 5:39 p.m.

    I've followed both MSNBC and Fox News for years, along with Rachel Maddow's work on talk radio, before she moved to MSNBC.  I had MSNBC on most of the day, both before and after Maddow joined that channel.  

    Before that, I was a fan of CNN, until they got cold feet and scrambled towards the Right, firing Aaron Brown and changing their tune.  When Maddow first joined MSNBC, they had what I considered a great line-up, which included my all-time favorite; Keith Olbermann.  While he certainly was controversial, his facts - which obviously leaned left - were accurate, as are Maddow's.  But then MSNBC, too, got cold feet and tried to dampen their progressive stance.

    But in the so-called battle between Fox and MSNBC, the author missed a very important point, which goes a long way towards explaining our right-versus-left media issue; ... for many years, beginning before Maddow joined them, MSNBC has not referred to themselves as a "news" outlet. While other sources may call them a news channel in TV program guides and such, MSNBC self-identifies as a political commentary and opinion outlet.  

    Fox News, on the other hand, has always identified itself as a news and commentary outlet, even though the "news" they offer is all heavily Fox-flavored, as their owners and management openly admit. 


  12. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC replied, October 10, 2016 at 8:23 a.m.

    Of course I understand now! Well, she is very smart and she is a doctor and has a PHD, I should have checked Google! THANKS!

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