TOPICS > Nation

Extended Interview: Andrew Tyndall

February 13, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

TERENCE SMITH: We asked you to look at the content of the three dominant cable news channels. When you did, what did you find?

ANDREW TYNDALL: We looked at CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC, in primetime. We took a week’s worth of programming in the end of January. The overall thing that people should realize about these three networks is they’re not all of the same — they have programming throughout the night, and a good way of dividing them is between their newscasts and their interview programs. Each of them have two or three hours of newscasts per night, and each of them have two or three hours of interview programs a night.

The big difference between them is between those two things, and you get certain styles of newscasts and certain styles of interview on all channels. So you can’t say there’s one thing that’s on one channel.

TERENCE SMITH: Taking those separately then, when you look at their news broadcasts, where they’re presenting the news rather than commentary or interviews, what struck you in the news broadcasts, among the three?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The household names, which were the anchors, the senior anchors for each network, are Brit Hume on the Fox News Channel, Aaron Brown on CNN, and Brian Williams on MSNBC. They each anchor an hour-long newscast, which is twice the length of the broadcast networks’ newscasts. Apart from being twice the length, they are very similar in style and content to what you would see if you saw Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, or Dan Rather. In other words, an anchor’s role is mostly that of a newscaster reading copy and introducing reports by the network’s correspondents from the field. All three of them are dominated by reports from the correspondents. CNN has the most and MSNBC has the least, but still, nevertheless, that’s the style of all three.

TERENCE SMITH: And could you discern any ideological tilt in any of them?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The most interesting thing on Fox News Channel is Brit Hume’s newscast — the way he ends it each night. He ends with a couple of segments, [one of] which is a roundtable political discussion. This is something that Fox does throughout their programming, which is use in-house analysts and experts to present the network’s opinions rather than going outside for interview guests.

Hume’s roundtable panel is of inside the beltway journalists, where they discuss the political news of the day, and it’s interesting that of the six print journalists that we saw appearing in that panel during the week we looked at it, three were from explicitly right-wing publications and three were from mainstream publications. None was from an explicitly left-wing publication.

TERENCE SMITH: So you see a tilt in the selection of those people?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Yes. In general, there are places throughout the evening where Fox News Channel seems to be to the right of center, and this would be one of the places where you see it.

TERENCE SMITH: And CNN?

ANDREW TYNDALL: CNN has long had the reputation of being the preeminent global news-gathering operation, with greater reach even than the broadcast networks. That’s the thing that they emphasize on Aaron Brown’s newscast. They spend the most time with news reports from correspondents. They spend lesser time on opinion and analysis. Therefore, the question of who they select to do that opinion and analysis is not important.

The journalistic style in Aaron Brown’s newscast is traditional, objective news reporting, the type of news reporting that you would see on the broadcast networks.

TERENCE SMITH: What does Aaron Brown bring to CNN?

ANDREW TYNDALL: All three networks have decided that they’re going to have a flagship hour-long nightly newscast with a name that they can promote as the leader of their news team. Aaron Brown’s the person who’s been given that job at CNN. Brian Williams has the job at MSNBC, where he has long been considered to be the potential heir to Tom Brokaw, moving over to NBC. And Brit Hume has the job at Fox News Channel. Interestingly, Brit Hume does that work, however, out of primetime. He does it in the early evening news hour and the primetime is much more heated and opinionated than Hume’s newscast.

So Aaron Brown is the latest of the three to do his newscast. So they’re really trying to present his newscast as being fit for primetime, rather than an early newscast of the same ilk as Jennings or Brokaw or Rather. They wanted to, to go in as a primetime newscast, which is an authoritative summary of the day. He was always — when he worked at ABC, before he went to CNN — one of his greatest skills was as a writer. He writes very well. He’s got a very good use of words. I don’t know if that’s the primary skill you need to have to be the flagship anchorman of a cable news network. That skill is being cool under fire, being able to juggle 15 balls up in the air at the same time, being able to interview on the fly, being able to accumulate crisis information and disseminate it in a calm and authoritative manner. He was very new on the job when he tried to do that on September 11th. I think we have to wait until the next crisis to see how he does.

TERENCE SMITH: Did you find any discernible ideological tilt when you examined CNN’s news broadcasts?

ANDREW TYNDALL: My experience as a news analyst, I would call CNN’s news reports thoroughly mainstream. I’d like to add that the news reporting on Brit Hume’s newscast is also mainstream. The tilt is in the roundtable discussion, not in the reporting.

