The Upshot

CNN calls out Fox News, MSNBC for political slants

Michael Calderone
The Upshot

CNN executives often play up their network's down-the-middle approach to covering politics, even as Nielsen numbers show viewers increasingly tuning into partisan shows on the right-leaning Fox News, the cable ratings leader, and the left-leaning MSNBC.

That said, CNN doesn't typically claim that Fox News and MSNBC are in the tank for Republicans and Democrats, respectively. But newish network president Ken Jautz seems to be getting more aggressive in targeting CNN's cable news rivals.

Just as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann hit the air Tuesday night to discuss his recent suspension for making donations to Democratic candidates, CNN rolled out a new advertisement suggesting Fox News and MSNBC advocated for political parties while CNN refuses to play favorites.

CNN offered a similar critique in a promo last week but stopped short of identifying Fox News and MSNBC by name.

Sam Feist, CNN's political director and vice president of Washington-based programming, explained the ad strategy in a statement to The Upshot.

"The CNN ad simply states the obvious: We're the one cable news channel that doesn't advocate for one political party or the other," Feist said. "We cover both sides but don't favor either side. That's our mission; it's part of our DNA. And it makes us different than the other guys."

CNN's nonpartisan anchors have struggled against their more opinionated counterparts. Campbell Brown acknowledged her 8 p.m. show's low ratings against Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann in her May announcement that she was leaving the network.

Brown has since been replaced at 8 p. m. by two partisan hosts, Democratic governor Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker. For CNN, having someone on the right and left — à la "Crossfire" —  provides ideological balance and doesn't help steer the prime-time lineup toward either end of the political spectrum.

So far, CNN's recent prime-time strategy hasn't brought in ratings or critical praise. The early reviews for "Parker Spitzer" were harsh, and the ratings remain low. CNN also hasn't had much luck with "John King, USA," the 7 p. m. lead-in for "Parker Spitzer." King, a top political reporter and former host of Sunday's "State of the Union," took over the nightly slot after the more opinionated Lou Dobbs left the network one year ago.

Speaking of Dobbs, the veteran business journalist and illegal-immigration critic, signed a multiyear deal Wednesday to host a nightly show on the Fox Business Network.

MSNBC declined to comment on CNN's ad. A Fox News spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

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