Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Broadcast and Digital Journalism
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Broadcast and Video Studies
The Arab Spring movement has captivated the world over the past few years. Cable networks have played a large role covering the Arab Spring in the United States. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are the three most watched cable networks and the ones that face the most scrutiny.
Cable news is often accussed of catering to specific audiences, biased reporting and a variety of other criticisms. Most of these are leveled at the way the networks handle domestic issues. The Arab Spring represented an opportunity to see if the same critiques were true when cable focused on international events.
In terms of national issues, CNN is the network that is known for trying to remain in the center, or the middle of the political divide. Fox News is considered to aim for conservatives while MSNBC provides a liberal perspective. Each network has pundits that go against this framework but the majority of the content is focused in one direction. This project attemps to measure which network has provided the fairest and most comprehensive content regarding the Arab Spring.
Two shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC were chosen for analysis, making a total of six shows altogether. These shows all took place in the evening after the networks daytime news hours had completed. The evening shows are where cable really separates itself from broadcast news. The shows selected on CNN were Anderson Cooper 360° and The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. On Fox News Hannity and the O’Reilly Factor were analyzed. On MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews and The Rachel Maddow Show were selected.
Six events were chosen that were important to the Arab Spring in 2011. These were mass demonstrations beginning in Egypt in January, Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak resigning in February, NATO forces intervening in Libya in March, Syrian protests causing violence throughout the country beginning in March, Mubarak going on trial in August and the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi being killed in October.
Surveys were prepared that showed viewers clips of how a story was covered on each network that was analyzed. Viewers were then asked to rate the coverage they watched based on any perceived bias and the thoroughness of the coverage.
Viewer surveys showed that viewers still perceived a bias in Fox News and MSNBC’s coverage of the Arab Spring. CNN was the network with the least perceived bias. Interestingly, even though MSNBC and Fox News scored high levels of bias amongst survey participants, the networks still rated highly in terms of the thoroughness and importance of the coverage they provided.
It can be concluded that Fox News and MSNBC still find a way to let their political agendas creep in to international stories while CNN manages to remain in the center. It cannot be concluded however, that the bias shown on any of the networks was necessarily a deterrent to how viewers felt about the quality of the coverage.
Snyder, Benjamin, "How the Arab Spring Movement Has Been Covered by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC" (2013). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 96.
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