Tweedle-Dum vs Tweedle-Dumber

Posted on September 29, 2010 by


Ahh…midterm election season. Time for the American audience to gather around, flip on the news, and see the Conservatives and Liberals battle it out. Tit for Tat. Eye for eye. Let the games begin.

We’re rather used to it by now. In fact, it’s practically unavoidable in politics. Thus, the spectators take sides.

Now, it is perfectly sane to identify with a political party. But there comes a point where every political decision made should not be solely constructed on party allegiance. Today, it seems the political line of demarcation has intensified. Obviously, such can be expected in a season when incumbents face opposing candidates ripe for revenge.  But perhaps the most noticeable cause can be traced to the narrowcast syndrome that has plagued America, when “because my party said so” turns into “because my news station told me so.”

Webster’s Dictionary defines narrowcasting as “aimed at a narrowly defined area or audience” as opposed to broadcasting which covers a “wider area.” Simple enough. Naturally, as technology has evolved, so has the hunger for all things convenient in American society.

A recent sampling held by The Huffington Post states that “Roughly 33 percent of people surveyed said they went online for news the previous day, a number that goes up to 44 percent when cell phones, e-mail, social networks and podcasts are added.” Because our quick-paced lives demand information at the palm of our hand, it helps to have news instantly available without having to sift through differing opinions.

But what helps could also hurt.


Politico/George Washington University Underground conducted a poll that found  71 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed watch national networks ABC, NBC or CBS while 81% of those surveyed watch cable networks Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC.  Of the three, Fox News held the most viewers.  Surprisingly, the majority of those polled said they had never heard of Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC.  However, this figure attributes to the demographic of the people surveyed, and thus shedding light on those affecting the midterm election season:

 “The largest segment of respondents, 21 percent, were between 55 years old and 64 years old, with 20 percent between 45 and 54. Only 5 percent were between 18 and 24, and 7 percent were between 25 and 29…Other recent polls have shown that the largest segment of “The Daily Show’s” audience is under 30, while the largest segment of Fox News’s audience is over 60.”

In addition, Reuter’s reports “40% of Republicans now say they regularly watch Fox News, up from 36% two years ago and just 18% a decade ago. As recently as 2002, Republicans were about as likely to watch CNN (28%) as Fox News (25%). Meanwhile, the share of Democrats who regularly watch CNN or Fox News fell from 2008.”

The statistics illustrate that the majority of Americans are viewing stations that already align with their views. The country is engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy, coming to the news stations to confirm their beliefs not test it.

To be fair, Fox News is certainly not the only station that takes this approach; several other stations such as MSNBC lean toward the far left end of the spectrum, often filling their time slot to specifically combat what Fox says. However, because there is such a wide demographic dedicated to Fox, this blog analyzes the effects of that specific station. DellaVigna and Kaplan explored this concept back in 2006 with their Fox News Effect, which discussed the partiality that inflicts Fox viewers on matters of voting.  However, this particular election season has witnessed additional consequences of  interest.


The clear issue with narrowcasting is that any opinion portraying disagreement is seen as antagonistic to the party.  A classic example is the recent behavior of  Tea Party candidates and Fox regulars Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, and Sharron Angle who all perform swimmingly on the station, but are displayed as less than capable on other stations.

On September 19, Sarah Palin sent a tweet expressing her own personal advice to O’ Donnell:

 Below is a video of O’ Donnell meeting with Hannity, taking that advice to heart, stating she will be at “as many town hall forums, as many candidate forums, as many church picnics as I can fit into my schedule ”

Rand Paul also expresses his distaste for the national media itself based on his previous experiences, and commending O’Donnell for taking the advice:

Sharron Angle, who constantly stays away from local media rather than national:

To stay away from those who seek destruction is not terrible advice. We know that O’Donnell’s light in mainstream media has not been favorable toward her as of late. However, is it possible for a candidate to stay away too much, and create for the viewers and potential voters this vacuum that no one else can be trusted?



Another issue is the fact that Huckabee, Gingrich, Santorum, and Palin all work for Fox News. Therefore,  the amount of coverage they will receive, without “formally” admitting their candidacy for the 2012 Presidential Race is increasingly advantageous. In a current article entitled “Fox Primary: complicated, contractual,” Politico explores this situation:

  “At issue are basic matters of political and journalistic fairness and propriety. With Fox effectively becoming the flagship network of the right and, more specifically, the tea party movement, the four Republicans it employs enjoy an unparalleled platform from which to speak directly to primary voters who will determine the party’s next nominee.”

In addition, MediaMatters (rather liberal in nature) conducted a study regarding the amount of times the candidates were on Fox  News as opposed to other major networks.

“The five potential candidates — John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Rick Santorum — have appeared 269 times on Fox News and a total of six times on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS combined”



The fact that ratings matter for sensationalized media is nothing new to the American public. But the effects of narrowcasting has certainly reaped negative results. First, if news stations embrace bias so long as they stand in stark contrast to those they oppose, then why should the candidates they endorse care to fight for themselves? More importantly, why should Americans have to think for themselves once they’ve found a station they identify with? Being spoon-fed “facts” can be very satisfying indeed. Secondly, no one believes that stations will be as fair and balanced as they claim, but the overall point is that the American political media has become a game, or worse, a fight so much to the point that their partisanship no longer makes them better than the other-whether it’s Fox News, MSNBC, or somewhere in-between.

It’s like that pair of rather annoying twins who just would not shut up…although we’ll leave the reader to decide who’s the “dumber” twin in this case.