A Question for Discussion (MSM Edition)

Some comments in a recent post sparks a question:  do you consider Fox News Channel to be part of the “mainstream media”?  Why or why not?


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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. john personna says:

    Sure, Fox is MSM, because anyone with a default slot in the cable lline-up is, by definition.

  2. John Peabody says:

    My definition of mainstream includes the largest swath of end-users. So, given the ratings of Fox News, they are mainstream. It’s probably a marketing decision to pretend that they are separate (i.e., the scrappy outsider), but it just ain’t so.

  3. legion says:

    Technically, yes. But since CNN, et al, have been bending over backwards in recent years to be more “moderate” (i.e., spewing more GOP talking points and claiming “everybody does it”), Fox has felt pressed to become ever more extreme just to distinguish itself from the other networks. They’re basically in the process of becoming, in self-admitted fact, what we’ve always laughingly accused them of being – a simple propaganda operation. Ailes has all but admitted this policy, and soon not even the other news agencies will be able to pretend otherwise…

  4. Jay Tea says:

    I consider Fox News to be a part of the mainstream media. They are, obviously, THE powerhouse in cable news. But in the larger world of mainstream media — cable. broadcast, radio, newspaper, magazines, online, and whatnot — they are definitely a minority.


  5. Vast Variety says:

    I have a heard time equating a channel that lies about it self by calling itself “fair and balanced” as being part of the mainstream media. I’d put them in the same category as MSNBC and call them opinion entertainment.

    To me Mainstream media is more attune with NBC Nightly News or CBS News.

  6. Vast Variety says:

    Another way to put it is that Fox News and MSNBC are for people who are too lazy to check facts and form their own opinions.

  7. Herb says:

    Absolutely they are part of the mainstream, and as John Peabody points out, from a pure ratings perspective they may be more “mainstream” than MSNBC or CNN.

    But then again, I think it’s pretty obvious that “mainstream” in this context doesn’t mean what “mainstream” means in other contexts. It’s code for “liberal media.” Even though Fox may have the biggest audience, they don’t have that liberal bias stuff….so folks generously exempt them from all complaints about the MSM.

    FWIW, I expect the term “MSM” to continue to lose it’s meaning. It seems to have gained traction by bloggers who thought they were presenting some kind of alternative to traditional news media. It was marketing. “The MSM isn’t reporting the truth. Read my blog instead!”

    Turns out blogging is more like an addendum to MSM reporting rather than an actual alternative. When you’ve got bloggers as talking heads on CNN, cranking on about the “MSM” just shows you’re lagging about five years behind the rest of us.

  8. Hey Norm says:

    Fox News is not a news channel…they are a propoganda outlet.
    Even Ailes has recently noted they need to cut the crap.
    I consider them the same as the Daily Show…only not funny.
    Not intentionally anyway.

  9. Jay Tea says:

    @Herb: I think you’re on to something there, with the redefining of “mainstream.” Kind of like how “minority” is still used to mean “non-white” or “female,” when whites are now only a plurality in America and women outnumber men.

    In fact, the more I think about it, it’s almost — not quite, but almost — reminiscent of the arguments of how it’s unfair to call people “Anti-Semitic” when they’re pro-Palestinian, and the Palestinians — like all Arabs — are, technically, of Semitic descent.


  10. Herb says:

    when whites are now only a plurality in America and women outnumber men.

    Well, not sure how your neighborhood looks on this score, but according to last year’s census, white people make up 72.4% of the country’s population. Granted, that includes people of Hispanic or Latino heritage but without them, white people are still 63.7% of the population.

    That’s not a plurality. That’s a solid majority.

    Here’s another example of a term being redefined over time: RINO.

  11. Fiona says:

    To the extent that they are purveyors of the same kind of “infotainment” that can be found on the other cable news channels and network news programs, Faux News is part of the mainstream media.

    To the extent that they function as the publicity arm of the Republican Party, Faux News is a propaganda outlet, whose function is neither to inform or entertain but to misrepresent (or outright create) facts to favor the right wing world view.

