October 14, 2003
Notes on the Creature Called Fox
A reader asks: What if we see a shift to a more riotous and partisan press? So I opened my notebook and flipped to Fox.
Tom Mangan, who has an elegant weblog for editors, wrote to me:
One for your “what’s really happening” file: we’re seeing a return to the partisan press of previous eras— Fox News being the most obvious example. Talk radio has become the de facto voice of the GOP, with a few exceptions. The right, of course, accuses us (meaning, the mainstream press and the TV networks) of being the de facto voice of the left, which they know to be untrue but it’s a useful lie that provides them an ideological rival and an excuse when their ideas can’t get traction. Somehow the non-partisan press needs to find a way through this new maze, and the last 50 years haven’t provided many clues on where to go, what to do, in this new era of partisan media.
The image that stuck in my mind was “the maze” that old-school journalists find before them, according to Tom. Except that I pictured it as an amusement park too. Over the main gates is the zooming, screaming Fox News Channel logo, and beyond that are scattered portals through which we are to enter the new maze for news.
Through one tunnel, marked Opinion! in fat letters, thousands of people stream, chattering in anticipation of what they will find. Another tunnel just says Talk, and it has equal traffic. Through another, called Fair and Balanced, an even bigger crowd shuffles, shouting “fair and balanced,” their happy taunt. We Report, You Decide takes the overflow. Liberal Media with a big thumb pointing downward is also a popular way in. The crowds there seem the edgiest.
Around a corner is Pretty Plastic Blondes Read the News with modest but steady traffic. And over there, the eye cannot miss the O’Reilly Factor entrance, with a billboard-sized head shot marking the spot where thousands a minute find their way. But an almost equal number hustle through No Spin Zone, O’Reilly’s other door. Turn around and the Sean Hannity entry way is almost as large— and there he is on the screen above, Frat Boy Conservative, smiling and cocky, young and fit, earphones on, mike ready, welcoming you to his house of news.
Tom Mangan, American editor, sees something at least a little like that stretching before him. He finds no entrance marked, “Good, Solid, Nonpartisan, Daily Journalism.” And yet signs around him say that from this maze Americans are to one day get their news. His question: What if the signs are right? What if we do see a shift to a more riotous and partisan press? (Forecast by James Fallows, among others.) For the remaining nonpartisan, newsgathering, shoe-leather journalism corps, is there a way into and out of this maze? It’s not clear. “And the last 50 years haven’t provided many clues,” writes Mangan, with a sense of alarm.
Here is what I think, Tom. The most significant recent event in the political economy of national news has been the rise of Fox. Before Fox entered the game, there was an under-served market for news that departed from the consensus model. That model is still in place, with some variation, across PBS, CBS, the three NBC News properies, ABC, and CNN, as well as NPR in radio. The consensus in broadcast grew out of a similar one in newspapers and the newsweeklies. Mangan calls it nonpartisan reporting. I would call it neutral professionalism, with an asterisk* for everything about it that is not so neutral. Fox and others just call it the liberal media.
This “other” market was not at all a secret. It had been proven by the political power of talk radio, the success of the Regnery publishing house, and many other like developments at the intersections of politics and media since the 1980s— a time when “unseat the liberal media” became a populist cry, not just in media but in politics. (Eric Alterman’s book is the best guide to these developments.) Along comes Rupert Murdoch, risk taking billionaire and globalist, who had succeeded before in going from zero to sixty with Fox and the NFL. He and his team spot complacency in the other networks. The executives and journalists working in the consensus model thought alike: people need national news from their television sets and we are it— the benchmark for quality, the definition of how it’s done.
To which Fox said: oh yeah? We’ll see.
And we did. Comes September 11th, and the market opening Fox had glimpsed—the news in a more exciting, even dangerous key—grew into something like the national mood, although this is impossible to separate from the projection of mood by news providers and politicians speaking through them to us. Combined with a good range of on-air talent, decent quality production, a hustlling, underdog mindset, a lower budget and fewer bodies (which forced innovation), and at least one national star—Bill O’Reilly—to put a face on Fox, plus the brand’s natural strengths in hype (take the ratio at CNN of pretty blondes chosen to read the news and double it), plus the war in Iraq with all the viewers there to be won… and, wow, Fox, at a fraction of the size of CNN overtakes CNN and leaves MSNBC way back— in the ratings. That’s zero to sixty for Murdoch. Twice.
