The non-existent line between daytime and primetime

THE NON-EXISTENT LINE BETWEEN DAYTIME AND PRIMETIME…. For various media figures derisive of the White House’s criticism of Fox News, there seems to be some confusion over the nature of the problem.

For much of the media establishment, Fox News and MSNBC are somehow bookends, one on the right; one on the left. The prior has Beck, O’Reilly, and Hannity; the latter has Schultz, Olbermann, and Maddow. Both are cable news networks with primetime commentators who bring a certain perspective to their political analysis. So, the establishment asks, what’s the big deal?

It’s probably obvious to anyone who’s actually watched these networks, but given the lingering confusion, let’s pause briefly to explain why the conventional wisdom is absurd.

There are plenty of angles to this, far more than can be explored in a single blog post. It’s tempting to note, for example, that if MSNBC had a relationship with the Democratic Party the way Fox News does with the Republican Party, MSNBC wouldn’t give Joe Scarborough three hours a day and have Pat Buchanan on daily as a paid on-air analyst.

For that matter, it’s also tempting to note that comparing the primetime lineups as relative equals is almost comical — Rachel Maddow brings more depth of thought and intellectual seriousness to her work than everyone on Fox News combined. To look at the lineups and say, “Well, Hannity’s on the right and Maddow’s on the left,” draws an equivalency where none exists.

But let’s put all of that aside and focus on a point too many observers don’t appreciate: the line between Fox News’ personality-driven primetime hosts and Fox News’ “reporting” doesn’t exist. This isn’t a network that does legitimate journalism during the day, and then let’s GOP clowns run wild at night — this is a network that acts as the arm of a political party and a cog in a larger partisan machine all day.

According to the network, Fox News’ reporting is “objective” during its “news hours” — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays (eastern). Senior vice president for news Michael Clemente recently said, “The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page.”

And that would be persuasive, if such a difference existed on the Republican network. But as this video helps demonstrate, Clemente is drawing a distinction where none exists. To describe Fox News’ “news hours” as “objective” is demonstrably ridiculous.

Josh Marshall, who keeps the cable networks running throughout the day at the TPM offices, noted last night, “[A]s a product [Fox News’] straight news is almost more the stuff of parody than the talk shows which are at least more or less straightforward about what they are…. MSNBC has now made a big push to refashion itself as a liberal or perhaps just non-hard-right-wing alternative to Fox. But the distinction between the two operations becomes clear whenever you watch ‘news’ on MSNBC as opposed to Maddow, Olbermann or Ed.”

Josh added, “If you actually watch Fox News with any regularity it’s hard to see any point to discussing the fact that the station operates more or less openly as a wing of the GOP.” And yet, now that the White House has shown the audacity to note this plain fact, the pushback from other media figures is pretty intense.

For Ruth Marcus and others, the problem isn’t that Fox News is making a mockery of modern journalism; the problem is that the White House has acknowledged reality. The establishment, I’m afraid, is complaining about the wrong party here.