Fox News & MSNBC: Mirror Images

Violet Martin

Compared to just a few decades ago, the amount of available news has expanded exponentially. While previous generations relied chiefly upon ABC, CBS or NBC for their news, people now have a plethora of sources from which to choose for information on current events. Even though this increase in information bodes well for the likelihood of people being more informed regarding domestic and foreign affairs, it has led to intense competition between some of the top news sources due to the decreasing availability of market shares [1]. This competition has led to the birth of opinion-based talk shows on cable news channels such as Fox News and MSNBC that many critics cite as lacking the objectivity that used to be more commonplace in the journalism community.


Depending on which political ideology a person identifies with, many people will view either MSNBC or Fox News as more liberally or conservatively biased. In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, it was found that 36% of Republicans were more likely to watch Fox News for campaign information as compared to 11% of Democrats. On the other hand, 17% of Democrats were more likely to tune into MSNBC as compared to 5% of Republicans. Furthermore, Republicans who agree with the Tea Party were especially likely to rely on Fox News as a main television source of campaign news: 53% of these individuals receive most of their news about the election from Fox News as compared to 26% of other Republicans [2]. Due to the obvious political bents of MSNBC and Fox News, critics are quick to highlight the stark differences between these two news networks; however, upon closer examination, it appears Fox News and MSNBC are actually mere mirror images of one another with one heralding the causes of the right and the other the causes of the left, respectively.


In another study comparing Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, researchers found that while all three news networks extended invitations to a similar number of left and right-wing guests on their interview shows, both the hosts on Fox News and MSNBC were more likely to inject their own opinions and interrupt guests more frequently than CNN hosts [3]. If a person can suspend their political leaning for a few minutes, it is easy to acknowledge the humorous elements of shows such as Fox’s ‘O’Reilly Factor’ with Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ with Chris Matthews; however, the question of ‘where’s the objectivity?’ still remains. Even though both Fox and MSNBC invite commentators from all sides of the aisle, the talk shows often prove combative with the unspoken agreement that whoever can shout their opinion the loudest wins the debate. Both Fox News and MSNBC have moved more towards opinion-based talk shows as the main highlight of their programming because these shows tend to generate higher ratings, which equates to more revenue for the networks [4]. This increase in revenue, however, comes at a high cost to the viewers; since these types of shows provide nothing but an echo-chamber for the viewers’ previously held beliefs rather than objective information, the shows potentially weaken the viewers’ decision making process by failing to provide information that allows viewers to reach their own independent decisions.


With election day just a couple of weeks away, another study conducted by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism stated, “In cable television, Fox’s and MSNBC’s coverage of the candidate’s character themes are mirror images of each other.” The study suggests that Fox News offers a more favorable view of Romney while its discussion of Obama’s record is negative by a measure of six to one. MSNBC displays almost identical results, but in the opposite direction [5]. These studies are not the only indications that Fox and MSNBC are more alike than the two would care to acknowledge; an examination of both networks’ slogans is quite revealing. Fox News’ slogan is ‘Fair and Balanced;’ however, a quick scan of the homepage reveals otherwise [6]. MSNBC’s is ‘Lean Forward’ which bears an uncanny resemblance to Obama’s campaign slogan ‘Forward’ [7]. While neither network would like to acknowledge the fact, it is clear through their own slogans and homepages that neither is a genuine source of objectivity. Instead, both are greatly skewed towards one side of the political spectrum.


Even though critics are quick to contend that Fox News and MSNBC are vastly different within their genre of cable news talk shows, it might be more accurate to assess them based on their similarities and the strong likelihood that both are but house organs of their all too obvious respective parties, especially now that the general election is underway.