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March 12, 2007

Fox Unbalanced

I have a new column over at The New York Sun on the whole brouhaha over Fox news and the Nevada Democratic Party debate. In it, you'll find why I think Fox isn't anti-Democrat, per se, and I'm curious to hear how folks react to the argument.

Update: One cool side effect of the Fox News flap is that it's provided a news hook for articles that take, as their subject, the channel's ideological bias. Even as Fox News disputes the claim, the very fact that it's being made, and that they're having to deny it, is pretty deadly. In fact, it's exactly the sort of thing they've spent the last decade doing to Democrats...

March 12, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I think you're right that they're not specifically anti-Democrat, but wrong that they're anti-progressive. Instead of either of those, they're pro-Republican. They don't support conservative ideals, instead they support political power for the Republican Party. To that goal, they're willing to use conservative Democrats who snipe at more prominent or progressive Democrats.

Posted by: ptm | Mar 12, 2007 11:07:25 AM

If you had come to the opposite opinion, would the Sun have published it?

Posted by: tomboy | Mar 12, 2007 11:17:53 AM

Not that it proves things one way or the other, but I think that the absence of Bill Clinton from that column was rather glaring. If Fox isn't anti-Democrat (and is indeed favorably inclined, or at least neutral, to people like Harold Ford), then why would they be so tough on President Clinton?

Posted by: Dan Miller | Mar 12, 2007 11:30:55 AM

That's why Senator Edwards pulled out of the debate and Governor Richardson rapidly followed suit.

Edwards did not "pull out" of the debate. He simply confirmed the fact that he had not and would not sign on for it. Richardson signed up, then pulled out. It's an important distinction.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 12, 2007 11:30:58 AM

I really don't think there's a big difference between calling Fox News conservatively biased and biased against Democrats. In both cases, I state explicitly that they're a propaganda outlet, not a news organization.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 12, 2007 11:31:17 AM

I think you may not have taken things far enough, nor did ptm. For an entity like Fox, "democrat" or "republican" or "progressive" are just labels. The important thing is to be pro-"us" and anti-"them", where "us" is some kind of alliance between soi-disant conservatives and megacorporations, and them is everyone else, but portrayed in a way that viewers can believe themselves on the right side of the chasm.

Posted by: paul | Mar 12, 2007 11:33:27 AM

Ezra sez: But the campaign against the Nevada Democratic Party marks the arrival of something different on the scene: It was an organized movement pressuring the party from the outside, demanding it live up to their expectations if it expected their support. It was the behavior of an interest group, rather than a constituency — a skeptical ally, not a subsidiary. And it suggests that progressivism is maturing into a movement connected to, but distinct from, the Democratic Party.

But Ezra also sez: What we saw this week was the rise of a progressive counter-establishment that the Democratic Party has no wish to cross.
...
Four years ago, there was no coherent progressive movement capable of commanding such attention from the Democratic Party's tribunes. Now, there is. And the progressive movement's success this week is a harbinger of a dark future for institutions like Fox News that rely on the absence of such an organized [progressive] movement to split the Democratic Party and aid conservatism

There certainly is an active struggle within the Democratic Party between the progressives/liberals and the DLC/centrists/blue dogs, with the centrists almost completely in control of the Congressional Dem. party, with the exception of some of the older committee chairs resurrected to power by seniority brought by earlier dominance in the pre-Reagan era.

But the progressives are just as much IN the party as is the DLC. The left may appear outside the party because they don't control much of the leadership and potential Presidential candidates - with the possible exceptions of Howard Dean at the DNC and some Pres. candidates like Edwards and Obama positioning themselves somewhere between the centrists and progressives depending on the issue.

Given the locked-in nature of the two party system at all levels of government, it isn't advantageous to have the progressives/liberals to have a separate party (although they likely would in a parliamentary system like the UK or Germany).

So, IMO, your first point on the progressives as outsider's misses the target. This is an intra-party struggle of the classic variety.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 12, 2007 11:47:23 AM

it's provided a news hook for articles that take, as their subject, the channel's ideological bias

Yes! Thanks for writing such an article.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 12, 2007 12:25:48 PM

"...the very fact that it's being made, and that they're having to deny it, is pretty deadly. In fact, it's exactly the sort of thing they've spent the last decade doing to Democrats."

