The Big Three

I love news. Every day I read stories from a wide variety of sources—left and right, mainstream and fringe. I want to really understand what is going on in the world, and especially what is going on in United States politics. I mainly stick to online media outlets, some of which are online-only and some of which are the online arms of print newspapers or television and radio outlets. While I make a real effort to read a good cross-section of left- and right-wing outlets, my main go-to sources are those that are fairly even-handed. The even-handed outlets have their biases too, but I like them because they at least put some effort into seeing all sides and reporting objectively and accurately.

Unfortunately though, in the age of President Donald Trump (R) and a predominantly Trump-hostile press, it is difficult to find many of these even-handed outlets anymore.

Some online U.S. news sources like CNN and the Washington Post used to be among my favorites. They had a fair track record on hard news reporting (even though their opinion sections tilted pretty far left) . . . but both of them, among many others, have since abandoned any semblance of objectivity. I have therefore dropped them from my main rotation. At this point, my top sources for U.S. news are the three general-purpose national newswires: Associated Press (AP), Reuters, and United Press International (UPI). AP and Reuters lean a little to the left, and UPI leans a little to the right (sometimes), but all three want to avoid angering the variety of left- and right-leaning outlets that subscribe to them, so they try to keep it pretty fair.

Other U.S. sources that I rely on now are USA Today, Politico, the Wall Street Journal, and WTOP Radio, each of which does a fairly good job of reporting political and other news objectively (though, again, they often have fairly strong biases in their opinion sections). And of course I rely on a variety of foreign sources in addition to all of these U.S. sources for international news, but I generally ignore what foreign outlets have to say about our domestic political issues because, frankly, they usually don’t understand them and rarely report them well.

But what about the twenty-four hour television news networks?

I don’t spend a lot of time watching television news. I mainly turn them on when there is some major breaking news story occurring, and only occasionally otherwise. The ‘big three’ networks in the U.S. are CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC.

The general consensus for a long time has been that CNN has a moderate-to-strong left-wing bias, Fox News Channel has a strong right-wing bias, and MSNBC has a strong left-wing bias. I have generally agreed with the consensus. And because I try to get as close to even-handed as I can, I generally turned to CNN when I wanted to watch one of these networks. Yes, it had a left-wing bias . . . but it was closer to the middle than either Fox or MSNBC. I would switch to Fox for a few minutes now-and-then during these TV-watching sessions to counteract CNN’s left-wing bias with a small shot from a solidly right-wing counterweight.

But like so many other left- and left-leaning outlets, CNN has changed since the political ascent of Donald Trump. It used to be that some left-wing bias would creep into their attempts at being objective. But now even the effort to appear objective seems to have gone by the wayside. Nearly every story that has anything even vaguely political about it becomes a diatribe against Trump and the Republican Party . . . and it is often a diatribe that leaves out important context or, occasionally, just misrepresents the facts altogether (i.e., they lie). CNN’s Senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has taken to acting like a smug polemicist at White House press briefings, and regularly has to be scolded by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) for violating basic decorum. She has much more patience than I do; I would have revoked Acosta’s White House press credentials several times over by now for his childish antics.

And just today, as I am finishing this article, CNN had its reporters literally lurking around in the bushes trying to get spy photos of Trump playing golf. When a box truck was placed in their way, CNN began whining about the box truck and complaining that it was somehow symbolic of the president’s disdain for the press. I wish I was making this up . . . but no, this is what CNN has become: paparazzi hiding in the bushes of Mar-a-Lago.

I expect this kind of nonsense from MSNBC, which long ago stopped even pretending to be a hard news channel. But CNN ought to know better. They used to be journalists. They used to tell the truth, and then maybe spin it with a bit of commentary; now the truth is only part of the story if it suits the partisan narrative. They used to be serious newsmen, and now they act like the supermarket tabloids. Five years ago, CNN’s Candy Crowley made an embarrassingly partisan performance as a presidential debate moderator. I thought that was an aberration. But now the entire network seems to have gone off the deep end. Those few journalists who remain—Jake Tapper, for example—should abandon the sinking ship before it further sullies their reputations.

So, reluctantly, I’ve begun turning to Fox News Channel when I want to watch one of the twenty-four hour news networks. Oh, it’s biased way-off to the right, and I’m not at all interested in the prime-time opinion shows . . . but in the middle of the day, when the smarter news coverage is happening, they now do a better job of covering the basic facts of a story than CNN. I still have to wade through too much right-wing commentary and bias in the mix, that’s for sure, but they aren’t flat-out lying to me or selectively leaving out important parts of a story for partisan reasons. Their bias in news reporting is, mainly, a bias of emphasis . . . the same kind of bias that CNN used to have, just in the opposite direction. I can handle a bias of emphasis, because the raw, accurate information is still there for me to absorb and consider. Lying and selective omission, however, are something much worse than mere bias.

Do not misunderstand me . . . this is not a ringing endorsement of Fox News Channel. It’s still a starkly partisan outlet, and you still need to drill through far too much editorializing to get to the news. And God help you if you want to know what’s going on in the world during prime time, when they broadcast a sad lot of “let’s just yell a lot” opinion shows. In truth, we don’t have a twenty-four hour television news network that is consistently engaging in actual journalism any more. Maybe we never did. But that’s a darn shame. I would like to believe that there’s a market—even if it’s a relatively small one—for hard, accurate television news, but how would we know if such a channel can succeed if nobody is willing to offer it?

There have been efforts to introduce new twenty-four hour news networks in the U.S. market, but each so far has been fatally flawed and unsuccessful. One America and Newsmax are trying to out-fox Fox with an even more partisan right-wing take on the news. Now-defunct Al-Jazeera America suffered from the fact that most Americans don’t want to get their news from an Islamist propaganda network owned by the government of Qatar. RT America suffers from the fact that most Americans don’t want to get their news from a Russian propaganda network owned in part by the Russian government either.

And HLN—the sister station to CNN that used to be called “CNN Headline News”—was intended to provide a simple, direct, accurate overview of the current headlines. It was almost exactly what I’m describing. But then they decided to abandon the original mission and experiment with a long string of unsuccessful new formats. Now it mainly shows reruns of various “true crime” shows. It really isn’t even a news network at all anymore.

Then again, neither are the rest of ‘em.