On Monday morning CNN, MSNBC and Fox all made programming announcements that doubled as statements about each network’s positioning in the news and talk marketplace.
Fox went even further into right-wing talk, promoting the jocular and vehemently anti-Biden commentator Jesse Watters to helm its 7 p.m. hour. MSNBC went the opposite direction politically, as would be expected, but it did follow a similar direction conceptually, hiring former Biden insider Symone D. Sanders to host talk shows on cable and streaming.
CNN did something different entirely: It poached Audie Cornish, an acclaimed journalist and interviewer who spent the past 16 years at NPR.
Cornish will lead a weekly series on CNN+, the streaming service that will launch this spring. “She will also host a new podcast for CNN Audio and will appear on CNN covering national, political and breaking news,” the network said.
The key word in that sentence might be “news.” Of the three big appointments across three cable brands on Monday, Cornish was the only journalist.
CNN certainly has many political commentators on the payroll – Sanders used to be one of them – but the recent spate of hires for CNN+ have been capital-J journalists like Chris Wallace and apolitical personalities like food writer and chef Alison Roman.
CNN executives have signaled that the streaming service will feature a wide array of programming, including travel and lifestyle shows.
“We have a great product on CNN that serves our audience. What you will see from CNN+ will be distinctive and different,” chief digital officer Andrew Morse told Variety last month.
MSNBC has also emphasized expansions into streaming video. Sanders’ deal is emblematic of MSNBC owner Comcast’s approach to the market. She will host a show on the weekends on MSNBC, for cable subscribers, and she’ll also have a show on The Choice, an arm of the Peacock streaming service, for those subscribers.
Other MSNBC personalities, including Ayman Mohyeldin and Mehdi Hasan, have similar cross-platform gigs.
For the most part, these MSNBC programs present liberal points of view and prioritize guests over reporters in the field. The programs are more tethered to the news, however, than the equivalent hours on Fox, which function as outrageous opposition to the traditional news media.
Fox’s anti-media bent extends to its streaming venture, Fox Nation, which features a mix of middle-America lifestyle programming and far-right talk from the likes of Tucker Carlson. The platform launched in late 2018 and Fox Corporation has yet to share specific subscriber figures.
Watters, who climbed the ladder at Fox by being Bill O’Reilly’s ambush interviewer and Donald Trump’s fan club leader, is a conservative commentator and sometimes comedian. The time slot he is taking over, 7 p.m., used to hew much closer to a newscast format, albeit slanted to the right. But it is now a right-wing talk show through and through, stuffed with political operative guests who advance GOP goals and ridicule the left.
The main credentials Fox listed in Monday’s press release about Watters were the high TV ratings for his shows. (He will continue to co-host “The Five” and will end his Saturday show “Watters’ World.”)
MSNBC, in the press release announcing Sanders, highlighted her political credentials, noting her work on multiple Democratic presidential campaigns and her role last year as senior adviser and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris. Sanders departed the VP’s office last month.
And CNN, in the announcement about Cornish, touted her journalistic achievements, like her coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and Barack Obama’s election.
Three very different frames, showing three very different priorities for networks that are too often lumped together.