Pundit runs cable experiment: On Monday, Kevin Drum linked us to this report about Fox News and MSNBC.
The report was done by Tod Kelly. For Drum’s reaction, click here.
Kelly conducted an experiment about those dueling “news channels.” In his initial post, he outlined his plan:
KELLY (6/4/12): So I have decided to perform an experiment, though I will be the first to admit it will be neither scientific nor unbiased. My premise: Watch the three highest rated programs from both FOX and MSNBC, and compare the two networks based on what I see. If I tell people that FOX or MSNBC is horribly biased, I want to be able to say that based on more than what I know now. And if I’m wrong about either, I want to know.This experiment is well worth conducting, though Kelly didn’t overwork himself. He watched those six programs on one night only, vastly restricting his input.
And uh-oh! In three separate posts on this experiment, Kelly keeps saying that he watched the programs of May 31, although he actually watched the programs of May 30.
(Everybody makes mistakes! That said, we reviewed one full hour-long transcript before we noticed that Kelly had made this error. Where do we go to get our life back?)
In all honesty, you can’t reliably make an assessment on the basis of one night’s viewing. That said, we think Kelly reached several judgments which are well worth pondering.
This is our first takeaway:
KELLY: I really came away with two big takeaways: The first was the discovery that 24-hour cable news television is–surprisingly–much, much worse that I have always assumed; the second was the far more surprising revelation that it doesn’t have to be.Cable news was much, much worse than Kelly had assumed. For the record, Kelly is talking about Fox and MSNBC when he makes that judgment.
Kelly’s second judgment concerns two of the liberal hosts he watched, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell. Ow ow ow ow ow:
KELLY: [T]he truth is that grouping Maddow’s commentary with Shultz’s or O’Donnell’s is a huge stretch. Shultz and O’Donnell’s Romney rants seem more akin to the FOX anti-Obama screeds, politics aside...In Kelly’s view, Schultz and O’Donnell engaged in rants which reminded him of Fox. He even called their work “vile.”
While I have to say that Maddow is intellectually superior to anything I saw on FOX, her two compatriots are just as vile as their cross-channel rivals without being nearly as entertaining or engaging. MSNBC was a tale of two sides of the spectrum, while all the FOX shows seemed to be one long, amorphous hack job.
We wouldn’t go that far ourselves, though we find that Schultz has become such a blunderbuss that we've found it hard to watch him in recent weeks. But in a world where liberals routinely insist that MSNBC isn’t as bad as Fox (which is somehow supposed to make things right), we think it’s constructive to see someone say that Schultz and O’Donnell are “just as vile as their cross-channel rivals.”
The third point we’ll recommend is Kelly’s use of the term “propaganda.” He uses that unflattering term to describe the bulk of the work he observed on both these channels.
We think it’s a good choice of words. O’Donnell’s show is clownish propaganda, night after night after night. It doesn’t say much for our liberal tribe that we can stomach such piddle.
A final point: Kelly says that Maddow is the outlier here. We agree with that judgment—and then again, we don’t.
Maddow’s shows are often driven by propaganda, although it isn’t as bumptious or obvious as the variety found on the other five programs. We thought there were several such elements on the May 30 show, the one Kelly watched, although that show was a bit of an outlier, leaning toward the mellow.
Maddow often deals with very important topics. But her political judgments are often strange, and in truth she isn’t especially honest. Kelly is right—she plainly is the outlier here. But we think he should watch more of her shows—and we think he should fact-check some of those programs. We think he should look for the propagandistic selection of pointless topics.
Schultz is so bumptious we can barely watch him. O’Donnell is often a manifest clown. In theory, Maddow has always been the intellectually superior outlier—but on the program Kelly watched, she clowned at length, in two different segments, about pointless spelling mistakes.
The spelling mistakes were all found on the right. Sadly, that’s how this program, which could be superior, often tends to work.
Final question: Did you watch Maddow's rant about John Ensign last Thursday night? (To watch the segment, just click here.) In certain ways, it was very strange. “Intellectually,” it was just sad.