The Fox News Effect

Can 3.3 million viewers be wrong?


Besides the Bush Administration, the big winner of Operation Iraqi Freedom is the Fox News Network. Fox News' ratings jumped to 3.3 million average daily viewers, while CNN had 2.65 million and MSNBC trailed in third place with 1.4 million daily viewers. Fox News' success is causing considerable handwringing among the would-be gatekeepers in the "mainstream media." Today, The New York Times worries about the baleful "Fox News Effect" on journalism.

"I certainly think that all news people are watching the success of Fox," groused Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News in the Times. "There is a long-standing tradition in the mainstream press of middle-of-the-road journalism that is objective and fair."

Setting aside the ongoing argument of whether or not the "mainstream press" is objective and fair, perhaps the United States is returning to a time when media were frankly partisan. After all, how do you think the Tallahassee Democrat, the Waterbury Republican-American, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Preston Republican-Leader, the Albany Democrat-Herald, and the Garrett County Republican got their names in the first place?

Another model of a partisan, but nevertheless free and vibrant press, is Britain, where readers know the political leanings of all the major papers and make their purchases accordingly. Leftists peruse the Guardian while right-of-center people scan the Daily Telegraph. Both groups go home happy.

I suspect that as news sources continue to proliferate, those that provide their readers, viewers and listeners with the best information and superior analysis will tend to win out over those who offer chiefly partisan screeds. CBS News and other mainstream media have nothing to fear from the "Fox effect" if they keep that simple standard in mind.