Schadenfreude-y fun via Noah Rothman on a slow post-holiday news day. Simple question: Why do 20 percent of Republicans say Fox News is their main news source while only two percent of Dems name Fox’s “rival” as their news source of choice? MSNBC’s rating are terrible lately, but they can’t be that terrible.

Can they?


One obvious possible reason for the skew is the fact that, for Republicans, Fox remains the only big-media game in town. If you’re a Democrat you can go soft liberal to strident liberal across the spectrum, which naturally means more of a split. But still — two percent? Rothman’s right as well that this is a difficult moment for MSNBC in trying to satisfy lefty viewers. For example, on NSA surveillance, do they go hard left in attacking Obama or party shill in defending him? They’re bound to alienate some core viewership however they choose. Then again, Fox faces dilemmas like that too. Do they go right in attacking immigration reform or party shill in defending it? Why is Fox negotiating that challenge better than MSNBC?

I think there are two deeper factors. One was identified by Phil Griffin himself: MSNBC simply isn’t a news network anymore, if it ever was. Fox is news and opinion, MSNBC is … opinion. If you’re a Fox-hating liberal in good standing and there’s news happening in the world, why on earth would you turn to MSNBC instead of CNN? That is to say, I think part of the response to Gallup’s question is due to the phrasing of the question itself: No one (besides two percent of Democrats) thinks MSNBC does or should serve as one’s “main news source.” If they had asked “What’s your favorite cable news outlet?” instead, I bet you’d have seen the MSNBC numbers inch up. Second, and this is related to the point above about Fox being the only game in town for GOPers, I think there’s some segment of conservatives that have been so alienated by mass media bias that they feel they have no choice but to turn to Fox. There’s no equivalent feeling of comprehensive alienation on the left, even though they complain about the media endlessly too. If you’re a liberal and you want a news source you can trust, you can turn to MSNBC or the Times or the Washington Post or NPR as you prefer, depending upon your specific objections to each. If you’re a conservative, you may feel that any news source that isn’t overtly conservative is biased towards the left to one degree or another, which leaves you with one choice. For some of those people, I think preferring Fox is less about Fox itself than about casting a “none of the above” vote against the rest of the media, which brings in lots of extra viewers. And when you toss in the fact that more Republicans get their news from TV (63 percent) than Democrats do (54 percent), you’ve got even more of a skew towards Fox as the “main news source” for some righties.

Exit question: Fully 50 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds prefer TV as their main news source versus just 27 percent who prefer the Internet? Surprising.