I'm reminded of a conversation with my decidedly right-wing brother. I suggested that Fox News had a super-conservative bias - moreso than CNN had a liberal bias and he told me he knew it, and that if it didn't he wouldn't be watching it. He likes the fact that the channel is unabashedly ultra-conservative, and the more they deny the fact that they're a conservative network, the less interested he is in watching it. He's afraid they'll water down the channel if they actually try to be balanced instead of just ironically calling themselves "Fair and Balanced" in their ads and hoping that the dumber members of their audience just believe them.

Posted by: NonyNony | Mar 12, 2007 12:37:47 PM

precisely because it wasn't a news organization

they're a propaganda outlet, not a news organization

This is manifestly false, of course. Fox is both a propaganda outfit and a new organization. As any European can tell you without scratching his head, there's nothing more common than the two together. Fox gathers news, they report it, they're a news organization. They may not be a very good one, but that's a different matter.

And the progressive movement's success this week is a harbinger of a dark future for institutions like Fox News that rely on the absence of such an organized movement to split the Democratic Party and aid conservatism.

This hasn't hurt Fox at all as a money-making venture. Fox thrives when liberals attack it as biased and unbalanced. A great part of their appeal is to conservative paranoia.

They don't support conservative ideals, instead they support political power for the Republican Party.

This is baloney. Fox is beholden to its conservative viewership, not a party. They know where their money comes from, and you can see where they go when there's a conflict between their conservative base and the Party. I wonder where this liberal meme comes from. It isn't reality-based.

I think too much is being made of the power of MoveOn and the netroots here. This was an easy call for Edwards, no real risk at all.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 12, 2007 12:39:47 PM

Fox thrives when liberals attack it as biased and unbalanced.

I think you disregard how important it is to Fox that they're not merely regarded as the right-wing news network. If they're widely and openly regarded as a niche player, they lose a portion of their mainstream audience. This costs them advertising dollars and influence over swing voters. And right now not everybody sees them that way. If the TVs at your taco restaurant are tuned to Fox News, that's not yet seen as an explicit and conscious political statement on your part as the restaurant owner. I hope that soon it will be.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 12, 2007 12:56:36 PM

This is baloney. Fox is beholden to its conservative viewership, not a party.

At this point there's really not much difference between the two. If there is a real conservative movement that starts to distinguish itself from the GOP, we will be able to see where Fox's real loyalties are.

I think they would try to toe the line between loyalty to the party for the sake of access and appeal to possibly restive conservative-not-necessarily-Republicans for the sake of ratings. They've had an easy road so far in this respect; I'd like to see how well they would handle such a scenario.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 12, 2007 1:01:18 PM

Agree with Sanpete. The European media model works fine and provides for a more vigorous public dialogue. I dont think its unfair for Fox to promote its perspective, and there is a difference between a systemic bias in how stories are framed and whether they are accurate. The problem Fox presents in our political culture is that almost all other national news networks remain committed (anecdotal evidence notwithstanding) to objectivity. Simply put, we need a liberal Fox.

Posted by: RW | Mar 12, 2007 1:04:36 PM

Right because pissing off the media never has any consequences to it. I mean ask Al Gore 2000 about that one.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 12, 2007 1:06:33 PM

"If the TVs at your taco restaurant are tuned to Fox News, that's not yet seen as an explicit and conscious political statement on your part as the restaurant owner. I hope that soon it will be.
"

Neil

I think this problem would solve itself if there were more of an American tradition of explicitly political news outlets. El Pais and El Mundo might claim objectivity, but this claim probably has about as much credibility with the general public as a politicians stated desire to work for bipartisanship.
Fox might be able to get away with this now, but I doubt they would if there were a liberal Fox doing exactly the same thing.

Posted by: RW | Mar 12, 2007 1:09:45 PM

> One cool side effect of the Fox News flap is that it's provided a news hook for articles that take, as their subject, the channel's ideological bias.

Democrats should have this emblazoned on over the inside front door of their offices. This is a key point they've never understood in how to make the media work for them.

Posted by: Fred | Mar 12, 2007 1:23:15 PM

"This is manifestly false, of course. Fox is both a propaganda outfit and a new organization. As any European can tell you without scratching his head, there's nothing more common than the two together. Fox gathers news, they report it, they're a news organization. They may not be a very good one, but that's a different matter."

Sanpete, as you've likely gathered from RW's riffing, this is close to an implicit repudiation of the moderate Liberal shiboleth of a "balanced" and "objective" media. One of the major props of the idea of bi-partisanship that we've debated elsewhere. Are you sure you want to endorse this media model?

