Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, which came into existence in October 1996, has touted itself as the "Fair and Balanced" cable news outlet. Since that time the quality of both news and political discourse have devolved terribly. Is this all Fox News' fault? No. But Fox News is instructive in one way as to an important dynamic these days.
While Fox News denied any bias, it is clear that the unstated purpose behind the channel is to promote the conservative viewpoint. In so doing Fox has promoted several conservative pundits, including but not limited to the wildly popular Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.
In promoting itself as "Fair and Balanced," to the point of unsuccessfully suing now Senator Al Franken over the use of the phrase, Fox implies that all other news outlets, print, cable, broadcast or otherwise, are not fair and balanced. This has buttressed and reinforced the overall feeling among conservatives that their viewpoint is not being represented in such mainstream news outlets as CNN, NBC and the New York Times.
Of course, there is no such thing as a conservative or liberal view of the news. There is only news. The myth of the "liberal media" is perpetuated by those who are in the position to benefit from it: those who are getting called out by the media, and those who want to profit from selling their own slanted news.
One should, as a practice, gather their news from as many sources as possible, in order to insure you are getting the best news. I for one am a newshound. I love reading newspapers and love cable news, and a guilty pleasure of mine has always been the political punditry shows.
The first of such shows watched, from back in the college days, was Crossfire on CNN. This show had Bill Press for the left and Robert Novak for the right. And while the shows at times became heated, you could tell that Bill and Bob were friends.
Since those halcyon days the phenomena of Fox News has grown, and now Fox is allegedly the biggest cable news operation going. I chalk this up to there being only one Fox and the fact that it caters to a certain viewpoint, whether or not that it is valid. And Fox has done a great disservice to journalism as a whole, as well as the American people, and to the political system.
By creating and perpetuating the myth of a "liberal media" Fox has undermined all other news sources. Sure, there are liberal commentators on the editorial and opinion pages of just about every newspaper in America. But there are also conservative columnists. And in any newspaper worth its salt, whether it be a tabloid or broadsheet, the news editors and the editorial editors are separate offices.
A favorite target of Fox News and the conservative punditry in general is the New York Times. The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch's conservative tabloid, even has an occasional column call "Times Watch." I guess you really are an important journalistic institution when other papers report on your reporting. Anyway, The New York Times is roundly roasted on a regular basis by such journalistic luminaries as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly. They say the most amazing things about the Times - that it is treasonous, that it is communist, that it only reports news from a liberal perspective.
Now I will be the first to admit that the Times' editorial page is skewed heavily to the left. But that is simply not true about the news reporting pages, which make up some 95% of the paper. And every time someone tells me that the Times is a skewed and slanted news outlet, my invariable challenge to point to one substantial article on a political topic that was wrongly reported due to a left leaning political bias invariably goes unanswered.
For the sake of argument, where was the liberal media during the Monica Lewinsky scandal? Or during the run up to the Iraq War? In both situations, years apart, the so-called "liberal media" did not do its job and analyze the positions of the newsmakers, and rather, just restated what it was told, variously by Newt Gingrich and his henchmen, or the Bush White House and theirs.
But I didn't come to talk about the myth of the liberal media. Rather, I want to talk about the myth of the concept of equal time. And no, I am not speaking of the "Fairness Doctrine." Rather, I am speaking of the phenomenon, spearheaded largely by Fox News, or the split screen and/or competing experts on a given topic, which during a given news or commentary segment are given equal time.
At first glance you might think that I might be crazy, given all that was said above. However, my point is that by so doing, news outsets, and most famously Fox, create the illusion that there are always two sides to every story [usually one more liberal and the other more conservative], and both deserve equal weight, times and consideration.
However, such is intellectually dishonest.
The best case in point is the [incredibly] still ongoing debate of Creationism v. Science. Anytime this debate comes up on Fox there is always, always, always someone from one of the groups like Answers In Genesis on one side and a confounded paleontologist or geologist on the other. And then the discussion proceeds as if these sides are deserving of equal weight.
