“Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.”–Thomas Jefferson to Littleton Waller Tazewell, 1805
I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful holiday weekend. And to the rest of the world not down with the Monday Morning Punter: I hope y’all had a pretty good weekend as well.
We will start the Television Edition of the MMP’s ‘Summer Reading’ list with an examination one of the more ubiquitous and controversial sources of news coverage these days: 24-hour cable news networks. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the dominance and influence of the major media corporations, television is still a hugely powerful medium when it comes to delivering news and information. Whether or not it’s all bullshit, TV news coverage is still how the vast majority of people get informed on events around the world or around the corner. And specifically, 24/7 cable news is becoming increasingly more significant as viewership wanes for the traditional 6/6:30 nightly news.
Back in the early 80s Ted Turner and his rag-tag, little network-that-could, CNN, began broadcasting news 24/7 from its Atlanta headquarters; becoming the first network in the United States to do so. A little over a decade later CNN came of age as a major news outlet after it was the sole network covering the initial bombing phase of Operation: Desert Storm. (There is a fantastic HBO film about CNN’s historical scoop called Live From Baghdad, starring Michael Keaton and the lovely Helena Bonham Carter. Check it out.) In 1991, while CNN was making broadcast history in Baghdad, it passed the big three networks in ratings, and cable news was born. This subsequently launched CNN into the major media stratosphere, paving the way for its acquisition by Time Warner in 1996.
At around the same time CNN was being acquired by Time Warner, two competing cable news networks were about to toss their hats into the ring. In 1996 both the Fox News Channel and MSNBC launched their respective 24-hour news networks.
After achieving “fourth network” status in the early 90s, and having previous experience in the 24/7 news business overseas, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp gave birth to the Fox News Channel on October 7th, 1996. Republican strategist Roger Ailes was picked to lead the network. (It should be noted here that at one time Ailes was in charge of America’s Talking, which later became MSNBC, who then passed on Ailes for leadership of the new network.) FNC really brought a modern graphical overhaul to its presentation of news coverage, with lots of bright red, whites, and blues highlighting summations of the current topic at the bottom of the screen in bullet-point format. Fox News quickly ascended to the top of the cable news mountain by the turn of the century, and is still the highest rated cable news network (and 6th overall amongst all cable networks.)
A few months before Fox officially launched, on July 15th, 1996, MSNBC officially began airing news, interviews, and opinions. The collaboration between Microsoft and NBC created the MSNBC network in an effort to reach a younger, more tech-savvy generation of news viewers. From the get-go, the MSNBC internet site was heavily integrated with the network. But in perhaps an ironic, unintended consequence of this focus on the burgeoning medium of online news, MSNBC.com has by far outperformed its television parent; as it is currently engaged in a fierce battle with CNN.com for top online news site honors. After being mired deep in low ratings, and approaching its 10th anniversary in 1996, columnist for the New York Post (like Fox News, run by Murdoch’s News Corp), Don Kaplan clowned MSNBC by writing: “the running joke in TV news is Fox and CNN are news channels with websites, but MSNBC is a website with a cable channel” While still lagging behind both ratings leaders Fox and CNN, respectively, MSNBC has managed to turn a corner and seems to have found its niche in the world of 24/7 cable news coverage. And the future looks bright for MSNBC as they have seen a steady incline in the ratings amongst the coveted 25-54 demographic.
So that’s a brief little history on how the three cable news networks came to be, and how people like Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly, and Lou Dobbs became household names and lightning rods for criticism
We’ve all heard about the “liberal media bias” from conservatives when describing newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. (The basis for this argument is that most reporters would describe themselves as leaning left or voting Democrat, and not on their actual reporting itself.) And we’ve all heard liberals screaming about the “conservative agenda” put forth by the Fox News Channel. CNN and, now MSNBC in particular, often find themselves the targets of conservatives for a perceived liberal bias on their part. It might surprise some to learn that both MSNBC and CNN have been accused of a conservative bias as well as the typical liberal criticisms by media watch-dog groups like Media Matters. Of course, the Fox News Channel has never been accused of leaning left in any way. Really? What about that liberal pit-bull Alan Colmes?
What NOT to watch
I think you know where I’m going with this. For the love of God, and all that is good and true in this world, please, I implore you, a thinking American citizen, whatever you do, DO NOT watch the Fox News Channel if you want an honest source of information. If you are in the mood for a little entertainment or a good chuckle then, by all means, tune in.
One of the catchy slogans Fox News has adopted, “We Report, You Decide,” should most definitely be changed to the more accurate, “We Decide, Then Report.” And another one of their self-described subtitles, “Fair and Balanced,” is the equivalent of Amy Winehouse calling herself, “Clean and Sober.”
I could go on and on about the clear conservative agenda being pushed by Fox as manifested in the bullying, blow-hard, Bill O’Reilly, harping on meaningless, socially divisive issues like his crusade against a perceived ‘attack on Christianity’; or the hilariously mismatched pairing of Hannity and Colmes – respectively, one a dashing and eloquent conservative pundit, the other a little Gollum-looking, spineless whipping boy, meant to personify the caricature of a bed-wetting liberal; and I could continue on about how the president of Fox News since its inception, Roger Ailes, is a stalwart supporter of the Republican party, and was media consultant to Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and H.W. Bush. But all you really need to know about the Fox News Channel can be found here:
Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters
and here When Fox News is the Story
After Fox “News” doctored actual photos of reporters who had the audacity to write a factually correct piece about how both MSNBC and CNN are closing the ratings gap with Fox, how anybody can watch this shit and honestly call themselves an intellectual is beyond me. It kind of makes you wonder if there is anything else they might have slanted to the right. Hmmm? It may not be fair or balanced, but from here on out if I find out that you, my faithful reader, watch this propaganda passed off as news, be you friend, family, or otherwise, I will simply have to conclude that you, my friend, are a moron. Sorry. You’ve been warned.
