American Politics Journal
December 21, 2001
CBS's Bernard Goldberg has written an expose on the liberal media entitled Bias : A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.
This is a good example of smart writing and even better marketing. If Goldberg had written the truth, that the media is nothing but right-wing pimps working for Bush, if would sell about as many copies as Fortunate Son and be withdrawn from book stores right away.
But since he's selling the LIE that left-wingers control the media, something very different will happen to Mr. Goldberg and his book.
He'll get to go on :
Isn't it a shame that the radical right-wing has no way to get their message out?
... and Mr. Goldberg?
He's going to make millions selling red meat to the dittoheads.
Let's do a "what if" so I can make a point. I think it's a good one. I think it's so good, I'd like to hear from anyone who disagrees.
What if a show like Dateline did a "hatchet job" on Smirk? It wouldn't have to really be a hatchet job, but any honest appraisal of that idiot's qualifications would prove he's a non-thinking rich man's boy - and that's all. But what would happen if Dateline did an unflattering portrait of Smirk?
I'll tell you what would happen :
Still with me? We're close to the end ...
OK, we're going to call the above "Exhibit A."
Now, everyone on that list has done at least a dozen hit pieces on Clinton.
My question is, Where is "Exhibit B?"
When those 38 people attack Clinton and his cock, who does the rebuttal?
Even you ditto-sheep have to admit that nobody on that list has EVER defended a fabricated lie against the president.
There is no "Exhibit B," because there are so few liberal voices on television. The closest you can get is Eleanor on McLaughlin or Geraldo, but there is barely a liberal whisper on television, even though there are DOZENS of right-wing, Smirk-apologist shows whose livelyhood is lying about liberals.
I don't think you ditto-heads can offer an answer.
Prove Me Wrong.
AL FRANKEN, ANI DiFRANCO, et al
January 7, 2002
After compiling our guide to the "Big Ten" media conglomerates, we
shared it with cultural producers and critics in a range of fields :
music, journalism, television, publishing. Following are their comments.
--- The Editors
Al Franken is currently working on his fourth book, Oh, The Things I Know! (Dutton), due to be released in May 2002.
I'm going to use this as an opportunity to vent against something that happened about six years ago: the rescinding of something called fin-syn. Fin-syn, financial interest and syndication rules, used to prevent networks from owning more than a certain percentage of the shows they aired. For years the networks argued that they needed to own their shows in order to be profitable. Fin-syn proponents argued that if the networks were allowed to have a stake in their shows, they would abuse their power, strong-arming producers and giving favorable treatment to shows they had a financial interest in.
In 1995 the networks prevailed after years of fierce lobbying before Congress. And immediately the abuse began. At an American Bar Association dinner in 1997 I sat next to FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky and asked him if he was aware that the networks were doing exactly what they testified they wouldn't do. He asked, "What did they say they wouldn't do?"
"Oh, they said stuff like, 'We'd never favor our own shows. That'd be insane. We need to put the best shows on in order to get ratings.'"
"Oh yeah," said Pitofsky, "now I remember." Then he surprised me. Turns out Pitofsky had represented NBC during its lobbying effort. He had been one of the people saying those things. Now he wanted to know what was happening.
What was happening was that the networks were extorting studios and independents. Give us a piece of your show, or we won't air it. Give us a bigger piece and we'll give you a better time slot. They went very quickly from doing it secretly to doing it right out in the open. After all, if you're the buyer and seller of programming, it would practically be corporate malpractice not to exploit your position. The studios and independents resisted at first on principle, then caved.
Who cares? If you watch network television, you should. The same people who are scheduling the shows are making the shows, so what you see reflects the tastes of fewer and fewer people. Maybe you've noticed.
And, of course, the rescinding of fin-syn actually made this chart possible. Studios not only could buy networks, they essentially had to buy them in self-defense. Disney, Fox Studios and Paramount (Viacom) don't have to compete with ABC, Fox and CBS. They are ABC, Fox and CBS.
The sad thing is all the members of Congress who were lied to during the fight over fin-syn. For some reason, it doesn't seem to bother them. I don't know. Maybe they want to make sure they can get on TV.
Ani DiFranco is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and founder of the Buffalo, New York-based independent label Righteous Babe Records. Her latest album is the two-disc set Revelling/Reckoning.
For the longest time my only mainstream media coverage was the occasional local daily preview of an upcoming performance or, even more rarely, a local album review. Features were very few and far between because I had no major-label backing (read : corporate backing), and they were always the impetus of a genuine ally : a like-minded reporter with an ear to the underground. But by and large, I remember that back in the day, one story dominated Joe Newspaper's portrayal of me as I putt-putted through town with my feminist songs and my incessant smile: I was an angry, angry girl.
My problem with the mainstream media is a personal one. They generally ignored me for seven years (save for the reactionary sexist stereotyping) until my audience was too big to ignore, and then finally, about five years ago, I sprang full-grown from the major media brow as the next great indie phenomenon.
"How did she get here without us?" the corporate media monolith asked itself. "Why, it must be her business savvy," it answered.
Of course, we all know that in the political arena, anti-corporate sentiment is the first casualty of the corporate-controlled media. But what of the remaining fodder available to us? What about the dumb, easy stuff like music criticism or celebrity interviews? Where does the capitalist agenda end and personal interest begin? I don't rightly know, but I have a personal interest in the intersection of culture, capitalism and media, because I am often standing at that crossroads with my guitar.
It's daunting to have a force much bigger than yourself misshaping opinion about you at every turn, but it's also instructive. I have learned the hard way about the fallacy of objectivity. Even a Q&A can be a funhouse mirror, as I have learned from one oversimplified, paraphrased, out-of-context interview after another : If you're not asking the right questions, there are no right answers.
Ever a slave to my mother's smile-and-be-sweet upbringing, I spent years trying to assimilate myself to the interviewers' culture long enough to answer their questions politely. And for years I was left feeling compromised and icky. For example, a semirhetorical icebreaker such as, "So, you're on tour supporting your new record?" could stun me at the outset. "Uh ... yeah," I replied, until I developed the courage and composure to say things like, "Well, no. I am on tour ... because that's my job as a working musician. In contrast to the commonplace industry model of: make an album then go on tour to sell the album, I do not play live music for the purpose of marketing a commodity. I see touring as an end in itself, as all folksingers do. Live performance is activism, exorcism and music school for me. Albums are peripheral. In fact, the scheduling of my touring itineraries and my periodic documenting of songs on albums is so disconnected that I have repeatedly found myself touring right up to album release and then taking an unstrategic but much-needed vacation."
You can see how this could make for some cumbersome conversations. Try this one on for size : "How is your life different now that you are successful?" A simple question, right? I answered it straight a few times, before a light went off in my head that helped illuminate why it made me so uncomfortable.
"What do you mean by 'success'?" I replied on that day. "The fact that I am appearing in your magazine? Because I think I was successful when I was 19 years old and could sell twenty tapes in one night to an audience of fifty people. I was successful when I quit my last day job at age 21 and supported myself through music without starving. I felt successful when I would show up at some student-union cafeteria, stand under the fluorescent lights and give people songs that would make them cry and stomp their feet and laugh out loud. In fact, it was the very idea that neither fame nor fortune could make you a success in life, but something deeper, that gave me the patience to remain independent all those hard years and not reach for the corporate carrot."
I have spent too much of my life accommodating the (often subtle) sexist or capitalist subtext of my dialogue with the mainstream media. I've since grown the will to amend that situation, but damn -- if I think outside the box, does it mean that I have to spend my fifteen minutes pointing at the box? For a girl whose very nature compels her to speed headlong into a world of her own invention, these arduous attempts at questioning the question can feel like so many wheels spinning.
When writer and subject share an ideological or cultural perspective, the conversations can begin to stretch and sing in a way that is indigenous to the subject. Otherwise, most of the movement in an interview can feel like a slow, jostling journey to square one.
