The FOX News – MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusions

So now I have sat through six hours of cable-news TV shows, three hours with FOXNews and three with MSNBC. After all of it, what exactly have I learned? (Other that this experience is one that should come with a “Do Not Try This At Home” warning, that is.)

I really came away with two big takeaways: The first was the discovery that 24-hour cable news television is – surprisingly – much, much worse that I have always assumed; the second was the far more surprising revelation that it doesn’t have to be.

Let’s take a moment to look at what I discovered.

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First off, let’s take a quick look at the editorial decisions used by both networks in terms of what kinds of segments to run. First I needed some kind of baseline. Most journalists I know (Republican and Democrat) speak highly of the reporting in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, even if one is seen as a mostly liberal outlet that covers politics and culture, and the other a mostly conservative outlet that covers mostly business and economic news. But for lack of a better choice, I decided to take stock in the front page stories that ran in each on May 31, the day I TIVO-ed my cable news shows. Here are the stories that made the front page for the New York Times on May 31:

NY soft drink ban
Israel considers new borders for Palestinians
Unrest in Syria
Liberian leader sentenced to 50 years for war crimes
Racism problems at the Euro
Exercise may increase heart risk for some

Here are the same for the Wall Street Journal:

Worries about financial stability in Europe (2 stories)
Human interest story on software developer
Public employee unions in WI losing members prior to election
(Note: As readers of the Journal are aware, much of it’s front page is taken up with blurbs of other stories inside the paper, and as a result it has fewer front page stories than the Times.)

Any of these stories (save the obligatory human interest pieces) seems quite important and easily justifiable as news worth covering.  It’s interesting to note, then, that the only story that is covered on either front page and the cable shows is the Wisconsin recall election. But what about the other segments for the cable shows? I divided them into categories and graphed them out:

The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusions

 

The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusions

As you will note, anything that actually reports on factual matters – even if through a tainted or biased lens – I am willing to call journalism, and you will find it represented on the graphs in some shade of green. Stories that aren’t journalism at all but straight propaganda that are negative to the “other side” are a represented by a shade of red; those that are propaganda that are positive to their “own side” are represented by shades of blue. Human interest stories that are not used as propaganda in any way are yellow. Not surprisingly, the graphs are not that dissimilar, though FOX does appear to spend more time propping up its own side with positive propaganda than does MSNBC. However, I would argue that the instances of actual journalism and human interest stories on MSNBC are highly skewed by the Rachel Maddow Show. In fact, if you remove her content the MSNBC pie looks like this:

The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusions

Still more interesting is this: While each adds a few extra individual original bits, all three shows on FOX essentially cover the same four stories, in different orders.  (Those stories are the Wisconsin recall, birtherism, planned parenthood promotes gender-based abortion, and the obligatory anti-Obama story.)  There is some variation in the Obama smack-downs, but all of the others hammer home the exact same arguments using the exact same verbiage; each is pretty much interchangeable with the other, and might well have been penned by a single source.  (Which is not to say that it was.).  On the other hand, MSNBC has only one story covered by all three programs: the obligatory anti-Romney segments, which do not have the uniformity in commentary that FOX has with its anti-Obama segments.   (And the truth is that grouping Maddow’s commentary with Shultz’s or O’Donnell’s is a huge stretch.  Shultz and O’Donnell’s Romney rants seem more akin to the FOX anti-Obama screeds, politics aside.)  Past that there is very little overlap at MSNBC.  Whereas FOX’s shows have the appearance of a concerted and strategized effort, the hosts of MSNBC are all over the map.

Similarly, there is a consistency in production quality in the FOX shows that MSNBC lacks.  While I have to say that Maddow is intellectually superior to anything I saw on FOX, her two compatriots are just as vile as their cross-channel rivals without being nearly as entertaining or engaging.  MSNBC was a tale of two sides of the spectrum, while all the FOX shows seemed to be one long, amorphous hack job.

There were other differences.  One that I noted on my MSNBC post is the way each deals with dissenting voices.  FOX likes having “opposing views” – or, to be more precise, FOX likes having the illusion of opposing views.  The people they choose to “debate” the host are terrible; whether they are really poor debaters of are simply under contract to not point out the huge flaws in the host’s reasoning I can’t say.  They are also picked, as I have noted, because they are young, attractive women who have that car-show model look, which helps feed the white, male misogynist stereotype of a FOX viewer that many liberals have.  Having the jowly, elderly male host “win” and then chuckle over how “cute” The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusionsthe failed efforts of the pretty young lady were is really quite nauseating.  MSNBC, on the other hand, goes a different and equally bad route – they only have guests on that tell the hosts how clever and awesome they are.  The result is something that comes off as being tremendously sad to watch, and is the very definition of “the echo chamber” its hosts are so willing to call FOX.  The exception, really, was Maddow, who basically does her show herself.  (Though she did have one guest, another journalist that went into more depth about the Florida voter purge story, and in truth that guest didn’t really add anything.)