Of course, anyone who believes that the world was made in 6 days, or that the concept of an intelligent designer should be taught in a science class, is dead wrong when it comes to discussing science and scientific concepts. They should also not use the tools brought to them via the scientific method, namely television, the internet and radio. Admittedly, I for one am not a scientist. But I do understand basic concepts such as the scientific method of hypothesis, controlled testing, results, and replication.
Another good example is when some topic of gay rights, be it marriage or adoption, is being discussed. On one side you will have an advocate, and on the other you will invariably have someone from Focus On the Family, who invariably cites specious and otherwise unreliable "study" that shows the homosexuals are terrible in some way. No matter that medicine and psychology have come around since the 19th century to recognize that homosexuality is genetic and otherwise a naturally occurring phenomenon throughout mammals, and that homosexuals have contributed mightily to our present civilization at every turn in every epoch.
Perhaps the most grotesque outgrowth of this phenomenon is the conservative version of otherwise everyday things. While not outwardly conservative, the Creation Museum is an excellent example, inasmuch as it blames modern secularization and the Theory of Evolution for most of modern man's ills. If that isn't conservative politics, I don't know what is.
What do the people, Answers In Genesis, know that literally thousands of years of human scientific discovery and experimentation doesn't? The only answer is the King James version of Genesis word for word. And it galls me that they are willing to challenged the decades of industrious work of the scientific community with their truly unsupported beliefs, all the while taking advantage of the profits of science. It is truly a testament to how far we've come as a species that we can afford such backwardness in our society.
Another example is the website called Conservapedia. This is the "conservative" counterpart of Wikipedia, and touts itself as "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia." Check it out: http://www.conservapedia.com/Main_Page. The "Article of the Year: Evolution" is bylined as stating: "Discover what Wikipedia, the public school systems, and the liberal media don't want you to know about the creation v. evolution issue."
You can go to the page entry for homosexuality, and while there are literally hundreds of citations, few of them are of any sort of scientific literature, and when there are they are often taken out of context. Look for yourself: http://www.conservapedia.com/Homosexuality.
Type in a search for "news" and you literally get this: "The news is a list of current events presented by the media. News may be on television (such as Fox News), in a newspapers (such as Wall Street Journal), on the radio (such as Rush Limbaugh Show), or on the Internet." Go see for yourself: http://www.conservapedia.com/News. How many of those are owned by Rupert Murdoch?
Search for "liberal" and the first line is "A liberal (also leftist) is someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self centered reasons." Feel free to check my work: http://www.conservapedia.com/Liberal. All joking aside, how is that a "reliable" definition of liberal? Divisive, certainly. You can look up the definition for "conservative" for yourself.
The fact is is that there is not always two sides to every story. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But we are not entitled to our own facts. To set up, as the creators of Conservapedia, a divergent series of viewpoints not based on facts but on their own biases, is a terrible thing, and damages our society deeply.
And this is not a liberal v. conservative matter, per se. I believe that the dynamic that has been so successfully used by outlets like Fox News, that there is always a second and equally weighted view, is damaging to our collective thought process. It's as if we could debate whether water were wet, or if burning someone at the stake wasn't inhumane. There are some things which are facts: there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; Joseph McCarthy was not acting in the best interests of the country in stirring up the Red Scare in the 50's; Jimmy Carter was a terrible President; Bill Clinton did have sex with that woman. These matters are not up for debate.
And the damage comes in these forms: 1) we undermine the so-called Fourth Estate, that is a vigorous and free press as a check upon our government, which leaves us more open to the quiet seizures of power that all of us, right and left, properly fear, as people will reflexively not trust the media when they really need to; and 2) we undermine our own solidarity by moving into separate camps which detest each other as there is no common ground, and in so doing undermine our ability as a people to think clearly and act together as a nation.
And yes, I have exclusively taken the right wing to task in this post. And before my right wing friends come along and complain that I am not evenhanded, there are two things I want considered: 1) it is the right wing derivatives of long standing mainstream institutions of great integrity I am pointing out the weaknesses and dangers of, and 2) I am not news, I am opinion.