Engaging the major media sources and entering into hand-to-hand combat with my stereotype has had its effect , though, I must say. Twelve years and fifteen albums have gone by, and I've noted an improvement in the terms of the discussions and the level of understanding that surrounds little me and my work. My optimist's heart insists that I am not an aberration, either, but an example of the possibilities that exist for radical subculture to trickle into the mainstream.
Even in this age of corporate mega-mergers and media hegemony I have to believe that slowly ... slowly ... the truth will out.
Phil Donahue's early career included both radio and television news journalism experience. The Phil Donahue Show, which he founded in 1967, was the first audience-participation talk show in American history.
In 1959 I worked for WABJ in Adrian, Michigan. "The Voice of Lenawee County" was the proverbial small-wattage station in the Midwest, a dead-end place unless you were young and fearless enough to use it as a gateway to bigger things. When I was twenty-something I reported more than the weather on WABJ. I announced PTA and Rotary Club meetings, births at Bixby Hospital and the daily death report from the coroner's office. I reported the local news of the day in southeast Michigan.
The Big Ten foldout chart in this issue of The Nation reveals the aftermath of the orgy of corporate cannibalism that has consumed the US broadcasting/entertainment industries since my barely noticed departure from Adrian.
It was the Adrian experience that turned me on to journalism . I was impressed with my own power--I could stop the mayor cold in his tracks just by approaching him with a microphone attached to a cumbersome Norelco tape recorder equipped with the vacuum tubes of yesteryear and a highly visible WABJ attached to the microphone. I also experienced the joy of being thrown out of an office. I had asked an unwelcome question and was promptly escorted to the door by an Adrian city commissioner. I played softball on the Police Department team, covered my first murder in nearby Hillsdale. The excitement and power of broadcast journalism were alive and well at this 250-watter in Smalltown, Michigan.
Until the 1980s one company could legally own no more than seven AM and seven FM stations. In 2001, one company, Clear Channel, owns more than 1,200. Profit at many stations is promoted by stripping staff to the bone; some of these places have barely any employees and no local programming. They are computerized corporate jukeboxes, reverse ATM machines. Their broadcast day is filled with the canned and the bland, a puree prepared at a place far away. Now we have hundreds of radio stations creating a profit with virtually no on-air personnel and no newsroom, no Associated Press wire, no birth announcements, no obits. And not least, no coverage of the police, the PTA or the Lions Club and no high school football scores.
Nothing but digital music, commercials and profit.
The radio of my youth, the place where we learned of the goings-on about town, the life stuff of a small community, is now a quaint memory replaced by computer hard drives that operate twenty-four hours, seven days without the touch of a human hand. These robotic installations also function without any pretense of "serving the public interest," the long-forgotten mandate of the FCC. The Happy Days AM radio of the 1950s may have sounded like wall-to-wall Teresa Brewer, but at least a live person spoke with us between records, and my own drive-in, sock-hop crowd got a dose of the real world during hourly newscasts.
The brokers of America's AM and FM stations argue that the reality of economics in today's radio market mandates consolidation. Nonsense : Consolidation is mandated by the greed of the broadcast lobby. Speaking of mandates, we once believed that the great promise of broadcasting mandated diversity, an ideal that dissolved along with the rules of limited ownership, an idea that came, went and should come again. It's the only way to provide a chance for brash young broadcasters who, equipped with an audio tape recorder, just might discover the power of journalism and practice the noble work of serving the public interest.
Otherwise we have abandoned, without a fight, the fabulous thing called radio. We have surrendered its promise to the large hard drive that hums relentlessly, day after day after day, in an empty room, displacing what was once a bugle of ideas and culture, a vast smorgasbord of programming, which taught us about birth and death in our hometown, and allowed a young and fearless person with a tape recorder to stop the mayor cold in his tracks.
Danny Goldberg is the CEO and co-owner of the independent music company Artemis Records.
Then I look at the vast web of companies clustered in gigantic international media corporations, I imagine hundreds of nervous division managers worrying about the next quarter's profits, which are the main driver of share price, which is the primary "report card" for CEOs. An enormous proportion of the energy of most of the smartest people at these places is thus focused on an arc of ninety days or less.
Short-term thinking is not, in itself, necessarily bad for aesthetics and culture . Without such earnings pressure it seems unlikely that a group of white, middle-aged music executives would have empowered and enriched inner-city African-Americans in the rap business, producing music that is so reviled by the intellectual and political establishments. The fact that the radical political rock band Rage Against the Machine has recorded for Sony Music for its entire career further illustrates the quirkiness of the modern media corporation.
On the other hand, to have so little intellectual capital devoted to thinking years instead of months in advance creates weird distortions. Many forms of creativity are stifled or crushed in such environments. Brilliant artists with passionate audiences are cast adrift.
On the bright side, despite enormous efforts at consolidation, "independents" still have a 15-20 percent market share in the music business. Reactionaries, knaves and fools show up at indie companies as regularly as big ones, but independence does provide a more fertile environment for longer-term thinking and edgy creativity. It is no accident that rap as well as innovative rock artists such as Nirvana started on indies, nor that Ani DiFranco remains one. The rest of the media would be a lot healthier if they had equally large independent sectors, but the only way that will happen is if individuals, inspired by original and effective mavericks such as Michael Moore and Danny Schechter, take the wild and scary risk of working crazy hours against all odds and operate their own underfunded, fragile new endeavors.
James Fallows, the national correspondent of The Atlantic Monthly, published Breaking the News in 1996.
Is a concept, pure free-marketism reached a high-water mark in January 1995. That was when the new Republican majority assumed control of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich was elected its Speaker and the technology-and-finance boom got under way in earnest.
The financial boom chugged ahead for several more years, but the romance of laissez-faire began to run into complications. The international version of this theory--"unregulated markets and increased global trade will bring democracy and harmony" -- didn't fit realities in Eastern Europe, in Southeast Asia, at World Trade Organization meetings or in much of the Islamic world. The domestic-policy version -- "Let's forget about regulations and safety nets, since the new economy has eliminated the business cycle" -- has had its own problems : the NASDAQ collapse, the California energy disaster and the Enron shell-game, the sudden rise in unemployment and the dramatic shift of the federal budget from surplus to deficit. Newt Gingrich was gone as the symbol of the Republicans four years after his rise to glory, replaced by a man who at least campaigned as a "compassionate" conservative. And these past few months, no politician has pushed the atomized, Ayn Rand-style vision of ideal social life.
What is left, as a kind of geologic artifact of that bygone era, is the radical free-marketism of policy toward the media. Until the 1990s, the idea had been that news organizations in particular, and the communications business in general, were logically similar to transportation, higher education and medical care. In fields like these, private enterprises did most of the work, often as profit-making businesses. But the broad social effects of such businesses were so great that the standards and service were not left wholly to the market. An airline couldn't decide to fly defective planes for lower fares and let the market reveal its risk preference. (As it turned out, airlines did lowball their security-screener contracts, which illustrates the point.)
The Nation's chart shows the result of letting the communications business operate strictly as a business. With the end of limits on concentration and chain ownership, the media biz has sorted out into a few big conglomerates, as has happened in the automobile and apparel industries. The Gap is allied with Old Navy and Banana Republic; similarly, CNN touts stories from Time publications, with links on the AOL home page. The idea of the mid-1990s has been discredited; its effects live on.
Nancy Kranich is the immediate past president of the American Library Association and was formerly associate dean of libraries at New York University.
Within hours of the terrorist attacks on September 11, people rushed to libraries and cleared the shelves of materials about the Taliban, Islam, Afghanistan and terrorism. The most obscure books on these topics had close to 100 holds pending at just one small branch library in downtown Manhattan. Most remarkable, few of these titles were produced by any of the Big Ten media corporations. In fact, most were published by university presses, the federal government or small independents. During such a crisis, the public sought background materials, not bestsellers, to foster understanding and cope with this horrific event by leaning on a trustworthy, reliable source -- the library.
