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December 12, 2013

JEFFREY McCALL: TV news blunders diminish public support

Viewers want more than ratings stunts

Network television news executives wanting to know why ratings continue to decline can find the ready answer in a growing string of professional blunders within their industry. Polls show public confidence in network television news is eroding. Audiences leave to get news from the Internet, or worse yet, just don’t consume news at all.

Cable news outlets have suffered deep losses across the board in the last year. CNN and MSNBC have lost half of their prime-time audiences in a year. Fox News Channel is down more than 20 percent in that time. The Big Three broadcast networks no longer receive wide attention at 6:30 p.m., now reaching fewer than 25 million viewers on any given night. That 2013 is not an election year explains only a fraction of the decline. This year has had plenty to fill a news agenda, with international problems in the Mideast, NSA snooping, the health care rollout and continued economic concerns.

Consider these journalistic mistakes, all of which occurred in the last few weeks:

• CNN morning anchor Chris Cuomo did a news interview with his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, about the recent train derailment. The topic wasn’t political, but CNN had plenty of other reporters who could have done the interview and avoided the conflict of interest.

• CBS’ Lara Logan was put on a leave of absence for improperly vetting a story that ran on the venerable news program “60 Minutes.” Logan aired an interview with a security contractor who claimed to have witnessed the attack at the U.S. compound in Benghazi. But the guy wasn’t really there.

• MSNBC anchor Martin Bashir finally “resigned,” almost three weeks after he engaged in a gross on-air verbal attack against Sarah Palin. MSNBC president Phil Griffin released a statement that accepted the resignation; however, he passed no judgment on the vile comments by Bashir, and instead complimented Bashir as “a good man and respected colleague.”

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