TERENCE SMITH: And MSNBC?

ANDREW TYNDALL: MSNBC, again, they’re “birds of a feather,” these three newscasts. The thing that’s interesting about MSNBC’s news reporting is that it’s a lot of overlap with Tom Brokaw’s “NBC Nightly News,” which is on earlier that evening. Many of the segments, many of the stories are actually not by MSNBC reporters but by NBC News reporters, and you have a rerun of a network story or an update of them.

TERENCE SMITH: Any discernible ideological tilt there?

ANDREW TYNDALL: As I say, on these newscasts — the one that I would like to point out, of all three of them, would be Brit Hume’s roundtable discussion.

[But] Fox News, apart from the traditional hour-long newscast we just talked about, they also have a decidedly nontraditional newscast, which is unlike anything that I’ve seen on national television news anywhere. This is Shepard Smith’s hour-long roller coaster ride through the global news events of the day.

If you imagine what you see on a local news sportscast at 11 p.m., where you have a whole slew of video clips, and someone with a very loud voice talking very fast, telling you in a somewhat flippant tone about the exciting things that happened in the world of sports, well, Shepard Smith takes that principle and applies it to the world of news.

TERENCE SMITH: And what about his content? How would you characterize it?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The thing about Shepard Smith’s content in terms of story selection is that unlike CNN, which prides itself on in-depth coverage of the major stories of the day, this is a cavalcade of clips from all over, not concentrating on the major stories, not relying on correspondents, but footage from all over the world of all various types, all with his booming voice-over, and he does it in a very jaunty style with a twinkle in his eye.

On the day when we saw it, which, which was the day when the Californian Taliban [John Walker Lindh] was being returned back to Virginia for, to stand trial for terrorist conspiracy, all the other newscasts called him John Walker Lindh. As far as Shepard Smith was concerned, he was “Johnny Jihad”. He delights in pricking the pomposity of other journalists. He likes to be flippant and irreverent, and he does everything with a tabloid flare.

TERENCE SMITH: Now move on, if you will, to the other fare that is offered in the evening hours by these three cable news channels. Shows like Bill O’Reilly, and “Hannity and Colmes”, and “Hardball with Chris Matthews”, and Alan Keyes. Taking them one by one, what did you find as you looked at each network?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The best place to start to understand what goes on in these “talking head” and interview programs, is to start with the oldest and most-established of them, which is “Crossfire”. “Crossfire” on CNN is a half-hour show and we all know what the format is. It’s a guest from the right and a guest from the left, and an interviewer from the right and an interviewer from the left, arguing with one another.

It’s in the title, “Crossfire”, but it’s highly opinionated and a highly unusual style of interviewing for CNN, which the rest of the schedule, their interviewing is polite and courtly and leisurely and not opinionated. The style of interviewing on “Crossfire”, on the other hand, is highly opinionated, abrasive, combative, they interrupt their guests a lot of the time, and it’s an argument rather than an interview.

TERENCE SMITH: So something of an anomaly for CNN?

ANDREW TYNDALL: It’s an anomaly for CNN but it’s the norm on Fox News Channel. They have their own “Crossfire”-style show, which is an hour rather than half an hour, called “Hannity and Colmes”. But they also have a one-on-one interview show which precedes it, which is by Bill O’Reilly. The interesting thing about Bill O’Reilly is that he interviews in the style of a “Crossfire” interviewer, even though the structure of the interviews are in a one-on-one interview, a traditional one, where you’re there to solicit information rather than to exchange ideas.

TERENCE SMITH: And is there a discernible ideological tilt in these shows on Fox?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The first thing you have to say about O’Reilly[‘s program] is that it’s riddled with opinions. More than half the time, when he asks the person a personal question, he’ll preface the question with his own opinion of what the answer should be. So the interviews are more like arguments than they are like interviews.

That having been said, he’s a very opinionated man. You learn an awful lot about what he thinks about the world in general, quite repeatedly. Often, his opinions are right wing. However, I’d like to say that he’s a more subtle thinker than I thought he was going to be before I started analyzing his program, and sometimes his opinions appear to be more right wing than they actually are. Sometimes, a right-wing premise is followed up by a populist or libertarian solution, which would be quite happy on the left wing as on the right wing.

So a lot of the time, when you actually come down and analyze what he thinks, he can be on the populist side or on the libertarian side of the scale.

TERENCE SMITH: So he doesn’t fit, in your opinion, a neat ideological pigeonhole?