Like a Political Campaign
But unlike the NFL, where Fox as the newcomer had to show it could match what NBC, CBS and ABC had defined as “sports television,” (and hiring John Madden did that) in the domain of news Fox decided not to match but to redefine what network news could be. With the NFL, you can’t go out and find better players to televise. So Murdoch payed big for the rights. With news, what’s to stop you from getting your own players and putting on a different show? This is where Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News Channel, a man with a background in political campaigns, had a notion. It was indistinguishable from his suspicion that the consensus model in the press was weakly defended.
As a political consultant Ailes had worked for Nixon, Reagan and the elder Bush. He thought there was a winnable audience there for news in a different political key. And he put his sense of the under-served market together with his knowledge of how winning coalitions are made, plus his familiarity with the mind of mainstream journalism (from having to manuever around the political press on behalf of his clients) to give birth to the Fox way. Ailes tried literally to unseat the liberal media by a.) not hiring it, and b.) preying on every weakness he could find. Like you would in a political campaign.
For the bored, more excitement. (This was his biggest gambit.) For angry conservatives, angry conservatives. For nonideological audiences fed up with liberal sanctimony, less liberal sanctimony. For those weary of political correctness, almost none. For news hounds, some— enough news to stick around for the fireworks. For men, blondes. For Republican women, Britt Hume. For zappers, a faster pace. For nodders, music a touch louder and graphics a touch grabbier.
For nativists, nativism. For the paranoid, a message: no, you’re not crazy. For the opinionated, lots of people who are opinionated. For Amercans, the flag. For the red states, a red state news source. For the kids who watch Jon Stewart, something at least continuous with the spectrum of smirk. For talk radio’s legions, a similar environment in video. For people interested in ideas, more people with license to spout ideas. For the Bush White House, a friendly forum. For the occasional guest from NPR, a chance to feel outnumbered. For liberals, news that is no more intolerable than CNN is for conservatives. (Yes, liberals watch Fox too.) And for the tabloid mind in all of us, the tabloid mind over news.
The Rhetorical Manuever
This isn’t even a full list of agenda items Ailes & Company worked out. And it leaves out the most confusing item of all, a rhetorical manuever he found to frustrate press think and its aging consenus model. In redefining the genre, national news, and changing around what scholars call existing professional norms, Ailes made a crucial decision. And that was to publicly describe his creation—indeed, order Fox to hype it—as nothing more than neutral professionalism, the very standard from which he had creatively departed. Officially, which means the public face presented to the world, Fox stood for news that is “fair and balanced,” dedicated to accuracy, openness and truth, presented without fear or favor, a disciplined no-spin zone, a space free of ideology, non-partisan, friendly to no side in the culture wars, and most of all…. finally free of bias:
Fox News Channel is “not a conservative network!” roars Fox News Channel chairman Ailes. “I absolutely, totally deny it… . The fact is that Rupert and I and, by the way, the vast majority of the American people, believe that most of the news tilts to the left,” he says. Fox’s mission is “to provide a little more balance to the news” and “to go cover some stories that the mainstream media won’t cover.” — Brill’s Content (Oct. 1999)
Appreciate this, Tom. First Ailes moved away from the consensus model, which made Fox seem exciting and different. Then he took its entire language of legitimacy with him— and that seemed exciting and different. Ailes and Murdoch just started speaking the other side’s consensus language, daring the press tribe to challenge their words. Ailes knew this would set off a war of definitions, and it did. He wanted that war to come. Why? I said it earlier. He had contempt for the complacency—liberal complacency—on the other side, those well fed professionals who believed… “we’re it, the benchmark for quality, the definition of how it’s done.” They had stopped listening, and the country was changing. The press to Roger Ailes is like an incumbent in office too long.
Ailes is an ironist, like all great media manipulators. The Fox News slogan, Fair and Balanced, has always been ironic because it is meant to say: “Ha! We’re the conservative alternative and yet more fair, more balanced than ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSBNC, Newsweek, the Washington Post and the holy New York Times, where—in a delusion that’s had its day—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 you know, Tom, I think it did.
