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Dan Rather's Still Sticking by His Guns, Pard ...

Dan Rather.

Still here? Think you might hang around a little longer while I type about the one-time CBS news anchorman and all-time polarizing figure, or click to a less controversial subject like health care reform?

Rather was a guest over the weekend of a questioner named Julie Menin, on a show she hosts on New York's NBC affiliate called "Give and Take."

No, I hadn't heard of it, either, but I enjoyed the interview, and thought the interviewer, Menin, showed the uncommon ability in these yak-it-up days of TV journalism to ask a question and then shut up and listen for a change.

Of course with Dan Rather on the other side of the questions, listening is more an absolute than an option.

Continue reading "Dan Rather's Still Sticking by His Guns, Pard ..." »

Are Cable and Satellite TV Going the Way of Newspapers?

I've beat on and defended newspapers enough in this corner of the Real Clear universe over the past week -- even though I am painfully aware that some of you would be only too happy if the lashings continued.

But let's end the week by taking a quick look at the lickings cable TV and satellite companies are taking from the burgeoning traffic online.

CNN.com is out with an eye-opening story today that reports one out of eight cable, pay-TV and satellite subscribers are expected to either eliminate or cut back their services this year.

The story gleaned its information from a just-released study by the Yankee Group.

The offering cites the increasing costs of cable and satellite subscriptions, and the availability of cheap streaming video of movies and television programming on the world wide web as the major reasons for people's exodus from what had become conventional viewing platforms for most of us over the past few decades.

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ESPN, Golf Channel Play Sorry Game

Just as I thought it was safe to grab some ice (and gin) to tend to the whiplash I sustained going back and forth all weekend between the NCAA basketball tournament and the March Madness that lead to the historic vote on health care, along came everybody's favorite news-maker, Tiger Woods, to make no news at all.

Ever since Woods' notorious private life became one of the biggest casualties of the Thanksgiving-night wreck at the end of his posh Orlando driveway, everything and anything resembling the world's media have been after the golfer for explanations and answers.

As the press futilely tried to make contact with Woods, it simultaneously began linking him to all manner of un-idol-like behavior, including multiple counts of adultery, drug use -- even physical abuse ...

It became a media firestorm of the highest degree, and only intensified as Tiger remained hidden and silent.

After a while Woods came around to the fact that the storm was not going to subside, so he hinted on his Web site that things hadn't gone well that Thanksgiving night.

But the thunder predictably persisted, so he came out of hiding and scheduled a speech last month at the PGA Tour headquarters to let everybody know how sorry he was for cheating on his wife.

Continue reading "ESPN, Golf Channel Play Sorry Game" »

FOX Is Right, MSNBC Left, and You're Shocked

The horses bolted the stable a long time ago, and it is now just plain fact that political partisanship is the well-oiled cog that makes two of the largest cable news networks spin these days.

I find it impossible to come to any other conclusion than Fox News is playing to viewers that lean to the right side of the political spectrum, and that MSNBC is catering to viewers on the left.

And now, I suppose, you are waiting for me to break it to you that the world is round.

But, please, bear with me on my naive stroll -- if only for a minute.

Continue reading "FOX Is Right, MSNBC Left, and You're Shocked" »

Local Media Don't Get Tea Party Invite

All politics might be local, but sometimes, sadly, media coverage of politics isn't.

The inaugural National Tea Party Convention got under way in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, and world media of all stripes and political colors poured into the city to cover the three-day event.

That is mostly good news, because only a month ago, the event organizers were cherry-picking who would cover their event and, not surprisingly, most of those cherries were Republican Red.

After rethinking that one-way strategy, the Party bosses announced Thursday that they had, in fact, credentialed 111 members of the working press -- some from as far away as Japan.

"We desire transparency at this convention and have worked with media that are friendly to the Tea Party movement as well as those that have not been seen to be supportive of our efforts," convention spokesman Mark A. Skoda said.

Bravo for that, except in this case, transparency seems to work only if you are viewing the convention with a telescope.

Continue reading "Local Media Don't Get Tea Party Invite" »

For the Record, Unnamed Sources Don't Cut It

Look, politicians have been using the press for their own devices since George Washington's administration, so to start getting too bent out of shape about it now, would be like throwing buckets of water at a five-alarm neighborhood fire.

Today, anyway, that's not going to stop me from opening up the spigot, and pouring cold water all over the hot air coming from no-names in Washington regarding the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

Most of the water, however, will be reserved for the working press that is carelessly repeating this shoddily sourced drivel, and presenting it as news.

