September 23, 2009

Conservatives Are Losing The TV Race (But They Don’t Know It)

I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.” — Jim DeMint

The above quote defines one of the major movements within the Republican Party, particularly crucial as the party redefines itself (I know, I’m only the one millionth person to say it.) Some people think the mindset is great- no worries about Senators Specter and Snowe sticking it to the party, or the eight Republicans who gave cap-and-trade its passage in the House. On the one hand, my idealogically conservative side agrees. On the other, of course, is the fact that thirty principled conservatives can a) disagree on where to be conservative (i.e., taking a stand on social vs. fiscal vs. military issues and legislation), and b) not pass much, if anything, or find themselves able to slow too much bad legislation down.

Beyond the Republican Party, however, conservatives are also pulling a DeMint, in a most important arena: television. In particular, by congregating on Fox News and NOT on other television stations. This became very clear when, on September 10, it came out that John Stossel was leaving ABC for Fox. Following in the footsteps of Chris Wallace, Michael Clemente, Brit Hume- three former ABC guys- Karl Rove, Dana Perino, Glenn Beck and other influential conservative names, Stossel is making a smart decision for himself. After 28 years surrounded by the liberal media “elite”, he can finally take his libertarian views where they will be appreciated. Again, a great decision for Stossel- and a bad one for a conservative recovery in America.

According to Nielsen, Stossel was getting over six million viewers as the host of 20/20 in the last quarter of last year. This is nearly twice the viewership of Bill O’Reilly, long-time king of cable news, who averages around 3.4 million viewers per night. However, while O’Reilly is primarily “speaking to the choir,” Stossel is speaking to a much wider audience. Whether they want to or not, non-conservatives are getting the viewpoint of a libertarian every time they turn on 20/20 for news, analysis, fluff shows and whatever else its viewers look for. With O’Reilly, you are mostly getting O’Reilly, and that’s the primary reason one goes to Fox News at 8 p.m.

Similarly, Glenn Beck has jumped to Fox over the last year, and he has become a powerhouse in the ratings world. Whereas at CNN he was averaging far fewer than one million viewers per night, he recently surpassed O’Reilly in the 25-54 year old demographic, a tremendous accomplishment, and has kept his numbers high for months, even passing over three million viewers recently. While Beck’s recent career move is somewhat the opposite of Stossel’s- at least, regarding ratings and the range of influence- it still concentrates Beck’s tremendous (if controversial and sometimes over-the-top) talent to Fox News viewers, as opposed to CNN viewers, who are generally less conservative. Again, Beck is speaking only to the choir, where at CNN he would likely get more non-conservative viewers simply by association.

Fox News has gone over the top since the moment the 2008 presidential election results were in. I began watching “Fox & Friends” during my internship at The Heritage Foundation last fall, and enjoyed their coverage of news and events…until November 5. Too, while I watch little TV in general, I check Foxnews.com several times a day, and have found their already-slanted (if accurate) news to be increasingly more slanted and sensational. Clearly, however, given their skyrocketing ratings, what they are doing is working. Like a bastion in a losing war, conservatives are flocking to Fox, and I cannot blame them, given the liberal biases in most mainstream news sources.

The problem comes when, five years from now, all the conservatives are at Fox (except for Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs, who may very well be retired, and Joe Scarborough, who seems to enjoy being on MSNBC). While conservatives will be having the time of their lives watching Stossel, Cavuto, O’Reilly, Hannity and the rest, the liberals on MSNBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and the entire rest of television news will be unchallenged in their biases and viewpoints. There will be no John Stossel to call out liberals on ABC, or Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck to challenge CNN from the ranks. These voices will all be at Fox. With as tough a time as we have keeping our message on track and in the ears of Americans, is this really the best way for conservatives to get their message out? I think not.

The Internet gives conservatives the opportunity to get their voices out- there is no question about that. However, that makes it very simple for ideological viewers to go only where they want to get their slant on news, opinion, etc. HotAir.com, Townhall.com, MichelleMalkin.com, NewMajority.com and even smaller sites such as thelobbyist.net provide a great service to conservatives and America- but with millions watching television and getting just the liberal viewpoint if conservative media personalities continue to flock to Fox, the next few years of elections will be very tough on conservatives.