The Paranoid Style in News
The creature that is Fox News, including the O’Reilly factor, is way more complicated, more interconnected with other things going down (like right wing populism generally, the rise of opinion journalism generally), and more interesting—even fantastical—than most in the chattering classes seem to think. I am amazed at how easily some writers and controversialists come to an opinion about what Fox is and is doing.
I don’t have an opinion, I have a maze of them. And don’t forget, Murdoch has Sky Channel. He’s global. Are you? Meanwhile, O’Reilly is moving week by week into Huey Long territory, perfecting the paranoid style in news commentary and intra-show controversy. About his brutal spat with Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR:
“The far left has a jihad against Fox News Channel, and I’m pretty much the standard-bearer,” O’Reilly said. “They don’t like the fact that I’m powerful and that I speak my mind.”
James Fallows had predicted it: “Sooner or later Murdoch’s outlets, especially Fox News, will be more straightforward about their political identity—and they are likely to bring the rest of the press with them.” Could be sooner, Jim. According to the Oct. 14th account by reporter Michael Klein of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “O’Reilly acknowledges that Fox News is right of center.” As far as I know, (the weblog world can correct me) that is a first. Rhetorically speaking, big news. I emailed Klein and he said he didn’t have the quote, but he definitely asked, and O’Reilly answered as written. Things get stranger if this is so.
Posted by Jay Rosen at October 14, 2003 7:10 PM Print
You wrote almost 2,000 words on this topic and, unless I've missed it, don't challenge the basic allegation that "the right" (could it be the vast right-wing conspiracy?) knowingly maintains a central fallacy:
"The right, of course, accuses us (meaning, the mainstream press and the TV networks) of being the de facto voice of the left, *which they know to be untrue but it’s a useful lie that provides them an ideological rival and an excuse when their ideas can’t get traction.*"
At any rate, I'm not sure I recognize this "nonpartisan press" you speak of, unless by "nonpartisan" you mean "the hegemony that existed previously in which the public was expected to believe whatever the journalistic priesthood of gatekeepers chose to tell it."
Do you seriously think that Murdoch/Fox were the initiators of the label "liberal media" for the traditional news outlets? Or is it conceivable that the reason Murdoch's network is succeeding is because it is serving a market that was tired of "same ol', same ol'"?
It sounds like you're disappointed that a rogue news outlet like Fox isn't sticking to the playbook.
Funny thing is, I don't care for Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity (whom you describe in an entirely neutral way as "Frat Boy Conservative, smiling and cocky, young and fit") grates on my nerves. I don't listen to or watch either of them.
But this old press condescenion ("nonpartisan, newsgathering, shoe-leather journalism" -- HA!) grates on my nerves even more than O'Reilly or Hannity.
Posted by: brian hess at October 14, 2003 7:50 PM | Permalink
'' And even William Kristol, without a doubt the most influential Republican/neoconservative publicist in America today, has come clean on this issue. "I admit it," he told a reporter. "The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures." Nevertheless, Kristol apparently feels no compunction about exploiting and reinforcing the ignorant prejudices of his own constituency. In a 2001 pitch to conservative potential subscribers to his Rupert Murdoch-funded magazine, Kristol complained, "The trouble with politics and political coverage today is that there's too much liberal bias.... There's too much tilt toward the left-wing agenda. Too much apology for liberal policy failures. Too much pandering to liberal candidates and causes." ''
Just for the record, I was basing my assumption that the right knows "liberal media" is a canard on what Alterman has said about "working the refs" -- something he attributed to the political right but I've seen practiced by just about everybody with a story to peddle to the press. If Alterman's statements along these lines have been disproved I will gladly stand corrected.
I would never deny that bias exists, but it has taken on a new meaning in the modern media ear: reportage which does not reflect my contrary opinions. Go to any left-wing blog and you'll see people blasting the right-ward tilt of mainstream journalism.
When I first started in Journalism, as a copy kid, I met the old hack who covered my high school football team. I told him, "you know, we always thought you were biased against us." And he said, "you know what, everybody from every other team tells me the same thing, which tells me that I'm doing my job right."
