Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fox News and the Myth of Equal Time

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: 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:

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: 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: 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.


  1. 1) Amazing how folks on the left react so vociferously with the mention of Fox News. Yes, FauxNews, right? LOL You can see the visceral hatred/fear they have for this one network that admittedly has a good deal of folks with right leaning, conservative or libertarian viewpoints, Folks on that side must be so accustomed to the news coming from their political bent that anything that veers in the other direction must be attacked!

    2) Is it not enough that the left has the NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, (about 95% of papers in general) NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, PBS, etc all with generally left leaning commentators? By the way, Hannity, Beck and O'Reilly have view point programs, they are not giving "The News" as such, but opinion programs. Also neither O'Reilly or Beck are Republicans. They spend great deal of their programs lambasting the right as well. Its only because they also attack the left that they are called into question/attacked.

    3) It would be wonderful if all TV/print media simply reported the news as "the news', but that's simply doesn't happen. Just what they decide to report on, and the manner in which its presented and the 'liberal bias becomes clear. Is it no wonder that when polled 90+% of reporters call themselves Democrats?

    4) Is Fox blowing away their competition because they are selling a unique product? Possibly, but it also helps that a large section of the population call themselves 'conservative. A recent gallop poll indicated that conservatives were the "Biggest Single-Largest Ideological Group".With 40% of the population calling themselves this. Meanwhile a mere 21% called themselves "liberal". With all the above outlets catering to such a small group of folks its no wonder that their ratings are miniscule and papers like the Times are looking for a Federal bailout. Meanwhile Fox IS the balance, fair or not.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Mr. Rumors. However, I believe you are missing my point.

    1) Fox News is Faux News because it is largely false news, which you seem to admit in your 4th point. Ergo the clever little moniker. There is no news, or precious little news, to be got from Fox News that does not have opinion injected into it, usually right at the lead in, something you do not find in any other news outlet. However, as you have indicated, it is popular because it lends itself to a certain viewpoint, rather than because of its accuracy.. This is the problem, and not the solution, as news is supposed to inform, and information is not supposed to be predetermined.

    2) However, I do not agree that the left owns, or dominates, all the other news outlets, be they cable, broadcast or print. I renew my challenge to find the left leaning news article from any of those outlets, and a real challenge would be to find the pattern. That you cannot, or rather have not, demonstrates my point. Where was the critical thinking in the run-up to the war? Outside of opinion pages, there was none. However, give me 10 minutes and Fox and Friends on any given morning and I will prove my point immediately. Also, I would lie to point out that MSNBC, supposedly the most liberal of the news outlets, and I will admit their evening shows are left leaning, have Joe Scarborough on for 2 hours every morning and Pat Buchanan, who can crush ANY alleged conservative with just his jowls, is a regular contributor.

    It is refreshing to hear that Hannity, Beck and O'Reilly are not news shows, because they advertise themselves as such.

    3) Sooooooo........Democrats cannot be fair? And the Republicans can? I think you should watch it, buddy, as you are calling the bulk of America un-American. But this begs the question: why aren't there more Republican reporters [just as you can ask why are there not more conservative professors?]. I believe the answer lies in that the pursuit lends itself to a certain personality type, one which requires and open mind [dictionary definition of the term "liberal", and you can look it up], who is open to new matters and viewpoints. Conservative does not mean that, in either the dictionary or political definition. Again - show me the money on the bias. And no opinion pages.

    4) That Fox "blows away" competition is besides the point. This is not a contest. And all print media is on the decline, something you should lament, as reading the news is an act which informs the person much better than watching it, as one must actually think about it.

    5) I notice you shied away from my central point, which is that the dynamic begun or enhanced by Fox News, namely the belief that people are entitled to have their point of view treated with equal weight no matter the content of that view. This is central to the present and incredibly still ongoing debate over Darwin v. Intelligent Design/Creationism.

    News, like science, is not subject to democracy or popularity or point of view or market forces. It just is, and we trust journalists and scientists, respectively, to report the results. Fox News is in the forefront of reporting news from an angle, which is a perversion of the Fourth Estate. That Fox might be a good investment because it caters to a 40% market share does nothing to prove that it is the right thing, or a healthy state of affairs for out nation.

  3. 1) Can you name an instance where Fox "made up news?" Like CBS news did with the Dan Rather faux news on Bush's military record?

    2) Perhaps you're mistaking commentary shows(that are clearly labeled as such) for news? Certainly the folks you mentioned are no more newsmen than Mr. Olberman or former Carter aid (and soon to be Pennsylvania Democrat senatorial candidate) Chris Mathews. Or former Clinton mouth piece George Stephanopoulos?

    3) There most certainly IS liberal bias in the news. Need an example? The biggest current fiasco is the Global warming, ooops Global Climate Change nonsense. never can we recall such a Faux-science trying to masquerade as facts. Its closer to a faux religion. yet the "mainstream press' rarely if ever questions the VERY questionable conclusions made by the 'faux-consensus of scientists supporting this idiocy. Still waiting to see/read a news article detailing how much money AlGore made over pushing this absurd concept. Meanwhile our current government is looking to tax us into oblivion with the intention to save us from something that doesn't exist. This cries out for "The other side". Still waiting here for it! Not gonna read it in the Times, DC Post or see it on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, etc.

