Cable News Isn't a Cancer, It's a Business Model That Delivers to Its Consumers

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

Every so often I’ll come across a story that I not only know I want to write about but know exactly what I want to say about it. The reduction of the amount of time one needs to ponder is a great luxury for a writer, and one I wish I would experience more often. I will usually agonize over a topic forever before typing anything.

Other times — and this happens even less frequently — words will effortlessly pour out of me for a few paragraphs then I will realize I want to go in a completely different direction.

I promise that this glimpse into my less-than-perfect writing progress will be applied to the main topic, dear readers.

Today’s effort falls somewhere in between the above-described scenarios.

When I first read this post by Matt about an MSNBC producer who resigned because she could no longer abide the ratings lust that she thinks is corrupting journalism, I knew I wanted to expand upon it. Of particular interest was this part:

She then quoted a “successful and insightful TV veteran” who told her, “We are a cancer and there is no cure. But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”

“As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis,” she wrote. “The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings.”

I pounced on the “cancer” thing and thought, “BINGO! I SHALL NOW USE ALL MY WORDS.”

My initial inclination was to wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment and, as I said, expand upon it.

It quickly occurred to me that this didn’t really jibe with a lot of my current thinking. It’s not that I don’t agree that the cable news model has corrupted journalism a bit, it’s that I don’t entirely put the blame on the people who are creating the content.

At some point, consumers have to bear some responsibility for what we consume.

The cable news model wasn’t created in a vacuum then birthed into the world as an overnight success. It’s a product that needed consumers to become successful.

When CNN debuted in 1980 is was a novelty because it provided 24-hour news coverage. There was obviously an audience for that.

Fox News Channel waltzed more than a decade and a half later and turned everything on its head forever. It did so by first identifying an audience that was not just underserved but almost completely unserved on television — conservative news consumers.

FNC mixed up news and opinion talking head shows and discovered a formula that would one day propel it to the top of the cable news ratings. No liberal will ever admit this, but FNC did actually have a bit more ideological nuance than its competitors. Shepard Smith was the network’s main news guy from its inception and he is decidedly not conservative. Smith was with FNC for 23 years.

Before Hannity there was, of course, Hannity and Colmes, a show which did a lot to popularize the talking heads/opposing viewpoint genre.

CNN and MSNBC are forever trying to mimic FNC’s success, always to no avail. Both networks do, however, have strong core followings. All of the cable news networks are still in business because they are giving their respective audiences precisely what they want. It’s opinion, entertainment, and a smidgen of news all wrapped up into one and it’s why the people who are watching keep coming back.

My only problem with cable news and journalism is when the host of an opinion show parades him or herself as a journalist. Just be honest about it. Whenever anyone refers to me as a journalist I immediately correct them and explain that I’m a verbal bomb-throwing conservative opinion writer.

The decline in American journalism can be directly blamed on our old nemesis academia for pumping out a few generations of intellectually incurious leftists from journalism schools. In an honest world, a journalism degree would now be called a confirmation bias degree.

To me, a far more dangerous “cancer” in the way news is presented and consumed now is the fact that so many younger people get their information from The Daily Show or the late-night hosts who have abandoned entertainment to become full time Democratic propagandists. Anyone taking their political cues from the likes of Trevor Noah or Stephen Colbert is too stupid to be left alone around electric outlets or small objects that might accidentally be swallowed.

These people are out there and they are voting.

I need a drink.

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PJ Media Senior Columnist and Associate Editor Stephen Kruiser is the author ofDon’t Let the Hippies ShowerandStraight Outta Feelings: Political Zen in the Age of Outrage,” both of which address serious subjects in a humorous way. Monday through Friday he edits PJ Media’s “Morning Briefing.” His columns appear twice a week.