Posted by: WB Reeves | Mar 12, 2007 1:34:22 PM

Neil, Fox doesn't have that much of a mainstream audience, if by that you mean an audience that isn't conservative. Their audience is overwhelmingly conservative, and if you watch it for one day, it's easy to see why. There are non-conservatives who watch Fox, but not because they don't know what Fox is. I'll grant you that Fox doesn't want to be branded the conservative network, that they would like to have their cake and eat it too, but the importance of that is more in making their viewers feel reasonable (like "fair and balanced") than in gaining moderate viewers. Fox hosts love to read the attacks against them on the air, to show how biased the rest of the world is, and apparently the audience eats it up.

You might be right that if enough popular scorn gathers around Fox some viewers will stay away, but I suspect the net effect would be to further entrench their viewer base and attract more viewers to see what the fuss was about and enjoy the spectacle. That's how entertainment works, and Fox is entertaining for many. Maybe a way to fight Fox as a money-making venture isn't to assault them as conservative but to provide a better alternative for conservatives. Even that is doubtful--they know their audience. But it seems a better track on the whole.

The restaurant test is interesting. I always assume that where Fox is on there's a conservative or someone trying to appeal to conservatives. I'd be surprised if many people saw it otherwise.

At this point there's really not much difference between the two. If there is a real conservative movement that starts to distinguish itself from the GOP, we will be able to see where Fox's real loyalties are.

Stephen, the claim I was responding to was that there is a difference, and that Fox is all about the Party, not about conservatives, which is backwards. In fact, Fox has already shown over and over where it goes when there's a conflict between the Party and the conservatives. They consistently criticize Bush on immigration, for example, and absolutely trashed Republicans after the elections last year. This isn't because the hosts are told to do this; it's because the hosts are conservatives and care more about that and their audience than about a party. Keep in mind where their money comes from--not a penny from a political party, all from having viewers. As I said in the other version of this thread yesterday, the Party doesn't have any hold on Fox at all; it just got lucky.

Simply put, we need a liberal Fox.

RW, WBR, I actually prefer the nonpartisan approach that predominates here over that in Europe. NPR, in some important ways, is a liberal outlet, but I don't like that aspect of it. Air America has tried to counter conservative radio, and has thankfully, from my point of view, foundered. As you might infer, WBR, one reason I prefer nonpartisan sources is that we need news sources that can be used and respected by more people rather than fewer, to try to avoid the ghettoization of "reality." Fox viewers really live in a difference world, and that isn't healthy for them or us. Likewise, listeners to NPR are able to feel quite comfortable about their own biases because they're largely reflected back to them (though not in such blatant ways as at Fox).

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 12, 2007 2:14:13 PM

This is baloney. Fox is beholden to its conservative viewership, not a party. They know where their money comes from, and you can see where they go when there's a conflict between their conservative base and the Party.

This hasn't hurt Fox at all as a money-making venture. Fox thrives when liberals attack it as biased and unbalanced. A great part of their appeal is to conservative paranoia.

Fox's appeal is not solely ideological, in the same way that the appeal of the left netroots isn't based on ideological purity. Much of their programming (O'Reilly, Hannity, John Gibson's commentary) is certainly focused on conservative issues, but this blog entry is overripe with gratuitous examples of blame-shifting and endorsement of ideas that aren't conservative. (If you'd like to assert that the endorsement of torture is a conservative value, go ahead, but prepare to have a not-very-fun time.) They may not agree with everything the Republican Party says, but damned if they're not Republican supporters.

Why, though, if the Party itself isn't the reason for the viewership? For the sake of access. Fox is the favorite network of the GOP, for obvious reasons, and GOP politicians love the coverage they get on Fox. In the past, Dems have made few (if any) movements towards shutting Fox out of access. Without that access, though, Fox News loses its fig leaf of legitimacy. Pulling out of this debate was definitely an attack on Fox's legitimacy, and a well-deserved one. This is why Fox is scrambling to blame it on the Dems.

It's also worth noting that a fair part of Fox's success is based on the form rather than the content of its news - something which appeals to people who have no particular partisan ideology. Fox is good at making the news pop out to people, with techniques ranging from bright, dynamic bumpers to good old-fashioned alarmism. For those with no ideological bone to pick, this is a real appeal, and not insignificant in why Fox is routinely the top-rated of the news networks. Ironically, these less ideological people are the ones most likely to be put off by a conspicuous lack of Democrats on the network - the less the network seems like legitimate news, the sillier all the bluster appears.

