I was watching CNN's Reliable Sources this morning, and they were discussing the battle between FOX News and the White House. As I was watching the clips they played of Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, I couldn't help but wonder, Are these guys serious?
How can FOX News honestly say that the White House has crossed the line? How can Bill O'Reilly say that this is a witch hunt? How can Glenn Beck compare the accusations against FOX News to the Holocaust? The only criticism I'd level against the White House is that they only just got around to saying what they said.
FOX News was quick to respond to the White House’s claims that the network was actually just the TV news wing of the Republican Party. But they did so in an unsurprisingly pathetic way: they whined and cried. Okay, so actually they just whined. Glenn Beck only cries for his country. But I digress. Bill O’Reilly acted as if everyone was picking on FOX News, ganging up on them and leveling unfair, unfounded, and un-researched criticism at them. Let me repeat part of that last sentence: ganging up on them and leveling unfair, unfounded, and un-researched criticism at them. Stop and think for a moment: who does that sound like?
The biggest problem with FOX News is not that they are conservative-leaning. That would only be an issue if flagship FOX News programs like Glenn Beck's were considered journalism. They're not. Beck himself has said numerous times that he is more of an entertainment personality than a journalist. His job is to rile up the conservative masses, not to provide balanced news coverage.
No, the biggest problem with FOX News is their attitude. I don’t even mind that they only cover things from a conservative point of view. My problem with them is that they pretend to be balanced. They don’t admit that their hosts, their talking heads, their story lineup, and their word choice all point to a rightward slant. If you were an Independent and you watched FOX News and CNN covering the same politically-charged story, you’d see a clear difference in their methodology. CNN would toe the line and abstain from making a judgment, but FOX News would insinuate certain things about how the story pertained to “the radical left-leaning Obama administration.”
The sheer amount of suggestive language that FOX News personalities use – all while pretending to be impartial – is appalling. FOX News anchors ask loaded questions of their analysts. They can make even the most innocuous stories into political fodder that will delight their more rabid viewers. But there is no admission of this at FOX News. Everyone at FOX News seems to believe that they are the watchdogs of the administration, rather than the schoolyard bully waiting behind the corner to knock you down every time you walk by. (Hint: they’re actually the latter.)
When Glenn Beck does his program, he pretends to be a humble, concerned, and patriotic citizen, but in reality he is just a self-assured, egotistical airhead. Again, I see no problem with him hosting a conservative program. It’s one thing for him to cover only conservative stories and address things from a conservative point of view only. But it’s another thing entirely for him to deny that he does it. Now folks, Glenn Beck is a liar in many ways, but he does not lie about his opinions. He honestly believes that FOX News is fair to all sides. Yet so many stories slip by the FOX News assignment desk that it makes me question Beck’s assertion. FOX News gives significant airtime to people who believe that homosexuals are the spawn of the devil, but god forbid they talk about something pro-liberal without turning it into a referendum on fascism.
Even more troublesome is the way that FOX News covers conservative mishaps. When the Mark Sanford scandal came to light, FOX News wrote “(D) South Carolina” under his name in the on-screen graphic. It’s hard to believe this was an accident. The FOX News control room probably thought that their viewers were too brainwashed to notice the discrepancy.
To play devil’s advocate to myself here, I will suggest that FOX News might be trapped in this kind of “distort-tainment” by its viewers. They have the largest cable audience of any network, and while that’s obviously due to the number of wounded conservatives seeking refuge in one-sided shout-fests, it doesn’t change the ratings. If FOX News stopped sensationalizing news and started covering it fairly, they would definitely lose a large portion of that audience.
It all boils down to one thing for FOX News. What do you care about more, Nielsen numbers or actually being fair and balanced?