When did the news media stop trying to appear non-partisan?

I turned on CNN last night at a break in a baseball game to see how the Georgia Congressional election was going, and I didn’t need to hear a word. Each of the four talking heads looked like someone had shot their dog.

I remember the same was true when I tuned in during the Presidential election and saw Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow in similar distress. (I’d be 1,000% sure the same would be true on Fox if Clinton had won, so I’m not trying to slant this as a one sided, left/right thing.)

My question is when did Journalists and or the news media stop making an effort to even appear non-partisan? I’m in my mid-50’s and I remember in my teens and throughout most of my life, that the news talking heads seemed truly ambivalent about who won. When I got old enough to know what they probably did care, and could make a guess who they wanted to win or lose, it was still hard for me to tell by the telecast. (I’m thinking about watching the CBS news with Dan Rather when Bush I won. It seemed obvious that Rather wasn’t a fan a Bush based on some earlier reporting, but I couldn’t spot it on election night.

So my question is what caused this and when did this change? Is it all due to cable news?

I believe it was when television news became a network business model instead of loss leader. Followed immediately by opinion being confused with fact.

it was common for competing newspapers to be highly partisan. Moreso when there was more than one daily paper in a city.

It was when the success of FOX news made it clear that being partizan was what the audience wanted.

No doubt. But I recall knowing the difference between an editorial opinion piece and straight up news reporting. I’m not sure that’s entirely clear to a large television viewing audience on current news networks.

They tried, up to the rise of the Obama-ssiah. They just weren’t very good at it. Since the Trump election, they stopped trying.


  1. In that year, Fox News, MSNBC and The Daily Show all launched. Partisan news and political commentary delivered by comedians have rocketed in popularity ever since.

You can go back to the early 19th century and find partisanship in the media. If you’re specifically talking about televised media, I imagine it’s been happening gradually since CNN first started. There isn’t enough news in the day, so the down time gets filled up with talking heads and their opinions. Since people tend to stay inside their bubbles, the opinions are taken as fact.

In some areas at least this partisanship has been around for a long time. For an example, back in the 1950’s St. Louis had two major newspapers, the Post-Dispatch (still printing) and the Globe-Democrat (now extinct). The Post was heavily slanted towards the liberal side of things, while the Globe was thoroughly conservative. There was one instance I particularly remember; the company I worked for was a consulting engineering firm that was owned by Lief J. Sverdrup, who had been IIRC a General of Engineers in the south pacific during the recent dust-up with Japan. He was very conservative, and the Post hated him.

One day there was a front page article in the Post about “concrete cracking” in a local bridge that his company had designed. There was a big front page photo showing what looked to be really huge cracks in the concrete. The next edition of the Globe had the same photo, but taken so that much of the surrounding concrete was shown. And this showed that the crack was a very small one, basically a cosmetic issue, in one of the roadway curbs. Probably not more than a inch or two in length. The Post was sort of embarrassed about that one.

In the “old days” either candidate was usually an acceptable choice, and they both represented two respectable parties. It was easier, and more appropriate, to be “neutral” about the outcome of the election. I’ll just say I don’t think that’s true anymore.

Yeah, it’s hard to pretend to be neutral when the president is Donald Fucking Trump.


It’s not the news media’s job to be neutral. “Democrats say X, Republicans say Y, we report, you decide”. Because if X is false and Y is true, you can fucking report “Democrats say X which is false, and Republicans say Y which is true.”

Which may be why they no longer pretend.

To be clear, they weren’t neutral before that, but they did pretend they were.

Mark Halperin published a memo to (IIRC) ABC News to tell hs reporters ‘Democrats say X, Republicans say Y, both X and Y are false, but this election is important so you should stress Y.’


Mark Halperin is a pathetic hack and maybe the worst big-name non-opinion journalist in America. Shitty journalism is a much, much bigger problem than liberal or conservative bias.

As the Rolling Stone said of Roger Ailes, “He was the Christopher Columbus of hate”, but I do think that it was more like rediscovering a feature of news that was prevalent early in American history.

What I think took place is that thanks to the increase in transportation and communications what was insular had to change a bit to appeal to most of the population of not just cities, but the whole nation. And in the past many local sources of information depended on a few sponsors that also had a part in dictating the media on what to report or not.

That did go away when media groups noticed that now they they had to appeal to people all over the nation, and almost at the same time (around the late 20th century) the relative loss of the power that one or few sponsors had before began to fade a lot. Because now many more and diverse advertisers were getting into the game. Then the media had more freedom to get over the toes of powerful groups and did not mind the loss of some advertisers)

The growth of new media has had the property IMHO of recreating the old fashion pressures that editors had to confront when dealing with partisan sponsors. There is then more freedom now to appear partisan as they do know that they do not have to be universal in their appeal, they have just do it with specific viewers or readers.

As I recall, the ABC memo was to tell reporters to stop trying to worship at the altar of bothsidesdoitism. If a Republican is caught in a big lie, there is no need to search for a Democrat telling a small one so that we can keep saying bothsidesdoit.

I think it was last year Dopers informed me that the US press has always been partisan, so why should the US TV channels be any different?

Just like, you know, Columbus.

My 2 cents is that it got a big boost in the 70’s when the morning shows discovered a successful formula for mixing of news and entertainment. And what I call the "Disneyfication’ business model; wherein all divisions of a company are tasked with promotion and integration of all of the others. This led to corporate bosses to require more and more “news” stories on subjects that promoted the other divisions. Such as a "story’, let’s say on the new type of sandwich the fastfood restaurant owned by the the corporate parent just came out with and the “new revolution” in fastfood technology that it spawned. This had two consequences; the obvious one of blurring the line on what is actually news, and the more subtle one which was that serious journalist were no longer needed to tell these kinds of stories. It was more important that the audience found you likeable than trustable.
so, as others pointed out, even tho there has always been a bias in the news, it was more important to the serious journalists of yore to at least appear unbiased, and now the faces of the news don’t seem to think that is important, and might not be able to do it even if they thought it was.


By “news media” I’m guessing the OP means cable TV news. Newspapers, as noted, have always been partisan.

As for TV, the evening news was traditionally just a headline service, without much room to appear partisan. But even in the good old days, there were liberal commentaries by Eric Sevareid, conservative commentaries by Howard K. Smith, and documentaries (which few people watched.)

Then CNN came along. In the 1980s, CNN was pretty much the nightly news except 24 hours a day. That takes us to 1996, when Roger Ailes started Fox News Channel. Ailes realized there was a huge, untapped pool of people whose motto was** “biased news is anything I don’t like,”** and deliberately tilted FNC to the right. Then the also-ran MSNBC started tilting to the left. CNN, seeing its ratings dropping, moved to more panel shows featuring conservatives who weren’t Fox News conservatives and liberals who were more mainstream than the MSNBC crew.

And to make the viewing more exciting, all the cable news shows feature panelists shouting over each other, even when they agree.

Of course that’s just topline. If you want to go deeper, we can go back to the suburbanization of the 1950s, which lead to the death of the afternoon newspaper, and the ensuing elimination of multiple voices in a community.

In reporting the news, yes, it’s their job to be as fair as possible (“objectivity” is impossible for human beings). In editorializing, they should be able to express whatever opinions they want.

But the golden age of the on-air editorial died sometime before Walter Cronkite went off the air, and we now have gossipy panels of advocates presenting pseudo-news instead (newspapers have watered down and attempted to conceal their editorials by labeling them “analysis” in small print or not even bothering to separate them from “news” content).

When was the last time Fox, MSNBC or CNN actually presented an editorial representing their corporate view?