Hopefully, I won't come off all wet ...

Continue reading "For the Record, Unnamed Sources Don't Cut It" »

MSNBC's Baghdad Bob

MSNBC President Phil Griffin tries to explain away Keith Olbermann's plummeting ratings thusly:

He [Griffin] attributes Olbermann's January ratings slip to a news cycle in which international news, rather than domestic politics, was the No. 1 story. "On big, breaking international news, CNN tends to do better than us. They did a great job in Haiti, and I tip my hat to them," he says. "We're the place for politics, and there are times when politics does great, and there are times when it doesn't."

Domestic politics wasn't a big story in January? What about the, er, special election in Massachusetts and the State of the Union? Griffin tips his hat to CNN for covering Haiti but doesn't mention (of course) that FOX had its biggest January ratings ever thanks in large part to its political coverage.

I don't blame Griffin. Like Baghdad Bob - the former Iraqi Information Minister whose public statements were at comical odds with reality - Griffin is simply trying to put the best possible spin on the fact that he and his network are losing the media war - badly.

UPDATE: Andrew Malcolm: Countdown begins for end of Keith Olbermann's 'Countdown'?

That FOX Is Most Trusted Is All Right

If we needed more evidence that in 2010 television news-consumers shop for fare that favors their individual political palates, we needn't look any further than an eye-opening poll conducted Jan. 18-19, by Public Policy Polling.

In its questionnaire, the professional polling company based in Raleigh, N.C., simply asked Americans whether they trusted the five major networks' news operations.

When the results of the poll were released last week, Fox News was the clear winner in a race that, it can be argued, ended up fielding five losers.

It turns out 49 percent of the respondents said they trusted Fox News. Thirty-seven percent said they didn't, and another 15 percent said they weren't sure.

ABC News brought up the rear, with only 31 percent saying they trusted that operation. CNN (39 percent); NBC (35) and CBS (32) ran two, three, and four respectively.

Continue reading "That FOX Is Most Trusted Is All Right" »

Poll: FOX Most Trusted News Channel

Not bad for the cable network the White House believes is "not really a news organization."

Among those faring the worst in the poll were CBS and ABC, which were not trusted by 46%.

That makes last week's declaration by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer even more ironic: "We don't feel the obligation to treat [Fox] like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization, but there are times when we believe it makes sense to communicate with them."

Nothing Bites Like Mockery

Nothing bites like mockery.

Fox Rises, Air America Crashes

On the same day Neilsen reported competition-dwarfing numbers for Fox News's coverage of the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday night, Air America radio declared bankruptcy and will cease live broadcasts immediately.

In a statement posted to its web site, Air America's management explained:

With radio industry ad revenues down for 10 consecutive quarters, and reportedly off 21% in 2009, signs of improvement have consisted of hoping things will be less bad. And though Internet/new media revenues are projected to grow, our expanding online efforts face the same monetization and profitability challenges in the short term confronting the Web operations of most media companies

When Air America Radio launched in April, 2004 with already-known personalities like Al Franken and then-unknown future stars like Rachel Maddow, it was the only full-time progressive voice in the mainstream broadcast media world. At a critical time in our nation's history -- when dissent on issues such as the Iraq war were often denounced as "un-American" -- Air America and its talented team helped millions of Americans remember the importance of compelling discussion about the most pivotal events and decisions of our generation.

Through some 100 radio outlets nationwide, Air America helped build a new sense of purpose and determination among American progressives. With this revival, the progressive movement made major gains in the 2006 mid-term elections and, more recently, in the election of President Barack Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress.

Continue reading "Fox Rises, Air America Crashes" »

Fear and Loathing at MSNBC

The panic that has over taken liberals watching the Massachusetts Senate race has been perfectly reflected in the comically hysterical coverage on MSNBC.

Just in the last day or two we witnessed: Keith Olbermann's unhinged rant calling Scott Brown "an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against women"; Ed Schultz suggesting that Democrats cheat to keep the Republican "bastards" from winning the Massachusetts Senate race; David Shuster introducing a segment on the Massachusetts Senate race by asking whether the Democratic leaning state has "lost its mind"; and Chris Matthews pining for the "old school" days when Democratic machine politicians would use "walking around money" to pack voters into booths to make absolutely sure they'd win races.

Poor Tim Russert must be spinning in his grave watching what passes for political commentary and analysis on MSNBC these days.

