Fox News and MSNBC: Not the Competitors They Should Be
Newsweek is out with a story about conservatives and Fox News that quotes me extensively. I just want to be clear about one thing. I don't think there is anything wrong with Fox being an overtly conservative/Republican news outlet. I think the cult of "objectivity" that has governed journalism in the modern era is impossible to achieve and makes for boring newspapers, magazines and broadcast news programming. It's a key reason why these traditional news sources are dying.
I give Rupert Murdoch enormous credit for recognizing a market opportunity to appeal to conservatives who have long felt that the traditional media had a strong liberal bias. And in the era from the 1950s to the 1980s I think the conservatives were right. The mainstream media did have a liberal bias, although it was never as strong as they thought.
The brilliance of Fox News was positioning itself in the objective center, which meant, relatively, that it was to the right of its competitors, all of which were to the left of center. This way Fox could legitimately claim to be "fair and balanced" while simultaneously appealing to conservatives, who were happy just to have a network where their issues were addressed and their values weren't implicitly ridiculed.
The problem is that since the 1990s the mainstream media has shifted to the right. I think the old liberal bias is completely gone and every major media outlet is pretty well positioned in the center of the political spectrum today. Liberals recognize this even if conservatives don't.
In order to maintain its position a couple of clicks to the right of its competitors this has meant that Fox had to move to the right of center. In the 2000s I think Fox has become explicitly right wing, often parroting the Republican Party line of the day. And of course, it is now the home of Glenn Beck, who is so right wing that he makes Rush Limbaugh look like a moderate.
Personally, I have no problem at all with this. I just wish Fox would stop pretending that it isn't a mouthpiece for the Republican Party and come out of the closet so to speak. The real problem is that the left and the Democratic Party have no comparable outlet and I think they should have one. While MSNBC tends to be slightly to the left it is not nearly as far to the left of center as Fox is to the right, nor does partisanship and ideology permeate its entire schedule as it does at Fox.
Unfortunately, I don't think MSNBC is capable of positioning itself as the left/Democratic alternative to Fox as long as it remains part of the NBC News operation. It's forced to operate too much like a mainstream media outlet. Comcast, which now owns NBC, should spin it off and give it the freedom to become the anti-Fox. I think it would be much more successful than it is now.