Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Fair and Balanced?

I just returned from a sojourn in Texas (which explains the gap in my posting, in case anyone noticed). I spent some time watching Fox News Channel because I rarely see it, relying mainly on CNN International and sometimes the BBC for cable news. I came away from Fox with the impression that watching Fox and comparing it to CNN, particularly when they report on the same topics, is a lot like reading conservative and liberal print media.

One consistent difference is the fact that the conservative media know what they are and don't mind saying so, often with relish. The liberal media, on the other hand, seem convinced despite all evidence that they are the mainstream of political thought and cultural wisdom. They seem to believe they possess the revealed word, inerrant and utterly unquestionable. (Except, of course, a rather large number don't admit to the existence of a "revealer.") That's one reason why when they fall, they fall hard; Dan Rather and the New York Times are examples.

Their coverage of the Terri Schiavo case was instructive. Like the politicians in Washington and Florida, neither wing of the media came out looking very good. From what I could see, both went overboard in the amount of air time they devoted to the story, with Fox leading the way in terms of quantity of coverage. Both sides deployed some of their stars, as if it made a difference whether the carefully coifed news readers did their reading from Florida or from their home studios. This kind of coverage also illustrated once again the mystery of why these people are stars in the first place. Anderson Cooper of CNN may be the best example.

It's clear that the Schiavo story straddled the pro-life, pro-choice divide. It's hard to understand why, but the more solidly one was in either ideological camp the more hysterical one was likely to be. Fox spent a lot of time focusing on the parents and siblings of the poor woman, and they gave a huge amount of air time to pro-life activists. CNN and the broadcast news organizations focused more on Michael Schiavo and his supporters, trying to highlight his side of the story and denigrate those on the other side. It was painfully obvious that the media on both sides were ideologically biased, and the losers were those who got only one side of the story.

I was also able to compare conservative and liberal reporting and commentary on the death of Pope John Paul II, speculation on his successor, and conservative and liberal issues that bedevil the Church. That coverage continues, of course, but from what I saw in the early days the ideological divide that characterized reporting on the Schiavo story is alive and well.

So, who is "fair and balanced," to use Fox's marketing slogan? The fact is, on some stories you can find balanced reporting in any media organ. On others that involve issues dividing the left and right, forget about it. The only way to get a balanced understanding is to draw from both wings of the media, then use your common sense and a little research to sort it all out.

I'll return to one point because I think it's important in defending against the biases of the press. Conservatives in the media generally 'fess up to their slant. Liberals very often don't, usually defending themselves by claiming that there is no bias in the mainstream media; it's just another scurrilous conservative slander, in their view. After all, they alone possess the revealed word. A good example is a recent column by William Raspberry, a man I've read for years and respect. However, he's as liberal as the Pope is Catholic, and even a casual reading of this column about Fox News Channel shows the liberal analytical blind spot on this issue.

Caveat emptor.


Blogger DCM said...

Welcome back from the dark side. Fox News is the only cable news channel I watch because I find they highlight stories that the other networks won't touch. Plus they always balance conservative interviewees with liberal ones. Like on Special Report with Brit Hume, their panel of political specialist always has someone from a conservative point (like Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard) and some one from a liberal point (like Juan Williams of NPR). Put CNN and other biased networks (hello Ted Turner) behind you and join the millions who make Fox News the #1 cable news channel.

9:26 AM, April 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice commentary. Fair and balanced and full of uncommon sense. :)

Sissy Willis

9:38 AM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Francesca said...

This is a topic that interests me a great deal and I've thought about it quite a lot.
It's almost impossible to quantify bias. We can watch the news and note that it appears that a channel has a bias, but it's difficult to say "CNN is 64% Liberal" or something to that effect. The movie Outfoxed, however, did a very good job of quantifying Fox's bias as best as it could. It noted, for example, that Fox has twice as many right wing commentators as more progressive or leftist ones. The film also documented Murdoch's financial and personal ties to the GOP. I don't know of a similar film that documents the alleged Liberal bias of things like CNN.
You say "one consistent difference is the fact that the conservative media know what they are and don't mind saying so, often with relish." I have to disagree. As you pointed out lower down, Fox's tagline is "fair and balanced," while they are not anything of the sort. If they really wanted to broadcast their bias, as you say they already do, drop the "fair and balanced" tip and get real.
Fox is so close to opinion in many cases that I think that tagline should be changed. If you watch enough Fox, and if you are an educated viewer, you'll notice that the line between news reporting and opinion pieces is deliberately blurred. Less educated viewers can't tell the difference.
When I watch CNN from my openly Liberal perspective, I have a very hard time seeing the leftist bias. I think many people find CNN "liberal" because it is not as conservative as Fox. I would love to see an "Outfoxed"-type documentary about CNN.