Palin a Hit with Viewers

The ratings are in for Sarah Palin's debut as a contributor on Fox, and the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential hopeful is a hit.

Palin appeared on the Tuesday night's "O'Reilly Factor Show" and helped grow the audience on that popular program by 42 percent from the same night a year ago.

Palin also helped O'Reilly blow away the cable competition in the same time slot. The show even outdid ABC's prime-time programming that night.

Old Uses 'New' to Cover Haiti Disaster

The Columbia Journalism Review presents an excellent wrap-up piece on the role "new" media played, and continues to play, in covering the events following the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti late Tuesday afternoon.

With most phone lines down and things at a virtual standstill in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, where the damage has been reported to be the worst, individual eyewitness accounts of the devastation came pouring in from Twitter users, postings on Facebook pages, and through calls on Skype, the computer-generated phone service.

Major news services then rallied to accrue as much of this information as possible and disseminated it to their readers, listeners and viewers. It's fair to say that only a few years ago, we might have been given only half the information that has flowed from the devastated island nation the past 36 hours or so. Certainly a decade ago, these individual accounts would have been only a fraction of what they are today.

Continue reading "Old Uses 'New' to Cover Haiti Disaster" »

FOX Tabs Palin for Contributor Role

Sarah Palin is joining Fox News, and predictably this news is banging around all the regular media stops and making a lot of noise.

The network announced Monday that Palin, the former Alaska governor and John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election, "has signed a multi-year deal to offer her political commentary and analysis across all Fox News platforms, including Fox Business Channel, FoxNews.com and Fox News Radio."

The network went on to say she would, "also participate in special event political programming for Fox Broadcasting."

While news of this hiring seems to have been held tight, it hardly comes as a surprise.

Continue reading "FOX Tabs Palin for Contributor Role" »

SPJ Accuses NBC of 'Checkbook Journalism'

The Society of Professional Journalists has taken NBC and its Today Show to task for what it calls 'checkbook journalism.'

Over the Christmas holiday, the network paid to fly David Goldman and his son home from Brazil on its chartered jet after Goldman won a high-profile custody battle for the boy.

During the flight back, NBC took the opportunity that being about 30,000 feet in the air affords, and landed an exclusive interview with Goldman.

In its statement, the SPJ said that "by making itself part of a breaking news story on which it was reporting - apparently to cash in on the exclusivity assured by its expensive gesture - NBC jeopardized its journalistic independence and credibility in its initial and subsequent reports.

"In effect, the network branded the story as its own, creating a corporate and promotional interest in the way the story unfolds. NBC's ability to report the story fairly has been compromised by its financial involvement."

Continue reading "SPJ Accuses NBC of 'Checkbook Journalism'" »

CNN in a Free Fall

It looks like one of the biggest casualties of the Obama Administration is CNN.

Fourth months into the new presidency, television ratings for cable news networks on the right and left have improved, both at the expense of CNN, the one-time industry leader and purported non-partisan network.

In May, Fox News continued its reign as the cable news leader with more audience than No. 2 MSNBC and No. 3 CNN combined. The nine top rated prime-time news shows were all Fox News programs, led by "The O'Reilly Factor" - the top show for the 102nd consecutive month - "Hannity" and "Glenn Beck."

MSNBC, for the second time in three months, trumped CNN in total viewers, solidifying its position as the No. 2 network. "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" is the only non-Fox News program to crack the top 10, and "The Rachel Maddow Show" has topped CNN's "Larry King Live" at the 9 p.m. slot for the seventh time in eight months among viewers aged 25-54.

Most troubling for CNN is the continuing decline of its heavily-promoted "Anderson Cooper 360." Its sharp drop in viewership hasn't stopped since Election Day, with several nights this month failing to reach even half a million (by contrast, O'Reilly pulls an average of nearly 3 million).

There's no question the swing to the center has hurt the network, notes Michael Calderon of Politico:

"The audience is becoming increasingly accustomed to finding opinions in prime-time," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism. ...

And there's a certain irony in all the hand-wringing because a news network decides upon taking a less ideological approach to the news in prime-time. In the 1990's, CNN couldn't shake the "Clinton News Network" nickname among conservatives, and yet now, is viewed as the more moderate network given MSNBC's prime-time lurch to the left.

One silver lining for CNN is the rapid improvement of HLN, formerly Headline News. Led by Nancy Grace's reporting on various missing children and social gossip, HLN is up a whopping 43% in total viewers compared to May 2008. HLN even surpassed CNN for the most desired 25-54 demographic for third place (219,000 vs. 216,000) in May.

