TV Wars: The Chief Takes on Fox

The very first article I ever wrote for the New University was about how Fox News purports crazy ideas and mistruths. I love when things come full circle.

It’s sort of common knowledge that Fox News leans to the right, However, recently the White House has decided to let it be known that not only does Fox News bat right-handed, but also that they’re not really even in the news game.

This is true to an extent. Like all news shows, maybe with the exception of CNN, Fox’s programming is heavy on opinion. Fox News is exceptionally good at this. They tend to lead in ratings. That’s often the justification for Bill O’Reilly to say that people are becoming disillusioned with other “liberal” networks. But is it really?

When there’s a car on fire, it’s hard not to look. It’s hard not to slow down and take a couple of extra long peeks. If your car is ever on fire, believe me, I’ll be looking. And that’s what Fox News is, a car that is on fire, burning 24 hours a day for your enjoyment. This is why Fox News can attract new viewers who don’t even have to be conservative. People like the ridiculous. Now I’m sure people who watch Fox News won’t say they like it because it’s over the top. They’ll say, “I watch Fox News because it provides me with equipment to fight against the latte liberal, left, socialist, Marxist, communist News Networks” or something to that effect. And that is a fine reason to watch part of Fox News, say the opinion side. However, when you are watching Fox News for “news,” there’s something wrong there.

That’s essentially what the Obama Administration is saying. There’s a blurry line between what is news and what is opinion at Fox News. They’ll lead with a news piece that says, “Will the Healthcare bill bankrupt you?” in that piece, Fox cherry-picks an expert to provide some questionable facts about the health care bill, and then follow-up with some conservative opinion. This cements the view of audience into a conservative strangle-hold. A malleable viewer has no choice but to conclude that this health care bill is bad and that only Republicans know the way.

To be sure, Fox News will sometimes provide “other” people to give opinions, and by “other” I mean moderates, but the deck is clearly stacked against them. Jane Hall, associate professor in the School of Communication at American University, left Fox News because she said there was less debate happening there. When at Fox News, she was often propped up as a liberal; however she stated on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that she is in fact a moderate. One of their actual liberal commentators, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, was let go for reasons unknown to him and to everyone else.

One of the few at Fox News who doesn’t always toe the line is Shepard Smith, a hard-nosed anchor and reporter like CNN’s Anderson Cooper. While I cannot say that I have watched his program regularly, Smith has been known to show some “fair & balanced” reporting. He even calls out reporters on his show who did not show both sides of the argument. But then, after his program ends, the onslaught of commentators comes.

Some might say that these Fox reporters are clearly distinguished as commentators, so this should not count against Fox News. After all, MSNBC and CNN do the same thing. That is true and probably the crux of the matter. Cable news is driven by opinion. When a person comes home from their 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job and wants to watch what has been happening in the world of news they could watch Lou Dobbs on CNN, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, or Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. If they plan to stay around for the next hour they can watch Campbell Brown on CNN, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC or Sean Hannity on Fox News. The next hour is more of the same opinion-based journalism – if there is any journalism. So it is true that every network focuses on opinion and this may be problem that is hard to fix. As soon as a cable network changes to more or less pure news their ratings go down and stay down à la Anderson Cooper.

While I am not sure what the solution is to making more news organizations more “newsy” especially when people are actually choosing to watch them; we should not call all cable news organizations equally bad. To paraphrase James Carville, just because I say 50 + 50 equals 101 and the other person says it equals 1,001 doesn’t mean that we are both equally bad. While CNN and MSNBC do show bias in some of their reporting, they do bring on respectable opponents of the other side to argue for their point. The same cannot be said on a regular basis for Fox News. Maybe it’s just because the “other” side doesn’t want to get next to a burning car – it’s kind of hot.

Jaye Anthony Estrada is a fourth-year biological sciences and political science double-major. He can be reached at estradaj@uci.edu.