ANDREW TYNDALL: That’s not to say, however, that he’s not more right wing than he is anything else.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. Take a look at some of the others that we’ve mentioned here.

ANDREW TYNDALL: The other interviewing styles. O’Reilly is the most combative, the most opinionated of all of the solo interviewers. There are two on MSNBC who have a similar style, and we can detect this style by seeing how many opinions are in the questions, how many times they interrupt their interviews to get their own point of view in, [and] how rapid-fire the question-and-answer exchange is.

Chris Matthews and Alan Keyes, on MSNBC, have a Fox style of interviewing which is similar to O’Reilly’s. On CNN, when you get past “Crossfire”, when you get into the one-on-one format rather than the four-way argument format, nobody interviews like Bill O’Reilly.

TERENCE SMITH: Interesting. And you mentioned Chris Matthews and Alan Keyes. Did you see them as the yin and the yang of the left and the right?

ANDREW TYNDALL: No. Chris Matthews and Bill O’Reilly share a Catholic upbringing and Jesuitical habits. They like a good argument, and they both have a combination of populist instincts and ethical outrage which inform their politics. Alan Keyes, on the other hand — I don’t know if people remember him from his presidential campaigns — he spends more time preaching than he does arguing in his interviews, and he addresses us personally and he tries to persuade of his opinion, rather than having a verbal fistfight with a guest.

TERENCE SMITH: Preaching to the converted?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Well, didn’t convert me! [Laughter.]

TERENCE SMITH: In other words, what is he providing to that audience?

ANDREW TYNDALL: On one of the evenings he was there, he started with the proposition that the attack on the World Trade Center was evil, and then he wanted us to know how we could understand evil, and he said the best way to understand evil would be to analyze the genocide of abortions that have taken place in the 29 years since “Roe v. Wade” took place. That’s a challenging point of view, and he certainly wasn’t talking only to people who agreed with him when he said that. He was trying to persuade us of his interpretation of… the ethics of abortion.

TERENCE SMITH: So very conspicuously bringing a conservative perspective into that discussion?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Yes. Much more proselytizing in his attitude than Bill O’Reilly, who will mention his opinion in his interviews, but then be willing to hear the other persons counter him, and his interviews are much more a give-and-take of ideas, whereas Alan Keyes is much more instructional.

TERENCE SMITH: When you looked at the product of all three, you said you came to some sort of baseline and primary observations. What were they?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The thumbnail recommendation I would have to people who were interested in tuning in to these channels would be if you want a news-gathering channel, then go to CNN. If you want an opinion channel, go to Fox News Channel. And MSNBC is confused between the two. It starts and ends its primetime with Fox-style opinionated coverage and its middle of primetime is a news-gathering operation.

So Fox News Channel is opinionated. I say it’s opinionated. You can see the style in a number of ways. There’s the roundtable of analysts that Brit Hume has in the end of his newscast. There’s the way Bill O’Reilly frames his questions, often with his own attitude first, before hearing the response of someone else. There’s the type of guests that are selected. They usually, for interviews, select guests who are already ideologically very certain of where they stand.

Very few ordinary people being interviewed; very few celebrities. Most of the people are either political operatives, partisans, or they’re lawyers, people who are used to arguing their case, or they’re veterans of the, of the National Security and military. These are people who are very certain of their opinions, and you tune into Fox News Channel in order to get those opinions told to you, whether you agree with them or not.

TERENCE SMITH: And CNN, you said primarily a news-gathering network.

ANDREW TYNDALL: Yes. CNN, for instance, has one nightly program which is called “Live From…” and what they’ll do is they will take a correspondent out into the field, somewhere in the world — and we saw it was anywhere from Cuba to the Congo to the Philippines, to Houston where the Enron collapse took place — and they’ll do in-depth news-gathering of a major story of the day.

If you look at the amount of time spent on various stories, CNN was much more interested in covering the big stories of the day, in depth. Fox News Channel had much more a scattershot approach, having a little bit on a multitude of stories rather than in-depth on the major stories.

MSNBC has not resolved its programming. As I said before, you wouldn’t know from looking at Ashleigh Banfield’s reports on the war on terrorism or Brian Williams’ newscast what to expect from Chris Matthews or Alan Keyes. It’s chalk and cheese.

TERENCE SMITH: In your report, you said the cable networks all present a male-dominated worldview. Tell me what you found in that regard.

