The Economist: Can CNN’s Unbiased Cable Coverage Thrive in the 2012 Election?

How’s this for a new take on an old debate: can an unbiased cable channel survive?

While FOX and MSNBC split the audience with a meat cleaver – with the Confederates flocking to Rupert Murdoch and the Hippies throwing their weight behind Comcast – CNN is trying to grab that middle of the United States for itself.

The only problem, writes The Economist, is there is no middle.

“Fox News assures conservative viewers that Democrats’ gaffes fall in the former category, and Republicans’ in the latter,” writes one of The Economist‘s writers in its business section the writer was not named or credited). “MSNBC, vice versa. CNN tries to be fair. Viewers hate that. Its ratings in America are sliding, while Fox and MSNBC are doing well.”

Their accompanying graph shows that CNN hasn’t led in election time ratings since 2003, and is currently in third behind both those mentioned networks, or channels. MSNBC is buoyed by the likes of Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell. FOX thrives with O’Reilly, Fox and Friends, and Sean Hannity.

They’re all a little crazy, but they’re all even better at their jobs.

Journalism may be damned, but there is something to be said about survival. And, since when has TV been about journalism, anyway?

(*If you want an example of how even CNN is failing their own mantra, take a look at Princess Leia’s election coverage in the video above.)

“CNN is good at reporting hard news, because it has lots of good reporters,” continues The Economist. “It has 45 bureaus around the world—more than Fox News and MSNBC combined—and about 4,000 employees. Its ratings soar whenever there is a terrorist attack, flood or war. When American embassies were recently stormed in Libya, Yemen and Egypt, for example, CNN got a lift.”

“When the news is about words rather than action, however, CNN struggles. Conservative viewers like to hear Fox’s Bill O’Reilly fume about “far-left loons”. Liberals like to hear MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow condescend to conservatives. Gasbags in a studio are cheaper than camera crews in the Middle East, which may be why CNN’s profit margins (around 37%) are less than MSNBC’s (46%) and Fox’s (55%).”

“CNN’s challenge is to attract more viewers when no one is shooting anyone or blowing anything up.”

Ay. Isn’t that always the truth?