We're Living In the Golden Age Of TV News — And It's Dominated By Bill O'Reilly and Rachel Maddow


Many of my new media friends and colleagues believe the internet/blogosphere has now replaced all other forms of media as America’s primary news source. But I keep telling them we’re not quite there yet.

According to Gallup, TV is still the No. 1 primary news source for most Americans (55%), followed by the internet at No. 2 (21%), print at a distant No. 3 (9%) and radio coming in last (6%), while 9% of America is apparently living in a cave. The only finding that really surprised me was that the last number wasn’t higher.

What may surprise you, though, is that the findings are pretty evenly spread out in that order among all age demographics (with the only exception being senior citizens still preferring print over internet).

Regarding cable TV news, as you might expect, most Republicans watch Fox while most Democrats watch CNN with independents pretty evenly split.

The report goes on to highlight how Fox viewers tend to be more traditional, older and make more money than CNN viewers. For instance, 69% of the Fox News group is married vs. 37% of the CNN group. Those 50 and older make up almost twice as much of the Fox News audience as CNN, 66% vs. 35%.

None of those findings surprised me, but what did catch my attention was that Fox News also has more regular female viewers than CNN, according to the report.

Naturally, Fox News couldn’t wait to brag about being No. 1 on the list of primary TV news sources (even though it only beat out CNN by 1%).

But what’s also worthy of note is that CNN is Democrats’ primary source of news … not MSNBC. In fact, MSNBC was all the way at the bottom a 1%. I can’t necessarily blame them. Despite the attacks of partisanship on both networks, a Pew Research study concluded that Fox News is 45% factual reporting vs. 55% opinion/commentary, CNN is 56% factual reporting vs. 44% opinion/commentary and MSNBC wasn’t even close at 15% factual reporting vs. 85% opinion/commentary.

Yet for most of the election year of 2012 and even a little afterwards, MSNBC was consistently coming in at No. 2 in the cable news ratings race while CNN had fallen behind. Only recently has that switched back, while Fox News has remained No. 1 in all time slots by a mile.

But it seems that most Americans prefer opinion/commentary over factual reporting, no matter which station they’re watching. On Fox, for instance, The O’Reilly Factor, The Five, and Hannity consistently finish No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 not just on that network but in all of cable news. Factual reporting programs like Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox Report with Shepard Smith, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren consistently finish behind at No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central also averages 2 million viewers consistently, more than anything on CNN or MSNBC (with the exception of Anderson Cooper 360°) and The Rachel Maddow Show is clearly the most watched program on MSNBC and the network’s only contender as far as the prime time ratings race goes.

I’m assuming CNN wants a piece of the opinion/commentary action, too, which is probably what’s motivating them to bring back Crossfire and stacking it up with partisan pundits like Newt Gingrich, Stephanie Cutter, S.E. Cupp and Van Jones sure to make for plenty of fireworks.

And while critics like Jon Stewart (of all people) can lecture these networks for catering to partisan punditry (as my PolicyMic colleague Siv Cheruvu wrote an excellent piece on recently), the reason they do it is understandable: the ratings show that the American public likes opinion/commentary over hard news coverage.

My advice for the critics would be to get over it. I may not like it either, but that’s why I simply choose to watch straight shooter journalists like Bret Baier, Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace instead of the circus shows.

But having said that, I admit, I’ll be watching the premiere of Crossfire just to see how it turns out. And, um, to watch S.E. Cupp …