Democracy needs not only an abundance but also a diversity of information to thrive, particularly when facing economic and security crises. Public discourse during this time of trial depends upon sources outside the mainstream--sources unlikely to return the level of profit needed to satisfy the mass-market strategies of multinational conglomerates.
The Nation's 2001 "Big Ten" chart dramatizes the extent of media consolidation and conglomeration, but it does not depict all the ways in which the public is denied access to information essential to global understanding, economic well-being and participation in democratic processes. Organizations supporting the production of specialized information -- organizations like libraries -- are among the first cut in an economic downturn. When library budgets get slashed, small media companies suffer most. Without the market created by libraries, these independent and scholarly producers face downsizing or even extinction.
The spiral of declining library budgets and disappearing small-media producers carries with it more than the loss of esoteric titles. Democracy itself suffers. The debates yet to come -- on the Taliban, on Afghanistan, on terrorism and on any new order to emerge -- will thrive or founder on the quality of the ideas brought into the arena. As fewer conglomerates dominate the mainstream media market, we cannot assume that libraries will be able to continue offering alternatives. Robust public debate depends upon the survival and symbiosis of libraries with small-media producers. Without the ideas from these sources, public discourse will languish in conventionality and ignorance.
Julianne Malveaux (www.juliannemalveaux.com) is a Washington, DC-based economist and syndicated columnist. Her most recent book, Wall Street, Main Street and the Side Street : A Mad Economist Takes a Stroll (Pines One), is a collection of her columns.
Tow do the independent media survive and maintain integrity in light of massive agglomeration? Some don't -- Ms. magazine was recently sold to a nonprofit organization that can absorb losses in a way that the magazine couldn't. When I look at the chart I see a concentration of media power, a seamless connection between radio, television, newspapers, books, the Internet, movies and magazines in a manner that bolsters a corporate position and squelches a diversity of voices.
When I say diversity, I don't mean race, ethnicity or class--though those things very much matter. I speak of a diversity in view and vision, something that becomes increasingly important as the current climate encourages a patriotic hegemony and discourages honest dissent with the President, whether it is about his war tactics or economic stimulus. The rush to uniform thinking has muted the voices of many who oppose corporate givebacks such as repeal of the alternative minimum tax, while making those who express their opinion especially vulnerable to attack. In his December 8 radio address, criticizing the Senate for not passing the House's corporation-favoring stimulus package, President Bush said, "Now is not the time for partisan politics. Now is the time for leadership. It's time to act." But the Senate should not act on a proposal that includes billions in corporate giveaways. Instead, it should offer a stimulus package targeted to those who have felt the brunt of recession. In our living rooms and at our lunch tables, Americans are talking about stimulus, about public-works possibilities and about other ways those at the bottom can get a break. In the media, though, such voices aren't heard.
When "the media" reflect a corporate bottom line, the breadth and depth of coverage suffer. Three decades ago, there were labor reporters in the United States -- people who covered a comprehensive labor beat. They weren't "general interest" economic reporters who wrote one or two pieces a year on an AFL-CIO convention; they knew the players and understood the issues. Today, one in seven workers belongs to a union, but labor reporters are few and far between. So are consumer-affairs reporters, the ones who can spend half a year busting a predatory retailer. And so are foreign correspondents, even though they may be experiencing little unemployment in the wake of 9/11. None of us should be surprised at the trend toward quick and dirty news, low-cost, talking-head-driven programming. When a media outlet is a cog in a wheel that must help maximize corporate profits, not part of an information-gathering entity, then containing costs, not providing information, is a priority.
The current organization of the nation's media increases my respect and appreciation for independent voices that struggle to put diverse views out there, people like Farai Chideya at popandpolitics.com, Don Rojas at The Black World Today, The Progressive, The Nation and others who are passionate about their need to get the word out there independently.
Danny Schechter is the executive editor of Globalvision's Mediachannel.org and author of News Dissector : Passions, Pieces and Polemics (Akashic Books and Electronpress. com).
Ownership charts are at once a sign of the times and the sign that points to who controls the ways we understand our times. They are welcome, but as road maps to relationships that need fleshing out. In the real world , these entities function like amoebas, intersecting and collaborating with their competitors. It is their cumulative impact in framing issues and filtering out opinions that challenge their worldview that is more insidious. As Benjamin Barber of the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland explains : "A year from now the mergers and alliances will have again shifted and some successful owners will be some other corporation's prey. The players will not have changed, however, only the line score on their current game."
How do ownership patterns affect journalism? Broadcasters were into cloning well before scientists. Board rooms don't fax the newsroom--they don't have to. The ideological uniformity and homogeneity of their multichannel environment is, in Marshall McLuhan's phrase, "pervasively invisible." The many channels and choices are more apparent to the public than the narrow range of voices. Newscasters say the world changed "forever" after September 11, but media haven't changed all that much. Regular programming and commercials were briefly interrupted, but it was soon back to business. Coverage of the world has increased only because Washington is more engaged in certain parts of it. While there is certainly more "serious news" than in recent years, it is still largely marching in lockstep with government policies. A post-9/11 study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism notes that "while the news has gotten more serious, almost all of the change is focused on the war, which suggests that the networks may have simply changed subjects rather than changed their approach to the news." Their sameness of approach and style is blatant; no wonder CBS and ABC are now considering joint newsgathering.
As a media maker as well as a critic, I can report that independent companies like ours are having a harder time than ever in this über-merged environment. That's because most networks tend to produce in-house or acquire product from other divisions in their conglomerates. Our work is rarely rejected on grounds of irrelevance or incompetence. What we hear instead from both commercial outlets and commercializing public broadcasters is that critically edged work is "worthy" but NFU--"Not For Us." When documentaries of a kind routinely aired elsewhere in the world become programmas-non-grata, we have to recognize that we are up against a largely closed system (i.e., as represented by the chart's colored boxes). Entertainment-oriented formats and formulas rule in a blatantly top-down, corporate-friendly climate, with little interest in dissenting ideas or bottom-up global reporting. This was always true; only it is getting worse.
You have to get outside the box to see what's missing -- other boxes offering diverse perspectives, or public-service channels about the environment (not just wildlife), labor issues and forums for citizen debate. They are missing not because the audience isn't interested -- most viewers blast major media whenever asked. No, it's because the power concentrated in this maze has, over time, replaced democracy with its own self-referencing mediocracy.
Hussein Ibish is communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
By demonstrating the extraordinary concentration of media power in the hands of a few massive corporations, this chart goes a long way toward explaining the persistent pattern of distortions in both the news and entertainment industries and the dearth of alternative voices and ideas. This is, in fact, the schematic of what Adorno called "The Great Wurlitzer," the loosely coordinated light and sound show that entertains and confounds the American public.
In terms of news coverage, it explains the homogeneity of the concerns and perspectives reflected in reportage and commentary, the exclusion of alternative perspectives and the propagation of a worldview determined by various forms of official rhetoric. Such power is jealously guarded against both domestic and international challenges, as demonstrated by the campaign of vilification against the Arabic-language newschannel Al Jazeera, which rose to prominence during the bombing of Afghanistan. This attack on Al Jazeera culminated in the deliberate bombing of its Kabul headquarters by the US military in the hours before the Northern Alliance entered the city.
For Arab-Americans, this concentrated media power means an almost complete lack of interest or understanding on the part of major American news organizations of the experiences and concerns of the Arab peoples, and a general tone of condescension, hostility and bias. In its most egregious form, regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it means a persistent pattern of privileging Israeli lives, security and concerns over those of Palestinians, against whom unparalleled levels of racist vitriol from commentators is considered legitimate.
