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Monday, May 12, 2014

Cable TV "News": Opinion Overwhelms Facts, Reports Pew Research Center

In 2013, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reported on the state of the news media and found it woefully lacking in integrity and substance on cable and local broadcasts. The chase of the almighty dollar has cast facts out the window in favor of cheaper sports, weather, and traffic on local "news" programs while the big three of cable (CNN, Fox and MSNBC) are leaning heavily on the cheapest of opinions in place of pricier factual reporting.

We won't bother with the local "news" broadcasts today. Let's look instead to the "big three" of cable. Chief offender in the opinion over fact puffery is MSNBC with 85% opinion to 15% factual reporting, followed by Fox with 55% opinion to 45% "facts" (is this the "fair and balanced" approach???), and CNN trailing behind last year, actually favoring substance over stupidity with 46% opinions to 54% facts. This is an all around disgraceful debasement of what is supposed to be the vital fourth estate that keeps the populace informed and democracy safe.

Sadly, the numbers for CNN will continue to drift under the new president, Jeff Zucker, upping the opinion count at the expense of facts, driving them deeper into the mud to wallow alongside MSNBC and Fox. Chasing the dollar and the ratings has replaced the desire to provide solid facts for the consuming public. And, checking a study on "Mass Media Influence on Society" (see, the results are insidious, in my opinion (see, they have me doing it too). In 2012, the Nielson ratings for the top cable "news" channels (read "opinion channels" based on what was consumed) gave the following grim report:

The top 13 programs viewed were all on Fox and were opinion driven programs (read propaganda to put a finer point on it), followed by five for MSNBC, and two for CNN. None of this was solid news programming. All of it was the more lucrative and societally dangerous opinion programming. Big profits, bad news for brains. You note I have not provided the names of these shows ... I don't want to give them any credit here.

This little bit of depressing research was inspired by watching a brief clip of Bill Nye attempting to explain why climate change is real and dangerous to a CNN "host" and deniers. Frankly, I was appalled at how ignorant the questioners were (I know real journalists and they would never allow themselves to appear so unprofessional and downright uninformed on the air). Worse, they would not let the person I presume they invited on the show finish a single point. Finally, when the demand was made to know why the majority of the public didn't believe climate change was happening, Bill hit the nail on the head when he got out (barely), "Because of YOU." He was right. Because of the propaganda currently pouring out of the cable "news" networks in profitable opinion shows, and the large numbers of people being warped by their cheap and uninformed but lucrative opinions that feed bias rather than inform, many people are coming to believe dangerously stupid and false opinions to be truth.

One bright note from the Pew study. PBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC are still providing news nightly, actual news, reliable news, far more often than the cable sources. Please seek out and reward the dedicated few who still believe the fourth estate has an important role to play in a democracy ... before we as a nation fall apart, divided by a wave of profitable and useless opinions provided by networks with no dedication to truth who are willing to provide dangerous false opinions instead of actual facts to a public far more interested in being entertained than informed, even when such entertainment can lead to great harm and even death for many.

But, please, do not believe me. Check it out for yourself at and make up your own mind. 


Simon The Diamond said...

I say, blame the dunderheads who tune in. Shows get cancelled, heads roll when ratings slip. The networks are only broadcasting what their viewers want - and that is indeed the sad news. We are a nation that wants to argue and be right. Required reading: the chapter from "How to Win Friends and Influence People" titled "you can't win an argument".

J.S. Brooks said...

Hmmm, I understand the sentiment and agree to a point, but I'm not willing to relieve these networks from their need to be responsible to the viewing public. Also, too many weak minds can be warped to violence with the wrong input. We must do better. Thanks for writing.