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Fox Tops the Broadcast Bigs
September 7, 2004

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

There have been a couple of watershed events of late that have the media elites, Dems, and political pontificators abuzz.

First, the G.O.P. recently put on one of the most visually appealing political conventions in the history of politics.

Second, a cable venue, Fox News, soundly thumped the Big Three broadcast networks by pulling in more viewers for the Republican National Convention than the mainstreamers.

Stunned network execs from CBS, NBC and ABC have been struggling to come up with an explanation for their setbacks, other than the obvious one. Instead of recognizing that their production may be stale, their priorities impaired and more and more folks believe that they're biased, they are apparently singing the same old refrain that the Left continually uses when fussing about Fox, and chalking up the loss to the notion that-the network is biased to the Right.

Hollywood had already set things up when, among other things, it poisoned the media atmosphere with Outfoxed. The so-called documentary basically characterized the FNC as the RNC in disguise.

One broadcast bigwig told the Washington Post that the "Fox News Channel doing a big number at the RNC is the least shocking thing that's happened all week," offering the analogy that "the Olympics are to NBC what the RNC is to Fox News." 1

Another exec called Fox "the official channel of the GOP," adding that "if people didn't know it before they certainly know it now." 2

And yet another executive said the reason for the cable network's unprecedented success was that Fox was an "in-house organ" of the Republicans.

Fox News Channel representative Paul Schur reacted in this way: "It must be embarrassing to no end that they got beat by a cable news network." He then suggested that "these are the groans the dinosaurs made before they became extinct." 3

Dan Rather appeared to have been munching on sour grapes. Out of one side of the anchor's mouth came the apparent compliment, "I tip my cap to Fox." But before the positive statement could take root, the following words flew out of the other side of his mouth: "I'm sure people in the party are saying that's a great audience and on a channel that's friendly to us. But the wise ones know that this is preaching to the converted."

In a seemingly defensive as well as self-promoting effort, Rather added that "if they want to reach independent or swing voters, the way to do that is through the over-the-air networks." 4

Fox News Channel anchors boldly defended their employer.

Cable's top guy Bill O'Reilly said, "If Fox News is a conservative channel - and I'm going to use the word 'if' - so what?" The "No-Spin" architect added, "You've got 50 other media that are blatantly left. Now, I don't think Fox is a conservative channel. I think it's a traditional channel. There's a difference. We are willing to hear points of view that you'll never hear on ABC, CBS or NBC." 5

"The only marching order I've had is to do the best news show I can, and there's never been a single eyebrow raised about what we've done," "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, who previously spent 15 years with ABC, declared. 6

"I swear I'm not biased, and I know that no one [at Fox] has ever told me what to say," "Fox Report"'s Shepard Smith stated. 7

Jim Angle, who worked at ABC for three years and at National Public Radio for nine years before becoming Fox's senior White House correspondent, contended that "the only time in my career that anyone ever told me I had to say something was when I was with a different organization." 8

Admittedly, Fox did better in the ratings during the G.O.P. convention than it did during the Democratic one. Ratings were up 107 percent when compared with the Democratic convention. Similarly, CNN's ratings were 42 percent greater during the Democratic convention than they were during the Republican one.

This supports the findings of the Pew Research Center, which came up with a report in 2004, which showed that 25 percent of Republicans watch things unfold on CNN while 41 percent prefer to watch Fox; this compared to the 44 percent of Democrats who like to tune in to CNN while 29 percent prefer Fox.

Interestingly, it was the broadcast networks' choice to scale back their coverage this convention period, airing only three hours of each Party's presentation.

Fox News's Vice President of Production Bill Shine pointed out that partisanship would not explain away the success of Fox. He noted that the FNC has been at the top of the cable news charts for years because "we have a better, more interesting screen, and better, more interesting, journalists."

Ratings data regarding another major news story seem to lend credence to Shine's assessment. It turns out that, in its coverage of Hurricane Charley, Fox beat CNN as well as the Weather Channel.

As a result, Shine was able to confidently quip, "When someone can convince me that a hurricane hitting the coast of Florida has a Republican bent, let me know."

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2004
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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