Fox gives CNBC the business

NEW YORK

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch says the new Fox Business Channel will be “more business-friendly” than rival CNBC, making that point on the day he announced his network would launch at the end of the year.

It was the first hint that a classic political tactic used in starting Fox News Channel a decade ago — defining the opposition — was back in play.

Within a day of Mr. Murdoch’s statement on Feb. 8, Fox News business anchor Neil Cavuto told MarketWatch that “we’re going to be a channel for America — not for old white men with money.”

Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive for Fox News, told the New York Times that he’d often seen things on CNBC where they aren’t as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be.

“We don’t get up every morning thinking business is bad,” Mr. Ailes said.

Substitute “America” for “business” in that quote and you’d swear it was 1996 again, and Mr. Ailes was needling CNN.

The tactic worked for Fox News Channel. Worked brilliantly. Many people doubted the network was even necessary, yet it charged past the industry pioneer within six years and hasn’t been caught since. Now many are questioning whether Fox Business Channel can compete against CNBC.

CNBC will be defined by what it delivers on the air every day, and not by Fox, says Jeff Zucker, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, CNBC’s parent company.

“When you don’t have a product, it’s easy to throw darts,” Mr. Zucker says. “We’re not concerned at all.”

Rick Kaplan, who ran CNN from 1996 to 2000, wasn’t much concerned back then, either. Why worry about snide references to the Clinton News Network or a Fox slogan like “fair and balanced,” with the inference that CNN wasn’t? Fox’s ratings were so negligible it didn’t matter.

“I thought that people were not going to buy the argument,” Mr. Kaplan said.

CNN didn’t bother responding.

Yet Fox caught on with an audience that believed the slogans. Partly it was because there was a ring of truth, Mr. Kaplan says. Not that CNN was partisan, but mainstream news organizations may not have been sensitive enough to other points of view, he adds. President Clinton’s impeachment troubles galvanized what became Fox’s audience, Mr. Kaplan notes.

What should CNN have done?

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