The key industries of American mass culture, Hollywood and television, for decades have been bastions of anti-Arab stereotyping, and have consistently resisted positive or realistic representations of Arabs and Arab-Americans. Negative representations in popular culture reinforce, and are reinforced by, hostile journalism, confrontational academic polemics and government policies that are informed by anti-Arab bias and at times even act out stereotypes received from popular culture.
The result is a self-perpetuating vicious circle of negativity about Arabs, Arab-Americans and Muslims, who have been all-too-successfully represented as "the enemy" in contemporary American culture. Such generalized negativity is what allowed so many Americans to conclude that the September 11 attacks were somehow representative of Arab culture and/or Islam, leading to a massive backlash of hate crimes and discrimination. The corporate monopoly on media power represented in this chart helps insure that such negative images dominate the popular culture and cannot be easily challenged by alternatives.
Nicholas Johnson, an FCC commissioner from 1966 to 1973, now teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City.
Some thirty-five years ago ITT's attempted takeover of ABC provided my baptism into the sea of media-concentration issues. That case, including my lengthy dissents to the FCC's approval, continued through my first year as FCC commissioner. An expanded discussion for The Atlantic Monthly, "The Media Barons and the Public Interest," became a centerpiece of my book How to Talk Back to Your Television Set.
Where I live the Big Ten is an athletic conference. The Nation's "Big Ten" chart depicts far more serious stuff. What seemed evil and outrageous in the late 1960s now looks like America's Golden Age of media diversity. Media concentration is a dagger in America's heart -- the First Amendment. There are at least four consequences :
First, there are fewer owners of dominant media. Fewer cities with meaningful competition. Fewer owners within each medium. Owners have ultimate control over content. So there's potentially, and actually, less diversity of information and opinion.
Second, profit pressures produce a dumbing down of journalism. News junkies must turn to the Internet, foreign press and BBC. Product placement and program-length TV commercials used to violate FCC rules. No longer. We have twenty-four-hour shopping channels. The media choose content not to educate or inform but to pander to the consumers advertisers most desire.
Third, multimedia conglomerates are a publicist's dream. Global hype of manufactured blockbusters and superstars can, and does, replace diversity, quality and new talent. A single conglomerate can orchestrate subsidiaries from magazines to books, screenwriters, film studios, movie theaters, print and broadcast critics, television networks, videotape production and rental, new TV series, cable systems and program originators.
Finally, the Supreme Court considers such conglomerates the First Amendment equivalent of a soapbox orator or tract writer 200 years ago. The only Americans with meaningful First Amendment rights today are those who own the media; The Nation's "Big Ten."
Editors and journalists don't have First Amendment rights. Freelance writers sure don't. Unless you have billions in spare pocket change and buy one of the Big Ten for yourself, you're out of the game. Silenced.
The Court says with a First Amendment right to speak goes the right to censor all others. It's OK to own the only conduit in town and also censor its content.
Think about that for a moment--and then take another look at The Nation's chart.
A Special FAIR Report
The Most Biased Name in News
Fox News Channel's extraordinary right-wing tilt
About the author
"I challenge anybody to show me an example of bias in Fox News Channel." -- Rupert Murdoch (Salon, 3/1/01)
Years ago, Republican party chair Rich Bond explained that conservatives' frequent denunciations of "liberal bias" in the media were part of "a strategy" (Washington Post, 8/20/92). Comparing journalists to referees in a sports match, Bond explained: "If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack next time."
But when Fox News Channel, Rupert Murdoch's 24-hour cable network, debuted in 1996, a curious thing happened : Instead of denouncing it, conservative politicians and activists lavished praise on the network. "If it hadn't been for Fox, I don't know what I'd have done for the news," Trent Lott gushed after the Florida election recount (Washington Post, 2/5/01). George W. Bush extolled Fox News Channel anchor Tony Snow -- a former speechwriter for Bush's father -- and his "impressive transition to journalism" in a specially taped April 2001 tribute to Snow's Sunday-morning show on its five-year anniversary (Washington Post, 5/7/01). The right-wing Heritage Foundation had to warn its staffers not to watch so much Fox News on their computers, because it was causing the think tank's system to crash.
When it comes to Fox News Channel, conservatives don't feel the need to "work the ref." The ref is already on their side. Since its 1996 launch, Fox has become a central hub of the conservative movement's well-oiled media machine. Together with the GOP organization and its satellite think tanks and advocacy groups, this network of fiercely partisan outlets -- such as the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative talk-radio shows like Rush Limbaugh's -- forms a highly effective right-wing echo chamber where GOP-friendly news stories can be promoted, repeated and amplified. Fox knows how to play this game better than anyone.
Yet, at the same time, the network bristles at the slightest suggestion of a conservative tilt. In fact, wrapping itself in slogans like "Fair and balanced" and "We report, you decide," Fox argues precisely the opposite : Far from being a biased network, Fox argues, it is the only unbiased network. So far, Fox's strategy of aggressive denial has worked surprisingly well; faced with its unblinking refusal to admit any conservative tilt at all, some commentators have simply acquiesced to the network's own self-assessment. FAIR has decided to take a closer look.
"Coming next, drug addicted pregnant women no longer have anything to fear from the authorities thanks to the Supreme Court. Both sides on this in a moment." -- Bill O'Reilly (O'Reilly Factor, 3/23/01)
Fox's founder and president, Roger Ailes, was for decades one of the savviest and most pugnacious Republican political operatives in Washington, a veteran of the Nixon and Reagan campaigns. Ailes is most famous for his role in crafting the elder Bush's media strategy in the bruising 1988 presidential race. With Ailes' help, Bush turned a double-digit deficit in the polls into a resounding win by targeting the GOP's base of white male voters in the South and West, using red-meat themes like Michael Dukakis' "card-carrying" membership in the ACLU, his laissez-faire attitude toward flag-burning, his alleged indifference to the pledge of allegiance -- and, of course, paroled felon Willie Horton.
Described by fellow Bush aide Lee Atwater as having "two speeds -- attack and destroy," Ailes once jocularly told a Time reporter (8/22/88): "The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it." Later, as a producer for Rush Limbaugh's short-lived TV show, he was fond of calling Bill Clinton the "hippie president" and lashing out at "liberal bigots" (Washington Times, 5/11/93). It is these two sensibilities above all -- right-wing talk radio and below-the-belt political campaigning -- that Ailes brought with him to Fox, and his stamp is evident in all aspects of the network's programming.
Fox daytime anchor David Asman is formerly of the right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page and the conservative Manhattan Institute. The host of Fox News Sunday is Tony Snow, a conservative columnist and former chief speechwriter for the first Bush administration. Eric Breindel, previously the editorial-page editor of the right-wing New York Post, was senior vice president of Fox's parent company, News Corporation, until his death in 1998; Fox News Channel's senior vice president is John Moody, a long-time journalist known for his staunch conservative views.
Fox's managing editor is Brit Hume, a veteran TV journalist and contributor to the conservative American Spectator and Weekly Standard magazines. Its top-rated talkshow is hosted by Bill O'Reilly, a columnist for the conservative WorldNetDaily.com and a registered Republican (that is, until a week before the Washington Post published an article revealing his party registration--12/13/00).
The abundance of conservatives and Republicans at Fox News Channel does not seem to be a coincidence. In 1996, Andrew Kirtzman, a respected New York City cable news reporter, was interviewed for a job with Fox and says that management wanted to know what his political affiliation was. "They were afraid I was a Democrat," he told the Village Voice (10/15/96). When Kirtzman refused to tell Fox his party ID, "all employment discussion ended," according to the Voice.
Catherine Crier, who was perceived as one of Fox's most prestigious and credible early hires, was an elected Republican judge before starting a career in journalism. (Crier has since moved on to Court TV.) Pundit Mara Liasson -- who is touted as an on-air "liberal" by Fox executives -- sits on the board of the conservative human-rights group Freedom House; New York magazine (11/17/97) cited a Fox insider as saying that Liasson assured president Roger Ailes before being hired that she was a Republican.
