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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Conservatives Deem News Media Broken

September 8, 2009

Revelations pointing to a broken mainstream media never seem to cease as the industry struggles to survive a technological market where customers now have hundreds of news choices.

Compounding the problem for the mainstream media is its insistence on ignoring one of the more popular public points of view: Conservative thought.

It seems that the media has voluntarily given up trying to reach millions of potential conservative viewers by refusing to present their point of view on a regular basis. Obviously, this is not the way network executives see it - they usually blame their declining ratings and subscriptions on the ever-changing habits of a news-hungry society.

The fact is conservatives and centrists - who make up the majority of potential customers for the national media - simply will not watch liberal networks or read "leftist" publications when they consistently do not present the majority’s point of view.

Thus, the lone centrist network - Fox News Network (FNN) - has an open field to capture these viewers, and it has done just that. Fox has more viewers than the other cable networks combined and often has more viewers than the broadcast networks in selected time slots.

This inability to reach out to conservatives is the reason CBS News Anchor Katie Couric cannot improve her low-rated show - a vast number of centrist viewers simply will not watch her. To grow her ratings, she must draw viewers away from the other networks - and that’s not likely to happen .

It's worth noting that Ms. Couric did well in the network ratings when she interviewed conservative Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008 - primarily because centrist viewers tuned in to see Governor Palin.

Advanced technology and lifestyle changes do not account for the fact that the public is turning away from networks and daily newspapers for their news. The fact is these viewers see mainstream reporters, editors, and anchors as elitists who do not represent their point of view when covering a story.

This sentiment dates back to the 1980s when a little-known Washington Post reporter named Janet Cooke fabricated her background and a Post news story, titled, "Jimmy’s World."

The episode disgraced Washington Post executives, including then Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, who obstinately defended Ms. Cooke and the story to the point of submitting the piece for a Pulitzer Prize - which it amazingly won!

Only later did The Post admit that Ms. Cooke made up the entire story. The newspaper was embarrassed and ridiculed by the event - and the people’s trust in the media has never been the same.

Fast forward to 2005 when CBS News 60 Minutes reported what everyone now knows to be a fraudulent story - that a young George W. Bush used the Texas Air National Guard to avoid military service in Vietnam during the 1960s.

The truth later came out that George Bush actually volunteered to go to Vietnam and CBS reporters and producers were aware of this fact at the time - yet kept it secret because it did not square with what the network wanted to report: namely, that Bush tried to manipulate the military system to his advantage.

This episode at CBS resulted in the firing and dismissal of numerous reporters and producers and hastened the early "retirement" of news anchor Dan Rather - who remains disgraced by the fraudulent report.

There is little wonder that the conservative viewing public is leaving the mainstream media in droves in search of alternative news sources - including Fox News, one network that regularly reports its point of view.

The other networks may yet awaken to the fact that these conservative viewers are crucial to the future growth plan of their business. To gain the confidence of these viewers, the mainstream networks must put their politics aside.

The question is - will that happen too late.