Because I was a kid, I assumed he must've been right. Later, after I got training in journalism and revisited the guy's work, I realized there was an another alternative: maybe he was just doing a bad job of covering all the other teams too.
It's possible the problem is us, and it's possible the problem is everybody else, but the greatest likelihood is that the answer is somewhere in the middle.
Posted by: tom mangan at October 15, 2003 12:53 AM | Permalink
If the journalism establishment keeps its blinders on and claims there is no bias to the left in the "mainstream" media, it is doomed. Everyone but you guys -- J-school profs, editors, ombudsmen -- knows it's there. You either are oblivious (like fish who don't know they're wet) or mendacious. Keep this up and your readership will drop to nothing because you aren't doing anything to fix it. I know. I've worked in newsrooms for 30 years and I have a hundred stories of anti-conservative bias coloring news judgment, headline wording, ledes and story play. 'Fess up, guys! Let's get it fixed.
Posted by: rivlax at October 15, 2003 3:07 PM | Permalink
Eric Alterman quoting William Kristol as saying media bias is a dodge is a hoot, considering Alterman argues in his own "What Liberal Media" that the media is biased to the RIGHT. As Cathy Young of Reason wrote in July:
Alterman gleefully cites William Kristol’s admission that liberal media bias "was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures." Then he proceeds to blame right-wing influence over the media for the Clinton impeachment, the outcome of the 2000 elections (including the Florida fiasco), and the Democrats’ poor performance in 2002.
Media critic, critique thyself.
Posted by: Joey at October 15, 2003 4:06 PM | Permalink
Brian asks: "is it conceivable that the reason Murdoch's network is succeeding is because it is serving a market that was tired of 'same ol', same ol''?" And clearly he asks this to prompt a new thought in those, like me, who for mystifying reasons, cannot imagine it. But the essay he is commenting on says, with equal clarity: "Before Fox entered the game, there was an under-served market for news that departed from the consensus model." So, yes, Brian: it's conceivable, and conceived. Also, if you read carefully, you will find that I don't take "nonpartisan" at face value-- which is charged. It's the term Tom Mangan used and so I mention that it's his. "I would call it neutral professionalism, with an asterisk* for everything about it that is not so neutral. Fox and others just call it the liberal media." Perhaps I fumbled it, but that's an attempt to say: there's a lot of disagreement about what to call the dominant form of journalism, and how to characterize it. Seems to me that Brian and rivlax would be in solid agreement with that.
Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 15, 2003 6:49 PM | Permalink
No liberal media, my ass. And that LATimes-Arnie stunt and the coverage of the recall was completely biased. And the people of California have picked up on it.
Posted by: anderson at October 15, 2003 6:59 PM | Permalink
I guess if the news media are "not conservative" they are by default "liberal." What matters to me are the consequences. Arnie got elected, Reagan got elected, Nixon got elected, Bush I & II got elected, the GOP took over the U.S. Congress and corporate/money power has become more visible than ever.
Call me oblivious but I don't see the terrible repression we've inflicted on the nation.
there's no liberal bias... not at cnn (founded and run by very very very left wing biz man teddy t.. who married hanoi jane)
not at abc (peter jennings.. he's such a conservative lad, with screwing hanan ashawi and screaming death to the jews.. and that tephanopolous... you'd never believe he was clinton's first press secretary.. what more balanced and fair a job?) at cbs... dan rather would never raise funds for democrats (oh shit he did) and that 60 minutes gang is always implicating those commies for the evil things they do... at nbc.. tommy b and katie c sure do weak interviews on the clintons... as does maria and chris matthews.. not like he ever held a staff job with a democratic legislator
and the fact that 75% of journalists (or more) admit to voting democratic.... keep bsing yourself
Posted by: hey at October 15, 2003 8:02 PM | Permalink
"Liberal media bias?" Who gives a flying *@? By liberal, do you mean big-spending, in-your-private-life, totally unaccountable big-government loving and preachy? If so, FOX and other Bush II boot-lickers are SUPER-liberal. I mean, when Bush stops pushing massive increases in government spending, hindering free trade, and pushing wars that don't have any connection with improving America's position in the world, maybe he'll be something other than a closet commie. So FOX painting itself as "fair and balanced" and something other than the mouthpiece of the KGB is about as silly as those nimrods who think themselves conservative when they support pouring trillions down the Washington drain.
