Media watchers are having a blast today sampling the disparity among cable networks in the coverage of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s scandal over Fort Lee’s access to the George Washington Bridge. A quick study by Media Matters for America showed a towering differential, with Fox News virtually ignoring the scandal dogging a revered Republican with national potential and MSNBC and CNN giving it prominent play, as follows:
The Huffington Post yesterday noted Fox News’s approach and drew a blog post from the fabulous GretaWire, the blog of Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who anchors “On the Record” at 7 p.m. on weekdays. Taking stern issue with the Huffington Post’s judgment that Fox News had “downplayed” the Christie story, Van Susteren vented:
Note…deep in the Huff Post article the writer concedes, as he must that we did cover the topic ON THE RECORD at 7pm but it must have killed him! It killed the writer so badly that he tried to minimize it by writing that I did not ‘lead off” ON THE RECORD at 7pm with Governor Christie story. Shame on me! I thought, in my editorial judgment, that matters involving the President of the United States and the Former Secretary of Defense Gates trumped a story involving a Governor of New Jersey. That is what I led with. Maybe next time I should call this guy for editorial guidance? Apparently he knows….and he doesn’t have an agenda, right?
Bolded text added to highlight poor reasoning: In most cases, yes, something relating to the president of the United States would certainly trump something relating to the New Jersey governor. In this case, however, the New Jersey governor’s troubles are newsworthy precisely because he has widely acknowledged potential to become the president of the United States. Plus: It’s a multi-day traffic jam! So much for Van Susteren’s argument, in other words.
And Fox News’s coverage today drew some commentary on Twitter:
Split-screen politics: MSNBC and CNN on Christie; Fox News talking about Gates book.
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) January 9, 2014
@ktumulty Um, Karen. Fox News had just carried a full hour of Christie. Surely not unreasonable to move on to something else.
— Brit Hume (@brithume) January 9, 2014
Totally reasonable indeed.
What’s playing out here is a growing American pastime that’ll survive as long as partisan cable news does: That is, marveling at cable-news’s yawning ideological coverage discrepancies. Fox News overplays Republican successes and Democratic failures and underplays Republican failures and Democratic successes, and vice versa, more or less, for MSNBC, though it produced some very critical moments last fall on the Obamacare rollout crisis.
What keeps a network like Fox News from going even more partisan is the thing that matters most to its business: Ratings. Once a story like Christie’s becomes so central to the news stream, it can’t afford to bury it. People will just tune in to its competitors; everyone, after all, enjoys watching a prominent politician apologize.