Do the media matter? A Fox-y question
Many Americans gave up on the major television network news years ago because they noticed a consistent pro-Democrat bias among those employed at ABC, CBS and NBC. Besides what is plain to their senses, we know that most those “news” people vote for Democrats and contribute money to their campaigns.
Those millions have shifted over to cable networks, first CNN, then Fox News and then several other far less successful outlets, such as MSNBC and now Al-Jazeera. Fox now surpasses all cable news networks for the obvious reason that it is fairer to Republicans than its competitors and gives a broader berth to liberals than the other news organizations give to conservatives.
But critics of Fox News often blur the distinction between news and commentary on that network, a distinction at the heart of modern journalism. Most of the time Fox provides news, but it also has commentators.
The canons of journalism are not violated when conservatives express opinions over the airwaves, but for many liberals, they are surely violated. Else why do they indiscriminately attack Fox News and their viewers? The only real reason why opinions were such a rare item on the tube for so long is because they offend a significant portion of the market. That is, liberal opinions offend conservatives and vice versa.
The liberals’ clever solution to this difficulty was to express their opinions under the guise of “objectivity.” They accomplished this by calling it “commentary” or “perspective” or “analysis,” all legitimate categories, but still — opinion.
Opinions are the warp and woof of politics. You can no more remove them from public discourse than you can take air out of the world. It should never be attempted, for that would be tyranny. The only serious question about opinions is not whether they should be expressed, but whether they are true or false.
This is a nation, after all, based on the self-evident truth that all men are created equal in their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our citizens have had differing opinions from the beginning and continue to do so. The central idea of equality forms the basis for all opinions, and even a standard for evaluating their truth or falsity.
The political left in this country has consistently regarded dissenting opinions are not merely false but selfish, bigoted and even stupid. Its spokesmen abandoned civility toward their opponents years ago. That high-handed attitude is precisely the reason the nation needs Fox News, to balance the heavy liberal tilt of the so-called “mainstream” media.
Is everything Fox News does perfect? No. However, Fox’s straight news persons are as good as or better than those at the liberal networks. Brett Baer is the best, in my opinion. Their commentators, like others, must be mindful of ratings as well as political advantage, so they are showmen as well.
Bill O’Reilly can be very good, but he should listen more and talk less when smarter people, like Charles Krauthammer, appear on his show. His pretensions to non-partisanship are amusing, for he regularly takes the conservative position.
Shawn Hannity is a solid conservative who often performs a genuine public service when he has studio audiences consisting of such under-represented groups as black conservatives. He and O’Reilly often try to get liberals to admit that they are wrong, but that is a fruitless endeavor.
Greta Van Susteren is an avowed “moderate,” which really means she doesn’t know what she believes. But she gives lots of time to her often very smart guests — except when she goes off on a tangent.
John Stossel is right about half the time, that is, when he criticizes big government programs and wasteful spending. But he is dead wrong on the legalization of marijuana, prostitution and abortion — and seriously wrong on foreign policy and national defense, which demand more than green eyeshade approaches.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is a refreshing commentator who says sensible things, invites smart guests, is polite to those he disagrees with and finishes off with fun music. Judge Jeanine Pirro is one tough gal who really lets fly at injustice and corruption and also has great guests.
Whatever limitations Fox News has, that is no reason to write it off as journalistic excrement — not even close. It offers a choice. I’m not among those who watch it every day or night, but I appreciate whatever advantages it has over the “lamestream media” (my term).
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Take Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at email@example.com