Friday, October 30, 2009
Fox and Bias
The idea that any news network could be entirely fair and balanced is pure myth, as everyone should know; just as the idea that any person could be entirely fair and balanced is fantasy. We all have our opinions, and they always will part of the formation of how we behave, no matter who we are. So the emotionless, detached reporter or news anchor who implies by his demeanor that he is really just reporting, is hiding something about himself. Of course. The degree to which we think he succeeds in keeping his own opinion out of his reporting is rightly seen as one barometer by which we adjudge him. But we'd be foolhardy to suppose that degree is not always part of the judgment. Walter Cronkite convinced the President of the United States that the Vietnam War was a lost cause largely because of his success in this endeavor. People believed him just because he sounded objective and believable, even if in fact he wasn't.
Nobody is every purely objective.
So the claims of Fox News to be fair and balanced, or to be letting "you decide" what "we report" ought not be entirely believed. Prudence dictates that we be circumspect about all such claims.
And yet for all its faults, I do watch Fox, if for no other reason than that they are willing to report what the other networks won't. Of course they're out for profit, just like the other ones; and of course they have a particular perspective, just like the others; they're biased too. But then, so am I. So is everyone. And, like everyone, I prefer hearing someone who shares my bias to hearing someone who doesn't, though occasionally I'll flip to the others to hear another perspective.
But there's something else. I remain convinced that there is an important difference between the grudging reporting of unfavorable news with a spin than choosing not to report it at all. The other networks--the Mainstream Media--have in recent years become rather notorious for this, for not reporting at all the kind of thing they don't like. That's dangerous and foolish, and is the kind of thing Pravda became known for, for doing routinely.
Fox chooses to leave stuff out too, of course, especially foreign news (a pet peeve of mine, which applies to all the networks), but it seems to me that they're not guilty of making these decisions on the basis of worry about how it will influence people.
And now the Obama Administration has tried to ostracize Fox, charging that it is less than a news network, and even threatening to remove it from the reporter pool. To their credit, the other networks balked at this, and ABC's Jake Tapper questioned the Press Secretary about it. Perhaps it's beginning to look to them like the pure Chicago-style bullying that it is, and I for one am pleased that it has helped Fox's ratings.
My guess is that it was mostly meant to plant longer-term doubts in peoples' minds about Fox, but I doubt the strategy will work. What I'd love to see is that as an unintended result the other networks begin to be more forthcoming with news they don't like.