"Who would be the most likely to cheat at cards-- Bill Clinton or Al Gore?" -- Fox News Channel/Opinion Dynamics poll (5/00)
The most obvious sign of Fox's slant is its heavily right-leaning punditry. Each episode of Special Report with Brit Hume, for example, features a three-person panel of pundits who chat about the day's political news at the end of the show. The most frequent panelist is Fred Barnes, the evangelical Christian supply-sider who edits the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard. He sits proudly on the rightward flank of the Republican party (and often scolds it for slouching leftwards).
The next most frequent guest is Mort Kondrake, who sits in the middle of the panel. Politically, Kondrake falls at the very rightward edge of the Democratic party -- if not beyond it. As he famously explained in a 1988 New Republic essay (8/29/88), he is a Democrat who is "disgusted with the Democratic Party" and whose main reason for not defecting to the Republicans is that they "have failed to be true to themselves as conservatives." (He was referring to Reagan's deficit spending.)
Rounding out the panel is its third-most-frequent pundit, Mara Liasson, who sits on the opposite side of the table from the conservative Barnes, implicitly identifying her as a liberal. But her liberalism consists of little more than being a woman who works for National Public Radio; she has proposed that "one of the roots of the problem with education today is feminism" (Talk of the Nation, 5/3/01); she declares that "Jesse Jackson gets away with a lot of things that other people don't" (Special Report, 6/21/00); she calls George W. Bush's reversal on carbon dioxide emissions "a small thing" (3/14/01), campaign finance reform "an issue that ... only 200 people in America care about" (3/19/01) and slavery reparations "pretty much of a non-issue" (3/19/01).
Less frequent Special Report panelists include conservative Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon, centrist Fortune writer Jeff Birnbaum and NPR host Juan Williams. Williams, the only guest who could plausibly claim to be a liberal, was so outraged over attacks on his friend Clarence Thomas that he declared that "liberals have become monsters" (Washington Post, 10/10/91), denouncing the "so-called champions of fairness : liberal politicians, unions, civil rights groups and women's organizations." Indeed, Fox's crew of "liberal" pundits seems almost calculated to be either ineffective left-of-center advocates or conciliatory moderates. Ironically, perhaps the only Fox commentator who consistently presents a strong progressive perspective -- that is, critical of corporate power and militarism, and sympathetic to progressive social movements -- is FAIR founder Jeff Cohen, a weekly panelist on the weekend media show Fox News Watch.
Meanwhile, Barnes and Kondracke -- the conservative Republican and conservative Democrat -- make up the entire political spectrum on Fox's weekend political show, The Beltway Boys, where they are generally in agreement as they discuss the week's news.
Even Fox's "left-right" debate show, Hannity & Colmes -- whose Crossfire-style format virtually imposes numerical equality between conservatives and "liberals" -- can't shake the impression of resembling a Harlem Globetrotters game in which everyone knows which side is supposed to win.
On the right, co-host Sean Hannity is an effective and telegenic ideologue, a protégé of Newt Gingrich and a rising star of conservative talk radio who is perhaps more plugged into the GOP leadership than any media figure besides Rush Limbaugh. (Hannity reportedly received "thunderous applause" when he spoke at a recent closed-door House Republican Conference meeting that is usually closed to the media -- U.S. News & World Report, 5/7/01.)
On the left is Alan Colmes, a rather less telegenic former stand-up comic and radio host whose views are slightly left-of-center but who, as a personality, is completely off the radar screen of liberal politics. "I'm quite moderate," he told a reporter when asked to describe his politics (USA Today, 2/1/95). Hannity, a self-described "arch-conservative" (Electronic Media, 8/26/96), joined Fox when the network was started, and personally nominated Colmes to be his on-screen debating opponent (New York Times, 3/1/98). Before the selection was made, the show's working title was Hannity & Liberal to Be Determined -- giving some idea of the relative weight each host carries, both on-screen and within the network. Fox sometimes sends a camera down to Hannity's radio studio during the network's daytime news programming, from which he holds forth on the news of the day. Needless to say, Colmes does not receive similar treatment.
"I think what's going on is the Democratic lawyers have flooded Florida. They are afraid of George W. Bush becoming president and instituting tort reform and their gravy train will be over. This is the trial association's full court press to make sure Bush does not win." -- Fox News Channel anchor John Gibson (12/9/00)
Fox has had trouble at times hiding the partisanship of its main news personalities. In 1996, while already a Fox anchor, Tony Snow endorsed Bob Dole for president in the Republican National Committee magazine Rising Tide (New York, 11/17/97). A former speech-writer for the elder Bush, Snow often guest-hosts the Rush Limbaugh show and wrote an unabashedly conservative weekly newspaper column until Fox management recently pressured him to drop it to avoid the appearance of bias (Washington Post, 5/29/01).
At the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, Snow -- ostensibly present as a journalist covering a news event -- jumped onstage to give a speech to the Republican Youth Caucus after organizers asked him to fill in for a speaker who couldn't make it. (He was later reprimanded by his bosses.) Trent Lott, whose speech directly followed Snow's, began with a cheer of "How about Tony Snow in 2008?" (New York Daily News 8/2/00; Federal News Service, 8/1/00).
Just three days earlier, near the GOP convention, Bill O'Reilly gave the keynote speech at David Horowitz's conservative "Restoration Weekend" event, where he was introduced by Republican congressmember Jack Quinn. Fox's Sean Hannity also spoke at the gathering, described by the Washington Times (6/30/00) as the "premiere political event for conservative thinkers." O'Reilly has had Horowitz on his show six times -- to talk about everything from National Public Radio's "left" bias (12/20/00) to Hillary Clinton's "sense of entitlement" (6/22/00) to Horowitz's book on race relations, Hating Whitey (10/4/99).
"There's a certain sameness to the news on the Big Three [networks] and CNN. ... America is bad, corporations are bad, animal species should be protected, and every cop is a racist killer. That's where 'fair and balanced' [Fox's slogan] comes in. We don't think all corporations are bad, every forest should be saved, every government spending program is good. We're going to be more inquisitive." -- John Moody, Fox News Channel's senior vice-president for news and editorial (Brill's Content, 10/99)
Some mainstream journalists have suggested that Fox's "straight news" is more or less balanced, however slanted its commentary might be. "A close monitoring of the channel over several weeks indicates that the news segments tend to be straightforward, with little hint of political subtext except for stories the news editors feel the 'mainstream' press has either downplayed or ignored," wrote Columbia Journalism Review's Neil Hickey (3-4/98). The fact that Fox's "chat consistently tilts to the conservative side," wrote the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz (2/5/01), "may cast an unwarranted cloud on the news reporting, which tends to be straightforward."
When a New York Times profile of Fox News ran with a headline calling it a "conservative cable channel" (9/18/00), the paper quickly corrected their "error" the following day, explaining that in "attributing a general political viewpoint to the network, the headline exceeded the facts in the article."
Putting aside the question of what genuine "balance" means, there are undoubtedly a few reporters in Fox's Washington bureau--such as White House correspondent Jim Angle -- whose stories are more or less indistinguishable from those of their counterparts at the mainstream networks.
But an attentive viewer will notice that there are entire blocks of the network's programming schedule that are set aside for conservative stories. Fox's website offers a regular feature on "political correctness" entitled "Tongue-Tied : A Report From the Front Lines of the Culture Wars," whose logo is a scowling "PC Patrol" officer peering testily through a magnifying glass. It invites readers to write in and "keep us up on examples of PC excess you come across."
Recently the network debuted a weekly half-hour series -- Only on Fox -- devoted explicitly to right-wing stories. The concept of the show was explained by host Trace Gallagher in the premier episode (5/26/01) :
Five years ago, Fox News Channel was launched on the idea that something was wrong with news media -- that somehow, somewhere bias found its way into reporting. ... And it's not just the way you tell a story that can get in the way of the truth. It's the stories you choose to tell. ... Fox News Channel is committed to being fair and balanced in the coverage of the stories everybody is reporting -- and to reporting stories you won't hear anywhere else. Stories you will see only on Fox.