ANDREW TYNDALL: Well, since we did this report, there’s been a lot of publicity about Connie Chung and Greta Van Susteren as the new anchors for each of these networks, but nevertheless we looked at 15 hours of programming each night. Only two of those 15 hours had a female anchor on all three networks combined. Only 25 percent of all interview guests were women, 75 percent men — and stories that have been traditionally thought in television newsrooms as appealing to a female audience, stories, for instance, on health and medicine, or on education, or on arts and culture and celebrity, those stories were really undercovered on all three networks. Fox, especially, was heavy on politics. All three were heavy on the war on terrorism, and these other, these other beats really got undercovered.

TERENCE SMITH: So cable news is a man’s world.

ANDREW TYNDALL: Cable news is a man’s world. Women need not apply.

TERENCE SMITH: On to the newscasts. You found, for example, that the greatest number of taped packages from correspondents would be on CNN, by a striking percentage.

ANDREW TYNDALL: Yes. If you look, if you look at the news that’s given to you over a primetime evening, rather than interviews, in two hours of newscasts CNN delivered more time in reports from correspondents from the field as Fox News Channel did in three hours of newscasts.

TERENCE SMITH: Then when you looked at the top ten stories for the week, that you examined, what did you find?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Well, this was a particular week where, if you looked to broadcast television news, the major story that week was the Enron bankruptcy. There were those inquiries into all sorts of financial chicanery and wheeler-dealing, and ABC, CBS, and NBC treated that as the major story of the week.

TERENCE SMITH: Now looking at the cable news channels?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Only CNN gave it the most time. The other two, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, had war-related stories as their number one and their number two. There was the Guantanamo Bay detainees and the possible human rights violations, and the looming trial of John Walker Lindh.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. Also the reports from Afghanistan were very strong on MSNBC. What do you deduce from that? In other words, if, if it’s true, as it was, this week that CNN thought Enron was the big story, Fox News Channel thought John Walker Lindh was the big story, and MSNBC thought the winding-down war in Afghanistan was the big story. What do you deduce from that?

ANDREW TYNDALL: First of all, CNN’s news judgment is sounder. There was no doubt about it during that week, that Enron was the big story. The other two networks should be ashamed of themselves for underplaying that story. If you’re looking for motive for underplaying it, Fox News Channel has certainly made a big promotional deal since September 11th about it being the most patriotic of the three networks, and its promotional zeal may have got in the way of his journalistic judgment.

Added to that, if there is a political bias on Fox News Channel — which we saw in other areas, more interested in ideology, in opinion and in politics — the Enron scandal was still at that stage in the world finance, and hadn’t crossed over into the world of politics, whereas, whereas the decisions by the Attorney General about whether to prosecute Lindh, or the decisions by the Pentagon about how to patrol the detainees in Guantanamo Bay were definitely political decisions.

TERENCE SMITH: On the night of the State of the Union Address to Congress, the Fox News Channel drew more viewers than the other cable news channels combined. Why do you suppose that was?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Okay. A major news event like the State of the Union Address is not only covered by cable news networks, it’s covered by the broadcast networks. If what you want to do is get the news coverage of the event rather than opinion and analysis, there are many places you can go. You can go to CNN, but you can go to ABC or CBS or NBC, or PBS, to get it. So that type of audience, the people who are interested in the State of Union as a news event, wouldn’t necessarily go to CNN. They have many options.

What Fox News Channel specializes in is appealing to an audience that is interested in analysis and opinion and spin about news events, rather than reporting on the news events. If you’re that type of person, that would be a top priority place to go rather than one choice among many.

TERENCE SMITH: So you think that audience, that night, probably went to Fox on what was clearly a political story, a State of the Union Address. They went to Fox because they wanted the opinion and the angle?

ANDREW TYNDALL: All through Fox’s primetime programming, you can see deliberate strategic decisions that have been made — not the same decision in each program, but all the way through different types of decisions — which emphasize having an opinion, examining the ideology, knowing what the points of view are about news stories, rather than merely reporting the facts.

TERENCE SMITH: So you see that again and again?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Again and again, you see it with Bill O’Reilly’s roundtable of political analysts. You see it in the flippant, jaunty, facetious style of Shepard Smith. You see it in the loaded questions asked by Bill O’Reilly, and you see in the decision to have an hour of a “Crossfire”-type show in “Hannity and Colmes” rather than a half-hour on CNN.

What’s more, people, I think lazily, use, use the term, “Oh, Fox, that’s the right-wing network.” Now we did find places where there was a right-wing inflection in Fox’s content. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. What Fox is is an opinionated network. What they do is they take news stories that exist out there in the world, and rather than reporting on them, they spin them, they argue about them, they, they present conflicting points of view. Now the right-wing point of view has more prominence than the centrist or the left-wing point of view, but nevertheless, it’s not right-wing propaganda, it’s opinion that you’re getting.

