Television: The NASCAR Of News

Fox goes from upstart to cable-news ratings leader with punditry, pizazz and a little populism

To the list of profound post-Sept. 11 changes that fizzled--bipartisanship, the death of irony--add the great sobering of cable news. Before the attacks, five-year-old Fox News was gaining on established rival CNN with an in-your-face, chatter-heavy lineup. CNN (like TIME, an AOL Time Warner property), which had long subscribed to the motto The News Is the Star, was shaking up its management and hiring star talent like anchor Paula Zahn--swiped from Fox amid much acrimony--to snazz up its often staid image. But the war made viewers want news, not shouting--old CNN-style news, with in-depth reports from far-flung correspondents.

Then normality broke...

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