Another difference was one that I couldn’t put my finger on until I looked back, and it’s what I might call Lakers-Blazers Fan Perception Discrepancy Syndrome.  To explain: Having been raised in SoCal, I am a die hard Lakers fan.  Since I moved to Portland, everyone here talks to me about how the Lakers and the home-town Blazers are one another’s bitter rivals.  But they aren’t; Laker fans often forget Portland exists, even though Blazer fans constantly obsess about LA.  It’s the same way with FOX and MSNBC.  MSNBC talks about FOX all the time.  I mean, constantly.  Watching their network, you’d think that MSNBC and FOX used to date until FOX dumped MSNBC for that slut CNN.  FOX, on the other hand, didn’t mention MSNBC once.  Pushing this same strained metaphor farther than I should, it’s like you have to remind FOX that they actually dated once. (“No we didn’t, if we had I’d rememb- oh wait! We did date that one time!  I totally forgot. What are they up to, anyway? Are they still broadcasting?”)

Differences aside, the truth is that with the exception of Maddow they are all terrible, and those that defend them on one of the Three Standard Cable TV News Shows Defenses have either never actually watched them or are as unreliable a source as the shows themselves. The Three Standard Cable TV News Networks Defenses are:

1. They’re just telling the stories the Lame Stream Media won’t report.
2. They’re not news, they’re opinion.
3. They’re not news or opinion, they’re entertainment.

All of these defenses are – pardon my language – bullshit.

Let’s start with the first excuse, that the cable news shows simply report stories that the Lame Stream Media won’t report. Based on what I witnessed, this is actually the case – because the stories they are reporting aren’t actually true. Instead, each show very purposefully The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusionsparticipates in propaganda that is the willful spreading of misinformation. Each show is rife with examples, but I’ll just focus on what I found to be the two worst offenses. In The Ed Show, the main segment focuses on Mitt Romney’s plot to eliminate the middle classes. Not, I want to be clear, advocating for public policies that may unintentionally result in negative outcomes for the middle class, but an actual willful desire to eliminate the middle class. Ed says this over and over. He does discuss reasons that he believes those policies that Mitt campaigns on are bad economic choices, but then he immediately jumps from that to the “fact” that we have now learned that Mitt Romney wants to destroy people like you and me. This is absurd, of course, but if you only watched MSNBC for your news would you really know just how absurd?

Sean Hannity’s most outrageous disinformation campaign was actually worse. Ed reported that facts combined with twisted logic “proved” something that they didn’t, but Sean just flat reported something he knew was a falsehood. And not just any falsehood, but the rather slanderous lie that President Obama “leaked” the name of an American operative working in Pakistan so that he would be arrested and, I would assume, tortured. Worse, he reported this with an ex-Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff. In my FOX live-blog, the single entry that was added at a later date was due to this claim, which was repeated numerous times. I hadn’t heard this claim prior to watching Hannity, and as it turned out this was for good reason. Researching it took me all of 10 seconds.  This “story” came from an erroneous claim by GOP Congressman Peter King. If you are not familiar with Rep. King, note that he is the same congress critter that claimed during the Ground Zero Mosque brouhaha that he had “proof” that 85% or American mosques housed terrorists – so we’re clearly The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusionstalking about someone who’s wild claims should be taken with a grain of salt. But King had long since admitted that he basically made it up, which was reported on FOX’s website a week earlier. And yet Sean Hannity and Donald Rumsfeld were still willing to say that the White House had given the operative up over, and over, and over, knowing that there was no merit to it.

These are the kinds of stories that the Lame Stream Media won’t report – the totally fictitious kind.

But what about the other defenses, that “everyone knows it’s just opinion or entertainment?” These arguments come with the line that of course people that watch them know it isn’t news. I’m not so sure. If you are interviewing the ex-Secretary of Defense about how the White House gave up an American operative in between segments where you have “reporters” doing “exclusive exposes,” I think the “we’re just entertainment or opinion” line is trying to have your cake and eat it too. And in either case, it doesn’t mean that viewers don’t get that it’s bullshit. Since this episode aired I have heard the claim that that Obama gave up the Pakistani operative many, many times – all on FOXNews radio programming. I will tell you right now that the people that called in to the various hosts in spittle-flecked rage about the treasonous actions of our president were not aware that this was not “news.”

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And yet for all of that, I do believe that Rachel Maddow shows that there is a legitimate place for quality cable news programming. What’s more, she proves that you don’t have to be a pretend centrist to produce good television journalism.

Rachel is very clearly progressive and has a distinct political agenda, and the stories she tells certainly reflect this. And yet she is still able to The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusionsproduce quality journalism instead of propoganda. The Maddow Show has several key differences that separate it from the tripe it is surrounded by, regardless of their political stripe. None of these differences are inherently progressive, and so there is no reason that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike couldn’t produce similar quality. Perhaps it’s possible that the ratings for bad journalism will always be better than the ratings for good, and I would guess that the good is slightly more expensive to produce. (Research costs can’t be huge if you’re modus operandi is making shit up.) But assuming that there is a market for quality conservative or liberal cable TV journalism (and I believe there has to be), what does Rachel know about journalism that her peers don’t? A few things:

The Narrative Should Follow the Story, Not Vise Versa. For everyone else I watched, there was clearly a desired political narrative that came first, and stories were forced into that narrative – even at the expense of the stories not being true. Maddow’s stories, on the other hand, are simply great stories. They’re interesting in the very best sense of that word. Some are fascinating, some are entertaining, some are informative, but in each case the story itself stands on it’s own merit without needing to be propped up by any political narrative. When I listened to the MSNBC shows that bookend Maddow, all I wanted was for them to stop talking. With each Maddow segment, I found myself thinking “that would have made an awesome post.”

