L.A. Times Calendar writer Scott Collins chats up his new book, Crazy Like a Fox: The Inside Story of How Fox News Beat CNN, in today's "Media People" interview with Patrick Phillips at I Want Media. An excerpt:
IWM: Cable news ratings tipped dramatically toward Fox News after Sept. 11. If the terrorist attacks never happened, do you think Fox would be as dominant as it is now?
Collins: That's a very interesting question. And, of course, a totally hypothetical one. My guess is that Fox News would have overtaken CNN, but it wouldn't have happened as quickly.
Something clearly happened to news viewership in the months after 9/11. Once Americans recovered from the initial shock of the attacks they went looking for something to put the event into context. Viewers were flipping around on the dial looking for answers. And the Fox News patriotic, take-no-prisoners approach was like "Yeah, right!" for many viewers...
IWM: How important is self-described "journalistic gunslinger" Bill O'Reilly to Fox News? Would Fox News be hurt without him?
Collins: O'Reilly is hugely important to Fox News. He's clearly their lead guy in prime time, and he's also a deeply polarizing figure who creates a lot of buzz for the network overall. If he got hit by a bus, I think Fox News could still figure out how to win. If, on the other hand, he got hired by a rival .... well, that would be interesting. But there's no doubt that he's not just a news guy anymore -- he's part of pop culture.
* Meanwhile: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is out with a piece that calls Fox's ratings lead a mirage.