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[] (amerik. Medien & Krieg) NYT 16.04.03 Cable's War Coverage Suggests a New 'Fox Effect' on Television,

April 16, 2003

Cable's War Coverage Suggests a New 'Fox Effect' on Television


The two commentators were gleeful as they skewered the news media
and antiwar protesters in Hollywood.

"They are absolutely committing sedition, or treason," one commentator,
Michael Savage, said of the protesters one recent night.

His colleague, Joe Scarborough, responded: "These leftist stooges for
anti-American causes are always given a free pass. Isn't it time to make
them stand up and be
counted for their views?"

The conversation did not take place on A.M. radio, in an Internet chat
room or even on the Fox News Channel. Rather, Mr. Savage, a longtime
radio talk-show host, and
Mr. Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, were speaking during
prime time on MSNBC, the cable news network owned by Microsoft and
General Electric
and overseen by G.E.'s NBC News division.

MSNBC, which is ranked third among cable news channels, hired the two
shortly before the war in Iraq, saying it sought better political
balance in its programming. But
others in the industry say the moves are the most visible sign of a
phenomenon they call "the Fox effect."

This was supposed to be CNN's war, a chance for the network, which is
owned by AOL Time Warner, to reassert its ratings lead using its
international perspective and
straightforward approach.

Instead, it has been the Fox News Channel, owned by the News
Corporation, that has emerged as the most-watched source of cable news
by far, with anchors and
commentators who skewer the mainstream media, disparage the French and
flay anybody else who questions President Bush's war effort.

Fox's formula had already proved there were huge ratings in opinionated
news with an America-first flair. But with 46 of the top 50 cable shows
last week alone, Fox has
brought prominence to a new sort of TV journalism that casts aside
traditional notions of objectivity, holds contempt for dissent and
eschews the skepticism of government
at mainstream journalism's core.

News executives at other networks are keeping a wary eye on Fox News,
trying to figure out what, if anything, its progress will mean to them.

"I certainly think that all news people are watching the success of
Fox," said Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News. "There is a
long-standing tradition in the
mainstream press of middle-of-the-road journalism that is objective and
fair. I would hate to see that fall victim to a panic about the Fox

The American news media have been here before. Newspaper headlines in
World War II clearly backed the Allies. In 1944, The New York Times used
the following
headline above a photo essay about an air raid: "We Strike at the Japs."

But until Fox News, television news had rarely taken that sort of tone,
though opinion has broken through at times. The major networks were
first considered bullish on
the Vietnam conflict. Then Walter Cronkite editorialized against it.

Still, for all the claims of disinterest from network anchors and
correspondents, conservatives believed that they were masking liberal

Rupert Murdoch played off that suspicion when he started the Fox News
Channel in 1996, declaring it would take both sides of the political
spectrum into account while
overtaking CNN. Fox kept most of its political commentary to its
prime-time schedule, which it called the equivalent of a newspaper's
opinion page.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, though, Fox News Channel covered the
fighting in Afghanistan with heavy patriotism, referring to "our troops"
who were fighting "terror
goons." Fox jumped to first in the cable news ratings in January 2002.

The channel has now taken its brand of pro-American journalism to a new
level. One recent night, a correspondent in Iraq referred to war
protesters as "the great

After the first statue of Saddam Hussein fell in Baghdad, Neal Cavuto,
an anchor, delivered a message to those "who opposed the liberation of
Iraq": "You were sickening
then, you are sickening now." Another Fox anchor, John Gibson, said he
hoped Iraq's reconstruction would not be left to "the dopey old U.N."

CNN's ratings also rose during the war, to 2.65 million average daily
viewers, from 610,000, but CNN trailed Fox, which had 3.3 million.
Though MSNBC remained in
third place with 1.4 million, it saw its share of the cable news
audience grow, and for the first time in years had a sense of momentum.

Fox News executives would not comment for this article, beyond
contending that their channel's success had more to do with its
reporting than its editorial approach.
They noted, for instance, that Fox showed the first live reports from
the push to central Baghdad and from Mr. Hussein's palace there.

Fox's success initially seemed to push CNN to reconsider its editorial
direction. In 2001, the network's former chairman, Walter Isaacson, made
a public show of meeting
with Republican leaders in Washington to discuss CNN's perceived liberal
bias. Like Fox News and MSNBC, CNN featured an American flag on its
screen after Sept.

Since CNN's new chief, Jim Walton, took over last winter the network has
reaffirmed its role as an international news network. It is the only one
of the three cable-news
networks without a flag on its screen now.

MSNBC, on the other hand, has added several features to capture more
conservatives, who, along with moderates, make up a larger share of the
cable news audience
than do liberals, according to analysts.

MSNBC has patriotic flourishes throughout the day. Along with the
regular screen presence of an American flag, Mr. Bush's portrait is
featured on MSNBC's main set
and an "America's Bravest" studio wall shows snapshots of men and women
serving in Iraq.

Neal Shapiro, the NBC News president, said MSNBC hired Mr. Scarborough
and Mr. Savage to add political equilibrium to its lineup of hosts.
Before the war, Mr.
Shapiro said, all of them ? Chris Matthews, Phil Donahue, Bill Press and
Pat Buchanan ? opposed the war. Mr. Donahue's program was canceled in

"If you have a range of opinion that leaves out a whole part of the
country," Mr. Shapiro said, "you're unintentionally sending a message
that `you are not welcome here.' "

Erik Sorenson, MSNBC's president, said it was trying to differentiate
its report from what he called a mainstream style of automatic
questioning of the government.

"After Sept. 11 the country wants more optimism and benefit of the
doubt," Mr. Sorenson said. "It's about being positive as opposed to
being negative. If it ends up
negative, so be it. But a big criticism of the mainstream press is that
the beginning point is negative: `On Day 2, we're in a quagmire.' "

MSNBC's programming moves were welcomed by L. Brent Bozell III, founder
of the Media Research Center, a conservative media analysis group. "What
Fox is doing,
and frankly what MSNBC is also declaring by its product, is that one can
be unabashedly patriotic and be a good news journalist at the same
time," Mr. Bozell said.

Still, MSNBC's moves have news executives and some liberal critics
worried that Fox's success will push TV news too far from a neutral

"I'm a huge believer in the forces of the market and the audience's
ability to make choices among various channels," Mr. Heyward of CBS
said. "What I would not like to
see happen is legitimate debate stifled, or journalists' skepticism,
heated journalistic inquiry, somehow dampened by a flock of Fox

                                                Copyright 2003 The New
York Times Company |

Olivier Minkwitz___________________________________________
Dipl. Pol.
HSFK Hessische Stiftung für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
PRIF Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
Leimenrode 29 60322 Frankfurt a/M Germany
Tel +49 (0)69 9591 0422  Fax +49 (0)69 5584 81                         pgpKey:0xAD48A592
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