Posted by: Jay Bee at October 15, 2003 8:27 PM | Permalink
It seems to me half of these comments are by people who didn't read past the first quote (and then wrongly attribute it to the author of entire post).
In my "average guy" view, it seems Fox basically put together a more attractive package which has done very well in the marketplace. As explained by Jay in the piece, the "traditional liberal" media is/was basically asleep at the wheel. Like a monopolist given up on innovating because there don't appear to be any more competitors in the marketplace. Well apparently there was.
Some aspects of Fox can reasonably be attributed to its ideology, while others would play just as well on a "liberal" network. Liberals like blondes too. Just ask the previous President. And TV ratings these days (and for many years now) would seem to make it pretty clear people don't like to sit through staid, deep debate and ambiguous positions on issues. Fox won the marketing victory.
Well, I'm still in the maze and no more sure of where to go next than I was yesterday. I hope the people dead-set on sending the nonpartisan press to the graveyard will be happy with the results. I can chase commas and split infinitives for Democrats or Republicans, so I figure I'll always have a job.
Posted by: tom at October 16, 2003 1:55 AM | Permalink
Some on the right see something stealthy and evil in the widely recognized drift to the left of the mainstream press. I don't. That the mainstream press does not accurately reflect the world view of the average American is self evident to the average American. But it is not self-evident to the average journalist.
The average journalist truly believes he is presenting the facts in an unbiased way. But the average world view of the average journalist is way to the left of the average American. This assertion is factually supported by polls which show the average journalist to be much more likely to personally support self-described liberal policies, and vote almost 90% of the time for Democratic candidates for office.
The dishonesty in mainstream journalism - and this is as much self deception as anything - is that one can divorce one's own personal biases from one's coverage of the news. But personal biases which define one's world view will always determine the answers to the following questions.
1. What is legitimate news?
Basically, one's personal world view and personal biases determine the assumptions made about what is news. And when one associates almost exclusively with like minded individuals, it is not difficult to assume that one's basic assumptions are the correct basis of "neutrality" upon which the news should be presented.
Until the mainstream press acknowledges this self-deception (recognition is the first step to recovery), and starts an "affirmative action" program of hiring more conservatives, they will not recover. When the polls of newsrooms show that reporters are roughly equally divided between conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, then we will know that the mainstream news is being presented in as fair and unbiased way as possible.
The mainstream news organizations have failed to challenge their own orthodoxy. They have failed to have the courage to incorporate those who disagree with them personally. They unconciously reward their fellow news collectors and diseminators who most closely resemble themselves.
This phenomenon is not evil. It is natural and normal. But it is also lazy and dangerous. Sears was once the powerhouse of the retail world in America. Now, I haven't met a single person in the last five years who I know has made a purchase at Sears. Mainstream news organizations must change or die. It is the American way. And it is the prospect of this death that scares the mainstream press - as it should.
Posted by: Scott Harris at October 16, 2003 4:11 PM | Permalink
One other point. "Neutrality" as a standard is desirable to a point. But absolute neutrality is neither acceptable nor desirable. For example: neutrality in regards to child pornography is repugnant. Absolute neutrality is also not achievable. This is why the individual biases of reporters and editors matter.
Ironically, "affirmative action" really only makes sense in the marketplace of ideas - the press. Rather than strive toward some mythical quality of neutrality, the press should try to accurately and proportionately represent the wide spectrum of ideas and world views of its society. Only then can it be assured that the news will be accurately portrayed.
The "sin" of big media has been to draw its practitioners from a limited pool of American experience. The press needs to embark on an affirmative action hiring agenda based on the diversity of ideas. Race, religion, political affiliation, and every other broad classification of American society needs to be represented in a proportionate manner. This is the way out of the maze.
Posted by: Scott Harris at October 16, 2003 4:44 PM | Permalink
Many of the comments so far have stated implicitly or explicitly that bias in reporting stems from whether or not the number of journalists at a media outlet in question is majority "liberal" or "conservative."
So, the presumption is that the term "liberal media" can be applied to a news organization in which the majority of its journalist define themselves as "liberal." And scott above has gone as far as to say that if more "conservatives" were hired,a sort of media "affirmative action" as he says, a balance would be restored.