As RJ Caster put it at thelobbyist.net, “Conservative is a state of mind, being a Republican is a vehicle.” The Republican Party is finding out which would-be leader of the party is correct about where it needs to go- David Frum, Jim DeMint, Michael Steele, among others, are fighting for the honor- but as a separate entity conservatives need to decide what tactic(s) will best serve them, their philosophies and their goals. Thirty conservative senators and a conservative news station making a killing in the ratings is a wonderful thing- but not at the expense of the country. Fixated as we seem to be on our dominance in a small part of the world of television, conservatives are keeping a great eye on the ever-present jab…and missing the overhand right coming in for the knockout.

by @ 6:50 am. Filed under Jim DeMint, Republican Party
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12 Responses to “Conservatives Are Losing The TV Race (But They Don’t Know It)”

  1. Sean P Says:

    I don’t know. I get your point and it makes sense (especially where Stossel is concrned), and I agree that turning into an echo chamber isn’t good for the country, but I think what we are seeing here is affecting both parties equally. Yes, there are 4 liberal news networks to 1 conservative one, but that isn’t going to continue for long if the rating imbalance does; MSNBC is either going to go out of business or slash their payroll to the point their top “talent” leaves, and ABC, CBS and NBC’s nightly news broadcast ratings, while high by news standards, are delivered pretty much on the back of their networks’ entertainment division, which has been in serious decline for decades and haven’t been profitable for at least that long.

    As for the internet, ideological purity has been the norm since at least 2004; just as the right has Michelle Malkin and Instapundit and Redstate, etc., the left has Daily Kos, Feministing, and Jane Hampshire (who was so deep into the echo chamber she posted a profanity filled rant when the Duke LaCross rape charge was dismissed that made it perfectly clear she had no idea they were innocent). In fact, at the liberal blogs the echo chamber effect is even worse. On the right there are still quite a few blogs that allow for unmoderated comments and let all non-trollish commentary stand, over at DK pretty much every unapolagetically conservative viewpoint gets purged, regardless of tone or content.

    And, yes, it isn’t good or healthy for the country, I agree with that. But it is hardly a problem unique to conservatives.

  2. Knickers in a twist Says:

    I enjoy listening to Fox when driving. I also listen to CNN and other stations too. I turn Fox off when Huckabee comes on. Other than that, it’s a reasonble station. I just wish there was more on the other nets to choose from and get more exposure. Stossell is a good move. His “format” is different than most those on Fox. However, it’s not ‘balance’ if everyone is standing on one side of the teetertotter.

  3. Dave Says:

    What you’re missing is that Fox keeps expanding its viewership. How many of Stossel’s 6 million will follow him to Fox? I don’t know, but he will clearly bring a lot of people to the network who aren’t accustomed to turning to Fox.

    Right-wing media outlets keep expanding, whether in Radio, the Internet, or, in this case, in television. It’s a major growth industry at a time the old outlets are withering and dying. More right-wing books get sold than ever, making Ann Coulter and others wealthy. It will be interesting to see how Glenn Beck’s new book does, BTW.

  4. Evil Conservative Says:

    Andrew Breitbart’s thoughts in agreement.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/03/my_real_time_with_bill_maher.html

    3

    Dave, it’s NOT Stossel’s 6 million. That’s Dustin’s point. It’s 6 million watching and Stossel exposing them to a viewpoint they would not hear otherwise. Now those 6 million will watch 20/20 and not get anything close to a libertarian viewpoint.

    Actually, as much as Stossel is a libertarian, my favorite viewpoint of his is as an anti-alarmist. Highlight: When he showed the diagnosis graph of autism going up over the past few decades then he showed the graph of diagnoses of mental retardation going down in a direct relationship over the same time period.

