I do not watch much television. But when I do and I am in the mood for news, I am not watching Fox News. This is understandable, principally because I might accidentally have to watch this guy (or as John McCain might say, “That one!”) who is so obnoxious he is capable of giving me a bad case of indigestion inside of thirty seconds.
No, when I am feeling in the mood for propaganda masquerading as news, I do what many of us godless liberals do these days. I turn on MSNBC. In particular, I tune in to watch Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. I do learn a few things watching Keith and Rachel, but most of it I have already read online. I am really tuning in to Keith and Rachel more for entertainment than for news. I tune in because I am a politically active creature. Watching articulate people on TV like Keith and Rachel makes me feel less alone. Like most people, I like to listen to people who tell me what I want to hear.
Yet, I am not deluded. Neither Keith nor Rachel is stupid enough to claim they are fair and balanced. Keith Olbermann is a nicer version of Bill O’Reilly in that he can be scornful of politicians yet has enough civility not to berate any guests who do not agree with him. Rachel Maddow on the other hand is snarky but nice. She has her politics down cold and is both quirky and fun. She projects none of the intellectual anger that Keith dishes out on a regular basis.
As for MSNBC’s news coverage, there is little question that it has a liberal tinge to it. You can see it from the tone of its coverage, who tends to get the most airtime and who does not. Likely, MSNBC’s strategy is to be a liberal-lite news source. It is hoping to be on top of the changing demographics of the political class, which is moving rather rapidly from conservative toward liberal. Unlike Fox News, however, as necessary it can draw on various personalities on NBC News. This gives it some credibility.
What amazes me though is that Fox News viewers (at least those I have encountered) seem to actually believe that Fox News is, as it laughingly claims, “Fair and Balanced”. Not only is this objectively false, its owner Rupert Murdoch agrees. For all their claims of objectivity, it has been well documented that the Fox News division makes sure that its reporters and anchors push the conservative message of the day. Clearly though either its managers suffer from cognitive dissonance or they are comfortable with lying because publicly they continue to insist they are “fair and balanced”. It is practically the trademark for the Fox News Channel.
I decided of course not to watch Fox News because their bias was so outrageous. Take today’s outrage. Since Sunday morning, Fox News has repeated 122 times a fraudulent claim about Senator Obama’s position on coal. Fox News continues to spread a false story that the San Francisco Chronicle concealed a damning eleven-month-old recording of Obama. The nonexistent recording supposedly said that Obama has plans to bankrupt the coal industry once he is president. Even today, Senator McCain was spewing these lies on the campaign trail. Fox News, which obviously wants to see him elected, just keeps repeating these lies, even though they have been thoroughly debunked. CNN gave it 18 mentions over the same period. MSNBC gave it eight mentions. To the extent that this should have been a story, a truly fair and balanced news organization should have simply stated that the story was undeniably false.
Fox News spreads these lies so frequently that you can pretty much count on at least one prominent lie of the day every day, which will be endlessly repeated. By doing so of course, it helps spread the false meme among its community of predominantly very conservative viewers. Therefore, in reality when Fox News calls itself “Fair and Balanced”, it is about as fair and balanced as Pravda (which is Russian for “Truth”) which, of course, was nothing but propaganda rag for the Communist Party.
Here is the truth: Fox News is more balanced that Pravda but only in the sense that given that we have a free press you can only push propaganda so far. Unlike Pravda, at least Fox News will interview those who do not agree with them. They may, like Bill O’Reilly, use the opportunity to pummel their guests with degrading personal attacks. That is hardly fair and balanced. However, it does provide red meat for its viewers, which in turn ensures a loyal audience and helps keep Fox News profitable. They cannot afford to have their viewers checking out the competition.
What really amazes me though is that Fox News viewers I have spoken to say with a straight face it is the only news channel they trust. If you take the time and try to show them the overwhelming evidence that Fox News is systematically and relentlessly biased then they go into denial mode. It’s the only channel that is telling the truth, they will tell me with passion in their voices. All those other news channels are full of liberals pushing a great left wing conspiracy!
MSNBC may have a left leaning bias but one thing is clear: Fox News is the only cable news source that is overtly and proactively biased. I just wish they could come clean with their viewers. There is nothing inherently wrong with a cable news network having a bias, just be up front about it. In Great Britain, you can get your news slanted the way you like it from all sorts of incredibly biased left and right leaning newspapers. The Guardian, for example, is unquestionably a left leaning newspaper, since they rarely let a day go by without a story berating the Bush Administration. Of course, many of our nation’s newspapers tend to lean in certain directions too. The Wall Street Journal is never going to endorse a Democrat for president. The New York Times is unlikely to endorse a Republican for president either. That is why it was genuinely news when recently The Chicago Tribune endorsed Barack Obama for president. They had never endorsed a Democrat for president before. I wasn’t watching Fox News, but I bet their anchors were spinning the line that the Trib only endorsed Obama because he lives in Chicago.
So pick your biased news source if it gives you comfort. It makes me feel better to unwind in the evening with a little Keith and Rachel. Just please spare me your certainty that you are watching Fox News (or MSNBC for that matter) because you are looking for objectivity. If you want objectivity, you are not going to find it on either channel (although CNN comes the closest). Your best bet is to watch a number of news channels. Then maybe you can honestly say that you at least examined the issues of the day from many sides.
“You decide,” Fox News so often places on its screen. If Fox News is the only news channel you are watching, are you really deciding? Or are you letting them decide for you?