Friday, February 12, 2016


A post-election panel at Penn State was surprised by student interest and questions about the influence of cable news networks.



We were suprised by a turn the conversation took.

The "we" was a panel of four at a post-election gig at Penn State for communications and journalism students, faculty and what looked like a few townspeople (a crowd of a couple hundred; I'm betting most students were there under mandate, duress or for extra credit).

This was Tuesday night in the auditorium of the Hetzel Union Building, the student center on PSU's main campus.

The panel included yours truly; Lisa Lerer, a Bloomberg News reporter who traveled with Romney; Nikole Killion, a Hearst TV Washington bureau reporter, and Jim Brown, Sen. Casey's chief of staff and former chief of staff for the late Gov. Casey.

The gig was moderated by Russ Eshleman, senior lecturer, associate head of PSU's Department of Journalism and a first-class former Inky reporter.

Questions included views on best/worst media coverage of the campaign, how campaign coverage has changed over the years, the impact of social media, what it might look like in years to come and what voters pay most attention to during campaigns.

What surprised us was the amount of attention cable news networks got, specifically Fox and MSNBC.

I argued these outlets are "entertainment," not journalism, and offer little more than same-view ideology to the bases of both parties, thereby providing no service to average, open-minded voters or Democracy.

Lerer noted they do little but harden the lines of partisanship in a country clearly torn by same.

Killion made the point that it's all about ratings and money.

And Brown said it's tough to get a non-fiery "moderate" such as Casey on these shows since they're more interested in controversy than conversation. (He did concede such programs can help fire-up a party's base.)

Among student questions was a general "what can we do?" to which I suggested stop watching. I noted C-Span is the best place to watch debates, for example, because they're shown "raw," without commentators telling you what to expect before the debate or what to think afterwards.

Tough to say how much actual impact Fox and MSNBC has; you'd think they only reinforce the opinions of their respective partisan viewers. But here are a few fun facts.

The Associated Press reports that preliminary Nielsen ratings show NBC was most-watched election night, followed by the Fox News Channel, ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox broadcast (the sister to the news channel) and MSNBC.

NBC was the first to call the election for Obama.

And an interesting study by the highly-respected Pew Research Center released earlier this month addresses cable news and partisanship and says Fox and MSNBC stand out the most but that MSNBC is more partisan than Fox.

Yep, 71% of MSNBC coverage of Romney was negative whereas only 46% of Fox coverage of Obama was negative. Not that either was fair or balanced: the study says Fox had positive Obama coverage just 6% of the time and MSNBC positive coverage of Romney just 3% of the time.

I don't see much changing, but I do find it interesting that Fox and MSNBC are getting attention in this area and that at least some younger voters are questioning the value of constant cable political "news."

Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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