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Jewish World Review April 21, 2003 / 19 Sivan, 5763

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Consumer Reports


The war that network news lost in Iraq


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Lyndon Johnson only needed three television sets in the Oval Office, one each tuned to CBS, NBC and ABC. For the ensuing four decades, the three news anchors, and the organizations that feed them their lines, have dominated American media and therefore American politics. The Iraq War signals their dethronement.

Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings may not have to worry about being blown up by an American cruise missile, but they are the losers in this war almost as much as Saddam Hussein is. The network news organizations, which already succeeded in losing two-thirds of their viewers in the past 20 years and one-quarter in the past 10, now face extinction as a result of their limited and biased coverage of the war in Iraq.

The ratings tell a story of massive public disenchantment and portend a sea change in news-watching habits. For the first time, a cable news show has actually passed a broadcast-network offering in total viewers. The cable show "Fox and Friends" drew 2.9 million viewers, more than CBS's 2.8 million on its "Early Show."

This has not been a good war for the networks. At the height of the biggest news event since Sept. 11, one would expect all news shows to attract more viewers. A rising tide, after all, is reputed to lift all boats. But not the network-news viewer-ship. CBS News dropped 15 percent from pre-war totals, ABC fell 6 percent, and NBC gained an anemic 3 percent. By contrast, all the cable news stations recorded huge increases in audience. The Fox News Channel audience rose 236 percent, while CNN and MSNBC had similar gains.

What does the future hold? Among younger viewers (18-34), CBS News fell 15 percent while Fox gained fivefold.

Within the cable universe, Fox News emerged as the clear winner, showing 14 of the 15 most-watched cable shows during the war's peak. With Fox News shows attracting 4 to 6 million viewers each night during prime time, they were closing in on the 8 to 10 million households to which the network news shows cling.

Those new ratings bring with them a new political reality.

Every war has altered media habits. The Civil War brought news photography and telegraphic reporting into its own. World War II - and particularly the blitz over London - made Edward R. Murrow and CBS Radio the medium of choice of many Americans. The Vietnam War was the first televised conflict. CNN was born in the midst of the Gulf War.

The impact of the Iraq War is likely to be as fundamental.

The arrogance of the networks' news coverage has ultimately cost them their audience. The assumption that we would wait to hear of the fate of our sons and daughters until Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw were good and ready to show up in a television studio to tell us was the most arrogant of all. When the networks opted to run entertainment programs during prime time, they were signaling their end as serious news organizations. How ironic that NBC would prefer its fictional show "The West Wing" over real news from the same offices.

Their journalistic skepticism played badly as Americans saw, simultaneously, the worried theories of doom echoed by the network news anchors and the triumphant progress of American arms marching into and through Baghdad.

We in politics are accustomed to seeing reality firsthand and then watching its distant cousin, events as portrayed by the media, unfold on our televisions. We know that what happened in Congress and what is reported to have taken place are two very different things. But that disjuncture, so familiar to politicians, is new to the viewing public.

By seeing war and war coverage juxtaposed nightly on their screens, Americans have learned the crucial lesson: not to trust the news anchors. But trust and the one-on-one relationship has been the key to television news broadcasts ever since the days of Walter Cronkite. Now that relationship has been disrupted and will likely never be rekindled.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.

Up

04/15/03: Media meltdown
04/10/03: Giving government a good name
04/03/03: Polls' message to Bush: Relax and win the war
03/31/03: Bomb as you need
03/28/03: The strong grow weak through inhibition
03/26/03: Carping pessimism of TV anchors and interviewers fails to give Americans a sense of defeatism
03/17/03: Poll: Get on with it
03/13/03: It's time for U.S. to play hardball at U.N.
03/10/03: The whole (Hispanic) world is watching
03/07/03: Anti-war errors
03/05/03: Domino theory II: Toppling Mideast despots
03/03/03: Europe's triangulators: Chirac and Blair
02/27/03: Invasion? More like a coup
02/21/03: The first casualty of Iraq war: Liberal credibility
02/19/03: Old Europe's last hurrah
02/14/03: Corzine throws down gauntlet on Wall St. fraud
02/12/03: An exile deal for Saddam
02/07/03: The Dems give up the House
02/05/03: France: Saddam's ally
02/03/03: War critics will suffer
02/30/03: Even by Clinton standards, it's sheer chutzpah
01/24/03: Rebirth of the balanced budget Republican
01/22/03: Next to Bubba, Dubya's got it good
01/16/03: End racism in affirmative action
01/13/03: The new swing voter
01/10/03: Political e-mailing comes of age
01/07/03: In Dem race: Home field no advantage
12/31/02: Hey, Hillary: Want to appear like a stateswomyn? Stay silent
12/19/02: Kerry in the lead
12/19/02: Lieberman the frontrunner
12/17/02: In defense of Lott
12/02/02: An issue for Bush: Drugs
11/27/02: Women gone wobbly?
11/25/02: The U.N. over a barrel
11/15/02: Gore's suicide
11/15/02 One-party control is an illusion
11/13/02 The House of Extremes
11/08/02 I have egg on my face
11/01/02 Is Bush losing control over events?
10/25/02What is causing Bush's free fall?
10/25/02: Anybody sense a trend?
10/23/02: A deadline for Iraq
10/18/02: Only sure bet of 2002 elections is voter angst
10/16/02: Endangered incumbents
10/11/02: Why multilateralism doesn't work
10/09/02: Hey, Dems: Believe NYTimes polling at your own risk
10/03/02: Dem suicide: Let's count the ways
09/30/02: The Dems just can't stop themselves
09/26/02: The perils of polling
09/19/02: W. boxed in the U.N.
09/19/02: Welfare reform: Keep on keeping on
09/12/02: Are Dems insane on Iraq?
09/09/02: Twin shadows of Election '02
09/05/02: GOP should triangulate
08/28/02: Trust the military
08/22/02: It's not the economy, stupid
08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2002, Dick Morris