Every Day Doesn’t Have to Be 9/11. When watching the other shows, it was hard to shake the sense that part of the reason they were pulling such whoppers out of their ass was that they perceived a need for every story to come across to the audience as the most important news story in the history of journalism. But we just don’t live in a world where those kind of stories occur every day, and God willing we never will. The only way you can make it look that way is to either just make things up, knowingly exaggerate and take things out of context, or both.

The FOX News - MSNBC Taste Test : ConclusionsThe story I found the most interesting out of the entire six hours was Maddow’s segment on Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley who had a mysterious source buy millions of dollars in negative campaign ads to convince voters he was a terrorist sympathizer. That story wasn’t breaking news; the bizarre events had actually occurred almost two years ago. Despite that, it was riveting and (thanks to this year’s Superpac storm) relevant at the same time. But it didn’t pretend to be a bombshell that proved Obama was Kenyan or that Romney plans to put women in chains should he ever be elected president. It didn’t have to pretend to be anything – it was simply a great story.

Forced Pretend-Conflict Does Not Equal Quality… or Relevance. The most important story of my cable news sequester, I thought, was Maddow’s reporting on the negative consequences of voter fraud panic. As I said in my live-blog, Maddow didn’t try to make Republicans into an enemy. Rather, she treated them with respect, and crafted a story that warned how fearing things out of proportion can lead to bad legislation that has very real negative consequences for real people. It is not a story designed to hurl rocks, it was a story designed to bring people together to fix a problem. Had I been an advocate for voter purges prior to seeing this story, I would have had that belief strongly shaken if not reversed by this segment. I can tell you that none of the segments from any of the other hosts would have accomplished anything close to this – if anything they would have made me dig in my heels that much more.

In fact, if I could sum all of what makes Maddow superior to everyone else I watched it would be this:

Good journalism doesn’t echo, it informs.

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So there you have it.  All my thoughts after watching six hours of cable news programming and all of the subsequent alcohol that was needed to wash it down.  Was I happy to find an example of quality programming that FOX and the rest of MSNBC could learn from?  Sure.  Do I have any illusions that either will do so?  Nope.

Thoughts?

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141 thoughts on “The FOX News – MSNBC Taste Test : Conclusions

  1. And the truth is that grouping Maddow’s commentary with Shultz’s or O’Donnell’s is a huge stretch. Shultz and O’Donnell’s Romney rants seem more akin to the FOX anti-Obama screeds, politics aside…

    Grouping Schultz and O’Donnell with anyone on Fox is a bigger stretch. They have no equals.

    I’d like more info on Rep. Peter King’s [and therefore for some reason, Hannity’s] “slander” on the Dr. Shakil Afridi affair. King’s charge is straightforward, that the Obama admin mentioning DNA collections put the finger on Afridi; the Obama admin disputes and denies the charge. However, it does not appear to be a closed issue either way as of yet.

    And BTW, a close inspection of Greta van Susteren’s work will show a praiseworthy even-handedness. She was a defender of Bill Clinton during his impeachment, and although her subjects and subject matter lean right, her actual work reveals nothing to believe that she’s still not a Democrat to this day. She does not advocate, and she does not leave statements unchallenged. Her work is every bit the equal of Maddow’s and indeed far less partisan.

    And her ratings are better, too.

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    • Greta van Susteren’s work “shows a praiseworthy even-handedness”? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

      GVS has morphed over the last several years into a cheap partisan hack. The fact that she only delivers screeching right-wing tirades once or twice a show instead of all the way through the hour doesn’t make her nonpartisan. It’s all-GOP all the time. It’s particularly amusing when she plays naif and asks some right-wing politician what Obama’s motivation is for destroying the economy.

      Give. Me. A. Break.

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    • TVD –

      “I’d like more info on Rep. Peter King’s [and therefore for some reason, Hannity’s] “slander” on the Dr. Shakil Afridi affair. King’s charge is straightforward, that the Obama admin mentioning DNA collections put the finger on Afridi; the Obama admin disputes and denies the charge. However, it does not appear to be a closed issue either way as of yet.”

      Two things: As to why (since you seem to not understand) I might be critical of Hannity, it is because he reported a non-event as having been a proven fact. Also, there was no mention of DNA testing at all – his (and Rumsfeld’s) charge was that Afridi’s name had been purposefully leaked. Also, I am not sure why you view this an “open” story. The “upper level official” who initially “leaked” the leak to FOX is now known to be King, who has since admitted he hasn’t actually been given any data that says a leak occurred; rather it seems to be the kind of thing he believes this administration would do. At the very least FOX should report this as an unsubstantiated claim by a GOP Congressperson until something additional comes to light. If at a later date facts come to light that suggest such a crime was actually committed by the White House, you can report on those facts then. Until such time, to report King’s musings as a confirmed fact is sloppy and cynical propaganda – period.

      “And BTW, a close inspection of Greta van Susteren’s work will show a praiseworthy even-handedness. She was a defender of Bill Clinton during his impeachment, and although her subjects and subject matter lean right, her actual work reveals nothing to believe that she’s still not a Democrat to this day. She does not advocate, and she does not leave statements unchallenged. Her work is every bit the equal of Maddow’s and indeed far less partisan.”