This presumption, that the collective worldview of the journalists at a news outlet determines that outlet's "liberalness" or "conservativeness", is not realistic, nor is it helpful in getting through the "maze" of dialogue that we appear to be in. In fact, it can only serve to exacerbate the "problem" of bias in the media, if indeed that is a problem.
Yet this thinking seems to abound. It abounds largely because of the term "liberal media," which as of yet has no specific definition or meaning that we can all agree on. The term "liberal media" has, however, been used pointedly to pressure news outlets into increasing the number of "conservative" viewpoints, especially on the opinion pages. So that, the term "balance" has come to mean, a mathematically equal number of "liberal" and "conservative" opinion articles. And ultimately, this has come to mean that the "quality" of opinion articles is less important than the "quantity" of liberal and conservative opinion articles. Hey, this liberal column may be full of shit, but so is this conservative column, thus, equality, thus media validity. (and in my opinion, thus, shittier newpapers).
But...again.. the terms here are poorly defined. And so discussing media as "liberal" or "conservative" keeps us in the maze of confusion. Which is why we tend to make some mathematical equation out of it.
Perhaps it is more helpful to discuss media and TV news outlets specifically in terms of "style" or "brand".
Look at the coverage of the Iraq War (before "mission accomplished"). Most of the networks hired retired generals to do the commentary. WHY? If the media were "liberal" why wouldn't the networks hire peace activists to do the war commentary? If the media were conservative, why didn't they hire fellows at the PNAC to do the commentary. The network "style" was to assure the public that it was "valid" and "nonpartisan" by having military men do the talking. So we learned all about tanks (nonpartisan), we learned all about patriot missiles (nonpartisan), we learned all about convoys and deployments and "smartbombs" (nonpartisan). So, under the pressure of being not liberal and not conservative, we have a completely one-sided view of the war. The tactical/strategic view.
This was the "style" of reporting. Some networks added some flair with Computer graphics, or waving flags or whatever.. but they all pretty much talked on the same "nonpartisan" level.
And as a result, the reporting was monotonous. And completely unfair and unbalanced either mathematically speaking or politically speaking.
A "fair and balanced" view may have included pschologists doing the commenting on the effects of war on people. Or doctors doing the commenting on the wounds people receive from bunker-busting bombs. Or a foot soldier rather than a general doing some commenting. The possibilities are endless. But the style remained the same on all networks.
Why? was it because of liberalness or conservativeness? Not a helpful dynamic with which to interpret the phenomenon, says I.
Posted by: planb at October 16, 2003 5:09 PM | Permalink
"If the media were conservative, why didn't they hire fellows at the PNAC to do the commentary."
Actually, I remember seeing Kristol frequently on all the cable channels during the war doing commentary, sometimes styled as some sort of expert, with no countering view (not that it necessarily needs it - there is the fallacy that every bit of information has to be presented as an argument). In any event, his commentary became monologues, which isn't really the style of cable news these days. I would say that presenting the war in a tactical manner with the sole human interest element being the sometimes gritty (but never graphically nor psychically mutilated) lives of soldiers doing their duties for their country, and the staged media event of tearing down the statue and how the media just ate it up, along with every story of a grateful Iraqi with photos, with generals as experts for the "hard news" and people like Kristol doing the "color," makes the purported neutrality take on a different tone.
Posted by: smogmonster at October 16, 2003 9:04 PM | Permalink
I must have missed Kristol doing war commentary... and for that i am thankful.
But yes, my point was that their "neutrality" was only purported, as you say.
Perhaps it is by attempting to achieve neutrality that the media become more biased and more dangerous.
Posted by: planb at October 17, 2003 9:47 AM | Permalink
You miss my point altogether. I don't care how liberal or conservative the opinion pages of a news outlets are. The bias that needs to be addressed is in the every day "fact" based reporting. Overt opinion pages are easily judged. It is the subtle, maybe even unconscious slanting of the fact-based news that is the big issue.
