CNN Reports on Reporters Watching CNN

CNN giddily reports that the White House press corps apparently wanted to watch CNN instead of Fox. But did the network get spun by the administration?

According to Nielson Media Research, during prime time this year Fox News typically attracts more than twice as many viewers as CNN. But according to an article on CNN’s Web site today. America’s number two cable news network may be gaining ground on Fox News among one important (or, at least, self-important) demographic: White House pool reporters.

“It wasn’t the price of gasoline, Darfur or the rebuilding effort in New Orleans that preoccupied the White House press corps Thursday aboard a flight on Air Force One,” CNN reported today. “It was what channel they could watch on the White House televisions, Fox or CNN.”

What channel would said reporters like to watch? The answer, according to CNN’s giddy reporting … CNN!

The triumphant article went on to document the glorious details of an exchange between Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post and outgoing White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. According to CNN, VandeHei pressed McClellan about the ubiquity of Fox News on government televisions. Was there an official policy banning other news stations? Were members of the administration required to watch Fox and only Fox?

McCllelan promised to look into it.

“Eighteen minutes after VandeHei raised the issue, McClellan had resolved it,” reported CNN.

“We just called up,” said McClellan. “They’re going to be changing it, at your all’s request, to the channel that you requested, which is CNN — from the press corps.”

At long last, the Fox News hegemony was broken! Just a few hundred thousand more victories like this one, and CNN will have caught up to Fox News’ ratings in no time.

But before CNN starts celebrating, they might want to check out an online Washington Post discussion today in which Tom Edsall, national political reporter, suggests that CNN might have overplayed the CNN-angle. When confronted by a reader over what the Fox/CNN switch revealed about the bias of White House reporters, Edsall provided a simple answer: nothing.

“To repeat: there was no request for CNN by the press,” noted Edsall. “The question was whether the White House had a policy requiring TV’s to be tuned to Fox. Maybe some reporters wanted to watch Desperate Housewives or the Playboy channel. The CNN angle is a canard injected by Scott McClellan to put down the press.”

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.