Altogether, I thought you were right on the money, Ezra. No points for the gratuitous Britney Spears shot, though.

Posted by: Jon O. | Mar 12, 2007 2:53:38 PM

Simply put, we need a liberal Fox.

And you don't have one today? Crap, I forgot, ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN are all unbiased.

I wouldn't argue with anyone who said Fox is the "conservative news network". Based on what I've seen, and I rarely watch Fox, the statement holds true. But to say there is no counterbalance seems ridiculous to me.

Interesting read from Marginal Revolution on this:

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2003/09/surprise_fox_is.html

As I get older, I like the European method of handling this better and better. We all know bias exists in the news, let’s start being overt about it.

Posted by: DM | Mar 12, 2007 3:22:53 PM

DM.
The question is not bias, but acknowledgement of bias. I think the current national non-Fox outlets are, in their own way, conservative, but I also know that anyone who seeks political change in either direction is ineviatbly going to see the media as opposed to them. They certainly are not a liberal Fox (the "Hound"?) in the sense of a network that has abandoned all but the thinnest veneer of objectivity.
Anyway, sounds like we agree that having more national networks that acknowledge their own perspective would be healthy.

Sanpete--
I dont think that networks following the current objectivity model should collapse, just that there should be more alternatives on either side of them, Fox on one side, Hound on the other.

Balance through pluralism.

Posted by: RW | Mar 12, 2007 3:35:50 PM

Jon, I have dial-up and so can't really view the many clips at your link. Where torture is concerned, you're talking about what some like to call "true" conservatism; I'm talking about what actual conservatives believe. They favor Bush's policy. There's obviously a lot of overlap between what the Party favors and what conservatives favor. I hope you didn't understand me to be saying that Fox doesn't favor the Republican Party on the whole. That isn't part of their business model; it's a consequence of it.

Fox's less ideological viewers aren't deluded about Fox being a conservative outlet; they won't be turned off by it's being labeled conservative. You're right that if Democrats boycotted the network in any effective way, that would be a problem for Fox, but it would be just as big a problem for Democrats, among the very viewers you refer to, and probably others who don't even watch. Boycotting a debate is very different from trying to shut the place down, or doing what would appear that way.

RW, what you call for leads to less understanding, less reality, all around. It isn't healthy. There's no absolute reason the points of view that Fox and Pacifica represent can't all be represented in the same outlets. It's hard to do well, and a good chunk of partisans on either side (or however many sides there may be) will resist, but it can be done and done well. I'm not against pluralism. I'm against media and audience schizophrenia.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 12, 2007 3:56:32 PM

I think teh problem with balance through puralism is that the audience gets on ly the news it wants to hear rather than needs to hear. This is one of those few areas I think it is absolutely necessary to produce as much balance as possible. It's totally bogus to use human nature (the fact we are balance) to argue that we should try to be more balanced. I think we did pretty well for decades before Fox came along with the bias that existed in teh system such that right and left relatively speaking could get their voices heard. I also think we confuse the extreme right misinformation and denial and also exploitation of marketing techniques with what actually happened with news coverage in teh past.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 12, 2007 4:22:26 PM

I don't think what we need is a liberal Fox; what we need is a better, more interesting news gathering operation with Fox's attention to the details of presentation - i.e. interesting graphics, snappy presenters, interesting program formats and the like. I'd rather see a really interesting type of Hannity and Colmes, where a smart really well known liberal and a smart, really well known conservative do some thoughtful debate than watch a bunch of liberals on a talk format agree with each other that conservatives are terrible. CNN does some terrific things gathering the news and a mostly lame job of presenting it (quick, can you watch The Situation Room for an extended period without wanting to kill Wolf Blitzer? On the plus side, I really only see Anderson Cooper), while MSNBC flails away in its small, sad way (though I have to admit, I like a lot of what they're doing, and Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews seem to be getting their formats better honed, with less emphasis on their inherent dickishness). I'm not sure I agree with Ezra's take anyway - I think his overall point is somewhat muddled, partly because I'm not sure there's anything so remarkably new in lefty folks, even some lefty leaders criticizing Fox. If politicians now see an opening where they didn't before, it kind of says to me that we're not getting a serious discussion, we're getting posturing, and that's hardly an improvement.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 12, 2007 5:16:57 PM

PS... where's Toke? Isn't this all just a continuation of the argument on our last Fox thread here? :)

Posted by: weboy | Mar 12, 2007 5:17:49 PM

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