Gallagher then introduced a series of stories about one conservative cause after another : from white firefighters suing Boston's fire department for discrimination, to sawmill workers endangered by Clinton-Gore environmental regulations (without comment from a single supporter of the rules), to property owners who feel threatened by an environmental agreement "signed by President Clinton in 1992." (The agreement was actually signed by George Bush the elder, who was president in 1992 -- though that didn't stop Fox from using news footage of a smiling Bill Clinton proudly signing an official document that was supposed to be, but wasn't, the environmental pact in question.)
Fox's news specials are equally slanted : Dangerous Places (3/25/01), a special about foreign policy hosted by Newt Gingrich; Heroes, an irregular series hosted by former Republican congressmember John Kasich; and The Real Reagan (11/25/99), a panel discussion on Ronald Reagan, hosted by Tony Snow, in which all six guests were Reagan friends and political aides. Vanishing Freedoms 2 : Who Owns America (5/19/01) wandered off into militia-style paranoia, suggesting that the U.N. was "taking over" private property.
There is a formula to Fox's news agenda. "A lot of the people we have hired," Fox executive John Moody explained (Inside Media, 12/11/96) when the network was launched, "have come without the preconceptions of must-do news. There are stories we will sometimes forego in order to do stories we think are more significant. The biggest strength that we have is that Roger Ailes has allowed me to do that; to forego stores that would be 'duty' stories in order to focus on other things."
These "other" stories that Moody has in mind are what make up much of Fox's programming : An embarrassing story about Jesse Jackson's sex life. The latest political-correctness outrage on campus. A one-day mini-scandal about a Democratic senator. Much like talk radio, Fox picks up these tidbits from right-wing outlets like the Washington Times or the Drudge Report and runs with them.
To see how the formula works, consider the recent saga of right-wing activist David Horowitz and his "censored" anti-slavery reparations ad. When some college newspapers refused to carry the ad, and some campuses saw protests against it, the case instantly became a cause celebre on the right. It was the perfect story for Fox : The liberal academic establishment trampling on the free speech of a conservative who merely asked that his views be heard. Within less than a month, Horowitz was on nearly every major Fox show to discuss the issue. (See sidebar.)
Former CBS producer Don Dahler resigned from Fox after executive John Moody ordered him to change a story to play down statistics showing a lack of social progress among blacks. (Moody says the change was journalistically justified -- New York, 11/17/97.) According to the Columbia Journalism Review (3-4/98), "several" former Fox employees "complained of 'management sticking their fingers' in the writing and editing of stories to cook the facts to make a story more palatable to right-of-center tastes." Said one : "I've worked at a lot of news organizations and never found that kind of manipulation."
Jed Duvall, a former veteran ABC reporter who left Fox after a year, told New York (11/17/97) : "I'll never forget the morning that one producer came up to me, and, rubbing her hands like Uriah Heep, said, 'Let's have something on Whitewater today.' That sort of thing doesn't happen at a professional news organization." Indeed, Fox's signature political news show, Special Report with Brit Hume, was originally created as a daily one-hour update devoted to the 1998 Clinton sex scandal.
"In the D.C. bureau [at ABC], we always had to worry what the lead story would be in the New York Times, and God forbid if we didn't have that story. Now we don't care if we have that story." Stories favored by the journalistic establishment, Kim Hume says, are "all mushy, like AIDS, or all silly, like Head Start. They want to give publicity to people they think are doing good." -- New York magazine(11/17/97) quoting Kim Hume, Fox News Channel Washington bureau chief
One of the most partisan features on Fox is a daily segment on Special Report called "The Political Grapevine." Billed as "the most scintillating two minutes in television," the Grapevine is a kind of right-wing hot-sheet. It features Brit Hume at the anchor's desk reading off a series of gossipy items culled from other, often right-wing, news outlets.
The key to the Grapevine is its story selection, and there is nothing subtle about it. Almost every item carries an unmistakable partisan message : Democrats, environmentalists and Hollywood liberals are the perennial villains (or the butts of the joke), while Republicans are shown either as targets of unfair attacks or heroes who can do no wrong. Political correctness run amok, the "liberal bias" of the mainstream media and the chicanery of civil rights groups all figure prominently.
When Rep. Patrick Kennedy tussled with airport security (3/21/01), Democrat Pete Stark used intemperate language (4/18/01) and California Gov. Gray Davis uttered a string of curse words (4/18/01), it made it onto the Grapevine. When the Sacramento Bee ran a series on the shortcomings of the big environmental groups, its findings earned a mention on the Grapevine (4/21/01). When it emerged that Al Gore booster Ben Affleck didn't bother to vote in last year's election, you heard about it on the Grapevine (4/25/01).
Republicans are treated differently. "Since [New York's] Rudolph Giuliani became the mayor," one item cheere (4/24/01), "the streets are cleaner and safer, and tourism reigns supreme in Times Square." When George W. Bush ordered men to wear a coat and tie to enter the Oval Office, Grapevine (5/14/01) noted that "his father had a similar reverence for the office," while "President Clinton used to come into the Oval Office in running shorts ... and sometimes he did not remain fully clothed while he was there."
The success of the Grapevine has apparently inspired a spin-off on Fox's Sunday morning show. Fox News Sunday anchor Tony Snow recently inaugurated "Below the Fold," a weekly roundup of "unheralded political stories" that is basically identical to Grapevine, including the conservative spin. When one Below the Fold item (4/15/01) mentioned that Barbra Streisand was reportedly thinking of starting up "a cable TV network devoted exclusively to Democratic viewpoints," Snow couldn't resist adding that the singer came up with the idea "apparently believing such a thing doesn't exist already."
Fox News Channel is "not a conservative network!" roars Fox News Channel chairman Ailes. "I absolutely, totally deny it. ... The fact is that Rupert [Murdoch] and I and, by the way, the vast majority of the American people, believe that most of the news tilts to the left," he says. Fox's mission is "to provide a little more balance to the news" and "to go cover some stories that the mainstream media won't cover." -- Brill's Content (10/99) quoting Roger Ailes
To hear the network's bigwigs tell it, it's not Fox that's being biased when it puts conservative fare on heavy rotation. It's the "liberal media" that are biased when they fail to do so. Fox's entire editorial philosophy revolves around the idea that the mainstream media have a liberal bias that Fox is obligated to rectify.
In interviews, Ailes and other Fox executives often expound this philosophy, sometimes with bizarre results. Ailes once told the New York Times (10/7/96) that he and Fox executive John Moody had both noticed a pattern in the weekly newsmagazines : They often cover religion, "but it's always a story that beats up on Jesus." "They call him a cult figure of his time, some kind of crazy fool," Ailes continued. "And it's as if they go out and try to find evidence to trash him." Moody added that two recent Time and Newsweek articles on Jesus "really bordered on the sacrilegious."
But the core of Fox's critique is the notion that the mainstream media just don't tell the conservative side of the story. This is the premise Fox executives start from when they defend their own network: If Fox appears conservative, they argue, it's only because the country has grown so accustomed to the left-leaning media that a truly balanced network seems to lean right. "The reason you may believe it tips to the right is you're stunned at seeing so many conservatives," Ailes once told a reporter (Washington Post, 2/5/01).
But Ailes and his colleagues have trouble backing up these claims with actual facts. He's fond of calling Bob Novak the only conservative on CNN -- "that's the only guy they hired that was to the right!" (Charlie Rose, 5/22/01) -- but he ignores Tucker Carlson, Kate O'Beirne and Mary Matalin (who recently left for the White House), not to mention past conservative stars such as Lynne Cheney, Mona Charen, John Sununu and, of course, Pat Buchanan, perhaps the most right-wing figure in national politics and an 18-year veteran of Crossfire (minus the occasional hiatus to run for president).