      I am not a regular watcher of van Susteren, so all I can go on is her episode from May 31st. However, to whatever degree that episode is indicative of her current work, then to that same degree the assumption that she is a Democrat that challenges her guests’ wild accusations is bullshit.

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      • As I said a few times elsewhere, it’d be interesting to see folks of other stripes conduct the same experience, ideally with the same episodes. That would be much more productive than armchair shrinking an exercise in Monday morning quarterbacking.

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      • I understand you fine, Tod. Without direct quotes, your charges are just assertions. Even if they were phrased the way you say, that is parsing: the core issue of the Obama admin’s responsibility for Afridi’s unveiling remains, an issue that remains unresolved.

        Therefore, without proof on your part, accusing Fox of slander is itself a slander.

        If you understand.

        ;-)

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              • Exactly, Tod. Again, my objection is formal. Without direct quotes, assessing your charges is impossible. Further, there’s no way you [and we] can know right now whether Rep. King’s accusation is true or not.

                I trust you’re aware that the White House leak situation is a big issue right now, and getting bigger? Even those who don’t watch Fox News are becoming aware.

                http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/06/politics/white-house-leaks/index.html

                CNN, the FBI…

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                    • Kazzy, you skipped over my original formal objection that there’s no way to know whether King’s charge is true or false at this time, and therefore cannot be called “slander” by anyone who purports to be any resembling a trustworthily neutral observer.

                      If you’re going to attack what I write, you’re obliged to attack it in toto, not tear off the smaller pieces that you are able to chew.

                      ;-/

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                    • Without direct quotes, Kazzy, you and I are discussing ether, the lack of direct quoting being another of my formal objections, as you recall. We don’t know what Hannity said.

                      You do recall the Lewinsky affair, however, yes? Until the blue dress, the affair was only an allegation. The existence of an allegation is reported all the time, esp one side alleging something about the other. The making of an allegation is news in itself.

                      “DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz accused Mitt Romney of blowing dogs in 1972, the Associated Press reports…”

                      Ed Schultz could read that with a straight face [and would], and be responsible only for the truth of whether the AP reported that, not that DWS said it, or of course whether or not Mitt blew the aforementioned dogs.

                      Likewise, if Hannity “reported” that Rep. King charged the Obama admin with leaking info that helped arrest and/or convict Dr. Afridi, that’s entirely kosher. If he further opined that he believed it, he’s an opinionator, not presented as a formal newsman like NBC/MSNBC’s David Shuster or Fox’ Bret Baier.

                      http://twitchy.com/2012/05/22/alleged-journalist-david-shuster-media-matters-say-brett-baiers-straight-reporting-of-news-is-shameful/

                      You realize we’re arguing formally here, right? The rules of evidence, the rules of journalism, etc. And applying them to the OP as they are applied to Fox and MSNBC.

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                    • “Likewise, if Hannity “reported” that Rep. King charged the Obama admin with leaking info that helped arrest and/or convict Dr. Afridi, that’s entirely kosher.”

                      He did not. Nor did he ever say it was something he believed. He simply said that it happened.

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                    • Honest men can misremember or mishear, Kazzy, esp when there is an admitted animus against the speaker, an animus that is both palpable here, and admitted by Mr. Kelly previously, that he’s more turned off by movement conservatism than by it’s left counterpart.

                      No aspersion on Mr. Kelly’s honesty was intended. Direct quote are not only best, there is no replacement for them. As we see below.

                      To the issue, past the parsing of the words of Hannity and Rumsfeld, is the substance of the issue—the administration’s critics hold that NO details of the bin Laden hit should have been revealed, down the name of Seal Team Six.

                      Without context [and direct quotes], there is no substance, only some “formal” argument to be looked at.

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                    • Ad hom again, Kazzy. It always comes down to the same misery. And you wonder why I ignore certain people. I’ve seen the movie before and the ending is always the same.

                      Since you seldom see me in a milieu where it’s the conservatives talking out their ass, don’t assume you know me. I’m a Libra; I’m the Pi Man.

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                • Tom, you’re kind of being a troll. This “yes, everything you say about the other guy is right on, but you can’t criticize my guy, and if you are you must be making things up!” is tiring.

                  Look, the whole point of this exercise was to live-blog and record my reactions, not to get a transcript. But hey, here you go – even knowing that as I post these “direct quotes” you swear you need you’ll just jump to excuse B for why any criticism of FOX is undue:

                  HANNITY: What should the president do to protect this guy, putting aside that it was leaked, what should he do now?

                  RUMSFELD: Let me even go back a step. Why would anyone help us if somebody leaks the name and the fact that somebody might have helped us. Why would anybody in our government leak information that suggests that a foreign national is giving us assistance? It is putting them and their families in jeopardy. It is outrageous, it is inexcusable for us to be mismanaging information in that way… it was leaked. I just think it is so terrible that people who step up and give us a hand, then are put in jeopardy because it will keep people from doing that.

                  HANNITY: I agree with you….

                  (italics not mine, bolding mine)

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                  • Tod, you should have bolded “if,” which supports my point completely.

                    You had a better case with Hannity’s “putting aside that it was leaked.” Charitably, we could credit him with having meant “whether it was leaked,” which if he were writing and not speaking extemporaneously, I believe he would do—if only out of self-preservation.