TERENCE SMITH: They call themselves “fair and balanced.” That’s their phrase, their slogan.

ANDREW TYNDALL: There are multiple times during the night where they’re unbalanced. However, none of those are the dominant mood of the programming. They’re little inflections that come in once in a while. Maybe three times an hour you’ll hear something that is clearly not balanced. As for fair, they like fur flying, and if they can use innuendo or unfair tactics in order to get some excitement going, they’re absolutely prepared to do that.

TERENCE SMITH: One thing you do see on the Fox News Channel are the anchors wearing American flag lapel pins. You see a little waving flag on the screen when watching Fox News. What did you find when you looked at the three networks in terms of some sort of patriotic fervor quotient?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Let’s look at the way in which Fox News Channel was setting up its interviews. First of all, it set up its interviews to be more combative and less of a discussion than the other networks. So that means they’ll either do a “Crossfire”-style interview, where two people are arguing with one another, or the anchor himself will take on the guest and argue directly with the guest.

In, in general, they’re scrupulously fair in making sure that there’s one person who wants to torture detainees at Guantanamo Bay, there’s another person who wants to uphold their human rights. Or there’s one person who wants to try [John Walker Lindh] for treason. There’s another person who says that all due process should be observed and burdens of proof should be, should be enforced.

Where they tilt that balance is not in the guests that they have for interviews. It’s in their in-house panel of analysts. There are many of their analysts who are former CIA, former Pentagon, former military, who come on and talk about the war. These are the people who are gung-ho in the war on terrorism, and because they are labeled as analysts employed by Fox News, they carry the imprimatur of the network.

They puncture the reporting [with their worldview]. It comes on once in a while. If you were to look at ten minutes of primetime on Fox, you might not come across one of these instances. If you were to look at four hours, you would.

TERENCE SMITH: You know, CNN has been described by its critics as liberal, to the left of center. Congressman Tom DeLay loves to call it the Communist News Network. It was also described in years past as the Clinton News Network. Any justification for that?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Well, in the week that we saw, the fact that CNN decided that the Enron story was the biggest news story of the week and not the latest development in the war on terrorism, says to me that they’re more willing to examine flaws in capitalism than either MSNBC or Fox News Channel. However, anybody who calls [CNN anchor] Lou Dobbs a communist has not been paying attention, because there’s no way you could construe Lou Dobbs as a communist.

TERENCE SMITH: When you look at all three, as you did, 67 and a half hours, what’s the most conspicuous difference among them?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The most conspicuous difference is the style that Fox News Channel has chosen to adopt, and I’m not talking about its ideology now. I’m not talking about those occasional instances where a right-wing opinion is voiced, or an analyst comes up with something that may be more conservative than you’d expect from mainstream journalism.

What I’m talking about is a “hothouse atmosphere” of coverage, where there’s very little that’s not highly ideologically charged, where opinions aren’t being thrown around constantly, back and forth. This acts as a megaphone, so that ideas that were lying under the surface, that would, in other formats, in other styles, would seem merely like a nuance, just a slip of the tongue or something that was said in passing, because of this highly opinionated journalistic style, both in their news coverage and in their interviews, these little inflections which come across occasionally get amplified and come across loud and clear.

However, the reason why you’d watch Fox News wouldn’t be to be persuaded of a certain political agenda. It would be to be able to bathe in this hothouse of opinion and spin and analysis. That’s the reason why it’s watchable television, because people are all the time exchanging ideas, they’re arguing, they’re thinking about policy matters and politics.

TERENCE SMITH: And is that, in your view, why Fox has moved up in the ratings, and in January of this year, even surpassed CNN’s audience?

ANDREW TYNDALL: There are two reasons why you would have a 24-hour cable news channel in the first, why you’d invent such a thing. One of them is to cater to people who are hungry for opinionated political debate. The second is to provide a resource, so that people who want in-depth coverage of a major crisis when it happens will not just check in for a half-hour newscast but they will get in-depth coverage.

Fox News clearly provides the former. CNN clearly provides the latter. The decision about who gets the bigger ratings depends more on the times, whether it’s times of crisis or times of opinionating, than it does on the content of the, of the newscasts themselves.