10:34 AM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Gindy said...

""One consistent difference is the fact that the conservative media know what they are and don't mind saying so, often with relish."

I tend to agree with that. I still watch them all to get different perspectives. But, I wish they would admit where they are coming from. It is hard to take the idea of objective journalism seriously nowadays.

"Fox is so close to opinion in many cases that I think that tagline should be changed. "

I think that goes for all of them. I understand your point about fair and balanced. In my opinion FOX is better than most but is still coming from a right of center slant.

1:58 PM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Francesca said...

Gindy, at first I wondered what sort of tests you were employing to determine that Fox is more balanced than other TV news outlets. Then after taking a quick spin around your blog to see that you are defending the Minutemen and Tom DeLay, I guess I don't really need to know.
I'm glad that you have Fox News for your end of the political spectrum. I'll just continue to listen to Air America ;)

2:49 PM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

FoxNews seems pretty "fair and balanced" to me. They piss me off at LEAST as much (if not more) than they have me nodding in agreement. Maybe a lil' to the right but I can deal with that.

Francesca - Jerry Springer ROCKS on Air America, doesn't he?

9:27 PM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Francesca said...

Springer's on Air America?

12:41 AM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

Francesca - yep! I catch his show on XM as much as I can.

6:30 AM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

I'm glad you're back, Tom, and I noticed you were gone.

"They piss me off at LEAST as much (if not more) than they have me nodding in agreement. Maybe a lil' to the right but I can deal with that."

G-TL, this is how I feel about FOX too. francesca, as far as liberal bias of CNN, what pisses me off is their outright hatred of Israel. I used to watch CNN a ton but when my blood pressure kept raging out of control each night (being on the west coast, I get their international--very anti-Israel-- coverage at night), I had to stop. Why do that to myself? BBC, PBS, Washington Post.... -- same thing quite often. Sure there's the occasional nice piece, especially by Charles Krautheimer in TWP, but most of it is incredibly biased and factually inaccurate.

I can watch the same story on MSNBC or a network that I see on Fox and I feel like learn more from Fox. Believe me, I never expected to say that, having been a lifelong democrat, but that's my take.

6:07 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Gindy said...

First of all Francesca relax. You don't need to go in to a tantrum so quickly.

"Gindy, at first I wondered what sort of tests you were employing to determine that Fox is more balanced than other TV news outlets. "

I wasn't using any test. That is why I started the sentence with "In my opinion". Come on. You know the difference.

As to your Minuteman claim. I have made clear time and again that I am for greatly increasing legal immigration (double it for all I care). But, I am against illegal immigration. Again, surely you know the differece.

7:14 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Francesca said...

Wow. That was construed as a 'tantrum'? I ended my comment with a wink. I'll chose my emoticons more carefully from now on in your honor, Gindy.
You still haven't told me how you measure bias in news reports.
As for the Minutemen, we can take this conversation elsewhere, but I think one can be against illegal immigration and still not support the Minutemen, so I don't really follow your logic.

Esther: Don't you think "hatred of Israel" is really strong terminology? I also wonder what particular pieces in the Wash. Post you find factually innacurate. I would think that would be something that would garner more attention if it were actually true.

11:19 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Gindy said...

"I ended my comment with a wink."

I appologize then.

"You still haven't told me how you measure bias in news reports."

I don't have any fair way of measuring that all sides can accept (as to what side am I, it depends on the subject). It is my feeling that there is not an unbiased source out there. Who isn't biased about something? Fox definitly is center right. How far right? I don't know how to quantify it. They have reporters such as Greta, but that is mostly a legal show. That guy Shep, he seems to be in the middle. O'rielly, you tell me, He is for a 50% income tax, gay marriage and he was against the swift boat vets. Hannity and Colms, where Hannity dominates Colms (I think Hannity has the advantage on that show).

But, compare that to CNN, who has Lou Dobbs. Everyone else I can think of is (in my opinion)very center left. I think that is because they have more of a world audiance.

I must have misunderstood your point on the Minutemen as well. I am curious of your opinion as someone from California.

Again, I appologize if I misunderstood.

12:24 PM, April 21, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Hey francesca, I wish I had more time (getting ready to catch a flight) to pick and choose great examples, but here's CAMERA's complaints against or kudos for:

the Washington Post: http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=38

CNN: http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=3&x_outlet=14

And just to be fair, FOX NEWS: http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=3&x_outlet=15

"Esther: Don't you think "hatred of Israel" is really strong terminology?"

Eh, not really. Have you watched CNN late at night? At least after 9/11, it was pretty blatent.

9:13 PM, April 22, 2005  

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