Fox News, like every network, has a right to be biased
Published: Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 22:10
The most important work of any criminal defense lawyer is done on behalf of clients who are almost certainly guilty.
Defending unsavory, even despicable, characters is not a line of work that will win you many friends.
But within the bounds of a justice system that begins with the presumption of innocence for all parties, it can be argued that those whose guilt seems most obvious are therefore most deserving of a vigorous legal defense.
It is in this spirit that I offer to you a defense of that most maligned party, Fox News Channel.
The charges against Fox are numerous, and many of them are true, or at least substantial.
Many portions of the networks coverage have a noticeable conservative slant.
The network has been consistently critical of the Obama administration – this is a significant change compared to the sympathetic tone it took during the Bush administration.
The network and its pundits are notorious for misrepresenting facts or blatantly reporting unadulterated falsehoods.
To add insult to injury, the network hides mockingly behind slogans like "We Report. You Decide," and "Fair and Balanced."
That short list covers the major themes present in any indictment of Fox and doesn't even touch on what is quite possibly the network's greatest sin – the continued employment of Glenn Beck.
Still, such generic assertions are hardly the worst things to have been said about Fox.
Former Democratic National Chairman and presidential candidate Howard Dean called the network a "right-wing propaganda machine."
Comedian Lee Camp went on one of Fox's own shows and called the network a "festival of ignorance."
Jacob Weisberg, former editor of Slate Magazine and a columnist for a number of major publications decried the network in a recent Newsweek editorial as "un-American."
The assumption underlying these attacks is that news media has a responsibility to be objective.
This is an easy assumption to defend, as the next person to come out against objectivity will be the first.
Objectivity may be the ultimate goal, but the reality of the situation is that it is extremely difficult to report on political matters in a way totally free of bias.
Politics, by its very nature, makes maintaining such objectivity difficult.
There is no such thing as a "neutral" political position. Even the most moderate opinion must be placed somewhere along the political spectrum.
The idea that news anchors and commentators, like Supreme Court nominees, don't have opinions about political topics is naive.
It's just not true.
Most reputable journalists do their best to suppress their personal biases and opinions.
Yet, even when the person reporting makes every effort to remain neutral, bias can sometimes persist.
In his book, "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell discusses an experiment that took place during the 1984 presidential campaign.
It compared the facial expressions of the three major news anchors at the time – NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS's Dan Rather and ABC's Peter Jennings – when discussing Ronald Reagan.
The study demonstrated a link between Peter Jennings's relatively positive facial expressions toward Reagan with a statistically significant increased percentage of viewers who voted for him.
This was in spite of the fact that Jennings's verbal clues in reference to Reagan were separately judged to be no less objective or neutral than his counterparts. In fact, in a number of respects, ABC was demonstrated to be the network most hostile toward Reagan.
Effects like this are hardly confined to television.
A host of factors related to newspaper headlines and pull quotes (font size, word choice, punctuation) often convey an implicit message that stretches beyond merely informing the audience.
Decisions as seemingly benign as what picture accompanies an article, or even the tone of that picture's caption, can affect a reader's interpretation of an otherwise objective story.
Even what page a story lands on is sometimes the result of editorial bias.
In the eyes of most, the crime Fox News commits is attempting to cover its bias.
The networks pathetic attempts to cloak itself with a modicum of objectivity (see Colmes, Alan) are little more than an acknowledgement of the fact that it is politically incorrect in America for a news organization to have an agenda.
But is that really such a bad thing?
I say "no." As shocking as it may sound, Fox commentators often present reasonable, coherent arguments.
But that's beside the point. Fox News doesn't need to be the middle ground of American news media.
Let CNN or NBC handle that. Choosing sides doesn't give them a license to blatantly misrepresent facts or lie.
But presenting news and commentary with a political tint is hardly un-American.
The real crime Fox commits, however, is pretending to be something they are not. But what they are isn't so bad, at least in theory.
If the network wants to present the news from a conservative position and they find an audience for that viewpoint, go for it.
In a time when social consciousness and apathy are major threats to civic society, how is attracting attention to political issues a bad thing?
Attack them for their tenuous relationship to the truth, not for their ideological leanings.
Glenn Beck is a moron who happens to be conservative. But, it's the first adjective that matters when assessing his value.
Despite his best efforts, he does not have a monopoly on ridiculous ideas or shallow analysis.
Let Fox compete honestly in the marketplace of ideas as a conservative leaning organization.
They have a place in the national conversation, if for no other reason than to provide an outlet for conservative thinking and to attract like-minded citizens into the discussion and debate.
If they don't suit your tastes, flip over to their ideological counterparts at MSNBC or whatever network you prefer.
Or better yet, sample them all and come up with an opinion that makes sense to you.