Earlier this week we reported on how the mainstream media, and especially cable news, had gone bonkers over the dispute between the White House and Fox News. Because let's face it, when journalists are somehow involved in a story, it's suddenly very, very important.
In fact, according to Pew research data, the cablers last week devoted three times as much coverage to the Fox News story as they did to the unfolding swine flu outbreak, which has killed more than 1,000 Americans to date.
Well now the other shoe dropped with yet more Pew data. it shows that among news consumers, nobody cares about the Fox News story, but people are obsessed with following the latest on the swine flue.
How's that for a massive disconnect?
And when I say nobody cares about the Fox News story, that's not really an exaggeration. According to Pew, less than 1 percent of Americans said that the Fox News dispute was the news topic followed most closely last week, compared to 32 percent who said the swine flu was the on top of their news radar.
To recap, by a margin of 32: 1, consumers were interested in swine flu vs. Fox News. But on cable TV last week by a margin of 3:1, Fox News took precedence over the swine flu.
Again, how's that for a massive disconnect?
From Los Angeles Times media columnist James Rainey's October 30 column:
The debate over the meaning of Fox News has become so routine, and so routinely partisan, that one hesitates to join the fray again. But when the debate reaches a presidential level, it seems worth reminding everyone, again, how much the boundaries between news and opinion have blurred and how sanguine most people have become about it all.
Fox employs some other neat devices for infusing its newscasts with the view from the right. How about zippy headlines, like the one this spring that asserted: "House Dems vote to protect pedophiles, but not veterans."
Outrageous! And outrageously misleading. That claim referred to hate crimes legislation designed to protect gays and others, a proposal which at least one Republican lawmaker falsely claimed could protect pedophiles, even though federal law already made it clear such statutes covered only consenting adults.
What about those tea party promos? I suppose the constant stories, listing times and locales for the protests, could be explained away as strictly informational. So why did Fox offer up a "virtual tea party" online for those who couldn't make the real events?
Fox's news hosts don't offer up extended screeds as Hannity and Beck do, but some can't seem to resist lending their voices to the company line.
When Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann in March decried a government that seemed to be pushing "toward socialism," Martha MacCallum, host of the day-time "The Live Desk" seemed to have no reservation saying: "I think you're absolutely right about that."
Just this week, MacCallum's on-air partner, Trace Gallagher, asked Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell sympathetically how Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada could possibly accuse Republicans of being obstructionist when they "haven't seen what's in this bill, much less how much it's going to cost."
After guiding McConnell gently through his interview, Gallagher then challenged and interrupted health reform defender Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman from New York.
And that's why Pew gets such obvious results. i.e. Of course, Fox News is viewed by a plurality of Americans as being "mostly conservative." And yes, Fox News is seen by far more viewers as having an ideological slant.
But those findings, as well as the related questions involved in the survey, strike me as being left-overs from a by-gone era when people actually had a debate about whether Fox News was conservative or "fair and balanced." I don't even think Fox News staffers, busy promoting political rallies in 2009, think that tag still applies.
The debate, in part driven by the White House, has clearly moved on and the critical issue today now centers around the very important question and distinction of whether Fox News is still actually in the news business as it's commonly defined and recognized in the United States. The question now on the table is whether Fox News is legitimate.
i.e. Nobody's even debating whether Fox News is "mostly conservative." A) That fact is obvious. And B) that's certainly not why the White House has made Fox News an issue. It picked a fight with Fox News because it views it as a purely political entity; the leader of the Opposition Party.
Frankly, I'm amazed no pollsters have yet posed the relevant Fox News question to U.S. voters (is Fox News legit?), given how the topic has been at the center of a nearly three-week media storm. Obviously, my hunch is that self-unidentified Republicans would support the notion that Fox News is, and Dems would likely disagree. But what about independents and centrist, what would they say?
Beltway insiders seem aghast at the mere suggestion that Fox News isn't legit, and maybe Beltway polling firms and their media sponsors dismiss the notion out of hand, which is why nobody's asking the key question. Maybe the Beltway press doesn't want to know how Americans really feel. Maybe Beltway insiders, who've gone all in defending Fox News, don't want to be embarrassed if, in fact, sizable portions of the population don't even think Fox qualifies as a news outlet.
And P.S. This Pew finding is very poorly worded [emphasis added]:
The public is split over whether it is a good thing or bad thing for hosts of cable news shows to have strong opinions about politics; 42% see this as a good thing while as many see it as a bad thing.
But what does that phrase, "hosts of cable news shows" mean? Does it mean Bill O'Reilly? He hosts a show on Fox News but I certainly wouldn't call The O'Reilly Factor a "news" program. Not even close. Or does that phrase mean someone like Fox News' Megan Kelly, who hosts what Fox claims is a straight news show, but clearly displays her "strong opinion about politics."
Again, I wish Pew would go back to the drawing board and do everyone a service and mine opinions about Fox news that really matter to the debate at hand.
Eighty advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his October 29 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
In his latest effort to chart an incomprehensible conspiracy theory, Glenn Beck engaged in an old-fashioned game of Connect Four against ... Glenn Beck.
Naming Obama administration officials and dropping red and yellow game pieces into the game, Beck sought to show ... well it's unclear exactly what he sought to show, other than that people in the White House work together. And some are represented by yellow circles, while others are represented by red ones.
After several seconds of fierce competition with himself, Beck closed in on a yellow victory.
Undeterred by his apparent win, Beck continued, dropping in a game piece that apparently represented President Obama - or at least he said "and then we have Barack Obama" as he dropped a red circle into the game, declaring victory.
I guess no matter which Glenn Beck wins, the rest of us lose.
