Old news? The New York Times discovers David Brody and CBN's niche-audience power

Let's ask some basic questions about the journalism world in which we live.

Is it safe to assume that viewers of Fox News are interested in different kinds of issues and news stories than those who watch CNN?

Can we also assume that MSNBC viewers are interested in different kinds of issues and news stories than those who watch Fox? Things get really interesting if you try to discern cultural and political fault lines between CNN and MSNBC.

But the anwser is obvious, in this splintered age in which we all try to make sense of American public discourse.

Some of what is happening centers on changes in technology, as well as what is happening with changes linked to American generations, young and old. If you want to see a nonpolitical take on that, see this new report in the New York Times: "Why Traditional TV Is in Trouble."

Now, this brings me to another Times piece, focusing on the Donald Trump-era work of David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network -- a niche network focusing on the concerns of many (not all) charismatic and evangelical Protestants. Apparently, the Times team is surprised that the interests of this niche audience shape CBN offerings, in a manner similar to those of MSNBC, CNN, Fox, etc. Oh, and The New York Times, too. Here is a typical passage:

Mr. Brody, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, was not there to inquire about porn stars. It was the National Day of Prayer, and Mr. Brody asked the vice president whether he was tired of defending his anti-abortion views amid “potshots” from comedians, and whether prayer was “alive and well in the White House.” He inquired whether Mr. Pence would attend the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, scheduled to take place Monday.
Mr. Pence smiled and answered each question. Then he invited Mr. Brody to get coffee.
“The access has been phenomenal,” Mr. Brody said later in an interview. “I’m very appreciative to God for allowing it.”

Need a thesis statement?

The Christian Broadcasting Network has become an important outlet for the president. Mr. Brody interviewed Mr. Trump eight times during the campaign. A week after the inauguration, he scored a landmark interview in which Mr. Trump called the media “the opposition party.” White House surrogates routinely appear on Mr. Brody’s program, and Mr. Brody himself has been a guest both on Fox News and on programs on other networks like “Meet the Press.’’

An expert appears to explain that Brody's news work is "base-tending" and "agenda control," which, it is, of course. The issue is whether the same basic approach is taking place on other channels with other political bases. Do Democrats ever invite MSNBC, CNN and NPR folks to get coffee?

Also, did this kind of niche-news approach exist before Trump? Of course it did. And things are getting worse.

Now, the assumption is that Brody is a unique brand of PR man, as opposed to the role played by many (not all) talking heads on other niche-politics channels.

That criticism frustrates Mr. Brody. He points to interviews he has done with Democrats, including Barack Obama. “I never personally make the case for Donald Trump,” he said. “If anything, I will say, ‘this is why evangelicals love him.’ ”
But Mr. Brody, an evangelical himself, acknowledges that his network has achieved a loftier status under Mr. Trump. Last year, network executives erupted in cheers when Sean Spicer, the president’s former press secretary, called on their correspondent in his first news conference. Mr. Brody is now at the White House several times a week. And he was invited to an exclusive annual luncheon with the president, along with anchors from major news outlets, for the first time last year.

Now there is some interesting information in this feature about Brody, his personal story and his history in the news business.

This information is interesting, but rather old.

You see, people in the Washington, D.C., press pool have been "discovering" Brody and his work on a semi-regular basis for more than a decade. In my opinion, this was a far more interesting story during the White House years of President Barack Obama.

Thus, here's a large chunk of a 2007 Washington Post report by Howard Kurtz, who was that newspaper's superstar media-beat reporter back then. This is long, but essential. The goal is to contrast this with the tilt of the Trump-era feature:

Brody occupies an unusual niche. He is a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network who has forged good relations with Democrats. He is a wisecracking blogger who is part of Pat Robertson's religious empire. And he was raised as a Jew, although he now believes in Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.
Brody is, in short, a Christian journalist with chutzpah.
While his reports appear not just on a daily CBN newscast but on Robertson's "700 Club," Brody says, "I bury my head and do my job. I'm talking to Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, people on both sides of the aisle. I'm kind of in my own world. . . .
"The perception by Democratic candidates -- and it's not the reality -- is that it's just a conservative religious audience," Brody says at the network's modern Washington bureau on M Street NW. "My fervent desire is to explain to them that there's a treasure-trove of people out there waiting to hear from them. They can't pigeonhole CBN."

But, of course, people do pigeonhole CBN.

That's part of the niche-, advocacy-media game in this era. What made the Obama era different -- in the early going -- was that Obama was sincerely interested in reaching out to left-of-center evangelicals and other people in pews. I also assume that someone close to Obama had also done their homework and realized that CBN has lots of viewers in African-American and Latino flocks.

So let's keep reading Kurtz:

... Brody has won converts. Obama spokesman Bill Burton calls him "absolutely fair. He makes a real effort to ensure that all sides of a debate are heard. I would say he's a welcome addition to a media community that can be too caught up in the spin of the day."
Brody, who is more finely attuned to religious issues than the average campaign reporter, has scored some scoops by working his GOP sources. Two weeks ago, he posted online 13-year-old videos of [Mitt] Romney -- slipped to him by a rival campaign, Brody says -- in which the former Massachusetts governor sounded far more liberal than he does today. Brody also reported that fliers calling for [Rudy] Giuliani's defeat if the Republicans nominate him were distributed at a meeting of the conservative Free Congress Foundation.
And how many reporters, other than Brody, asked the Republican contenders if they support abstinence-only education programs targeted for extinction by congressional Democrats? "We've challenged candidates to speak on some of these issues that maybe the mainstream media won't touch," Brody says.

That's interesting. Is the main point that Brody assumes that his audience is interested in questions about faith issues, as well as political debates linked to culture? At some point, will Brody be freed up to ask hard questions in the Trump era? Or would the current advocacy-journalism rules allow that? And Democrats today willing to face Brody and answer questions about religious liberty, for example?

Stay tuned.

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