WASHINGTON — As the government shutdown enters its second week, America’s most popular cable news networks have begun a “Doomsday Countdown” to the government reopening. When Democrats and Republicans finally reach the inevitable deal to solve the debt ceiling and open the government, networks like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC will be forced to pursue news outside of Washington D.C., a situation they call “unthinkable.”
Major news networks couldn’t resist hyping last week’s shutdown with countdown clocks at the corner of every program. As the hours, minutes, and seconds of government activity dwindled away, the ratings were on the rise.
In primetime, Monday-Thursday, CNN saw a 68% increase in viewers since the third quarter, while Fox News and MSNBC jumped 49% and and 58%, respectively.
CNN chief Jeff Zucker revealed his network’s strategy to keep the government shutdown and ratings afloat in a memo sent to staff shortly after the shutdown began. Zucker urged the networks top anchors to “pull back from placing too much blame on the Republicans for the shutdown.”
“Just because the Tea Party is almost entirely responsible for the shutdown, that doesn’t mean we have to blame it all on them,” Zucker wrote. “If too many viewers blame the Republicans, they may be pressured into working out a deal, and you all know what that means: back to actual reporting.”
Zucker’s memo also reminded staff how much the network stands to gain financially from the shutdown. “I know some of you may be afraid of the economic ruin that could come if Congress fails to work out a deal on the debt ceiling and reopen the government, but I can assure you that even if the US economy comes crashing down, networks like us will do just fine.”
Cable news outlets are worried that recent talks of a short-term deal to reopen the government before the United States defaults on $16.7 trillion worth of outstanding bonds could spell the end of their latest ratings heyday.
At presstime, Zucker was awaiting response from Fox News and MSNBC about forming an emergency cable news coalition dedicated to keeping the government shutdown. Said Zucker about the potential team effort, “I’m sure that if we put our talking heads together, we can create enough confusion to keep both sides on their heels.”