Not Much News On Cable News

A new study by the Pew Research Center shows the extent to which news coverage on the three major cable news networks has been replaced more and more with opinion based programming:

The snapshot analysis of more than 100 hours of programming in late 2012 found that liberal-dominated MSNBC led the way in evening commentary (86% of its airtime) compared with only 14% devoted to reporting. The Fox News Channel, with its conservative lineup, had the highest proportion of reporting (44%) although there was still more opinion (56%) on its evening programming.

In contrast with its two main rivals, CNN has traditionally branded itself around coverage of breaking news events and a more balanced menu of political commentary. And over the course of the entire day, the Pew Research study showed, it was the only one of the three cable channels to offer more reporting (54%) than opinion (46%). But in the evening, CNN leaned more heavily on opinion—66% as opposed to 34% reporting—than Fox News. The resurrection of Crossfire, which will replace a half-hour of Wolf Blitzer’s “Situation Room,” will likely increase the commentary quotient.

Here are the numbers in chart form:

Pew Cable


I suppose it’s inevitable that opinion would play such a prominent role on these 24 hour networks. There’s only so much news out there and reporting it is far less interesting to the self-important talking heads than sitting around a studio arguing and speculating. I’m just not sure that’s good for the political culture as a whole.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ernieyeball says:

    My TV doesn’t get any channels.
    The last time I paid attention to TV News it was still an honorable profession.
    Like this:

  2. gVOR08 says:

    I broke my arm back in ’09. Spent a few week days at home. Watched some FOX news out of curiosity. Seemed to be entirely concerned with Obama appointing “Czars”. As best I could figure out W had pretty much the same org chart and same “Czars”, but FOX never mentioned that. I think all of this would have been scored as “news” by Pew. Seems to me that not all “news” is created equal.

    At one point I took the prescribed two Oxycodone. Haven’t felt like that since the sixties. There was about twenty minutes there that Rush Limbaugh started to make sense. Scared me back to the big Ibuprofens.

  3. Pinky says:

    I think most people go to their cell phones for news, and probably Twitter for opinion. I’m not sure what purpose the cable news channels serve.

  4. Did the prison documentaries MSNBC runs all weekend count as news or opinion?

  5. bill says:

    oh, it must be a conservative study……LOL. not that i watch much of any of them but really, to hear these people drone on and on about fox i think they don’t watch anything else. the people who scream at the tv all the while why they watch it, yes – you know who you are,

  6. bill says:

    @Stormy Dragon: i thought they were infomercials?

  7. Todd says:

    I agree that cable TV “news” just isn’t worth watching, but trying to classify programing as “news” vs “opinion” is pretty subjective.

    I will admit that looking at the schedule, at least one hour on Fox in the evenings (Shep Smith) I’d be able to watch without wanting to throw stuff at my tv. MSNBC at least doesn’t even try to pretend they’re doing news … which is probably more honest. Ironically, as often as I’ve been accused of being a “liberal”, I probably watch Fox more often (ok, often is probably not the right word) than anything on MSNBC (except for a bit of Morning Joe, while I’m getting dressed for work).

    Of the 3 channels, I think CNN might actually be the worst .. with their tightrope, trying to prove how actually “fair and balanced” they are. Also, I don’t think there’s a bigger tool on television than Wolf Blitzer.

  8. JWH says:

    I actually found (gasp!) reporting when I tuned in al-Jazeera America.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Pinky: Entertainment, but we’ll never admit it. So you can drink beer and eat pretzels while convincing yourself you are “getting informed”.

    One of the reasons I get the Financial Times. Actually contains news.

  10. Ernieyeball says:

    I am at Mickey D’s soaking up the air conditioning and taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi.
    One of the TV’s actually has the sound on and is tuned to ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. Can’t remember the last time I tuned in a network news broadcast.
    The big story tonight is that more Asian American women are getting cosmetic eyelid surgery than ever before!
    Jesus I am so glad I know this now!

  11. Tyrell says:

    Most of the news networks have ditched any professionalism in a shameless, mad dash for ratings. I still watch PBS news, local news, cable access, and listen to local news on AM radio.
    Around here AM radio is a mix of religion, sports, and talk shows. On Saturdays it is a mix of call in shows concerning landscaping, appliances, home improvement, for sales, and investment advice. I also get news from a two way radio and short wave radio. CB radio – used to get lots of talk at night, now down to just one or two stations lit up. Even truckers aren’t on much. Too bad, it is a nice radio. Days of Conkrite and Brinkley are gone. The network news stations of CNN, MSNBC, and HLN are in decline. I look for MSNBC to go sports. They could give ESPN a good run.

  12. maggie says:

    I quit watching most cable “news” shows for exactly that reason and do not watch news on major channels either, aside from the opinion dominance instead of true investigative and analytical news, there is just too much HYPE! Dear lord, you can’t even get the weather report without teaser lead-ins about “What is the weather doing tonight? 15 minutes later you learn,, that the weather is doing exactly what you might expect at that time of year!
    But,truthfully, internet news is just about as bad. … We don’t have to listen to 25 opinions, but, the 50 or so headlines from different news sources, are usually just that, headlines! When you get to the REAL meat of the article, you find it is mostly cut and paste with one agency doing the lead and the rest just adding a different headline.
    You can talk about the liberal media and the slash and burn media, what we really have is the LAZY media………… what happened to really investigative journalists who dug for the facts of a story, not a sensation seeking fluff piece that looks like something out of the National Inquirer!!????

  13. Tyrell says:

    Yes, and the other thing that gets me is this “Breaking News” line that they put on everything.