The news that CNN’s ratings are at a ten-year low should come as no surprise to viewers of the cable news channel. The consensus is the downward spiral of the network’s viewership is due to the fact that it is caught in the middle between two supposedly hyper-partisan competitors — Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left — with the result that their brand of nonpartisan news is being marginalized.
But this interpretation of events is not only incorrect, it misses the point about why audiences aren’t thrilled by CNN. When given a choice between channels that don’t pretend to be totally even-handed like Fox and MSNBC and one that is masquerading as above such things, most will inevitably choose the former over the latter. Contrary to the self-serving excuse that CNN’s professionalism doesn’t sell as well as the partisanship exhibited on Fox and MSNBC, the viewers aren’t being fooled. They know that most of the hosts on CNN tilt sharply to the left and are put off by the pretense of objectivity.
Just as is the case with Fox, much of the straight news coverage on CNN is pretty fair. It should also be specified that their primary night coverage throughout the Republican nomination race led by Wolf Blitzer was actually superior to what was broadcast on Fox.
But does anyone really think that most of CNN’s on-air hosts are any less biased than those on Fox or lean to the left any less than their competitors on MSNBC? Two recent examples, Piers Morgan’s ambush of Jonah Goldberg and Soledad O’Brien’s illiterate riff on race theory during what turned into a debate with Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak, illustrate the network’s liberal bias.
In both cases, the interviewers didn’t just challenge conservative guests, they debated them and did their best to shut out and denigrate views they disliked. Morgan didn’t even want to talk about Goldberg’s book, let alone allow the author to explain his thesis. O’Brien pretended to act as an authority on something she clearly didn’t understand in order to defend President Obama and one of his radical mentors. We expect that sort of thing from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews or from a Bill O’Reilly on the right at Fox, but it gives the lie to CNN’s much-hyped stance of nonpartisanship.
If CNN wants to broadcast liberal shows, that’s their right. But what viewers don’t like is the same thing they despise elsewhere in the mainstream media: partisans pretending to be objective. The genius of Fox was that it gave people fed up with liberal bias being passed off as even-handed coverage a place to go to get an alternative. MSNBC profits from being a channel where liberals can go to get left-wing punditry without the gloss of faux objectivity. As Dylan Byers writes at Politico, it isn’t just that its harder for viewers to feel an affinity for someone in the middle of the road; it’s that personalities who act as if they are something different from what they obviously are inspire animus, not viewer loyalty.