Biased or Not, Fox News Still On Top

In spite of (or, perhaps because of) the perception that the Fox News Channel is hyper-critical of President Obama, it continues to dominate cable news ratings. In April, Fox News' viewership in fact grew from the previous three months, with an audience that exceeded the combined total of both CNN and MSNBC.

For prime time, (8-11 p.m.), Fox News averaged 551,000 viewers in the target 25-54 demo. MSNBC has jumped past CNN, though still finished a distant second, with 271,000. CNN is third with 248,000 and its little sibling HLN fourth with 231,000. In addition to the growth of Fox News (a staggering 63%) and HLN (47%) over April 2008, MSNBC was up 16%, while CNN was down 12%.

Fox News had the top 11 cable news programs in total viewers and 12 of the top 15 in the demo. The phenomenal success of Glenn Beck's program, at 5 p.m., has helped that growth. In fact, every program on Fox News from 9 a.m. and on has seen at least a 60% percent increase in the demo, led by Beck's 212% over the same period in 2008.

Despite Obama's robust approval ratings, at least one pundit thought Fox News' soaring ratings are a cause for concern for the left:

That most new cable news viewers are turning to Fox, rather than to CNN or MSNBC, is what's scaring the hell out of me. Fox anchors, particularly in primetime, preach a brand of ignorant negativity that will never help us get out of the economic mess we're in. They seem to hope that Obama will fail, while most of the rest of us hope that he will succeed. But, if I'm right when I say "most of us," why is it that more people are watching FoxNews in primetime than CNN and MSNBC combined.

I've written before that I believe what people watch on television more accurately reflects their true feelings than what they tell pollsters over the telephone. If that's the case, it would seem there are more haters than there are hopers, and we are in for a very hard time.

Fox News Too Hard on Obama

Fox News has run up unprecedented ratings numbers since the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Beginning in January, Fox News has dominated cable news rivals and reached No. 2 in overall cable ratings, behind only USA.

It seems like being Obama's No. 1 critic has been a winning ticket for Fox News. And a recent Pew Research Center survey appeared to agree with that observation.

Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed from April 17-20 thought Fox News was too critical of Obama, including 44 percent of Democrats and 25 percent independents. Even 18 percent of Republicans thought Fox News' coverage of Obama was too harsh.

On the flip side, all three major networks, CNN and MSNBC received about the same amount of complaints about being too easy on Obama, between 13-16 percent. Republican dissatisfaction went across the board, with between 22-28 percent believing these five networks were too easy on Obama. About one-sixth of independents also thought so.

One interesting side note on the survey: While Fox News stood out as the one that's most critical of Obama, a majority of independents thought multiple networks were too easy on Obama (to go with 62% of Republicans). You may even suggest that while being critical (or too critical) of Obama has been good business for Fox News, none of the other networks has reaped much benefit by appearing to be easy on Obama.

Fox News Having a Grand Tea Party

According to the Drudge Report, Fox News had a banner day on tax day, particularly with its coverage of the various Tea Parties across the nation protesting taxes.

The numbers from Wednesday night - (prime-time viewers from 8-11 p.m.)

Fox News - 3,390,000
MSNBC - 1,210,000
CNN - 1,070,000
HLN - 909,000

And Fox's programming also dominated viewership among cable news shows -

Fox News O'Reilly - 3,980,000
Fox News Hannity - 3,239,000
Fox News van Susteren- 2,947,000
Fox News Beck - 2,740,000
Fox News Baier - 2,401,000
Fox News Smith - 2,185,000
Comedy Central Stewart - 1,777,000
MSNBC Olbermann - 1,499,000
Comedy Central Colbert - 1,446,000
HLN Grace - 1,336,000
CNN King - 1,292,000
MSNBC Maddow - 1,149,000
CNN Cooper - 1,021,000

In fact, Fox News' viewership beat the combined total of CNN, MSNBC and HLN in every hour beginning at 5 p.m., except the the 7 p.m. slot.

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz complained that how the TV networks covered the day's events also became news in itself. He thought Fox News had gone a bit over the top:

The media coverage even became a factor in the reporting. At a Chicago demonstration, CNN's Susan Roesgen started arguing with a protester over why he referred to President Obama as a fascist. "I think you get the general tenor of this," she reported. "It's anti-government. Anti-CNN. This is highly promoted by the right-wing conservative network Fox." Fox anchor Shepard Smith later laughed off her words.

