Steve Friedman, the executive producer of MSNBC's new ensemble talk show, told the Huffington Post, "Cable television is programs about the news, it's no longer the news. Nobody turns on to find out what happens, because they already know from you guys. What people are interested in is listening and watching people give their take."
The assumption that Americans are so well informed that cable news networks don't need to cover actual news is totally false and not supported by the facts. Not that many people even know the facts anymore.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans in a recent poll still believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. military attacked Iraq in 2003. Sixty-four percent of that group of Republicans also believe that President Obama was born in another country.
But it's not just Republicans who are misinformed. A Washington Post poll in September 2003 found that nearly 70 percent of all Americans were wrongly convinced that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Try having a conversation with a friend about health care, the Middle East or anything in the news, and you will be met with a medley of uninformed and misinformed opinions. Having a healthy argument about issues is an important part of a democracy. But when someone's opinion is merely based on someone else's opinion, which wasn't based on the facts to begin with, this democracy is in trouble.
MSNBC's new show The Cycle features four pundits sitting around talking. All four are bright and personable, but do we really need yet another show like this? At least The Cycle distinguishes itself from The Five on Fox News, by having one fewer person on the panel. A pundit every now and then is fine. I happily perform that role as a liberal pundit on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN and Current TV, among others. But, except in rare cases, we don't learn much listening to people who aren't experts in any field give their opinions about everything. We merely have our own preexisting views reinforced, since most people only watch the channel they agree with.
If, as Friedman and others insist, we're all so well informed already that cable news networks don't need to cover the news, where exactly are we getting that comprehensive coverage of the news on television? CNN's rating woes aren't due to the fact that they're less ideological than MSNBC and Fox News, but that they've strayed far from their original concept of hard newscasts 24 hours a day. And the three network 6:30 pm newscasts are increasingly driven by fluff human interest stories and reporter commentaries, with almost no in depth coverage of the major issues.
There is great journalism out there. There are web sites, independent web and television news shows, and foreign networks like the BBC, that do good work. But most Americans don't see that or even know it exists.
The FCC should require the cable news networks to drop the word "news" from their names. When all you have is a parade of pundits mouthing talking points hour after hour, that's not news. That's entertainment.
With each new opinion show on cable, our country gets that much more uninformed. Because Americans are not getting their news somewhere else. And that's bad news for everyone, except the pundits.