Cable Show 2012: Balancing Political Facts, Opinion a Delicate Balance in Cable News
Panelists debate effect of analysis-based programming on swaying voter opinion
By Andrea Morabito -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/22/2012 2:48:12 PMComplete Coverage: Cable Show 2012
Boston -- While the 24/7 cable news cycle has changed the media environment political candidates operate in, panelists in Tuesday's general session at The Cable Show disagreed on whether that change has been for the better.
Hardball host Chris Matthews argued that because of the rise of opinion-based news networks, the non-critical aspect of the media is gone, going as far to say that the reporting that verified the U.S. administration's claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002 would not happen today because of cable news.
"I would like to think there would be a reckoning we didn't have then because of modern media," Matthews said. "Twenty-four/seven is good because it's not only breadth, it's depth. Without cable, it is just network [television] thinking, embedded thinking, which is dangerous in a democracy."
Broadcasting critical opinions of government has certainly proven a fruitful business model for Fox News Channel and MSNBC, while making it harder for news networks like CNN, who tread more neutral ground, to attract viewers.
"We have always been this network and there's some good things about that and some bad things about that," said John King, anchor of CNN's John King USA. "There's nothing wrong with advocacy journalism that says here's what you should think. There's also nothing wrong with more objective journalism that says here's what's happening."
Maria Elena Salinas, co-anchor of Noticiero Univision, sided with that opinion, agreeing that while analysis is necessary in television, it cannot be a substitute for fact-based reporting in viewers' media diets.
"When people are basing their political decisions on opinion and not fact, that's when it becomes dangerous," she said. "You need analysis, you do need perspective. It just needs to be clear to the audience and unfortunately not all of the viewers and/or voters are sophisticated enough to know the difference."
Matthews disagreed that viewers can't tell the difference, or that viewers of Fox News aren't in on the irony of its tagline "Fair and Balanced."
"I think it's very clear," he said. "People are thinking all the time when they're watching the news. The idea that we shouldn't be argumentative on cable -- we need to be in-depth. We're supposed to question, we're supposed to criticize, that's what journalists do."
One thing the candidates could agree on -- voters are paying attention to this presidential election, a fact that will be reflected in November's general election. "Turnout is going to be major," Salinas said.
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