On the other hand, this brief rant by Fox Business Network anchor Cody Willard, posted by a Daily Kos contributor, didn't meet my definition of fair and balanced. Speaking of a young girl, Willard says: "Now she has to pay for the $800-billion Republican-Democrat fascist stimulus package . . . Guys, when are we going to wake up and start fighting the fascism that seems to be permeating this country?"

Guys, what happened to we're-just-covering-the-events?

But where Kurtz stands on this is somewhat debatable. After all, he works for CNN on the "Reliable Sources" and his network made a conscious decision to either shun or downplay the Tea Party events. Fox News definitely had a great day - but it simply made a smart business decision.

Fox News Continues Reign with Big Three

So far, the Obama Administration has been great business for Fox News.

Led by the trio of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and newcomer Glenn Beck, Fox News maintained its hold as the leading cable news network for March, as well as the first quarter of 2009. Fox News' primetime viewership of 2.3 million was more than the combined total of No. 2 CNN (1.1 million) and No. 3 MSNBC (957,000). HLN, formerly Headline News, is fourth (330,000).

O'Reilly celebrated his 100th consecutive month as the leading cable news program, dating back to 2000. Hannity, sans his former lefty sidekick/punching bag Alan Colmes, is No. 2, up 36% from the same period last year. Overall, Fox News has nine of the top 10 cable news programs in viewership.

The phenomenal growth of Glenn Beck's 5 p.m. show has been a boost to Fox News. A self-proclaimed "rodeo clown," Beck switched from HLN to Fox News two months ago and has increased viewership for the same time slot by nearly 100% from a year ago. Beck's show is now a solid No. 3 overall.

While Fox News' hold on top is unchallenged, CNN is desperately trying to fend off MSNBC for second place. Among primetime viewers, CNN has fallen behind MSNBC in the most desirable demographic category of 25-54 year-olds, and with only about half of Fox News' audience.

With the addition of Rachel Maddow in the 9 p.m. slot, MSNBC has siphoned off considerable number of viewers from CNN. Once the dominant cable news show, Larry King Live is on the verge of being pushed into third place for the time slot behind both Hannity and Maddow.

The slide of Larry King may be symptomatic of the struggles at CNN, which is trying to entrench itself as the "middle ground" between Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left. The problem seems to be that there's not a lot of audience for that in an increasingly polarized political landscape:

Over time ... King's show has become the home of criminal mysteries, and entertainment conversation. For viewers who want political talk, either FNC or MSNBC is the place to go. It is really is only a matter of time until Maddow starts beating King on a nightly basis ... King's slide is another symptom of CNN's inability to keep up with the times.

Meanwhile, network news continued its inexorable decline. NBC, with Brian Williams, maintained its hold on first place with modesty growth in the first quarter. ABC's Charles Gibson came in second while Katie Couric and CBS languished in third, with nearly 3 million fewer viewers than NBC.

Great "News" for Conservatives

The presidency of Barack Obama has proved to be a boon for conservative media. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have relished being targeted by the administration by name. And Fox News is continuing its reign as the ruler of the cable news universe.

While Fox News remains comfortably ahead of MSNBC and CNN in total and prime-time ratings, it has vaulted into second place in prime-time among all cable networks, behind only USA. Fox News' prime-time audience (2.8 million) easily doubled CNN (1.3 million) and MSNBC (1.1 million). Through February, Fox News has led the cable news ratings for 86 consecutive months.

Standing athwart of the Obama tide and yelling stop has been great business for Fox News, whose overall ratings jumped (21%) in February while CNN's declined sharply (44%). While claiming that its news programming is non-partisan, Fox News has benefited from its commentators' vociferous criticism of the Obama administration. The top three rated news talk shows currently are, in order: Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

Hannity's show has gotten a lift (up 38%) since shedding his hapless liberal sidekick Alan Colmes in January. But the addition of Glenn Beck to the 5 p.m. slot has proved to be a ratings bonanza that's beyond even the network's expectations. Beck, 45, who hosted his show on Headline News the last two years, has doubled the ratings for the time slot since joining Fox News in January. "I look at the ratings every day shocked," he told the L.A. Times.

The liberal-led lineup of MSNBC has also gained ground, getting a huge boost from Rachel Maddow in the 9 p.m. slot. Maddow, 35, is now regularly beating CNN's old war horse Larry King, whose show is now the lone CNN prime-time program in the top 20 in cable ratings.

