MSNBC and Fox News: How Cable News Defines the National Discourse


Recently, controversy about contributors on cable news once again made headlines. This time, it was regarding Pat Buchanan — a former MSNBC contributor who has now essentially been blacklisted by the network, following the publication and promotion of his provocative book entitled Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?

The book elaborates on his concerns about “the end of white America” in relation to birthrates and immigration. Suspicions of the book’s effect (though it may not have been the only factor, it certainly was a significant one) on his status at MSNBC were confirmed on Feb. 16 when the network released a statement ending their 10-year relationship. They “parted ways,” said the statement. “We wish him well.”

Buchanan’s colleagues on Morning Joe, MSNBC’s morning show, actually had quite nice things to say about him. Regardless of how you feel about Buchanan, however, the incident demonstrates how cable news has evolved, and how it is framing our political discussion. The media world has come a long way, and now, with networks like MSNBC and Fox News — which inarguably have distinct points of view — it’s inevitable that the media play such a role. We can endlessly debate the advantages and drawbacks of such a media climate, we can lament about what kind of power this gives the outlets, but at this point, realistically, there’s no going back.

A New York Times piece following Buchanan’s official departure raises an excellent point: “As cable news channels like MSNBC and Fox News Channel have grown highly politicized, they have become arbiters of the bounds of acceptable discourse — not always a comfortable role for those involved. A corporate allergy to controversy sometimes exists, even though controversy is what sometimes motivates channels to hire commentators and compels people to watch.”

And over at Politico, Dylan Byers adds to it: “By defining which viewpoints are acceptable for the network and which aren't, Fox News and MSNBC are drawing the lines that define the nationally recognized ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ viewpoints, even if there are plenty of conservatives who believe Fox is too far left, and liberals who believe MSNBC is too far right.”

This is a great point. A cable news structure with distinctly opinionated networks inherently has the power to define national discourse. And we see this everyday with the type of stories that dominate headlines for days versus those that barely get mention. It’s more evident in the discussion, of course. In the way stories are framed, themes emerge, and it’s easy to see patterns of certain talking points and perspectives. If viewers feel like they often hear the same opinions and points of view, they’re not just imagining it. 

Obviously this demonstrates how much influence the media can and does have. Many find themselves resenting this fact, while others may use the media as a scapegoat in specific instances. As always, there are exceptions; the media isn’t always at fault, but the same can be said about the viewers. Step outside the “conservative” and “liberal” boundaries, and the reaction likely won’t be a positive one. It’s interesting that news organizations, of all things, are serving as this force — and understandably, it frustrates. At the end of the day, though, the truth is that we won’t be regressing any time soon.

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