  4. 1) Yes, daily. Here's a gem of one sided "news" from Fox & Friends, March 9, 2009 Here we see the sin of omission, where only one portion of the story is told, and that the M.O. oftimes of Fox. For instance, after announcing he would like to speak to moderate Taliban, there is a poll put asking for opinions on President Obama's plan to talk to the terrorists. Mark and the Remember: E.D. Hill and her terrorist fist jab.

    1A) While you brought up the Rather memo, remember, the contents of the memo were not false, or challenged as such. Rather, the font the memo was written in was not invented at the time of the memo's date. Therefore, it permitted W., via Karl Rove, to challenge the memo without actually challenging the contents thereof. Really, a brilliant piece of strategy on his part. Oh, and Rather lost his job, therefore maintaining the integruty of CBS.

    2) The problem with Fox News is that the commentary is freely interwoven into the news. There is one script for the entire network, and during the Bush Administration it was practically the cable mouthpiece for W. This cannot be denied.

    3) This is an example of what the central thesis of the piece is. You are not entitled to choose your own scientific outcomes. I am not a climatologist, and neither are you. Hey, I am not a doctor, and need to trust my doctor's opinions. You need to trust your attorney's opinions. We all need to trust the vast bulk of the scientists studying climate data, be they geologists, climatologists, or meteorologists. There is a consensus among those and related fields that the Earth is warming at an excessive rate, and that warming correlates with the release of greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil hydrocarbons, beginning roughly at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when coal became a staple of energy production. I know you are aware of this, and the nature of hydrocarbons to trap heat, like in a greenhouse. Therefore, your argument is disingenuous at best, and outright false at worst. And you should be ashamed of yourself, as this is not about Al Gore [though you should perhaps applaud his capitalistic knack], as the only controvery comes only from scientists on the payroll of the American Petroleum Institute. And, oh, by the way, George W. Bush, among other conservatives, have already admitted the Earth is warming.

  5. 1) Firstly, we have nothing to be ashamed of with regard to our skepticism of the global warming issue. Afterall a "consensus" of scientists thought for sure the Earth was flat. We also flatly reject the notion that a consensus even exists. Even if there was one, science isn't based upon consensus but on evidence and careful examination. We can cite MANY a reputable climatologist/meteorologist not on the payroll of any evil petrol co. who has data/evidence that mankind is NOT responsible for any "warming. In fact we can find many reports that cite there isn't any warming, but in fact cooling going on right now.

    2) Yet we read few if any of these folks because they don't fall within the template that the world is soon to be under water because Americans like to drive SUV's? Even among firm Man made global warming believers there is no firm consensus that any of the initiatives suggested(and would cripple our already hurting economy) would have any effect on the climate. We believe its amazing hubris to believe mankind can control/effect the climate. Its also hubris to say that the current temperature scheme is the optimal. It was MUCH warmer a thousand years ago when some folks from Scandinavia traveled to Greenland and called it such because it was. (unlike the frozen wasteland it is now)

    3) The volcano currently erupting in Eastern Russia is producing MUCH more 'green house gasses" in a few weeks than cars can in decades. CO2 is essential for life NOT a pollutant! LOL Wish I could debate further with ya Ray-Ray. Home life beckons.. : ) Have a good one.

  6. 1) No, you cannot name reputable scientists that wholly refute global warming, and the shame is taking sides in a scientific debate for political reasons. And your analogy to the flat earth situation, while clever, holds little weight as that was not a scientific debate, but rather based upon the limits of human observation mixed with religious orthodoxy, ie: humans can only observe that the earth is flat, ergo, it must be, and God told us so. However, the glaciers in the Alps, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Arctic and Antarctica tell a radically different, and observable story.

    2) Your Greenland contention is entirely inaccurate, and would like to know where you got this information. During much of the Middle Ages [less than thousands of years ago, and measured in the hundreds] there was a mini ice age, so stuff was really cold up north. And Greenland has always been covered in ice, at least during human history. Iceland has always been green, thanks to lots of vulcanism. The Vikings, knowing people wanted to go where it was green, mislead people with the respective names. That's why Sean Hannity is a poor source for actual knowledge. Oh, and the Vikings knew the earth was round like, 600 years before Columbus. And the land bridges which permitted people to cross the Bering Strait were also during other ice ages, which were thousands of years ago [4 thousand, 7 thousand and 14 thousand].

    2A) Ergo, your hubris that we should not do anything about climate change, because it might hurt the economy or that we don't know what will work, is rather disconcerting. Maybe you want to have beach front property in Appalachia? See: the actually melting ice sheets, above.

    3) You are actually correct about this, and I agree. However, this does not discount that the human race is adding tremendous amounts of such gases into the atmosphere in addition to the naturally occurring volcanoes. And anything can be pollution, as pollution is defined as an overabundance of a given thing, be it CO2, O2, noise, H2SO4, Au, Ag, and so forth, within a given system. Ergo, your argument has been revealed as specious. Stop listening to Senator Inhofe when it comes to these matters.

    You should know better, ye of a scientific background. Stop giving in to these know nothings out for a greasy buck.

    Thank you. Come again.

  7. he certainly skipped over all the other points you made and went to climate change as his focus.

    keep up the good work, Ray Ray!