What TO watch
Forget for a moment that I lean towards the left (I am left-handed after all.) Instead try to think of me first and foremost as someone who is very open-minded and welcomes new and opposing ideas. If you know me, you know that I love to argue. And one of the most effective ways to argue one’s point is to get intimately familiar with the opposing stance. Also think of me as someone who spends a lot of time watching these various cable news channels as I speed along the Information Superhighway, passing the on and off ramps of various media exits. Please keep all of this in mind when reading the following recommendations.
If you are going to watch cable news, and you haven’t already, please make the switch to MSNBC. From the perspective of journalistic integrity, I have found that MSNBC, along with CNN, present their regular news coverage very subjectively and void of the editorializing often found in Fox’s coverage, be it from their anchors or the carefully worded summations beneath them on the screen.
MSNBC has really surged forward as of late, and much of that success can be attributed to a fervent interest in a historical primary season, and now a presidential campaign that will result in a new leader taking charge of our nation. MSNBC has a stable of political heavy-hitters amongst its anchors and correspondents such as Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, former White House correspondent and Press Secretary agitator, David Gregory, Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe and a former Republican congressman, Pat Buchanan, former advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, and conservative/libertarian Tucker Carlson, to name a few. Judging just by some of names on the preceding list, one can surmise that MSNBC strives to present both sides of the political spectrum.
And finally, if you need any more reason to make MSNBC your cable news source, know this: they are partnered with some of the most trusted and respected print media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsweek.
If you have the luxury of spending a little time in the morning watching television, and you are looking for some perspective on the news making headlines, please avoid the banal network morning shows with their cooking segments, shitty concerts “live from the plaza,” and the countless rube tourists jostling for camera time behind the jolly weatherman. Instead, head on over to MSNBC and grab a cup of Morning Joe, hosted by conservative pundit and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. The lovely Mika Brzezinski co-hosts Morning Joe, and provides the liberal viewpoint, along with the hysterical Willie Geist, who supplies the witty comic relief.
This show is great because the crew gets a head start on the day’s early news as they analyze and discuss it in a relaxed, round-table format. The core that is Joe, Mika, and Willie are often joined by pundits and journalists like Pat Buchanan (does this guy ever leave 30-Roc?), Mike Barnicle and Andrea Mitchell. Even the Big Man himself, Jack Welch, former GE CEO, stops by now and again. While I often find myself disagreeing with a lot of Joe Scarborough’s political views, I have nothing but the utmost respect for him because while he is conservative, he is also a free-thinker who has no problem criticizing this administration and his own party when he feels they are not acting with the best interest of America in mind.
Again, if you are up at 6am, and have a little time to watch television, and want some good information, have some Morning Joe with your morning joe.
Countdown with Keith Olbermann
Now that it is summer, and re-runs and reality dominate network primetime, it is the perfect time to discover a wonderfully informative and entertaining program. I highly recommend watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann at either 8 or 10 pm, or least TiVo it. (When our programs are on at 8, we watch Keith, while recording the other show, then fast forward through the mindless network commercials. DVR or TiVo technology is the type that I now cannot imagine life without). I should mention that this show is often blasted by conservatives for its liberal perspective. I will concede that Keith may lean left; but most of his ire is not so much directed at conservative ideology in general as it is on an administration that has used conservatism to hijack our government while pissing on our Constitution and waging an unnecessary war for profit. Keith is also an unabashed critic of Fox “News” and their obvious water-carrying for an administration whose policies have made the average American less secure, less prosperous, less informed, less free, and more fearful. Can you blame him?
But Countdown with Keith Olbermann is no less an honest program covering the current events in politics and news in spite of a perceived liberal bias from its host. You may remember Keith from his days as an anchor on SportsCenter, as part of the legendary duo of him and Dan Patrick. The sarcastic wit on display in those days, as Keith read the highlights, is out in full force on Countdown. But nevertheless, the stories he covers are the big, national stories of the day (as opposed to the often local, fringe stories The O’Reilly Factor focuses on in a clear effort to spread fear and the far-right’s political agenda.)
The format and title of Countdown is meant to ironically highlight the varying emphasis that networks place on covering social and celebrity stories alongside “hard news.” The program counts down from five, the top stories of the day, leading with, and devoting the most time to, the biggest national news at #5, and then finishes with the nonsensical celebrity voyeurism news of the day at #1. Speaking of which, what possible value is there in bringing the American public the sordid details of a divorce between a very former model and her uber-cad of a husband? I cannot imagine giving less of a fuck, but somehow, I know all about it. And I need to take a shower.
So please, give Keith and his Countdown a chance. I promise you will find the show both informative and entertaining. And if you are coming from a conservative perspective, don’t worry, Keith and MSNBC won’t turn you into al-Qaeda, and you can still keep your flag pin on your lapel.
- Maybe people would be less inclined to climb the walls of The New York Times building, in New York City, were those walls not covered in a gigantic fucking ladder!