  12. Jay Tea says:

    @Herb: OK, I was sure I read somewhere that whites fell below 50% of the population recently. Lemme go digging to a couple of oughta-be reliable sources (2010 census figures, CIA world factbook)…

    Dang, I dunno where that came from, but you’re right. I’m coming up with two different answers, pegging the white (non-Hispanic) population at either 56% or 64%, give or take, but either way it’s definitely a solid majority.

    Steadily declining, though… for those who care.

    Thanks, Herb. I actually went and double-checked the male-female ratio, and at least I had that one right.


  13. Ben Wolf says:

    Mainstream Media is effectively those mediums owned by corporate America and subservient to the will of the Federal government. After all, they are dependent on government officials for both “access” and for the broadcast frequencies through which they peddle their propaganda. These entities are the most blatant example of the fusion of government and corporate power to which Mussolini spoke.

    And yes, Fox News does its share of water carrying for the same government it attacks on a daily basis. That’s its assigned task, to keep us all distracted with the faux left-right divide.

  14. samwide says:

    @Jay Tea:

    They are, obviously, THE powerhouse in cable news.

    Ah cable news. with a combined viewership smaller that the readership of Mad Magazine (and less well-informed, no doubt).

  15. Jay Tea says:

    @samwide: Um… MAD is in serious trouble of late. It’s now bimonthy (after going quarterly for a while) and each issue sells less than 200K.

    On the other hand, my favorite Fox News show, Red Eye, gets about 365K viewers — at 3:00 a.m.

    That’s less than 200K every other month, vs. 365K every day.


  16. samwide says:

    Ah well, I got the figures from Fox…

  17. mantis says:

    But in the larger world of mainstream media — cable. broadcast, radio, newspaper, magazines, online, and whatnot — they are definitely a minority.

    Ok, but any individual outlet is in the minority “in the larger world” of every medium available. The New York Times is a minority in that world.

    I would suggest that we no longer have a “mainstream” as far as the news media goes. The closest thing we have would be the three major broadcast networks, with a combined viewership of about 22.5 million (source). This is less than half the number of nightly viewers those networks had in the early 1980s. In 1980 more than 50 million people watched those shows (source) each night, and our population was somewhere around 225 million. That’s 22% of the population watching network news. Now it is at about 7.3% of the population.

    Cable and the Web have fragmented audiences to such a degree that I don’t think any one outlet or medium can be called “mainstream,” but the more fluid nature of news, with aggregation and cross-marketing and other factors allowing a lot of perspectives to bleed through into others, complicates things. Cable news viewership is relatively tiny, but has a great deal of influence because the Village lives by it.

    Is Fox mainstream? There is no mainstream. There’s just a lot of little streams, and they are getting smaller and more numerous.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    Fox is the propaganda arm of the GOP. As Pravda was to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, so Fox is to the GOP.

    The Democrats now have their own lesser version: MSNBC, created in response to Fox. MSNBC clung to a shred of respectability up to the point where they hired Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton. At that point they were dead to me.

  19. mantis says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You really watch cable news? That would surprise me. I honestly can’t believe any intelligent people can stand to watch that crap at all. I only tune in to any of those channels once every two years, for election returns, and last year I largely just watched them roll in on the web. Watching cable news makes you dumber, not more informed.

  20. Ernieyeball says:

    @Jay Tea: “…but either way it’s definitely a solid majority.

    Steadily declining, though… for those who care.”

    I don’t.

    How about Univision and Telemundo? Are they automatically excluded from consideration as MSM?

  21. Herb says:

    “Thanks, Herb.”

    No problem, bud. The decline of the white American is not yet complete. For what it’s worth, the neighborhood I live in is only 30% white so I know what it feels like to be the only white dude on the block.

    “The Democrats now have their own lesser version: MSNBC”

    Man, you said it. That’s why I watch CNN. They’re just biased towards sucking.

    “How about Univision and Telemundo?”

    Good point, man! I read recently that one of those stations’ ratings eclipsed the Big 3’s one night. (Multiple nights?) That’s big.

    Sometimes I get the sense that English-only speakers are missing out on a whole piece of American culture and we don’t even know it.