Study Confirms: News Networks Owned By SOPA Supporters... Are Ignoring SOPA/PIPA

from the but,-of-course dept

While the debates about SOPA/PIPA have been raging all over the internet, and appearing regularly in all sorts of mainstream newspapers, they still have been almost entirely absent from TV news. We've discussed this in the past, noting that the major TV news players are all owned by media conglomerates who have been major backers of SOPA/PIPA. There was some indication that cable news was starting to pay attention... but things have gone quiet since then (perhaps upper management sent out a memo...).

The folks over at Media Matters decided to check in on this and have confirmed that the big TV news players have almost entirely ignored it, despite the widespread controversy found elsewhere in the mainstream press:
As the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) makes its way through Congress, most major television news outlets -- MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have ignored the bill during their evening broadcasts. One network, CNN, devoted a single evening segment to it.
The report does note that there have been articles online... but very few TV segments. It also discusses how much attention SOPA/PIPA is getting, concerning all the companies who have come out against it, the media coverage in the NY Times among other places, and the big GoDaddy flip-flop -- to highlight that this is a big story making waves.
Despite all of this, the response from American television news outlets has been to almost completely ignore the story during their evening programming. The lone exception was a segment on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer in December, during which CNN parent company Time Warner's support for the legislation was not disclosed. (Though Fox News Channel has apparently not touched the story during evening programming, conservative/libertarian host Andrew Napolitano has run several segments vocally opposing SOPA on his program, which runs on the separate Fox Business Network.)
It's postulated that perhaps the issue is the fact that SOPA/PIPA don't fall along easily scripted left vs. right lines:
The fight over SOPA does not fit into the usual left vs. right narrative that occupies so much of the political horserace coverage with which TV news outlets fill their schedules. The cosponsors of SOPA come from both sides of the aisle. Likewise, the most vocal opponents of SOPA in Congress are an ideologically diverse bunch, including Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Ron Paul (R-TX) and Darrel Issa (R-CA).
Either that... or the corporate folks upstairs don't want to allow this to become an even bigger story.

Of course, as I was writing this up, Tim Cushing was writing up the same story (coordination, people, coordination!), with an alternate theory -- which makes sense too. So, everything below the line is his read on the situation:
Tim Cushing's analysis: Gray areas seldom make compelling news, especially when there's no political angle to take. Beyond that, I think the mainstream media silence is also explained by the outdated thought process that still believes that the Internet Is Not Real.

First and foremost, the evening news is generally a broad overview of the days' happenings. Not only do they not have the time to delve into an issue that mainly affects an "ethereal" service like the web, but they also (ignoring any corporate bias for the sake of argument) have no interest in doing so. The cliche that "if it bleeds, it leads" likely eliminates a war that involves a bloodless dismantling of the internet. The internet is generally trotted out only as an example of how things are bad (online bullying, etc.) or how things are cute/weird (any crossover meme that can be easily brought up, discussed and dismissed forever in less than 60 seconds).

Even though many news teams invite you to follow them on Twitter or Facebook, the connection seems to go no further than that. The percentage of the population that still relies on the evening news to get them caught up on the world is unlikely to care about legislation that affects the internet.

In essence, the internet is still treated like some sort of fad infested with tech-y nerds and thus can be safely ignored when dealing with Real Issues on the nightly news. This attitude is pervasive, both within content companies and among our representatives. The gatekeepers pushing the legislation need the internet as much as it claims it needs them, but they want their own internet, one closer in spirit to The Village than the Wild West.

Our legislators are still amused by their own lack of internet prowess, indicating that they still believe the web to be some sort of "outlier" whose opinions can be easily dismissed. It's a cognitive gap, but it explains why the mainstream TV news so willingly ignores SOPA and the building momentum of its opposition: it's just the internet. It can be either humored or feared, but never respected.

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