Anyone can balance opinions. It is more difficult to make sure that your definition of Neutrality is actually neutral. And the Affirmative action I am talking about is simply making the news room reflect the society on which it reports. The differing opinions about what constitutes legitimate news, the critical thinking required to overcome objections, the priority given to investigative story ideas - these are the basics of news that need the change I am talking about.
Posted by: Scott Harris at October 20, 2003 2:18 PM | Permalink
Like so many others discussing Liberal v. Conservative in the media, most of the above comments miss the point. Liberalism or conservatism in the mainstream media is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. Those looking for bias will find it, even wherein it does not exist. Further, the ideological bents of working reporters - not an elitist designation, but a job description with inherent and specific meanings - is largely irrelevent to their performance. Reporters, by training, are after stories. If in the process the ox of either a liberal or conservative is gored it is immaterial. Hence, Bill Clinton could be hounded about Monicagate - a most ridiculous and insubstantial issue, even if possessing of sensational news "value" - even by those outlets or reporters perceived as "liberal." Further, "liberal" reporters can tread lightly on George W. Bush for the myriad of professional sins those on the left claim he possesses. The guiding motivation of the mainstream press, at least at the grass roots level (we can discuss the influence of corporate hegemony of the mass media at length, for its exists in abundance, but that is a separate - although interrelated - issue) is therefore not ideologically-driven, a view which even Alterman doesn't consider. It is instead propelled by individual ambition; the desire to enhance one's career. In other words: get the big scoop - no matter how it fits into the reporter's or organization's political paradigm - and use it to springboard to higher salaries, positions and ratings.
The danger of the Fox News Channel is that it offers an entirely different creature: the ideologically-driven organization, with the quest not just being money and ratings, but conversion of the mass audience. The FNC slogan, "We report. You decide," could more accurately be stated "We report what we want you to decide." This varies greatly from the function of the mainstream media, other than columns and op-ed pages, which is to inform by providing a broad cross-section of fact and opinion (sometimes when even balance is unjustified: to paraphrase an analysis Ivins offers, a typically balanced approach would be that for every expert claiming Hitler was a mass murderer then equal time be given to another voice asserting that Hitler loved small dogs and children or was in some other way a paragon of virtue). The Fox format, in its news presentation - again distinguishing from the numerous conservative opinion programs - is to present reports that show Bush's agenda in an unabashedly positive light juxtaposed with those that indicate his policies didn't work as fully as expected - instead of an assessment which was at 180-degree variance.
Regardless, the "entertainment" value of Fox News Channel, and its ability to tap into conservative anger - among the many elements discussed above - has led to ratings success and served journalism about as well as has Jerry Springer aided the cause of self-improvement. However, comparing it to the mainstream media is about as legitimate as comparing apples and onyx - they are not only not the same species, they don't even belong to the same family of elements.
Posted by: Chris Bowling at October 22, 2003 8:08 PM | Permalink
I would have to say that Chris Bowling comes closest to where I stand. In the larger media, bias is in the eye of the beholder. I find a conservative bias in most media and find Fox news to be comparable to Limbaugh and his ilk.
Posted by: Barbara Prete at November 12, 2003 3:10 PM | Permalink
For the record FAIR: [fair.org] has debunked that hoary BS about any 'Liberal' media AND 'Liberals' IN the media YEARS ago. When MOST of the people who appear on PBS or NPR are movement conservatives decade after decade, you think ONE of you nimrods would notice? Naaa, it's all an incestuous love in of self referencing double dealers. Go to the DailyHowler.com and see the real workings of a vicious Right wing media machine that LIES with impunity, and that was just the august NYT in the 2000 election! Want to know why FOX got to be so popular? People figured out long before you guys did that there WAS no real 'objective' media. That was the myth. They wanted their conservativism straight, without any filters. It goes down easier that way. Liberal media, how about the So Called Liberal Media? More of them endorsed Bush for re-election in 1992. Ditto for 1996 for Dole. Most of AM radio is taken up with black propaganda of the most heinous sort. The kind that would make Stalinists smile. And you clowns want to know what happened to 'objectivity'in the news? It migrated to the web. You lost it. Get used to it. Your jobs have been made redundant. You deserve it you craven fools. You gave our nation away on a platter in election 2000, and most people will never forgive you for that betrayal.
Posted by: VJ at January 12, 2004 3:27 AM | Permalink