Just how bad are things at CNN, the erstwhile industry leader and purported "centrist" in the cable news war? For two days last week, it was beaten by Headline News in prime-time. Yep, the little-sister network did it with Nancy Grace, whose coverage of the sensational Florida murder mystery of Caylee Anthony topped Anderson Cooper in the 10 p.m. slot.

Stimulating Television Viewing

While Congress continues to squabble over what's in and what's out of the stimulus package, 20 million television viewers will be waiting breathlessly to see if they'll need to shell out a few bucks just to catch American Idol.

Currently still in the bill is a $650 million provision that will send $40 rebate checks to 6 million households that have yet to convert their analog TVs to digital. (If you do the math, we really only need $240 million, but how could they possibly do anything without larding it up with a little pork?) After Friday's Senate compromise, the provision stayed in, pending this week's negotiations with the House - then President Obama's signature.

All of the U.S.'s broadcast signals were to be converted to digital-only by February 17. But at the urging of President Obama, the deadline has been extended to June 12. Unless given another extension, all analog television sets (sold before 2004) will be rendered obsolete unless they're connected to cable, satellite or a converter box.

All four major networks have pledged to wait until the June 12 deadline to extinguish the analog signals. But many people - unaware of the extension - have already worked themselves up into a tizzy:

Betty Poesch, a retired dental assistant in Holladay, spent about $430 to convert four televisions to digital, including buying two converter boxes, two antennas, and a VCR/DVD player and digital tuner. All this so she could record shows such as "CSI" and "NCIS."

"It's a big inconvenience," she said. "I don't understand why they had to do it. We had to go replace everything."

Here's an idea: Maybe that provision should be scratched out of the stimulus bill. People will go on a television-buying binge and maybe kill the recession just like that. Americans can't live without their TVs.

Fox News No. 1 - Seven Years Running

On Oct. 7, Fox News celebrated its 12th anniversary. At the end of the year, it claimed its seven consecutive cable news crown.

Aided by the historic presidential election, Fox News had a record year in terms of viewership - as did its rivals CNN and MSNBC. Fox News finished the year with an average of 2.1 million prime-time viewers, up 40% from 2007. CNN was second at 1.3 million and MSNBC third at 920,000.

The three networks continue to diverge, politically. Fox News further solidified its standing on the right after the departure of Alan Colmes and the addition of Glenn Beck. MSNBC kept drifting left, adding Rachel Maddow to its lineup. CNN/US President Jon Klein, meanwhile, said his network is going nowhere:

Our competition clearly entrenched themselves on the partisan flank, left and right, and that left the vast middle open to us.

The explosive growth of cable news should worry the networks, whose news divisions have continued to be money losers with an ever-shrinking audience. The ratings in general weren't good for broadcast networks, but evening news programs continued to tank in the face of the cable onslaught.

NBC News remains No. 1, up by 3% over 2007. ABC is second, down 3%; and CBS's Katie Couric, despite a slight uptick in recent weeks, will finish last again, down 5%.

Why Do People Still Watch Cable?

Millions of kids would've woken up to 2009 missing Dora, Diego and SpongeBob. And their parents? No Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Chocolate News or South Park.

Whew, crisis averted.

While the rest of the world celebrated the new year, negotiators at Time Warner Cable and Viacom cut a deal in the opening hours of 2009 to avert a blackout that would have affected nearly 16 million households. A total of 19 channels, including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon would've been blacked out because of a dispute over increased subscriber fees.

This wasn't the first time that Time Warner, or cable companies, have had such a nasty public dispute with their programming partners. Between Comcast and Time Warner, the nation's two largest cable carriers, there have been no fewer than a dozen fights with various local affiliates and cable networks over just the last two years.

The most public of the cable fights involved the NFL Network, which currently is not being seen on most of the cable carriers. The powerful National Football League ultimately could not leverage its popularity against the cable behemoths. Most of the other disputes also ended in the cable company's favor, until Viacom came along and stared down Time Warner.

Sometimes I just wonder why people continue to live under the tyranny of cable. Besides the frequent games of brinksmanship, cable companies, particularly Comcast, are legendary in their atrocious customer service - just ask the elderly lady Mona Shaw, who last year literally hammered Comcast after being given one last run-around.

In 1996, fed up with cable, I signed up with a fledgling outfit for my television needs. It was a novel concept at the time but over the next decade-plus, it's proved to be one shrewd move. I've relocated more than a dozen times since then, but everywhere I went, I always had my DirecTV.

Don't take my word for it, ask Beyonce.