                    As for the “trolling” bit, my formal objections are valid. It’s the gentlepersons of the left who keep disputing that—or failing to know what a “formal” objection even is—and obliging me to defend my point and integrity what can only be seen as counterattacks rather than defenses of your original post.

                    As is my custom, Tod, I don’t insist. Had there been no response to my original objection at comment #1, I’d have let it go with that, my piece said.

                    Your irritation is quite misdirected. The trolling is not coming from me, but those who attack anything and anyone to the right of, well, Rachel Maddow.

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                    • Rumfels says, “It was leaked.”
                      Hannity says, “I agree with you.”
                      Tom says, “We can only deal with direct quotes.”
                      Tom says, “I’m sure Hannity would have written this had he been writing so I will presume that is what he meant in the direct quote there.”
                      [Kazzy’s head explodes]

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                    • Truth is a defense in these things, you know. The point holds even on the level of revealing Seal team Six.

                      And mind you, my formal objection was that we didn’t know what was in the direct quote—had it been in the OP we wouldn’t have wasted so much time speculating.

                      But since we don’t know the truth of the matter of the leaking, it’s not a “slander” at this time, any more than opining on the Lewinsky matter was a slander before it was established as fact with the infamous Blue Dress.

                      I’m hope this clears that part up. I meself have no opinion on whether the administration helped screw our own operative, Dr. Afridi. I don’t know. But along with the ocean of other leaks about to be litigated, I think it’s quite possible.

                      You are aware of the coming spitstorm over national security leaks, yes? Nothing here LoOG yet, but I’m often first to the post with tomorrow’s news today. gently, in the comments sections. I’m sure you’ve noticed.

                      ;-)

                      http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Hollywood/2012/05/24/MSNBC-panel-Hammers-Obama-Bin-Laden-Film

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        • Man that’s clever. The “no one ever said what you say they said” dodge.

          And then when he provides quotes, there’s the inevitable “you’re taking his words out of context” dodge.

          And then when context is supplied, there’s the “but that wasn’t the context atall” dodge.

          And then the dispute about whether Hannity made unsubstantiated accusations about matters of fact devolves to a dispute about intentions: the “Hannity wasn’t asserting anything but only asking a question” dodge. Which is a killer. No doubt.

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  2. I haven’t read the other comment threads; did anyone point out O’Rourke’s “smart versus stupid” experiment where he compared the NYT Review Of Books to an evening watching CBS?

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  3. “MSNBC talks about FOX all the time. I mean, constantly. … Sean Hannity’s most outrageous disinformation campaign was actually worse. … Worse, he reported this with an ex-Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff. … Whereas FOX’s shows have the appearance of a concerted and strategized effort, the hosts of MSNBC are all over the map.”

    These are related, are they not? MSNBC attacks the GOP; Fox is part of the GOP in a way that MSNBC is not a part of the Democratic Party.

    As to every day being the most importantest ever in the history of journalism, have you ever read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death? Postman argued that the point of discussion on TV isn’t to be rational, it’s to be entertaining. The TV news, he wrote, is presented as exciting (with pleasant banter and exciting intro music), and isn’t capable of hosting reasoned discussion. In real life, if you’re really trying to figure out a tough question, you’re going to have to stop and think and ask questions. You can’t do that on television. And, because television is presented as the model for all discourse, Postman feared that Americans tend to think of TV-style assertive, doubt-free insistence as the proper way to discuss, and think about, all issues.

    That was true to an extent when he wrote it almost 30 years ago; it seems to me that it’s even more so today.

    It’s not just that you have to define your policies in a sloganeering manner– it’s that sloganeering entirely displaces policymaking and rational argumentation, even or especially among political elites. It’s no accident that one of the angry young GOP freshmen got his start on an MTV reality TV show. It’s the same skill set.

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    • Unless there’s a direct money link between the GOP and Fox, I think that this small data set shows (rather suggests since show is pretty strong for the amount of data we have) that both MSNBC and Fox News are more or less just propaganda machines for their respective “team” either blue or red.

      Fox could spent more time shouting about the crap on MSNBC or it could attack the Demo’s directly. It goes right at the Demo’s while MSNBC having the same choice opts to split it’s attention. I think the “Hey… didn’t you used to date?” analogy is pretty spot on.

      And awesome reading.

      And really quite common with many sport franchises.

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  4. I agree that Rachel Maddow is the only watchable figure on cable news, with a possible Anderson Cooper exception. And I just find him personally appealing, not a super journalist. Isn’t there a market for a non-dumbed down news analysis show that isn’t PBS?

    Just reading about this, and the gender selection story (about which I hadn’t heard), made me utterly relieved I no longer follow politics so closely.

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  5. Two comments. First I don’t think the extent of the disaster that is the US cable news landscape becomes fully apparent until one watches the BBC News Channel. Actual acts of journalism are committed on BBC News. All. The. Time. I believe the British tabloids are the lowest of the low, but it appears that in the US our tabloids have TV channels.

    Second, on the MSNBC vs. Fox mentioning or not mentioning each other. I wonder if that has something to do with how well the networks follow the instructions of corporate parents three years on.

    At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

    Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

    In early June [2009], the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, for the most part, found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

    Maybe Fox networks are particularly obedient?

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      • I second this. Every time I’ve been abroad, I am utterly astounded at the difference in quality between CNN International and CNN USA. This tells me that the problem isn’t that cable news is incapable of producing quality, but rather that there is something inherent in (and relatively unique to) our culture that seems to demand crappy excuses for journalism.

