Earlier this week, the Daily Show did a segment in which Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver debated, quite convincingly, whether Fox News’ coverage of the Cordoba House controversy was Evil or Stupid. At issue was Fox’s questioning the Cordoba House because Imam Rauf has received money from Al-Waleed bin Talal, a Saudi prince who heads the Kingdom Foundation, without mentioning that he owns more of NewsCorp, Fox’s parent company, than anyone besides the Murdoch family. This omission extends to their website: in the articles on foxnews.com that mention bin Talal (even those that don’t allude to his alleged connections with “overseas sources interested in bringing fundamentalist Islam to the U.S.”), only one (about his purchase of an opulent private jet, from 2007) mentions his connections to NewsCorp. You can find out more from Fox News about his relationship with Michael Jackson than you can about his relationship with NewsCorp. As The Daily Show put it:
Stewart: Is there a chance there is perhaps a third, less explosive explanation, something else that could possibly…
Oliver: Absolutely not, John. These are the only two possible explanations, because if they’re not as stupid as I believe them to be, they are really f*****g evil.
Cenac: And if they’re not as evil as I think they are, they are stupid . . . We’re talking rocks with mouths.
What does it say about the level of national discourse when the only explanations for the behavior of the network that (as Bill O’Reilly is often quick to point out) consistently tops the ratings for cable news are Stupid and Evil? Because The Daily Show is right. There is no reasonable explanation for the demonizing of the Cordoba House for accepting money from one of the networks largest shareholders without mentioning NewsCorps’ ties. Fox didn’t mention it because it doesn’t further their agenda, similar to how they didn’t mention the coming out of Ken Mehlman, campaign manager for George W. Bush during the 2004 election and former head of the Republican National Convention. If it doesn’t fit the narrative, it doesn’t get mentioned.
Meanwhile, on CNN, they have stooped to occasionally reading user tweets on live TV. Really, CNN? Don’t get me wrong, I think Twitter has its uses. I think it works well as a substitute for an RSS reader, and can also be useful as a form of instant messaging for communications between friends (though I don’t choose to use it as such). But when I turn on the news, I don’t want to see kRocka27’s views on the BP oil spill in 140 characters or less (and if I did, I wouldn’t go to CNN for that. I would go to Twitter). Where is the added value in devoting on-air time to that? CNN seems to be trying gimmick after gimmick (remember the holograms they rolled out during the 2008 election?) in attempts to make themselves more relevant in an increasingly diverse news landscape. In doing so, they are failing to leverage the advantages that a large and established news network has relative to the masses who post their views to Twitter: resources, access to sources, and credentials. Their added value lies not in the ability to parrot the opinion of the masses, but in the ability to say with authority “This position has merit, while this position does not, for reasons X, Y, and Z.”
Finally, I would be remiss to leave out MSNBC in all of this. I personally find MSNBC’s news coverage to be the lesser of the three cable news evils, but that is probably due in large part to the fact that their coverage conforms to my own bias in interpreting the news. Stepping back from that, however, I also think that MSNBC leaves a lot to be desired in their coverage. In a seeming attempt to match Fox News’ success on the right, MSNBC is trending towards a similarly divisive approach to presenting the news. Watching Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, I frequently find myself agreeing with their views, but disappointed in the manner in which they present them. There’s usually a level of “snark” present in both of those anchors that I find off-putting. This may be snark used in place of the rage employed by Fox, but I still find that it often conveys a level of disrespect for dissenting opinions that, while in a different form, is as divisive as the rhetoric and allegations that Fox employs.
So if all of these places are hopeless, where can we get the news these days? In my opinion, the best place is everywhere. The Huffington Post is great, but has a distinctly liberal voice, so it pairs well with the more conservative Daily Caller. The Daily Beast is, in my experience, somewhere in the middle and a nice complement to both. I’ll watch cable news on occasion (less since moving into an apartment in which I chose not to get cable), but I try not to rely too heavily on any of the big three. I try to watch the PBS NewsHour fairly frequently. The Daily Show, though satiric, is often excellent at highlighting the hypocrisy of all of these options. And I supplement all of this with blogs, from The Daily Dish, to Krugman and 538 at the New York Times, to Glenn Greenwald at Salon, to David Frum at FrumForum, and beyond. Given the nature of blogging, each of these places becomes not only a place to read takes on the news, but also a place to explore other opinions that I might not have come across. At the end of the day, my take on the news is determined by my own weighting of the merits of the opinions expressed in each of these places, rather than by any one presentation. If my views are going to reflect anyone’s bias, it’s going to be my own.