TERENCE SMITH: What happened to the audience, the viewership, the ratings of the three networks after September 11th?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Well, the audience for news went up after September 11th. The audience for the network newscasts went up. The audience for the cable news networks [went] up higher proportionately, because they were starting from a lower base. In terms of millions of eyeballs, however, there was not the huge jump in cable news audiences that you would expect when it’s stated in terms of percentages. However, Fox News Channel had been gaining audience share vis-a-vis CNN over a number of months, up until September 11th.

When September 11th happened, CNN held Fox off, proving that when a crisis happens, people turn to CNN. Four months later, as the crisis is dying down, that inexorable advance that we saw in Fox News Channel before September 11th has resumed.

TERENCE SMITH: You describe the house style of Fox. Is there a house style at MSNBC?

ANDREW TYNDALL: I’m very confused about the sort of programming MSNBC is putting on the air. They have two hour-long interview programs, one by Chris Matthews and one by Alan Keyes, which are not the same as what you’d see on Fox News Channel, but in terms of interviewing style, type of guest, subject matter, topic selection, they’re very Foxesque, you could say.

In between these two hours, however, you have a very CNN-style newscast from Brian Williams, very much in the traditional mode of dependence on correspondents and traditional objective reporting. And then you have a special hour that’s on at the moment from Ashleigh Banfield, a new correspondent trying to make a reputation as in-the-field reporter a la Christiane Amanpour or Geraldo Rivera, rather than an opinionated anchor who’s exchanging ideas.

So you look at MSNBC and you don’t know whether you’re watching something that’s trying to go head-to-head against Fox or head-to-head against CNN.

TERENCE SMITH: And when you look at all this talent raiding that has gone on among the three, some with some significant dollar signs attached to them in terms of salary, what will they do, in your view, to either reinforce or change the image of the different networks?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Even though it seems as though the appeal of the Fox News Channel is the appeal of its anchors, because it spends very little time on its correspondents and gives the anchor’s name to each of its programming, my argument as a result of this study is there is a house style at Fox which can be applied to various different types of programs and different types of personalities who are anchoring for you. I think the house style will be able to handle any anchor and turn them into a Fox personality. So it’s not that Greta van Susteren is going to change Fox. I predict that Fox is going to change Greta van Susteren.

On CNN, on the other hand, their new hire in the middle of primetime, not at the end of primetime is Connie Chung. Now Connie Chung has a history as a newscaster and anchorwoman on CBS, but her two claims to fame as a broadcast journalist were the Tonya Harding story and the Gary Condit story. Now neither of these have a hard news, in-the-field reporting image, that CNN appears to be projecting in its programming such as “Live From …”, or in the mix in the Aaron Brown “NewsNight”. This Connie Chung hire is much more sitting next to Larry King in type of programming than it is sitting next to Aaron Brown. If CNN wants to rely on its abiding reputation as a global news-gathering power, as a place to go to in times of crisis, that covers the major stories in depth, Connie Chung goes against the grain rather than helps the grain.

TERENCE SMITH: And the fact that they are going out and raiding each other, is that just a manifestation of the intensified competition?

ANDREW TYNDALL: Fox News Channel has always organized its programming around names and faces and anchors. Going out and getting an anchor that they can promote and hype and have stories about facelifts and things like that, I don’t think that’s a deviation away from Fox News’ style at all. I think that’s what they do.

CNN, on the other hand, has always said they’re a reporters network first. Going out and spending money on Connie Chung means budget cuts somewhere. So somewhere in the Congo or in the Philippines, or in these places where, which they’re uniquely able to cover. So I think that this is a sign of confusion on CNN’s part, not a sign of confusion on Fox News Channel’s part.

TERENCE SMITH: Has it become a two-network race for the cable news audience?

ANDREW TYNDALL: The difference between MSNBC and CNN and Fox News Channel is you’ve got to see MSNBC as part of the NBC News operation. It doesn’t stand alone. NBC News is a very powerful news organization. Its “Today” show is immensely popular. It’s solved the problem of primetime magazines with its “Dateline” show. Many people watch “NBC Nightly News”. It’s routinely first or second in the ratings. It’s got an enormously loyal, high-income audience for its CNBC Wall Street coverage.

MSNBC does not have to carry the load to make NBC News work as an operation. It can be there for many reasons other than getting an audience. It can be a farm team for correspondents, training them to get up to the network level. It can be a place where you can go when there’s a crisis and not have to preempt your primetime programming, which ABC and CBS can’t do. There are many reasons why MSNBC makes a lot of sense, even if it’s in third place in the ratings.