According to Bill O'Reilly, Fox "gives voice to people who can't get on other networks. When was the last time you saw pro-life people [on other networks] unless they shot somebody?" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/10/01). O'Reilly's question is easily answered; in the last three years, the National Right to Life Committee's spokespeople have appeared on CNN 21 times (compared with 16 appearances for their main counterpart, the National Abortion Rights Action League).
In a 1999 Washington Post profile (3/26/99), Ailes offered another example. He said he was particularly proud of a three-part series on education that Fox had recently aired, which reported that "many educators believe self-esteem teaching is harmful" to students. "The mainstream media will never cover that story," Ailes told the Post. "I've seen 10,000 stories on education and I've never seen one that didn't say the federal government needed to spend more money on education."
But just weeks prior to Ailes' interview, CNN's weekly Newsstand series (2/28/99) aired a glowing profile of an upstate New York business executive who had turned around a troubled inner-city elementary school "by bringing the lessons of the boardroom into the classroom." CNN's report came complete with soundbites from a conservative education advocate ("the unions are a major impediment to education reform") and lines from host Jeff Greenfield like, "Critics have said that for decades, the public education system has behaved like an entrenched monopoly with little or no incentive to improve its performance." The piece would have warmed the heart of any conservative education reformer.
The difference between the two networks is that while such conservative-friendly fare airs on CNN some of the time, Fox has oriented its whole network around it. Contrary to what Ailes and other right-wing media critics say, the agenda of CNN and its fellow mainstream outlets is not liberal or conservative, but staunchly centrist. The perspectives they value most are those of the bipartisan establishment middle, the same views that make up the mainstream corporate consensus that media publishers and executives are themselves a part of. It's politicians who stake out centrist, pro-business positions within their parties who win the adulation of the Washington press corps, like John McCain and Joe Lieberman during the 2000 campaign. Both parties are constantly urged by the media to "move to the center."
Defenders of Fox might argue that its brand of conservative-tilted programming fills a void, since it represents a form of ideologically hard-edged news seldom seen in the centrist media. But the same point could be made on the other side of the spectrum : Just as conservative stories don't always make it onto CNN, neither do stories that matter to the left. A left-wing version of Fox might run frequent updates on the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, the dangers of depleted uranium weapons or the benefits of single-payer health care. That would contrast sharply with CNN -- but it wouldn't justify calling CNN "right-wing" or "conservative." Fox's "leftist" accusations are equally unfounded.
At about the same time that Fox was taking a deep interest in the David Horowitz ad controversy, the Boston Globe refused to run an ad criticizing the office supply company Staples for its use of non-recycled paper. Though the Globe is arguably a more important venue for debate than any number of college papers, the case was not reported by either Fox or CNN. Indeed, until a FAIR letter-writing campaign forced the Globe ombudsman to address the issue (6/11/01), only one publication in the Nexis news database reported it at all (Sacramento Bee, 4/12/01).
"The media are not disposed toward Republican presidents -- any Republican president -- and really never have been." -- Brit Hume, Fox News Channel managing editor (Washington Post, 9/25/00)
Fox is sometimes forced to juggle two identities -- Republican and conservative -- that are not always the same. A recent example was the standoff over the downed American spy plane in China. Following appearances on Special Report by conservatives William Kristol (4/9/01) and Fred Barnes (4/11/01), who were critical of Bush for his unexpectedly conciliatory handling of the crisis, Fox (4/13/01) was quick to run a slew of letters from outraged Republican viewers accusing the pundits of trying to "undermine a president of their own party." They "never cut him a bit of slack," one viewer wrote. "Who needs Dan Rather when you have Mr. Kristol to bring down our president?"
Fox's sensitivity to Republican complaints came into the open during the 2000 presidential campaign when Tony Snow was the target of a barrage of criticism from posters to the far-right website FreeRepublic.com, who accused him of being too negative about the Bush campaign in his columns and on Fox News Channel.
Snow responded to the Freepers, as the site's conservative contributors call themselves, with a long and detailed apologia, highlighting every pro-Bush aspect of his work in excruciating detail. Discussing his syndicated conservative column, he wrote :
I have found over the years that the best way to be friendly to any politician is to be honest. Having said that, I've hardly been hostile to Bush in recent columns. Yes, I have criticized him this year, but no serious reader could possibly believe Gore has gotten the best of the exchange.
Just check out the two most recent columns. A piece on "specifics" notes that Gore offers virtually no specifics to voters and the few he mentions are nuts. There's plenty of grist there for Bush fans and the Bush campaign. The most recent defends Bush in the Adam Clymer affair.
In response to a writer who was irate at a video clip showing a Bush gaffe, Snow replied : "Yes, we carried a Bush gaffe at the end. It was funny, not damaging to the candidate."
And perhaps most tellingly, he described the strategy he had recently used on Fox News Sunday (9/10/00) to interview a pair of guests about the presidential campaign -- the first an aide to Bill Clinton, the second the Republican governor of Pennsylvania :
1) We opened with a tough interview of John Podesta, taking Clinton to task for a series of things (including hate crimes legislation) and asking some tough questions about Gore's energy and health-care policies.
2) Tom Ridge came next. We tried to get him to fire away at Clinton/Gore corruption. He wouldn't do it. We tried to get him to urge a more openly conservative campaign by Bush. He wouldn't do it. If you have complaints about such matters, I suggest you write the Bush campaign, not Fox News Channel.
In other words, Snow admits he was trying to put the Democratic guest on the defensive about Clinton -- while goading the Republican into playing offense against Clinton. (The episode is a perfect example of Fox's notion of balance : attacking Democrats and liberals on substance while challenging Repub-licans and conservatives only on tactics.) In closing the memo, Snow wrote, "Parting thoughts : I made fun of the United Nations." He concluded : "I have a hard time finding anything in that lineup that Freepers would consider treasonous."
"Fair and balanced, as always." -- Fox News slogan
Some have suggested that Fox's conservative point of view and its Republican leanings render the network inherently unworthy as a news outlet. FAIR believes that view is misguided. The United States is unusual, perhaps even unique, in having a journalistic culture so fiercely wedded to the elusive notion of "objective" news (an idea of relatively recent historical vintage even in the U.S.). In Great Britain, papers like the conservative Times of London and the left-leaning Guardian deliver consistently excellent coverage while making no secret of their respective points of view. There's nothing keeping American journalists from doing the same.
If anything, it is partly the disingenuous claim to objectivity that is corroding the integrity of the news business. American journalists claim to represent all political views with an open mind, yet in practice a narrow bipartisan centrism excludes dissenting points of view: No major newspaper editorial page opposed NAFTA; virtually all endorse U.S. airstrikes on Iraq; and single-payer health care proposals find almost no backers among them.
With the ascendance of Fox News Channel, we now have a national conservative TV network in addition to the established centrist outlets. But like the mainstream networks, Fox refuses to admit its political point of view. The result is a skewed center-to-right media spectrum made worse by the refusal to acknowledge any tilt at all.
Fox could potentially represent a valuable contribution to the journalistic mix if it admitted it had a conservative point of view, if it beefed up its hard news and investigative coverage (and cut back on the tabloid sensationalism), and if there were an openly left-leaning TV news channel capable of balancing both Fox's conservatism and CNN's centrism.
None of these three things appears likely to happen in the foreseeable future.
Toeing the Line on Special Report
For some, the free market is a religion. That seems true for Fox News reporter Brit Hume, who has made no secret of what he thinks about the idea of caps on wholesale electricity prices in California. Hume commented on Fox (5/29/01) that "no one with an economics degree that I know" would support price caps for California.