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        • Really? I find most of CNN Int. just as loud and bloated as the domestic version (headline segments excepted), the BBC is about the same (at least the BBC I get on the Continent). The best source for straight reporting overseas tends to be … wait for it… Al Jazeera. If you’re lucky, however, you can catch good shows on each network throughout the day — you just never know when.

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  6. Reflectionephemeral makes a good point above:

    “MSNBC attacks the GOP; Fox is part of the GOP in a way that MSNBC is not a part of the Democratic Party.”

    I think is basically true. While both stations are critical of the other side of the aisle, Fox also actively roots for the GOP whereas MSNBC seems to endorse the Democrats more through their silence (with the exception of Chris Matthews who is still smitten with the Kennedys).

    My quick assesment of both stations is this:

      Fox

    – Hotter chicks
    – No other positive qualities

      MSNBC

    Morning Joe is straight awesome.
    – Rachel Maddow is clearly a liberal but she is fair and she slams Democrats almost as much as Republicans
    – It makes me just a little sad that Maddow glams up for her show when she is actually a fairly butch lesbian
    – Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell are the Evil Trinity of partisan punditry. I actively root for them to be fired en masse.

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  7. Awesome, awesome job, Tod. This series may be my favorite ever on the League.

    As a suggestion, have you considered next investigating the journalistic bias (if any) of the news divisions of CNN, Fox and the networks?

    AWESOME!

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  8. There’s a reason that the only cable news I watch at all is Maddow.

    I have, on occassion, watched others on MSNBC for five minutes or so, until they started sprouting random imaginary theories about what’s going on. Which is still better than Fox, which seems to be flagrantly lying every time I happen to watch them.

    The only ‘theories’ on Maddow show are ones she can back up with actual documentation. When she stands there and says that Gov. Walker is trying to destroy unions, she’ll back that up by a clip of him talking about exactly that. (Well, she also has funny theories, like her theory that ‘John Boehner is bad at his job’ because he appears unable to count votes needed for stuff.)

    Look, there’s a difference between news and opinion, I know that. But there’s also a different between an _opinion_ about the news, which Maddow clearly has, and wild-ass conspiracy theories about the news, which everyone else at MSNBC and half the people at Fox do. (And by ‘half’, I mean the other half of Fox are doing wild-ass conspiracy theories about _falsehoods_ or other conspiracy theories.)

    An opinion about the news is when Maddow (To use the example above) lays out what organizations donate to which politicians, and connects that with the anti-union things the right has done recent, and points out that reducing union membership will cripple fundraising on the left. That, although everyone else has forgotten it, is a hypothetical, it is not actually ‘news’, it is an opinion about news. I am not criticizing Maddow, the point of her shows is to give opinions about news.

    Everyone else, however, seems to start with the opinion as a base, and then have opinions as if the base is true. Or invent conspiracy theories and then have opinions about them. Or have opinions about other people’s opinions. And then treat _those_ opinions as if they are true, and have opinions about them. And then the ‘news’ half of the cable news starts reporting on opinions as if they’re news, allowing yet more opinionating about imaginary stuff.

    Nothing on cable besides Maddow appears to be ‘events that actually happened, and my somewhat political thoughts on those actual real events’.

    I wonder if this is helped much by Maddow’s tendency to not have guests, or only have one at a time and just let them talk. The thing about multiple guests is that then you can give your opinion on their opinion, and vis versa, and the parts you agree on are now ‘true’ and you can talk about your opinion on that ‘true thing that everyone agrees on’.

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    • Maddow has a D.Phil in political science from Oxford. She’s not your typical talk radio shill–she still seems to hold fast to the notion that facts actually matter and that backing up your opinion with actual facts is important. That it seems refreshing in this day and age is a sad commentary on our media culture.

      Folks like O’Reilly, Hannity, Schultz, and the like are in the business of produce outraging–facts be damned.

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      • “Liberal, Lesbian, Activist on Fox News? Meet Sally Kohn” By Nicole Rodgers

        SK: I think the network as a whole is much more complicated. Fox has the highest percentage of independent viewers, yet I find that a lot of liberals who criticize Fox have never watched the station. Or they’ve only seen clips of O’Reilly or Hannity, which are very explicitly sold as opinion shows and thus are the extreme examples of slant at Fox. The dayside programming, for instance, is more varied and news focused than I realized before I’d ever really tuned in. From Bret Baeir to Shepard Smith to Megyn Kelly, a lot of progressives might be impressed if they really tuned in and saw the hard-hitting and insightful reporting.

        Look, I chose to go to Fox because I thought I could make a difference there. So by definition, I think making that difference is needed. Every time I see a pundit on Fox say something anti-gay or fan implicit racial bias or slander Occupy protesters as unwashed communists, it makes my skin crawl. But I sure prefer being able to respond directly rather than just screaming at my TV. And ultimately, I’m grateful Roger Ailes is making an investment in my career when he could just put a weak, unpersuasive liberal on TV instead of me.

