Under the header “If Fox is partisan, it is not alone,” the New York Times' John Harwood suggests that other cable channels are “partisan,” just like Fox. Why does Harwood think this? Because their audiences lean to the left:
Fox News has attracted the most attention because of its “fair and balanced” challenge to its competitors and its success. But the audiences of its competitors have tilted sharply in the other direction.
In audience surveys from August 2000 to March 2001, Fox News viewers tilted Republican by 44.6 percent to 36.1 percent. More narrowly - 41.4 percent to 39.4 percent - so did the audience for MSNBC. The audiences of CNN, Headline News, CNBC and Comedy Central leaned Democratic.
By 2008-9, the network audiences tilted decisively, like Fox's. CNN viewers were more Democratic by 50.4 percent to 28.7 percent; MSNBC viewers were 53.6 percent to 27.3 percent Democratic; Headline News' 47.3 percent to 31.4 percent Democratic; CNBC's 46.9 percent to 32.5 percent Democratic; and Comedy Central's 47.1 to 28.8 percent Democratic.
This, it must be said, is inane. Harwood doesn't spend so much as a single word assessing or even mentioning the actual journalism of any of the channels in question. (There's a lot of that going around.) He just looks at their viewership, and concludes that the content of all the news channels is partisan.
That is a ridiculous way to assess whether a cable channel is “partisan.” ESPN's audience probably skews Republican, too. Is ESPN a “partisan” Republican channel? Of course not.
Harwood also seems unaware of the possibility that the audiences at CNN and MSNBC are trending leftward for no reason other than that Fox is scooping up all the right wing viewers. If you assume a relatively finite universe of cable news viewers, CNN and MSNBC would see their viewership skew increasingly Democratic as Fox's skews Republican simply as a result of Republicans flocking to Fox.
Finally: Let's say you had three cable news channels. One was a bit to the right of center, one was slightly more to the right of center, and the third was far to the right of center. What do you think their viewership might look like? One would have a very Republican audience, and the other two would probably have audiences that lean Democratic. And John Harwood would tell you those two right-of-center channels were “partisan” because their audiences were disproportionately Democratic.