Man Without Qualities

Friday, September 03, 2004

Is That Correct?

At a meeting with editors of the Wall Street Journal yesterday Bush campaign chief Ken Mehlman said:

"Competition is a great thing for schools and it's a great thing for the media. CNN is more honest because of Fox."

Mr. Mehlman is spot-on with his first sentence, but I believe he is dead wrong on the second. It is true that Fox News is one of the newer elements to news delivery that allows interested news consumers to check up on CNN and other liberal news outlets. In that sense, competition has been a great thing for the media and for news consumers.

But that's not the same as saying that CNN (or the New York Times, or any other particular news outlet) is now more honest than it was, because of Fox or any other reason. In fact, the American news market seems to be heading the way of the British news market - with outfits such as CNN and the Times bearing an increasing resemblance to loony left shops such as the Guardian. The more the CNN's and New York Times of the American market have been countered by the likes of Fox News, the shriller and more tendentious the CNN's and New York Times become.

It's true that competition is great for the market - but that doesn't mean increased competition necessarilly pulls any particular competitor towards producing a generic or average product. In fact, the better markets often - but not always - produce greater choice and diversity of product. For example, Old Ma Bell concentrated on "Plain Old Telephone Service" - but that's not where the market has gone since the breakup of her monopoly. Fragmentation seems to be what is happening to the American news market as the outlets grope for niches and special audiences. It's not an accident that CNN did much better in the ratings with the Democratic Convention - while Fox polled much better than CNN for Republican Convention coverage.

Yes, competition is a great thing for schools and it's a great thing for the media. But CNN is shriller and more tendentious and less honest because of Fox. That seems to reflect what CNN thinks CNN's particular audience wants to hear. Why not? Anyone who doesn't like it can always flip to Fox.

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