Monday, August 17, 2020

Defining "mainstream media."

I shared a meme on Facebook earlier today. It's a photo of a bearded guy wearing a flannel shirt and a trucker hat, and obviously yelling. The text says, "Why the hell won't the media cover the story I saw on the news?" 

To introduce the meme, I wrote the following:

"Mainstream media won't cover it!"

Really? Where'd you hear about it?

"Fox News!"

My point, which I made in a follow-up comment, is that Fox News is a mainstream media outlet.

No, the altitude hasn't gotten to me. Hear me out.

What is the definition of mainstream? Merriam-Webster says it's "a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence." Further,  Merriam-Webster defines the phrase the mainstream as "the thoughts, beliefs, and choices that are accepted by the largest number of people."

That last definition implies that popularity is one metric of how mainstream something is. Indeed, we could all come up with examples of things that were once considered on the fringe and are now accepted as mainstream. I'm old enough to remember when bikinis were first introduced, and the brouhaha over how indecent they were. The original "scanty" bikini would be a tame two-piece swimsuit today. But my point is that once no decent girl would be seen in a bikini, and today the same style would be considered kinda prudish. In short, bikinis have gone mainstream.

And in that sense, Fox News is definitely mainstream. Look at cable news viewership for the second quarter of this year, as reported by Nielsen Media Research: Fox News had just under two million average viewers per day, nearly double that of its closest rival, MSNBC, at just over 1.2 million. CNN was third with just under 1.2 million. 

The most popular "news" show during that time period? Tucker Carlson Tonight on, you guessed it, Fox News.

I've put "news" in quotes for a reason. For all that Carlson plays a newsman on TV, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and he -- and yes, even Rachel Maddow on the left -- are entertainers. None of them does straight news. To be fair, the guys on the right make up a lot more of their content than Maddow does, but even Maddow employs partisan spin. 

To be clear, I'm leaving things like truthfulness and "truthiness" out of this discussion. I'm strictly looking at viewership numbers. And on that basis, this most recent showing for Fox News is no flash in the pan. In January, it notched 18 straight years as the most-watched cable news channel.

You could make the argument that MSNBC and CNN are both chasing liberal viewers, and if you put their numbers together, they top Fox News. But I'm not sure that's accurate. While viewers probably have a preference for either CNN or MSNBC, I'd bet people switch back and forth depending on whose show they want to watch.

Anyway, the point is that Fox News is number one, and has been number one for the better part of two decades. That seems pretty mainstream to me.

So if your argument is that Fox News shows stories the mainstream media won't touch? I hate to break it to you, but you literally got the story from the mainstream media.

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The new home report: I've opened all the boxes and unpacked everything that's going to be unpacked. It's even all put away, mostly. I have one tote without a permanent home and a short stack of papers to go through, and I still need to hang pictures. But the worst of it is done.

And now that I'm out of self-quarantine (whoo hoo!), I plan to get around town more. Expect photos. Maybe as soon as next week.

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These moments of argumentative blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up! Social distance! Wash your hands! 

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