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August 29, 2003

Test post: Screw You Sloganeering

Fox's Fair and Balanced is now the icon for newsiness

Used to be that when people wanted a newsy slogan they would adapt or parody the most famous newsy slogan ever, “All the News that’s Fit to Print,” from the New York Times. Thus, “All the News that Gives Me Fits,” from blogger Amygdala, a typical example. But this is no longer typical. Now the newsy slogan of choice is Fox’s ever-insidious, “Fair and Balanced”— a newsmaker in its own right after Fox decided to sue comedian Al Franken over rights to the words “fair” and “balanced” when combined by the popular term “and.”

The writer Neil Pollack’s clever call for “Fair and Balanced Friday” produced a huge list of blogs whose authors adapted, adopted or just appropriated the three magic words, in order to make a point about how stupid Fox was being— a bit of online cultural theatre that I found entertaining and intellectually sound.

For examples, see “Fair and Balanced” by Randy Rathbun, or the similar gambit from blogger Cobb; “Fair and Balanced Musings from the Middle Floor of the Ivory Tower” from Jeff Cooper; “The Semi-Daily Journal of Economist Brad Delong: Fair and Balanced Almost Every Day;” “A Fair and Balanced Weblog” from Mark Kleiman which is the same title used by Matthew Yglesisas; “Balanced Fare: We Report, Your Deride” (kinda clever) from The MinuteMan; “Fair and Balanced Coverage to Fight the Poison” from Anitodal; plus “ArchPundit, Fair and Balanced!” and this from Brett Oswego: “Sometimes I’m even ‘Fair and Balanced.’ The phrase is somewhat in disrepute nowadays, so don’t just take my word for it.”

My current favorite happens to be “The (fair and balanced) talking dog” site: “Sure, the dog can talk, but does he say anything interesting?”

Back in the days when people used to parody “All the News,” they were being ironic about a statement that was originally meant to be sincere— and became iconic. Those picking up on “Fair and Balanced” are being ironic about a slogan that was already ironic the day it was introduced, and is now iconic. The Fox News slogan has always been ironic because it is meant to say: “Ha! We’re the conservative network and yet more fair, more balanced than ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, where they claim to have no ideology at all. So we’ll claim to have no ideology at all, too. That will drive them nuts.”

And it did. Until Fox went nuts itself and tried to sue, showing its First Amendment cluelessness and losing.

With the deliberately loaded “fair and balanced” to hack away at, the ironizers of irony are doing their job, and they can be quite funny in the telling. But this is a different job from, “All the news that’s fit to print, huh? Yeah right…” For Fox has somehow built the ‘yeah, right” into itself thorugh its style of screw you sloganeering. The New York Times never did that. Yes, the Franken episode was a loser for Fox, but the interesting thing to me is that, with all the winking and joking built into it, “Fair and Balanced” seems able to sustain such losses and keep on winking. It’s not a witless slogan, it never was. And it’s trying to out think you.


Posted by Jay Rosen at August 29, 2003 10:47 AM