In fact, 10 prominent mainstream economists wrote a letter to George W. Bush endorsing the idea. "We are mindful of the potential dangers of applying a simple price cap," they wrote (New York Times, 5/30/01). "But California's electricity markets are not characterized by effective competition." The letter added that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's "failure to act now will have dire consequences for the state of California." Paul Krugman, one of the country's most prominent economists, had by that point written six columns in the New York Times calling for energy price caps.
But on Fox, laissez-faire orthodoxy was enforced. When Jeff Birnbaum, Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine and a frequent guest on Special Report with Brit Hume, suggested (5/29/01) that price caps "might help the blackouts through this summer," this view was rejected by both of the other panelists, Morton Kondracke and Bill Kristol. Hume, acting as moderator, derided Birnbaum for his deviation : "Did you ever have any economics in college? ... There are books ... that could help you."
A day later (5/30/01), Birnbaum came on the show to deliver what can only be described as a recantation : "I consulted my Economics 101, and I made a mistake last night when I spoke," he said. "Price caps are definitely the wrong economic answer. It could lead to a spreading energy gap and problem beyond California's borders and a long-term energy problem that would clearly be a serious political and substantive problem for the Bush administration."
"No apology required," was Hume's response. But one got the definite impression that toeing the ideological line is required on Special Report. -- Peter Hart
An Obsession That Only Goes So Far
One of Fox News Channel's favorite recent stories involved a newspaper ad that claimed African-Americans benefited from slavery, and owed America for the favor. The ad's author, conservative activist David Horowitz, claimed to be a victim of censorship and "political correctness" because a number of college newspapers refused to publish his ad, which argued against the idea of slavery reparations. Fox saw this as a major issue: Horowitz and his ad were mentioned at least 21 times on the network between March 6 and April 3.
On Fox News Sunday (3/25/01), the network's Sunday-morning equivalent of Meet the Press, interviews with Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Sen. Joseph Lieberman were incongruously followed by a segment featuring a largely unknown reparations activist and David Horowitz, in a Crossfire-style debate about Horowitz's rejected ad.
On Special Report with Brit Hume, the Horowitz ad became the subject of at least nine "Grapevine" items in less than a month. The ad was also the subject of Hume's lead question to conservative columnist John Leo when he appeared for a one-on-one interview (3/23/01). Afterward, Hume put the Horowitz issue to the show's all-star panel of pundits; all three pundits agreed that campus liberals were squelching debate. Mara Liasson argued that reparations are "pretty much of a non-issue" and Horowitz's ad was not "nearly as bad as the kind of hate speech you hear about in other cases," while Mort Kondracke explained that "there's nothing racist in this."
On Hannity & Colmes (3/26/01), the issue was: "Has David Horowitz's freedom of speech become a victim of political correctness?" On The O'Reilly Factor (3/6/01), it was Horowitz and host Bill O'Reilly interrogating a reparations activist from Mobile, Alabama. ("That's my tax money!" O'Reilly exclaimed.) The Edge with Paula Zahn brought Horowitz on three times within a month to discuss the same subject.
But there was one twist to the Horowitz story that Fox couldn't be bothered to report. When Horowitz's ad was offered to the Daily Princetonian in April, the paper ran it -- along with an editorial (4/4/01) describing its ideas as racist and promising to donate the ad's proceeds to the local chapter of the Urban League. Horowitz, the free-speech crusader, refused to pay his bill unless the paper's editors publicly apologized for their hurtful words: "Its slanders contribute to the atmosphere of intolerance and hate towards conservatives," a statement from his office read.
Suddenly Fox lost interest in the Horowitz case. After a month of running twice-weekly updates about college papers that were refusing the ad, Special Report with Brit Hume ignored the Princeton episode. None of the network's major shows transcribed in the Nexis database reported Horowitz's tiff with the paper. No editor from the Princetonian was invited on The O'Reilly Factor to debate whether or not Horowitz was being a hypocrite. When their favorite free-speech martyr suddenly looked like a censor, it was a story Fox just didn't want to pursue. -- Seth Ackerman
See also the other two articles in FAIR's special report on Fox
DAVID R. ANSELM, JR.
January 14, 2002
It never occurred to me how out of control my life had become, until one afternoon I was on my way to a tent revival meeting and saw a young woman wearing white after Labor Day. I called her a commie, tree hugging, pinko, leftist democrat and suggested she pack her knee pads and head to Arkansas.
Then it dawned on me that I had hit bottom, and my life was out of control. I started to sweat and thought, "Lord, what can I do? How can I restore sanity into my life?"
Later, I realized I had taken the first step, by admitting I was powerless over republicanism, and had to join the "rabid rightness" chapter of GOP anonymous.
The meetings were held in church basements and usually were not that crowded. Of course, I later found out that the recovery rate was low and many reverted back to their hard-line stance. I was determined to be a Republicans Anonymous success story. It looked like a simple twelve step program, and I thought it would be very easy. After all, I was a republican. But, taking those steps proved to be a real challenge.
Here they are :
Step One. We admitted we were powerless over republicanism and our lives had become unmanageable.
Step Two. We came to believe that a power greater than Dr. Laura could restore us to sanity.
Step Three. We made a decision to turn our lives over to a higher power than Dubya .
Step Four. We made a fearless moral inventory of ourselves and only of ourselves.
Step Six. We became entirely ready to have a higher power remove these defects of character, without a sacrificial chicken, excessive blame, or bloodletting.
Step Seven. We humbly asked a higher power than OPEC to remove these defects of character, and suggested a strong need for the “Jaws of Life” for this task.
Step Eight. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. At least as many as humanly possible, after all, there are only twenty-four hours to a day (and we are not Moses on a mission).
Step Nine. We continue to take "only" our own moral inventory and when we are wrong promptly, and without the threat of violence, admit it.
Step Ten. We continue to seek, through prayer, meditation, and without Rush Limbaugh, to improve our conscious contact with our higher power, as we understood it, and to improve our general dispositions over all, in order to live peacefully with other people.
Step Eleven. We integrate these experiences into our daily lives, and strive daily to "just get over it all ready," as if it were a Florida election.
Step Twelve. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these twelve steps, we try to carry the message of hope to other suffering GOP addicts, and without intimidation, violence, postulation, black mail, or mob grandstanding, we offer our help.
The first months were difficult for me, and it is still hard sometimes to not blame Bill Clinton for every problem in my life. But I struggle through "One day at a time." Many of my so-called friends have stopped associating with me because of this change, but I have come to accept it as a good thing and they would have impeded my recovery.
With all of the time and donation money I have saved since I stopped supporting the GOP, I will either solve the national deficit problem and take a nice vacation or retire.
I can only tell you how hard it was for me, the first time I walked into a room and said, "My name is Tammy-Faye, and I am a republican addict." And just for today, I will lead a full, happy, and surprisingly less stress-filled life as a recovering GOPer. I will spend my life only worrying about my own morality and not attempting to enforce it on society as martial law.
It is nice to realize that life is fraught with problems, but Bill Clinton alone is not responsible for all of them. It is a relief to not have to force myself to say W is a great leader or think of Texas as America's holy land. I am even starting to think each vote really should count in an election, and the constitution is not our enemy.
My story is just one of hundred's of thousands who have bravely forsaken the personal moral pedestal and overt sense of false superiority, to seek a life as an American who can think, question, and freely express their own individual opinion once again without the fear of internment camp, social isolation, physical harm, or public retribution (which is freeing).
This is a message of hope, for the millions who suffer daily with the countless hours of making excuses for Karl Rove's and Karen Hughes ' latest screw ups or W's tragic abuses of the English language.
Many people have gone on to actually take up hobbies or see movies. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Here is the serenity prayer, which is spoken as a group, usually at the close of each meeting. Many RAA's emboss it and keep it on them at all times.
“God grant me the
serenity to accept
the things I cannot dominate, control, and own, the courage to change
the channel on Rush and develop my own thoughts, the brains to recognize
a smart leader, and an idiot, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”