Democratic Underground

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places
August 14, 2001
by C. Schiffler

There is nothing like a good love story. Whether it is a formula tear-jerker, (boy meets girl, girl meets boy, girl develops brain tumor), or an off-beat romantic comedy, (boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy misses wedding when he is abducted by aliens), audiences everywhere delight in having their pheromones tickled by a vicarious brush with Cupid's tiny arrows.

But there's a new romance genre in the media these days, one in which the media itself plays the starring role. The plot is familiar to anyone who owns a small dog - you know - the kind that develops a spontaneous leg-humping crush on your mother-in-law. For such is the relationship between new CNN chief, Walter Isaacson, and the Republican party.

Isaacson, who early this month made an unprecedented pilgrimage to the G.O.P. Chapel of Love on Capitol Hill, denies there are any ulterior motives behind his visit to Republican Congressional leaders. Nope. Just in the neighborhood and thought he'd drop by. "I definitely did not say, 'How do we attract the conservative viewer?'" Isaacson tells reporters, ("CNN Courts G.O.P.," by John Bresnahan and Mark Preston, Roll Call, August 6). Yet the same article quotes a top Republican congressional aide, who in turn quotes Isaacson, "He said, 'Give us some guidance on how to attract conservatives.'"

The problem, apparently, is that while CNN, like a spurned spouse, sits on the sofa guzzling beer and eating bonbons, FOX News mogul Rupert Murdoch is slithering around the manly loins of Tom Delay and Trent Lott with a come-hither look in his eyes. Like most jealous lovers, Isaacson claims not to care. "It really doesn't have to do with any other network. It wasn't some programming strategy or our relationship with FOX or anything like that." But he does care, because it seems that FOX is slowly and relentlessly eroding the CNN viewer base. At least that is the impression we get from our helpful congressional aide who reports Isaacson "is panicked that he's losing conservative viewers."

But let's look at the numbers. According to Nielsen Media Research, between January 1 and August 1, 2000, there were 140,000 FOX News viewers. During the same time period this year, those numbers doubled. CNN, on the other hand, while still leading FOX by some 39,000 viewers, only picked up 13,000 newbies this year. The final tallies for the Nielsen Research 2001 reporting period stand at FOX, 282,000 viewers, and CNN, 321,000 viewers. FOX has certainly closed the gap.

Now let's consider where these new viewers might have come form. Both stations gained this year, therefore it is unlikely that CNN's core audience is defecting to FOX in droves due to a paucity of foam-at-the-mouth right-wing conservative programming. And almost certainly 142,000 people did not just stumble upon FOX news while scouring the air waves in search of pundits still discussing the adventures of Bill Clinton and his mischievous penis. Surely Walter Isaacson did not get where he is today by believing that kind of nonsense.

No. The way to acquire new viewers in Michael Powell's Magic Deregulated Media Kingdom is to simply purchase them. No more messy polls. No more catering to the keening and braying of the unwashed masses. No more sleepless nights fretting over clever, creative programming. Deregulation is a beautiful thing when you have money in the bank and you are the deregulator's favorite concubine. Just ask Rupert Murdoch.

In August of last year, Murdoch threw down the gauntlet when he announced his intention to purchase Chris-Craft. With this purchase, Murdoch exceeded the news market share allowed by federal regulations by a good six percent. Junior Powell, obedient little Borg that he is, waived the rules for Rupert because - well, he can.

Now perhaps some - and perhaps a good portion - of the new FOX viewers are folks just watching the same stations they have always watched, except now those stations belong to FOX. The article does not say. Not does it say exactly what news these people are watching. According the Columbia Journalism Review who monitored FOX for several weeks "the news segments tend to be straightforward with little hint of political subtext." For the most part, FOX's conservative bias is only blatantly evidenced through its bilious choices in pundit programming. Are the 142,000 newcomers to FOX News watching Hannity and Colmes, or are they just watching the evening news with steely-eyed anchor Biff Braindead? In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we cannot assume that because the FOX news audience doubled this year, it is a sign that more viewers are lusting for right-wing vitriol.

Whatever the reasons behind the groundswell of FOX news consumers, it is clear that Walter Isaacson is way too busy making cow-eyes at congressmen to consider these subtleties or to solicit opinions from anyone outside the Beltway. And whether we like our elected representatives or not, it is hard to believe that any of us went to the polls with the idea that we would be choosing someone who would speak for our television viewing preferences.

Here's a novel concept. If Walter Isaacson wants to know what television viewers want to see on the news, why doesn't he just ask them? Sometimes a fella travels all the way to the Big City only to find that his true love has been right under his nose all along. And sometimes, like the small dog and the ill-fated leg, he spends his whole life looking for love in all the wrong places.

 
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