MSNBC is still not comfortable with the idea that it is the liberal counterweight to Fox News. Executives at the cable news network bristle at the comparison, claiming that while individual "point of view" shows like Keith Olbermann's Countdown skew leftward, the network as a whole has no unifying ideology, as at Fox. But demographics may be making such a bias inevitable. The Times points out today that, amid heightened political activity among young, mostly liberal voters, MSNBC has added nearly 40,000 18-to-34-year-old viewers during prime time, far more than either Fox News or CNN. It is now number one among the young in those hours, while Fox News is dead last. That makes sense politically: Republicans are, as a group, significantly older the Democrats. Perhaps most revealing are the news nets' seemingly bizarre choices of internet partners.
Fox News just partnered with Facebook, even though the social networking website directly competes with its News Corporation sibling MySpace. MySpace, meanwhile, is working with MSNBC to cover the political conventions, despite a notorious rivalry between other News Corp. properties and Olbermann.
But the partnerships make sense when you consider demographics. With its popularity among rock bands and its garish design sensibility, MySpace is the social network of high school students and young adults — MSNBC viewers. Facebook, meanwhile, has a buttoned-down presentation that has made it more popular in corporate environments and thus among older people, making it a better fit for Fox.
As MSNBC adds coveted young viewers, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, it becomes less likely to ever seek, say, a conservative counterweight to Olbermann, or a barking pseudo-populist curmudgeon like Lou Dobbs. It would no more do such things than MTV would. And the temptation to become the winning cable network of the Obama years will be too great for MSNBC to ever truly balance its present leftward political tilt.