Communications Professor Studies Prevalence of Opinions on Cable News

Communications Professor Dr. Mark Meachem examined 11 years of primetime cable newscasts during his sabbatical.

Communications Professor Dr. Mark Meachem has completed his sabbatical research examining 11 years of primetime cable news.  His research showed that an average of one in every five comments on cable newscasts was an opinion, rather than fact.

Dr. Meachem studied the top-rated news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and FOX News, anchored by Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Sean Hannity.  He said the blending of fact and opinions helps explain why, according to a national study of more than 5,000 U.S. adults, only about a quarter of Americans could correctly distinguish factual statements from opinions.

There are a number of ways that newscasts mix opinions and news.  “Most common and most troubling is the phrase ‘I think’ to preface both facts and opinions,”said Dr. Meachem. “The phrase is used, on average, every two minutes of a primetime cable news show.”

Dr. Meachem admits he was surprised that he did not find an overall trend of increasing opinions being offered on the cable news shows.   Rather, he said, the results went up and down.  Only Anderson Cooper’s show showed a sharp increase in the number of opinions, although that program began more as a standard news show compared to shows on MSNBC and FOX.

The research and Dr. Meachem’s resulting presentation at the Eastern Communications Conference in Providence, RI in April sparked a lot of discussion about what the media can do differently.  Dr. Meachem believes that cable news shows should do  a better job of separating opinions from facts.