There was a time when cable news actually broadened the national discourse, allowing such intellectually diverse figures as Pat Buchanan, Tom Braden, Robert Novak, and Michael Kinsley to match wits over the air. Today the situation is rather different — uniformity, with only token opposition, is now the rule with industry leaders MSNBC and Fox News, as Brian Stetler of the New York Times relates:
As cable news channels like MSNBC and Fox News Channel have grown highly politicized, they have become arbiters of the bounds of acceptable discourse — not always a comfortable role for those involved. A corporate allergy to controversy sometimes exists, even though controversy is what sometimes motivates channels to hire commentators and compels people to watch.
… Mr. Buchanan has always been an ardent conservative. That’s why he was hired by MSNBC in 2002, after spending the previous 20 years as host of CNN’s “Crossfire” between unsuccessful runs for president. At that time, MSNBC called itself “fiercely independent” and had no clear political tilt.
As even his ideological opponents routinely acknowledged, Buchanan was more thoughtful and less reflexively partisan than the new blow-dried breed of cable commentators. That, as much as his sins against political correctness, cost him his place with MSNBC. Note, by the way, that MSNBC is touting Michael Steele — not a journalist, but the former chairman of the RNC — as Buchanan’s de facto replacement. The two parties and the “news” channels that serve them are happy to present one another as America’s only alternatives; that’s what keeps the racket going.