Piece in the Times today claims that Fox News merely reflects a return to the 19th century practice of partisan journalism — but that it’s not alone. Just check out the audience numbers.
In audience surveys from August 2000 to March 2001, Fox News viewers tilted Republican by 44.6 percent to 36.1 percent. More narrowly — 41.4 percent to 39.4 percent — so did the audience for MSNBC. The audiences of CNN, Headline News, CNBC and Comedy Central leaned Democratic.
Four years later, amid the Iraq war and President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, the audience data had shifted. Fox News viewers had become 51 percent Republican and just 30.8 percent Democratic, while MSNBC viewers leaned Democratic by 41.7 percent to 40.4 percent. Viewers of CNN, Headline News, CNBC and Comedy Central grew slightly more Democratic.
By 2008-9, the network audiences tilted decisively, like Fox’s. CNN viewers were more Democratic by 50.4 percent to 28.7 percent; MSNBC viewers were 53.6 percent to 27.3 percent Democratic; Headline News’ 47.3 percent to 31.4 percent Democratic; CNBC’s 46.9 percent to 32.5 percent Democratic; and Comedy Central’s 47.1 to 28.8 percent Democratic.
This is all very interesting, but it doesn’t really tell us anything about the journalism — or propaganda — being purveyed by the respective cable news networks. (Why the hell are they measuring Comedy Central in there, anyway?) It’s true that MSNBC features more straightforward liberals in its lineup than the other networks — but it also has former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough in the morning. CNBC has Reagan-worshipping free market prophet Larry Kudlow as a key part of its lineup. CNN has Lou Dobbs. And Headline News was Glenn Beck’s first television home, lest you forget.
So it’s not necessarily the case that all the non-Fox networks decided to appeal to Democrats as a business strategy. It seems just as possible — just as likely, in fact — the demographics have changed because conservatives have decisively fled the non-Fox networks for the warm ideological tongue bath they get from Fox. That’s left the other networks with only Democrats as their audience. And as the lineup of stars above suggests, they still don’t cater to their ideological audience as thoroughly as Fox News does. Suggesting, as the Times does today, that Fox isn’t all that unusual flies in the face of common sense.