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        • Yes, but Fox does something that is problematic that other networks don’t. Basically I have three problems with Fox, two of which are problems with all cable news channels, and one of just of Fox:

          1) First, for all new shows: Opinions of other people are not generally news, and do not belong on the ‘news’ shows. If it’s the opinion of Romney or Obama, sure, report on it. If it’s the opinion of some random guy, no. If it’s the opinion of someone at your own station, you must never mention it, simply because that’s just a blatantly obvious trick to slip the station’s opinions into news. And in _all_ cases, when reporting on an opinion, should you point out if said opinion is ‘true’ to whatever extent that can be determined.

          2) Second, for all opinion shows: Opinions about opinions, or opinions on crazy theories, or opinions about known falsehoods…have no place even on the _opinion_ shows. The opinion shows are to have opinions on actual facts. Stand there, on the opinion shows only, and tell me what you think, politically, the Wisconsin recall results indicate to for November. Bring in guests to give their POV. And then disagree with the guest as to their opinion, but not the facts. Do not stand there and tell me what nonsensical opinions you’ve managed to pull in off the street, and then give your opinions on the opinions instead of the facts. Do not locate some conspiracy theory and tell me some opinion on that. In fact, do not produce or air conspiracies at all…there’s a difference between ‘conspiracy’ and ‘opinion’.

          3) Thirdly, and this is the one just Fox: When giving your opinion, please make sure the thing they are based on is ‘fact’. This is the major issue for me, much worse on Fox, and it is how falsehoods slip into news via #2 and then #1.

          The process on Fox: Someone says a conspiracy theory based on a lie, and then other people on the opinion shows repeat it (While claiming they don’t entirely believe it, but it’s ‘interesting’ to tell lies like that, isn’t it? I mean, ‘interesting’ to think about.) then the news finds a ‘developing story’ and starts explaining the conspiracy, over and over again, and never even has to issue a correction. (Because they never said it was true, just that people were saying it.)

          The same thing happens on other networks, but without #3 happening anywhere near as much, at least falsehoods aren’t making it to the news, just idiotic opinions.

          I’ve made it my habit of, whenever I sit down somewhere and Fox News is on, usually when I’m eating somewhere, I watch it. (I don’t have cable at my house anymore. Luckily, Maddow is also a podcast.) I watch until either some completely untrue fact shows up, and is not immediately pointed out to be false.

          I don’t think I’ve ever made it until the end of my meal. Now, I have absolutely no idea who anyone is on Fox except O’Reilly, and it’s entirely possible that I’ve only seen the ‘opinion’ shows, especially considering when they air and when I eat. But falsehoods should not be on those either! Opinion shows aren’t just ‘Opinions about random stuff’, they’re ‘Opinions about _news_!’. It’s a _news_ channel.

          Except it’s not. I mean, that network gave a hour to _Glenn Beck_. Yes, they eventually revoked it, but, honest to God, they gave a platform to Glenn Beck, a total nutter, a guy who would create _acrostic_ conspiracy theories.

          Incidentally, speaking of Fox News, I’d really like a justification for the four minute political ad they themselves produced and aired, and then reported on as if it was news. This is such a huge violation of #1 that they don’t even seem aware such a conflict of interest exists. As I said, the mere ‘reporting’ on the opinions of other employees is bogus to start with. (Well, unless you’re calling them out for lying.) Other people seemed to take at as evidence they were as political as they always appeared, but, I, frankly, have rather different issues with their amazing ability to turn ‘opinion’ into ‘something we’re going to pretend is news’.

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  9. Good work on this post.

    Since we don’t get it, I’m not a big television watcher, except when I’m in waiting rooms with flatscreens. What I’m generally surprised by when I’m stuck watching CNN (the favorite choice of waiting rooms) are two things: how boring the news stories are and how uncontextualized. None of them ever seem to be about anywhere outside of the US, and the ones inside the US don’t identify what city, state, or region. “Well, here’s a man who found a clever way to fight the IRS…” It’s like a riff on the Onion’s “area man”. To be honest, I’ve not yet seen MSNBC or FOX News.

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  10. Well, one more for the chorus of “awesome work, Tod.” This was truly fantastic reading.

    It’s good to know that my generally decent impression of Maddow is justified. I don’t really watch cable news except during election returns, but if I did she’s pretty much the only one I’d watch*. I will say that, having watched some MSNBC during said returns, Maddow does seem a bit more smug and snarky when surrounded by the other yahoos.

    * This is a lie. The only one I’d watch would be Anderson Cooper, and for reasons not wholly related to his journalistic excellence.

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  11. You can subscribe to a podcast of Rachel Maddow’s show. That’s what I do–no time for TV watching otherwise. Her shows are worth watching even a few days late (but you get the podcast of each evening’s show the very next morning).

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  12. I’ll give another plug for Chris Hayes’ morning show on weekends. Because few watch it, he can be very intellectually honest and there’s genuine discussion with his guests. Maddow can be a bit hackish at times, but is mostly good. With a bigger reporting budget she could do great things, but she’s unlikely to get picked up by CNN or the broadcast networks given her overt political leanings.

    O’Donnell was decent at the start of his stint on MSNBC. But now he’s worse than Schulz – unwatchable, even for a partisan like me. I want to be informed, not told how right I am about what fools and scoundrels the other side are.

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  13. I used to watch CNN, back when they still were mounting tape as fast at they could get it in from the field. In those days it was fascinating: very little editing, just “We’ve got a transmission from the front, here goes folks!”. The colour bars would appear while the tape cued up and kabang, it would start. Heady times.