  5. Richard Murray Says:

    The underlying assumption is that a certain number of people are going to watch each outlet regardles. To some extent that’s true in the short-term, but the trends appear to be bleeding viewers from the broadcast stations to Fox. IF that trend continues, expect the broadcast stations to be begging for bailouts and head to the dustbin of history. At that point, this analysis will be irrelevant.

  6. Josh Bell Says:

    Interesting piece Dustin. The Republican Party and Fox “News” seem to be at fault here. They have been pushing this notion that all other networks are “liberal” and that the only oasis in the desert that serves “good American brand cool-aid” is Fox. I’m sure fellows like Stossel and Wallace didn’t believe this when the worked for the other news outlets. But as the “good American brand cool-aid” notion spread they lost a large percentage of their viewership. It is clear to me that the Republican Party and Fox “News” fabricated a situation whereby they would become the sole megaphone for conservative ideas. T.R. might have busted them for being a Monopoly. It is also worth mentioning that Stossel, Wallace, and the rest of “Fox’s friends” choose to leave – thereby giving up a decent outlet to reach more Americans.

    First, the attitude of “we are only going to preach to the choir” is dangerous for the Party. If the message only reaches certain ears what good does it do? Secondly, by not having any real Democrats (Colmes does not count) Fox does damage to discourse by not putting their money where their mouth is by hiring a few Democrats or Liberals to really have a “fair and balanced” atmosphere. Thirdly, and most importantly, by collecting all of the “conservative pieces on the board” you get people like Glenn Beck spouting radical nonsense about the Commander-In-Chief. When you have a captive viewership commentators tend to take license with what they can say. It’s like having a can of condensed soup. The group at Fox are already the most conservative bunch going. What they have created is a situation where the ultra-conservatives (usually referred to by everyone as the “nuts,” and rightly so) have a platform to shout their damning rhetoric, and have it taken seriously (I’m thinking of Beck in particular).

    If I were a moderate Republican, not a Liberal Republican, I would read this as a sign of the “end times.” These activities only serve to not only create situations where news is not covered fairly (on both sides), it pushes American further into ideological corners that seem to be getting further and further apart.

    No wonder people are scared and nothing ever seems to get done.

  7. Evil Conservative Says:

    Richard,

    I think your assumption is that broadcast viewers are going to Fox. That’s probably only true for a small amount. They’re bleeding viewers to the internet mainly. That’s why they’re headed to the dustbin of history.

    Besides the conservative audience, Fox News is attracting those who still desire a watchdog press. Hopefully that’s a lot of people.

  8. Aron Goldman Says:

    Is Extremism Becoming Mainstream?
    http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2009/09/is-extremism-becoming-mainstream.html

  9. Richard Murray Says:

    #7 Evil, you’re right that I make the assumption that’s what’s happening. I see Fox increasing viewership and broadcast losing viewership. Could be the lost viewers are going to the internet, and the new viewrs ar people who didn’t watch before, in which case the two are not strongly related. I haven’t seen polling on this, so I couldn’t say. The question to answer is why broadcast is losing viewers. If it’s because their bias is showing, then having conservatives jump ship would merely exacerbate that image, accelerating their decline.

    Really, though, if they can’t stop the bleeding of viewers, there’s nothing to worry about. They’ll go under, and something else will take their place. To assume they will continue to draw 6 M viewers, and use that for ustification of conservatives staying on board, however, seems like it’s ignoring the direction news is headed.

  10. Huckabee/Pawlenty or Pawlenty/Huckabee Says:

    LOL at Nikkers who said “I turn Fox off when Huckabee comes on”.

    With the negative nonsense that you spin about Mike – U gotta be nuts.

    Don’t you want ALL the Republican Leaders to do their part in ousting President Obama?

    Unite, folks!

  11. JoeV Says:

    I didn’t know there was any other news channel but FOX. Oh well, guess I will continue to watch FOX since they are Fair and Balanced!

  12. Weekly Team-Up: Dobbs & Fox A Match Made for Democrats? | thelobbyist Says:

    […] all conservative influence from the other networks? Check out Dustin’s articles on thisĀ hereĀ and […]

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