Originally written January 24, 2005
Fox News Network has become a favorite target of leftists these days, who, in all their impotent rage, like to ascribe various sinister motives to what they see as a staunchly conservative news channel. An entire documentary, Outfoxed, has been devoted to the idea that Fox News is part of a right-wing cabal to control the country. The left is particularly fond of mocking Fox’s claim to be “fair and balanced.” Of course, when you’re dealing with a crowd that considers the New York Times to be conservative, your frame of reference is going to be just a tad bit skewed. But for those who once had hopes that Fox News would actually fulfill such paranoid fantasies, the channel has been a major disappointment. Fox is certainly a cut above the competition, but as far as providing a real alternative to the liberal agenda of the mainstream media (MSM), many viewers are still waiting.
The problem is, Fox News has become just a little too fair and balanced. Where else can you catch such luminaries of the left as Katrina vanden Heuvel, David Corn, and Eric Alterman on a regular basis? You hardly see these people on television at all, yet Fox has apparently decided to give the entire staff of The Nation a platform to spew their anti-American invective. The more moderate Juan Williams, Mara Liasson, and the annoyingly plastic Flavia Colgan are also part of Fox’s liberal stable of commentators. Indeed, every show has to have a liberal guest or two on the panel, lest Fox be accused (horror of horrors) of being conservative. But is Fox so busy trying to present “both sides” that they’re neglecting their conservative fan base? After all, liberals still dominate the MSM and already have more than enough outlets for their talking points. Rather than providing a true alternative, Fox seems to be following suit.
In its daily news coverage, Fox News essentially presents the same stories as everyone else. While news is news, the media literally shapes our view of reality by deciding which events to focus on and what slant to give the coverage. As such, Fox does little to differentiate itself from the crowd. Often, they go so far as to give voice to the canards making the rounds of the liberal media. For instance, in the wake of the tsunami disaster when the UN’s “stingy” comment was being repeated ad nauseum by all the other stations, Fox followed suit, wasting an entire week on what was essentially a non-story. And they do it all the time. Instead of simply reacting to the left’s agenda, Fox News should be putting forward its own.
The Democrat Party is out of power and on the decline, yet Fox News, like all the other media outlets, spends an inordinate amount of time discussing how best the party can revive its dwindling fortunes. The bloviations of Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden, not to mention the perpetual petulance of politicians such as Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi, are actually treated seriously. No one at Fox asks the hard questions when such guests are on the hot seat, instead engaging in the usual scripted interviews. Utter nonsense, such as criticism of President Bush’s inaugural address for being “too lofty,” is treated as actual news rather than the latest whining from the Democrats. As satisfying as it can be to watch the Democrats slowly destroy themselves, it would be nice to turn our attention to the party that’s actually doing something for a change. Why doesn’t Fox have Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, or any number of Republican politicians who are in the majority on more often?
Fox is also out to lunch when it comes to those areas where neither party is rising to the occasion—the growing alarm over illegal immigration being one of them. Over at CNN, Lou Dobbs stands alone with consistent and unflinching coverage of this growing crisis. Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, who’s become a popular figure among conservatives for his dedication to this issue, is a frequent guest on Dobbs’ show, but rarely appears on Fox. How about the Minuteman Project in Arizona where Americans fed up with the seeming impotence of their government are volunteering to help protect its borders in April? Yet another a cutting-edge story Fox News doesn’t seem to be aware of.
As if we needed anymore trash-obsessed “news” coverage in the media, Fox devotes an entire hour each day to the subject. On the Record host Greta Van Susteren delivers juicy tidbits from the trials of Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, and formerly Scott Peterson…in all seriousness. Although this stuff apparently has an audience, nothing makes me change the channel faster than the sight of Susan Estrich, Gloria Allred, and a succession of showbiz lawyers and commentators expound on the latest developments in the Kobe Bryant case as if their lives depended on it. Amidst the sordid comings and goings, Greta usually puts aside a few minutes for some pretty good War on Terrorism coverage and then it’s right back to Paris Hilton’s latest shenanigans.
Unfortunately, the War on Terror is another area where Fox News largely presents the same old spin. Faced with the multi-faceted conflict we find ourselves embroiled in since 9/11, Americans would benefit greatly from terrorism coverage that provides a coherent picture. But for the most part, Fox provides the kind of unfocused coverage found elsewhere in the MSM. They also repeat many of the same misconceptions about the War on Terror or do little to disprove them, thereby giving fuel to the ravings of the “anti-war” crowd. Quoting The Lancet study falsely alleging 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq by the U.S. is one such example. Fortunately, the American public has a surplus of commonsense that allows it to see through all this.
The current rehashing of the Middle East “peace process” pantomime is another example of a missed opportunity on the part of Fox News. Anyone with an ounce of sense knows by now that there is no serious peace partner on the Palestinian side of the fence. Their repeatedly stated goal is to wipe out the state of Israel and replace it with an Islamic state. Yet the entire media pretends otherwise, with Fox News simply promulgating the same charade. Instead of intoning the usual hollow phrase “cycle of violence,” Fox could be standing out from the pack and telling it like it is.
Despite the welcome presence of Ann Coulter, Michele Malkin, and occasionally Rich Lowry, a plethora of conservative intellectuals languish in obscurity while blowhards such as Bill O’Reilly dominate the scene at Fox. O’Reilly seems to pride himself on being a contrarian, but his “independence” rubbed conservative viewers the wrong way when he jumped on the “let’s discredit the Swift Boat Veterans” bandwagon last year. The honeymoon has been over ever since. He also has a propensity for stories about scantily clad teenagers and the latest spring break sorority girl scandal, which are getting a bit tiresome for female viewers. Under the guise of disapproval, viewers are treated to endless footage of the objectionable behavior at issue. Sean Hannity, while well meaning, spends way too much time trying to induce guilt in amoral liberal guests, and even he has to be “balanced” with the tepid Alan Colmes.
Such hosts, when they’re not hawking their wares, are blowing it on interviews with easy targets such as Michael Moore. Instead of skewering them with facts, their egos only permit them to puff up their chests in indignation. Meanwhile brilliant minds such as Thomas Sowell and Victor Davis Hanson are nowhere to be found. Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge is one of the few television shows where viewers can hear such intellectuals engage in stimulating political discussion, and it’s hosted by none other than PBS. When PBS is ahead of the political curve, it’s time for Fox News to take note.
While the house of cards known as the MSM has come crashing down in recent years, most notably in the fall of Dan Rather and CBS, many Americans still look to the media to help them navigate the world. And increasingly, they’re turning off their televisions and turning on their computers to get that guidance. Rejecting the narrative of the MSM, Americans are cutting through the obsfucation and getting to the truth via the Internet. Websites and blogs are the new founts of knowledge, while television news is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Unless it wants to follow suit, Fox News will wise up and stop worrying about being “fair and balanced.” While they’re still the best of the bunch, they can do better, much better.