Critic's Notebook: In Order to Survive, Cable News Should Go Full Anti-Trump

Fox News - brit bret mk chris - H 2016
Courtesy of FOX NEWS

It would be easy and probably fitting and certainly deserved to write an obituary for the evening news in the post-Trump-election era — all television news in general, but cable news specifically. It failed its viewers, failed journalism entirely and still managed to reap enormous ratings that will have corporate bean counters convinced nothing needs to change.

But of course that's folly. Fox News may thrive — though there's also a chance it will be pushed off the talking points and propaganda by Republican politicians themselves, if all doesn't go swimmingly with Trump at the helm — but for everybody else, the war is over. You are done. That's you, as in CNN and MSNBC (and the broadcast network news and whatever other entities not named Vice you can think of).

Consider this:

1. Ratings numbers were driven up because it was an election year and a carnival nightmare on top of that, which made it impossible for viewers to look away, even when they desperately wanted to. If you think those viewers will come back in the next four years, think again — the thinking people in that audience will now be gone because you failed them, and they understand you're not equipped to do the job they held out hope you could do. Bye.

2. The viewers you didn't lose by having failed them with actual journalism are mostly people whose tolerance for Trumpism will be low once shock turns to disgruntled agitation. Their curiosity over "What did he do now?!" will hit a fatigue state very quickly. Once it becomes clear — again — that you can't "fix" what they are seeing on their screen, that segment of the viewership will give up and look elsewhere (to no avail — more on this shortly).

3. That leaves — let's count the remaining people by hand, shall we? — an audience so small, disaffected and loyalty-free that at the next staff meeting, the first agenda item will be rebranding your channel as a home-decor outpost for half of a depressed nation that just can't anymore.

Personally, this would make me happy, since it's my firmly held belief that those folks watching cable news for news in 2016 deserve what they get. Some people can't be told.

But if we must have cable news, perhaps it's time for the people who run it to face the facts: Millions of people just proved, definitively, that facts don't matter to them. For everybody else, they know you didn't or couldn't make facts matter, and so they are out searching for actual journalism, probably of the readable kind (see No. 1 and No. 2 above).

This point can't be overemphasized: People angry enough to both pay for quality journalism and invest the time in reading in-depth about what's happening in the country, or will happen over the next four years, have almost no tolerance for or interest in what you can provide. Again, you failed them — they will leave. Bank on it.

But in the remaining audience, you will find people looking for partisanship in their "news." These people are searching, in anger, for some payback, some comfort in what just happened but — let's not kid ourselves — they want to do it from their couches with minimal effort, which is why they will still watch TV news. They are Democrats and Independents that now will want their version of Fox News.

And you — someone, anyone — would be insane not to give it to them.

Much older people who still believe, quaintly, that a half-hour of reasoned and theoretically objective news can be had out there will watch broadcast network news. Much younger people, who are suddenly more pissed off or frightened than ever before, will support the Vice cable empire. But the group still tuning in to "traditional" cable news in 2017 and beyond can be yours if you stop pretending to be objective or, worse, "balanced."

That model is dead.

Any cable channel wanting ratings in the next four years will go full-bore anti-Trump. They will not pretend to be fair or balanced. They will go after every blunder, every shocking decision, every ounce of anything that indicates Trump is wrong, is failing, is alienating either half the country, the rest of the world or people in his own party. They will pounce. If you want to win the ratings race, you need to outfox Fox News. But far more cunningly, you have to be even less of a transparent "fair and balanced" pile of horseshit and be a blatantly, aggressively and even giddily anti-Trump machine for "justice" or "change" or "truth" or whatever branding slogan you need (which, ironically, you can dress up as "journalism" if it makes you sleep better at night).

What I'm talking about here is not CNN or MSNBC trying to call out Trump decisions from this point in the transition until 2020 with half-veiled snickers. Because that will be dressed up as some asinine four- or six- or eight-person talking-head "discussion" that we've seen a million times before. That notion of talking something to death under the guise of having all positions represented on the panel is yesterday's bad idea. It's over. What you did in 2016 only worked because it was an election year. Nobody wants to watch that in 2017 — a bunch of mopey losers whining their "analysis" for two or three minutes followed by a dissenting opinion represented in the same fashion.

From this point forward, people still watching the "news" will want anger and action, not analysis. They will not want someone from the other side having a say. To the extent they'll want any facts at all, it will be to explain what the hell President Trump mucked up on that given day, and they will want a blowtorch in the teleprompter.

Revenge, anger, outrage, hot-blooded hectoring, calls to action and nonstop anti-Trump rhetoric is what people will want — in basically that order. And they might not know they want it — and want it so badly they'll come back night after night — until you give it to them.

If this idea isn't already being bandied about, it would be shocking. Because this new news channel — or new iteration of an old news channel — will absolutely feast for the next four years.

Not only does it make sense in our clearly fractured, polarized, partisan country, it makes business sense. And the business of news for the left (or those who still want to pretend to be objective) is bust. While I don't think we'll see this idea emerge by Jan. 20, 2017, if it doesn't happen soon after that, then somebody isn't paying attention.


Twitter: @BastardMachine