It was announced last week that Katie Couric is getting new producer, Rick Kaplan (formerly of ABC,CNN, and MSNBC), to beef up her nightly news broadcast. I confess my initial reaction was to try to recall the last time I watched a network evening news broadcast. I think it was when I had the flu in 2003. Really, who among the politically curious in America goes until 6:30 pm to catch the news and can find 30 minutes of time at that hour of the day to watch it? It is remarkable that apparently many millions of people still do. (I’m convinced they are relatives of the anchors, retirees, or professionals taking a “mental health day” from work.) So why does it matter if Katie is perky or serious or if her newscast is substantive or biased?
We could say it matters less than in the pre-cable and pre-internet world. Surely any news consumer at any hour of the day can select from literally thousands of choices. More and more of us clearly prefer to select sources that match our level of news sophistication and political preferences. Jon Stewart may be the only “news program” an under 30 urban single person watches. Daily Kos has all the news without that annoying deference to the President a former “Dean-iac” could want. For the now chronically depressed Republican Party faithful Fox offers Iraq news with a ray of hope and a sprinkling of unflattering stories about Nancy Pelosi. But is this all a good thing?
Here’s the rub and it came more clearly and dramatically then you could have imagined. The Democratic presidential hopefuls, egged on by MoveOn.org, just bugged out of a debate in Nevada to be moderated by Fox because, well, it’s Fox and Fox is just not where liberal Democrats want to be seen. What if this is a new trend? Only Democrats appearing on MSNBC, only Republicans on Fox. Then you wouldn’t even have to see someone with an opposing view, let alone listen to news anchors reporting on things you’d rather not hear, with sly digs you don’t like.
This type of niche world has its pluses and minuses for conservatives. Conservatives will argue that without all these alternative sources conservatives get the short end of the media stick and would be the perpetual piÃ±atas of the New York Times and broadcast news anchors. On the downside, by segregating themselves in conservative websites and the safe cocoon of Fox news, conservatives lose a real advantage they have had for years over liberals: practice in articulating their sometimes unpopular viewpoints to hostile audiences. Conservative commentators from Michelle Malkin to Laura Ingraham to Hugh Hewitt recount again and again the valued experience in college and mainstream media they gained because they were surrounded by people who disagreed with them, often rudely so.
Likewise for liberals, they are no doubt delighted with the plethora of websites from Huffington Post to DailyKos and the addition of MSNBC to their club of the left-leaning outlets. That said, it is likely not a good move to boycott the fastest growing cable news network and give the appearance they are too timid to take on Brit Hume. If they think he’s hostile, wait until they win the White House one day and have to sit through a UN General Assembly session.
So what is the answer? Maybe Katie would do better to choose a former Fox producer rather than one from MSNBC. She might hear an opposing view or two, he might suggest she modify some loaded language and the two of them could argue about whether it really is fair to say “Extreme Liberal Senator Kennedy” just like they say “Arch Conservative Sam Brownback.” Until that happens, news consumers aren’t likely to abandon their news ghettos any time soon.