    They couldn’t last. The marketing weasels eventually took over as they always do.

    One show remains on my news-ish agenda: Fareed Zakaria on CNN. That’s it. Fareed interviews interesting people but even his commentary gets a little too Friedman-esque for my taste. A good reporter, like a good writer, gives us the story and if it’s any good, lets us make up our own minds.

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  14. Great posts — enjoyed them muchly, and a they’re a good reminder to stay off MSNBC even if I somewhat agree with their politics.

    =============================

    I was labeling the GOP spokespeople as TPoSoE (“The Party of Stupid or Evil”) and right on track comes this:

    Sean just flat reported something he knew was a falsehood. And not just any falsehood, but the rather slanderous lie that President Obama “leaked” the name of an American operative working in Pakistan so that he would be arrested and, I would assume, tortured.

    followed by TVD (AfTPoSoE) claiming that no evil had been done.

    I thank Tom for making my case for me.

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    • No, you proved mine, brother. Kids call the game “Telephone,” that in each retelling, some truth is lost. No way Obama was charged with purposefully getting the guy exposed, caught and tortured. The charge is negligence, not malice. The uncharity of your summary is astonishing even for you.

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      • Hannity phrased it as questions and summaries of other people’s statements. So plausible deniability was maintained! TVD is right on style but wrong on substance (I’m shocked, shocked! to find that going on in his comments!)

        SEAN HANNITY, HOST OF “HANNITY”: And tonight, a major scandal threatens the very future of the Obama administration as a senior United States senator is now accusing the White House of leaking classified information. Arizona Senator John McCain says that members of the president’s own staff have leaked sensitive national security secrets to media outlets, now on numerous occasions.

        [snip]

        HANNITY: Well, the kill list in particular, we are going to go to that criterion, who benefits here? It was that the president on a weekly basis was informed of who specifically was on the list and quote, “He made the decision.” So, where else could it possibly have come from, if in fact, it is true?

        from here.

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        • Thx for the back on the formal objection, and the substance is just fine too, to wit:

          The allegation against the Obama admin is simply that in burnishing its foreign policy/terrorism accomplishments for self-aggrandizing political [election] purposes, it revealed details that compromised national security.

          I saw McCain on Fox, mebbe it was that show where he retold this story:

          “At the Pentagon, top officers fumed at Brennan’s blow-by-blow description of how the SEALs operated; they believed that the former CIA officer had given away operational secrets never shared outside the tribe. (In fact, it appears no real secrets were divulged.) No one was angrier than Mullen himself, who still fumed about that news conference nearly a year later…

          “By Wednesday of that week, Gates went to see Donilon, offering up a barbed assessment of how the White House had handled the aftermath of the raid.

          “‘I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend,’ Gates said in his trademark droll tones, according to an account later provided by his colleagues.

          “What was that, Donilon asked?

          “‘Shut the f@*k up,’ the defense secretary said.”

          -Jake Tapper

          http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/06/secretary-gatess-stfu-policy/

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              • I withdraw my objection, with apologies, Dr. Hanley: you are correct. It is indeed in the text. (I’ll assume the parenthesis is the orig author’s and not Tapper’s.)

                However, that even the name of Seal Team Six was mentioned is a bone of contention and so the parenthetical is not exactly accurate, the revelation of countless other details of US terror efforts. This issue is far from resolved, there is much political noise to come.

                [On the formal level, only what was known on May 29 is germane to the Hannity end.]

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                • However, that even the name of Seal Team Six was mentioned is a bone of contention and so the parenthetical is not exactly accurate, the revelation of countless other details of US terror efforts.

                  Citation, or kindly STFU.

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                    • And added in another claim that you haven’t backed up, which shows that your apology is merely formal–it doesn’t indicate that you’ve come to grips with the basic error of your behavior, which is not some minor rudeness to me, but your continuing employment of dishonesty as a staple of your rhetorical technique.

                      I cannot understand your insistence in putting form (manners) above substance, and acting as though the real problem in discussion/debate is being impolite, rather than in being dishonest.

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              • or kindly butt out.

                You don’t really get this blogging thing, do you? You’re always telling people not to get into conversations between you and someone else. That’s just not how blogging and commenting on blogs works. If you want to control who joins your conversation, then don’t get into public conversations.

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  15. Truly awesome series, thanks for undertaking such a painful public service.

    I stopped watching TV news a handful of years ago; the shoddy reporting and the ratings-driven sensationalism got under my skin and put me in a bad mood. Looks like nothing’s changed!

    Now, I start my day off with a cup of green tea and Rachel’s show from the previous night, then Stewart’s, then I poke through my newsfeeds and stream NPR throughout the day. I’m a much happier camper when my ire can be spent on the message rather than wasted on the messenger.

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  16. Tod, if you do a followup, I’d suggest you watch Chris Hayes on MSNBC on the weekend mornings. I’m not sure he does “journalism” in the sense of reporting something new, but he does have very intelligent discussions with four or more guests (usually one or two conservatives and the rest liberal or left). It’s very different from anything else I’ve seen on MSNBC, including Maddow — I have a much lower opinion of Maddow than you do and while she is better than any of the other MSNBC evening clowns, I got so sick of her cutesy and often stupid sermonizing I’ve stopped watching her.

    I’m on the left, btw. From what I’ve seen of Fox it lives down to its reputation.

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