A few weeks back, we noted that James O'Keefe -- who has gained right-wing fame for his clandestine ACORN videos -- received thousands of dollars for a previous stunt from Peter Thiel, a co-founder of the online payment site PayPal with major conservative cred.
Interestingly, Thiel is not the only PayPal alum with a toehold in right-wing activism.
Eric Jackson is the former marketing director for PayPal, and Norman Book is its former financial systems manager. After leaving the company following its acquisition by eBay, the pair in 2004 founded World Ahead Publishing, with the goal to publish conservative-oriented books (among them: "Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!").
In 2006, WorldNetDaily selected World Ahead to be the latest partner in its WND Books imprint; in 2008, WND purchased World Ahead outright. As part of the deal, Jackson was named executive vice president of strategy of WND (he has since left that position; he currently "advises startups and non-profits on their business and product strategies"), while Book was named (and remains) executive vice president of operations.
What does this mean? Not much, beyond the fact that not every dot-com start-up is run by a flaming liberal. And that some are far enough right to hang out with WorldNetDaily.
So Campbell Brown is the latest journalist who fails to critically examine whether Fox News is any different than MSNBC. Eric Boehlert has done an excellent job taking down this argument here.
On her October 28 show, following an interview with White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, Brown stated:
So I am stating what I think is the obvious here. Jarrett seems loathe to admit that MSNBC has a bias, and that is where the White House loses all credibility on this issue. Just as Fox News leans to the right with their opinionated hosts in primetime, MSNBC leans left. I don't think anyone at Fox or MSNBC would disagree with that.
Of course, as Boehlert and Jamison Foser have repeatedly pointed out, those who call attention to MSNBC's primetime programming always seem to overlook that three hours of MSNBC's morning programming is dominated by unabashed conservative and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough (who is often joined by old-school bigot Pat Buchanan).
But the problem with Brown's statement is even more fundamental. Brown -- like Jake Tapper and Howard Kurtz and others -- suggests that Fox News' conservative bias is merely the result of -- or exists solely in -- the network's opinion programming.
Brown states: "It would be great to talk honestly about how we draw important distinctions between the various media outlets." Okay, Campbell, let's break it down again. Here's an even easier way to distinguish between Fox News and MSNBC:
The list goes on...
Note that Fox News as a "news" organization is guilty of all of the above breaches of basic journalist ethics. It's not just Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity.
Brown goes on to state:
Opinionated cable news hosts have a valid but very different role. They either cheerlead or criticize and in doing so they connect with those who agree with them. They validate the opinions of those on the left and on the right. They provoke one another, they fight with one another, and yes, they entertain us, and in a polarized country, that gets big ratings. I'm not critical of what my friends at Fox News and MSNBC do, but it is apples and oranges when compared to what we at CNN do and we should all just acknowledge that.
Brown completely ignores CNN's own "opinionated host in primetime," Lou Dobbs. "We should all just acknowledge that" Dobbs has repeatedly advanced conspiracy theories, including that the President of the United States hasn't released a valid birth certificate, spread numerous falsehoods about immigration, and associated himself and CNN with a right-wing hate group.
"We should all just acknowledge that" as long as Brown and others continue to advance this ridiculous false equivalency between Fox News and MSNBC -- while overlooking the problems in their own houses -- Fox News will continue with business as usual.
I marvel sometimes at the versatility of the crack bias hunters over at NewsBusters. Even though they've spent the better portions of their careers failing to make sense and embarrassing themselves, they still manage to come up with new and inventive ways to look completely foolish. Take, for example, Brent Baker's latest complaint that ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson "had time to convey President Barack Obama's praise of Edward Brooke for 'breaking barriers' as the first popularly-elected black U.S. Senator, but not to inform viewers he broke that barrier as a Republican."
OK, I'm feeling generous -- if Baker wants to argue that ABC should have identified Brooke as a Republican, that's fine. One could just as easily argue that Brooke's accomplishment transcends parties and politics. But then Baker goes on to note that Brooke was "a fairly liberal Republican," and in case you're not a regular reader of the blog, NewsBusters really, really hates liberal Republicans and they get very mad when the media fail to ID such Republicans as "liberals." So Baker is upset that ABC didn't identify as Republican someone who, by virtue of his liberalness, would otherwise be treated as a leper by his blog.
But then it gets even dumber.
Here's the context in which Baker characterized Brooke as a "fairly liberal Republican":
Neither Gibson nor [NBC's David] Gregory pointed out that after two terms representing Massachusetts, in 1978 Brooke, a fairly liberal Republican, was challenged and beaten by one of the media's liberal heroes, the late Paul Tsongas -- a Democrat who was a white guy.
Can anyone explain to me how Paul Tsongas' whiteness is at all relevant here? What is he implying -- that Massachusetts voters in 1978 were racists for voting out a black Republican? That Tsongas himself was a racist for challenging a black Republican? I seriously can't figure it out, and Baker offers no explanation.
And this is what passes for media criticism on the right.
So yeah, it's dumb. Perhaps not as dumb as Matt Lauer's terrorist neckwear, but still pretty dumb.
I opened up Fox Nation this morning to see the following headline:
Despite the quotes around the word, there is no one quoted in the AP article Fox Nation links to calling the House Democrats' health care reform bill "PelosiCare."
Opponents of the Clintons' reform proposal cooked up the terms "HillaryCare" and "ClintonCare" in the 1990s; more recently, they've dubbed reform efforts "ObamaCare." You may recall that earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that "Republicans are stepping up attacks on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, deciding that a major part of their 2010 electoral strategy will be linking Democratic candidates to her."
Maybe this is all just a coincidence, but it seems far more likely that it's just another example of how Fox News is the communications arm of the Republican Party.