Fox News Channel
In the former Soviet Union, the two leading newspapers were Pravda, which means “The Truth”, and Isvestia, which means “The News”. The dark humour of Russians who knew that there was precious little of either in the titles gave birth to the sentiment “v Pravde net izvestiy, v Izvestiyakh net pravdy”, which, freely translated, means “In The Truth there is no news, and in The News there is no truth”.
It may be this memory that causes many publishers and broadcasters not to make claims about the content they offer, especially if they cannot stand them up, or if they are so blatantly at variance with public perception. But it has had no effect on the USA’s most stridently right-wing broadcaster Fox News Channel.
In the UK, broadcast media is subject to strict rules on impartiality, especially in news and politics coverage. Journalists who work within organisations like the BBC are expected to leave any party political or ideological loyalties at the door; the public has to be given a neutral perspective. That had been the norm in the USA until the advent of cable news.
There are three major television networks Stateside, ABC, NBC and CBS. In 1980, the first cable news challenger CNN appeared. This channel did not take a radically different approach to news and politics coverage. But then in 1996 there came two further cable news offerings, MSNBC and Fox News Channel. The former is generally politically liberal in its choice of hosts, the latter most certainly conservative.
For the New Conservatives, FNC is their US broadcaster of choice, and its right-leaning hosts are suitably revered. For the ideologically pure, there is no bias, no controversy. The occasional dissenting voice getting shouted down by conservative talking heads, of whom FNC has a ready supply, is for the New Conservatives the natural order of things.
That there would be eyebrows raised at the political stance and journalistic values of a cable news operation which is part of the Murdoch media empire may have been foreseen: from the outset, FNC has proclaimed that it is “Fair and Balanced” (an alternative conceit is “We report, you decide”). The comparison with Soviet-era Pravda and Isvestia, the having to make claims to cover reality, is all too obvious to non-believers.
The justification for a broadcast schedule that is heavy on opinion programmes was given by FNC’s top-rating host Bill O’Reilly during a discussion with former Daily Show host Jon Stewart: there was a distinction made, and advertised to viewers, between news and opinion programming, rather like the news and comment sections of a newspaper (for most British newspapers, that distinction ended long ago).
So far, so reasonable, but when one considers that even the breakfast show Fox And Friends comes in the opinion strand, it can be seen how heavy the opinion part of FNC has become. Peak evening programming is, similarly, all opinion shows: from 7pm Eastern time, the following four hours, hosted on weekdays by Greta van Susteren, O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity, it is wall to wall opinion.
Moreover, it is invariably partisan opinion, despite fixtures like O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone”. Stewart, in one of many call-outs of FNC, also observed that the “News” and “Opinion” strands of the channel are used to feed off one another: a story begins life as “News”, it is taken up by the “Opinion” side, which adds some partisan heat to the mix, is then coincidentally picked up by the “News” side once more, worked over, and so it goes on.
Stewart’s conclusion was that it was not “Fox News”, but “Fox ‘Opinutainment’”.
FNC has been involved in a series of controversies over its treatment of the current President of the USA, from Glenn Beck, who was ditched by the channel basically because he was too extreme even for them, asserting that Barack Obama was “a racist … with a deep-seated hatred of white people”, to E D Hill calling the Obamas’ fist bump a “terrorist fist bump”. Obama is frequently denigrated by Fox hosts.
Republican party candidates, spokesmen, and pundits, on the other hand, are indulged to the extent that Dick Morris was allowed to brazenly predict immediately before the 2012 Presidential Election that Mitt Romney would win in a landslide. It was the least accurate prediction of the campaign.
But there are limits to Republican indulgence: as the 2012 results came in, and it became clear that Obama had won a second term, Karl Rove, who was calling Ohio for Romney when it was all too obvious that the state would fall to Obama, was called out by an exasperated Megyn Kelly. To calm the situation, she left her presenter’s desk and walked over to the channel’s analysts, who confirmed Rove was wrong. On returning to her post, she asked Rove, who was still predicting the impossible, “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?”
Sadly, such incidents are dwarfed by the right-leaning partisanship, which has included image manipulation and misinformation to claim support for Conservative politicians, parties, policies, media appearances and literature that did not exist. FNC was also a party to the infamously manipulated video and backstory presented by Andrew Breitbart’s acolyte James O’Keefe, which was used to target community based group ACORN.
ACORN, the Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now, advocated for the less well-off. It campaigned for affordable housing, health care, neighbourhood safety and voter registration. O’Keefe and his accomplice Hannah Giles produced highly edited videos suggesting ACORN staff encouraged criminal practices. Before the two were rumbled, ACORN had suffered a loss of Government funding. Many private donors also ceased their support. It was a classic Breitbart sting. ACORN eventually shut down.
FNC gave the ACORN sting, a vicious and dishonest attack on the less fortunate members of society, airtime and credibility. But FNC, like the rest of the Murdoch media empire, does not say sorry. So when you see it on FNC, remember the old Soviet adage.
That’s “v Pravde net izvestiy, v Izvestiyakh net pravdy”, or in English, “In The Truth there is no news, and in The News there is no truth”. FNC is not “Fair and Balanced” - unless you are, like the New Conservatives, a true believer.