Let me start out by saying that I worked at CNN for seven years. I enjoyed most of that time. It was during that period that Fox News passed CNN in the ratings. It was interesting to watch the corporate masters with TimeWarner in New York try and find a solution. There is a school of thought that Fox viewers tend to willing to watch a lot longer during the day, while CNN viewers just swing by for a quick hit of news and then go on their way. There was also a thought that people would turn to CNN for major breaking news stories. That led to the company making a number of changes at the top to see whether there was a way to adjust the rest of the lineup to see if there was a way to hold on to the increased audience.
There was a disturbing summer where it seemed like our daytime coverage was mirroring Fox’s, with newsroom managers rushing to get live pictures of every helicopter police chase in the L.A. area. Very sad to watch news coverage predicated on what your competitor is doing. It always seemed to ignore the notion that the people watching the other channel don’t really care what you’re showing… ’cause they’re watching the other channel! And the people watching you don’t care what the other channel is watching… ’cause they’re watching you!
Anyway, Barbara Walters was hosting “This Week” on ABC this morning. I didn’t see the entire program because I was actually doing some work Sunday morning, but I did catch the roundtable segment of the program. George Will was there, as usual. The other guests were Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize -winning economist, Arianna Huffington, founder of the “Huffiington Post,” that collection of liberal blogs and Roger Ailes, president of the Fox News Channel. Much of the discussion is on the Huffington site here, it’s also on the ABC News site here.
Anyway, most of their general news coverage isn’t significantly different that anybody else’s (although I know it seems like there’s some opinions coming out). I’m not saying anything about prime time – commentators do not provide news coverage. They provide insight and opinion on the events of the days – even if you don’t agree with anything they says.
Anyway, when Walters asked Ailes about Fox News’ impact on politics, he made the point that he’s not a politician, he’s in the ratings business. Excellent point, and actually that’s the only thing anybody needs to keep in mind about the coverage of Fox News. Ailes, who’s been in TV a nice long time, all the way back to the Mike Douglas Show in 1962. Ailes knows media, and he knows it well. By infusing a point of view into the coverage, he’s made his network number one.
I’ve read the opinion of some who see Ailes as the de facto head of the Republican Party because of the clout the network has with its audience. I take Ailes at his word. He programs to win ratings, because ratings mean money for his employer, Rupert Murdoch. Does he have a point of view himself? Probably. Does it jibe with the point of view of people who watch Fox News? Probably. So, if you don’t like it, don’t watch.