CORRECTED, UPDATED — Cable News Irony Alert: CNN, Fox and The Disappearing General Audience

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CORRECTION: Ahh, the pitfalls of technology. In the post below, I wrote about an ad that kept running Sunday morning on CNN, which I watched in the background as I scribbled away at my office. Several times, I heard an ad for Anderson Cooper’s show that included a woman’s voice talking about being a “lifelong Democrat” and watching Cooper because he called out the “right wing.” But that’s not the whole story. I was told Monday by CNN that I only heard half the ad, which was dubbed in stereo. (Apparently my television is mono.) The other half of the ad had a male voice saying he was a Republican who turns to Anderson Cooper because he holds accountable “left wing politicians.” The two voices are recorded to be talking over each other, reaffirming CNN’s place in the center of the cable news spectrum. This makes my subsequent analysis largely wrong. Cooper was not signaling a shift to cater to a left-wing audience. He was signaling that he wanted both a left-wing and a right-wing audiences at the same time. The CNN dream of post-partisanship, in other words, is still alive. This still speaks to the degree to which cable news viewers are polarized–potential viewers are either left wing or right wing–but not in the way I initially described. After the jump, I have posted the transcript of the two versions of the ad, which CNN sent me. My apologies for the mistake.

The original blog post with transcript after the jump.

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn appeared Sunday morning on Howard Kurtz’s CNN show Reliable Sources to discuss her comments in my TIME magazine story this week. She continued her criticism of Fox News:

But let’s be realistic here, Howie.  You know, they are widely viewed as, you know, part of the Republican Party.  Take their talking points, put them on the air.  Take their opposition research, put them on the air and that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.

The ironic part came later, during the commercial break. All morning, CNN has been intermittently running a promo for Anderson Cooper 360, a show that has long billed itself as a classic straight news program with an investigative front man who digs “beyond the headlines” with “many points of view, so you can make up your own mind.” The new promo, by contrast, consists of a woman’s voice, pitching Cooper’s show as, essentially, a liberal alternative to Fox News: “I’m a lifelong Democrat,” she says, “and that’s why I watch Anderson Cooper.” Hmmm. The voice goes on to say that Cooper is the person she can turn to hold “right wing” conservatives accountable. Cooper is not exactly aiming for the political middle ground here.

But then who is? MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz are committed liberals, increasingly focused on the dual project of holding President Obama to a liberal line and attacking his detractors. Fox News, on the other hand, is, well, Fox News. Dunn, on Kurtz’s show, made a point of criticizing Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace for “fact checking” an Obama administration official but not its other Republican guests. So it goes.

If anything, the Anderson Cooper promo is just the latest evidence of what Fox News president Roger Ailes seems to have known long ago: Cable news viewers seem to want an ideological slant to their information. The cable audience has fractured beyond general news programming.

The ratings tell the story: In September, according to Nielson, the top thirteen cable news shows were on Fox, led by the network’s conservative pundits: The O’Reilly Factor (2.6 million households), Sean Hannity (2.1 million), Glenn Beck (2.2 million), and the less political Greta Van Susteren (1.8 million). The top non-Fox shows are CNN’s Larry King (921,000), Countdown with Keith Olbermann (881,000) and Rachel Maddow (827,000). Only then, in the 17th spot, does Anderson Cooper make a showing, with 746,000 households in the 10 p.m. hour.

UPDATE: As promised, here is the ad script that CNN released to me Monday:

AC360 Left Right Promo
Length: :30

2 Simultaneous Monologues, in sync, on 2 separate stereo channels

WOMAN:           I’m a lifelong Democrat.
MAN:                 I’m a lifelong Republican.

WOMAN:           The issue that matters most to me is the economy.
MAN:                 The issue that matters most to me is national security.

WOMAN:          Unfortunately, a lot of the politicians running the government are extremely difficult to trust sometimes.
MAN:                Unfortunately, many of the politicians running the government are almost impossible to trust sometimes.

WOMAN:          That’s why I watch Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN.
MAN:                That’s why I watch Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN.

ANNCR:            Every Weeknight at 10, AC360 brings you the news from different perspectives.

WOMAN:           I really like “Keeping Them Honest” –
because whenever one of those Right Wing politicians
plays with the facts… they’re held accountable.

MAN:                 I especially like “Keeping Them Honest” – because whenever one of those Left Wing politicians
plays with the facts… they’re held accountable.

ANNCR:            AC360 Weeknights at 10, only on CNN.

AC360 Left Right Promo
Length: :15
2 Simultaneous Monologues, in sync, on 2 separate stereo channels

WOMAN:           I’m a lifelong Democrat.
MAN:                 I’m a lifelong Republican.

WOMAN:          That’s why I watch Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN.
MAN:                That’s why I watch Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN.

WOMAN:           I really like “Keeping Them Honest” –
because whenever one of those Right Wing politicians
plays with the facts… they’re held accountable.

MAN:                 I especially like “Keeping Them Honest” – because whenever one of those Left Wing politicians
plays with the facts… they’re held accountable.

ANNCR:            AC360 Weeknights at 10, only on CNN.

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