Cable news punditry may reach a small hardcore section of voters but their broadcast news brethren seem to follow their lead which doesn’t contribute to accurate information for the average voter.
Cable news is like fantasy football leagues for the political wonks. The audience for the pundits on cable never rises above 3 million total viewers. But viewership is never close to the average number of voters in the US (in 2008 there were 133 million total votes cast). The broadcast news channels have more viewers (ABC, NBC, CBS) with an average of 14 million a day. Even radio has more of an audience than cable TV news channels.
Of all those shows, only O’Reilly gets significantly above two million total viewers. By contrast, NBC’s nightly news program doubles O’Reilly’s ratings in both total viewers and in the coveted 25-54 bracket. Even CBS, the lowest rated of the three, easily outdraws cable, and both broadcast and cable news face the same aging demographics: the median Fox News viewer is 65, two to three years older than the median broadcast news viewer, and CNN and MSNBC aren’t far behind.
But outpacing all of TV news is radio, and that’s where Koppel and other media observers should be focusing their attention. At first glance, radio may look like a conservative-dominated field. Rush Limbaugh’s weekly audience of 15 million dwarfs any television news program, and even Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck’s radio audiences are several times their TV audiences.
In fact, though, NPR provides a counterweight both to conservative talk radio, and to the charge that both sides have equally partisan media. Twenty-seven million people listen to NPR each week, and its morning and evening news programs get fourteen and thirteen million weekly listeners respectively, just behind Limbaugh.
But the conclusion of the article quoted above – that the audience is small – is beside the point. It seems the drivers of broadcast news follow cable’s lead in deciding what is news and the coverage of the issues and often either give misleading information or don’t squash outright lies quickly enough.
* Polling data during and after last week’s midterm elections suggested that many Americans genuinely believe President Obama has raised their taxes — even though the reality is that our president actually lowered them for most of us. This means that people trust pundits like Rush Limbaugh, a major force behind spreading that lie, over the numbers on their own tax returns.
* Another recent phenomenon? Half of new Congressmen don’t believe in the reality of global warming. It’s not that they don’t just disagree on the source or the severity of the problem. They flat out don’t think the world is getting warmer–despite the evidence outside their windows.
* The new Congress will probably try to restore millions of dollars of funding for scientifically inaccurate, largely disastrous abstinence-only curriculum in schools, many of which have been shown to spread lies like “condoms don’t work” and “abortion causes cancer.”
* News outlets picked up a wildly inflated and completely outlandish claim from an Indian blog that Obama’s trip abroad cost $200 million a day–and listeners have swallowed it. (In this case, the White House flat-out denied it.)
The scary thing is, these kinds of rumors have a way of taking root in the popular consciousness. Just as the election season began heating up earlier this year, Newsweek published a list of “Dumb Things Americans Believe.” While some of them are garden-variety lunacy, a surprising number are lies that were fed to Americans by our leaders on the far-Right. This demonstrates that media-fed lies can easily become ingrained in the collective memory if they’re not countered quickly and surely.
Another example is the media blow job NBC gave to former President Bush who is trying to sell a book. Matt Lauer, looking for his Frost-Nixon moment, never pushed Bush hard enough to actually answer questions about his presidential screw ups like Katrina and the Iraq war. I mean when the biggest nugget from the interview was Bush being hurt by the statement of a rapper just made me sad for journalism.
Broadcast media does a disservice to the citizens of this country by letting cable news pundits lead them by the nose and giving up their needed advocacy for the truth. Just ask a follow up question – please!