Like concerned Americans dating back to nuisance pamphleteer Thomas Paine, les bêtes noires Koch brothers are trying to persuade people and influence elections. According to Alan Abramowitz at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the Kochs plan to spend $900 million in the next election cycle — though, says Abramowitz, super-PAC spending has an unexpectedly modest impact on election results. If the Koch brothers really want to spread the good word of libertarian conservatism, they might consider redirecting some of their largesse.
People talk a lot about media bias — X is too liberal, Y is too conservative. Often, they’re right, but this is more or less the way news has always operated. The balance doesn’t come from individual players; it comes from the field as a whole. The New York Times was balanced by the Herald Tribune, Walter Cronkite by Huntley & Brinkley, and The New Republic by National Review. The Guardian is balanced by the Telegraph, the Huffington Post by Drudge, CNN and MSNBC by Fox News.
Fox News is the conservative counterbalance on cable; it has no equivalent among the broadcast news shows. And while Fox is much more popular than the other cable news channels — two and a quarter million prime-time viewers versus about half a million each for CNN and MSNBC — it is much less popular than the broadcast shows, each of which attracts 7 or 8 million people nightly.
Of course — outside of its cable channels — Fox is a broadcast network, but, for whatever reason, it doesn’t have a network evening news show. So broadcast TV news is dominated by a liberal trio of ABC, NBC, and CBS.
If the Koch brothers want to help conservatives spread a national message, they should help introduce conservatism into the national news. ABC is owned by Disney; according to a Forbes piece from last year, “Disney’s current market value is $137 billion . . . [The] ABC Network is a footnote . . . at a valuation of $3.2 billion.” Now, who knows what it would actually cost to buy — but the Kochs ought to find out.
It would basically be a philanthropic purchase. Alternatives like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube are cutting away at TV’s visual-entertainment monopoly. And broadcast TV has to share what’s left with cable. On the other hand — though I’m not worried about the state of TV entertainment, or any political bias it might or might not have — American Sniper was very popular and very profitable. There may be an under-served TV market for overtly patriotic sitcoms and crime shows and dance-offs. Who knows?
But this is what matters: In the evenings, the 20 or 25 million people who tune in to the broadcast news could have a choice between liberal mandarins on CBS and NBC, and — say — Brit Hume back on ABC, sitting in the anchorman chair he so richly deserves, speaking truth to neglected powers.
At the moment, there’s nothing better the Kochs could do for their country.