Bill Clinton on MSNBC: It’s “our version of Fox”
posted at 4:00 pm on January 19, 2012 by Tina Korbe
I was just watching MSNBC, and they had a woman that used to work for me and a couple of other people on there, and they were talking about the Republican primary. And I was laughing. I said, “Boy, it really has become our version of Fox.” And I say that because think of the economics of running cable channels. Suppose you and I bought a cable channel, and he [pointing] bought another. You know that to make a living out of it, you’ve got to get about eight hundred thousand viewers for all your major programs. So you can get eight hundred thousand, and you won’t be as wealthy as Fox, but you’ll do okay. And now if you get a slice that’s that small and still viable — and you know it’s not like when we just had NBC, CBS, and ABC. That’s all there was. Everybody had enough market share that they knew would guarantee some comfortable level of profit. And yet there was enough competition that everybody could keep each other honest, and when the Vietnam War came along, they could send fifty-five-year-old reporters to Vietnam for extended stays. They could afford to have correspondents in Europe to report. Correspondents in Asia. All that’s changed now. And so the good news is you can get a lot of information off the Internet for free and in a hurry. But I think the breaking up of the media, which is otherwise kind of healthy, has contributed to less actual reporting and a louder, more contentious, more divisive public discourse, highlighting conflict, sometimes falsely.
If by “our version of Fox,” Bill Clinton means MSNBC is a less-trusted, lower-rated, liberal attempt to emulate the Fox business model, then he’s right. But if he means to suggest that MSNBC filled a gaping hole in the media as Fox did, then he’s wrong. With its innovative consumer-targeted programming, Fox told a story that the networks didn’t tell. The Fox news crews provided information that wasn’t readily available elsewhere.
Fox might have skewed relatively right from Day One — but that was what made it fair and balanced in the TV news world, which is so dominated by liberal journalists. MSNBC didn’t fill a new niche; viewers could already turn to any number of other channels to hear the liberal perspective on the news. It just attempted to match Fox in style and tone.
In other words, Bill Clinton misses the substantive reason for Fox’s success. He thinks viewers tune in strictly for ideological reinforcement. But that’s not the case. They tune into Fox to hear news and commentary they won’t hear elsewhere. When I want a center-left or left perspective on current events, I might turn to CNN or MSNBC or one of the networks. In other words, I have plenty of options. When I want a center-right or right perspective on current events, the only option is Fox.
Fox differs from MSNBC in another way, too. Unlike some MSNBC personalities who feign objectivity, Fox talk show hosts are pretty transparent about their biases. I argue that that “owning of bias” is really the way to go. Would it be nice if even one TV news source was strictly centrist? Yes. As long as humans are at the helm, though, that’s unlikely. That’s why the British model of journalism works; let journalists own their bias and let consumers filter the information journalists provide through the bias. The facts that survive that filtering process will be the points of consensus upon which the public can build. If public discourse too often devolves into conflict, can be only two explanations: Either (a) the public hasn’t taken the time to filter out the facts from the ample information offered by countless sources or (b) a true conflict of visions exists. The highly contentious, partisan atmosphere in which our politics is conducted these days is probably the result of a little of both.
Breaking on Hot Air