Fair and Balanced, My Ass! The
Bizarre Reality of Fox News
By Joseph Minton Amann and Tom
Breuer, Nation Books
www.alternet.org, June 21, 2007
[The following is an excerpt from
Fair and Balanced, My Ass!: An Unbridled Look at the Bizarre Reality
of Fox News, by Joseph Minton Amann and Tom Breuer (Nation Books,
Well, that's your opinion!
Those of us who watch Fox News professionally,
or simply to unwind at the end of the day with a few well-earned
belly laughs, dismiss the network at our own peril.
While there may be a considerable measure
of Schadenfreude involved in tuning in to, say, The O'Reilly Factor,
it's hard to overlook the fact that he influences millions of
people nearly every day. Indeed, watching Fox can be a little
like watching Jeopardy! During kids' week. Even if you know more
than they do -- and you probably will -- it's hard to feel good
about yourself for the experience. But it's not like the leading
lights at Fox actually enjoy turning America into a nation of
fatuous morons. If they could accomplish the same goals by not
making their viewers morons, they'd probably do so, just as the
tobacco companies would probably prefer their products didn't
cause cancer, and Ann Coulter probably wishes the sound of her
voice didn't make young men's and small animals' testicles shrivel.
But none of that is going to stop any of them from making their
money and spreading their propaganda. To be sure, Fox News' sensationalistic
brand of personality and opinion-based journalism is a well-crafted
sales strategy. And whatever else you want to say about them,
they're excellent salesmen. Indeed, with just about any story
on Fox, you can ask yourself three questions: Are they pandering
to their viewers, peddling right-wing propaganda, or both?
Now, preaching to the choir can be quite
lucrative, particularly if the choir has an almost unlimited budget
for Rascal Scooters and Civil War chess pieces. And there's not
necessarily anything wrong with that. Lots of media outlets preach
to the choir. For some, it's their bread and butter. The Nation's
not going to solicit a commentary on Social Security privatization
from Grover Norquist, after all, and Us Weekly is certainly not
going to report that Brad and Angelina aren't hot.
But most people who are engaged in some
form of advocacy journalism -- be they Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken
-- have the decency to admit it. Fox not only doesn't admit it,
it famously cloaks themselves in a tawdry veil of objectivity,
endlessly shouting their "Fair and Balanced" and "We
Report, You Decide" slogans until their viewers are finally
programmed, Clockwork Orange-like, to believe them.
But again, by objective measures, Fox
does a demonstrably poor job of presenting the cold, hard facts
in a spin-free fashion. For instance, according to the Project
for Excellence in Journalism's 2005 State of the News Media report,
24 percent of the stories on MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews
contained the host's opinion, compared with 97 percent on The
O'Reilly Factor. The report also analyzed coverage of the war
in Iraq, finding that 73 percent of Fox's Iraq war stories contained
opinion, compared with 2 percent for CNN and 29 percent for MSNBC.
Fox was also around twice as likely as its competitors to run
positive stories about the war and far more likely to run positive
stories than negative ones. So what we're seeing more and more
in today's news business, and particularly at Fox, is that personality
and opinion sell. Not reasoned and informed opinion but blustering,
loud, obnoxious, in-your-face opinion. Archie Bunker opinion.
We're right and you're wrong. We're going to heaven and you're
going to hell. We're patriots and you are traitors. We're men
who love women, while you, my good sir, are a homo.
Of course, Fox News' one saving grace
is that it's hilarious. Watching Hannity pummel Colmes won't make
us better people, but it's kind of like seeing the school bully
beat up the really irritating kid. It's not right, but you don't
really want anyone to stop it. Seeing O'Reilly get his panties
in a bundle when someone questions his ratings is always a good
laugh. And having those three loons on Fox & Friends spout
hateful lies with racist overtones is like music -- sweet Clay
But Fox can be frustrating, too, because
its employees are so unswervingly dedicated to denying their true
nature. If your local weatherman dressed up as a Viking every
day, called himself Hjørt Bjornsen, and told you there
was a 60 percent chance of snow flurries and a 30 percent chance
that Thor would rain fire and canned hummus from the sky during
midmorning rush hour -- all the while claiming he absolutely was
not dressed as a Viking -- eventually it would stop being cute.
That's essentially what it feels like to be sane and reasonably
intelligent and tuned in to Fox News. It's hard to look away,
because there's a guy on TV making a complete ass of himself while
saying obviously untrue things. But it would be nice to get the
forecast every once in a while. So we understand your pain.
And we're here to turn that frown upside
I see your stupid argument, and I raise
you, Michelle Malkin
Let's start off with just one concrete
example of Fox's special brand of lunacy.
While the commentators and anchors at
Fox do the bulk of the heavy lifting, they're not afraid to farm
out some of their dirtier work to subcontractors. And this is
where Fox loves to be an equal- opportunity employer. A person
of color on Fox is certainly something to behold, yet these are
not your traditional minorities. This is the rainbow coalition
of far-right conservatism and apologetic liberalism -- and they're
given free rein to be even loonier than their WASPy counterparts.
Take, for instance, Michelle Malkin. Malkin
is a rising right-wing star who has, ironically enough, authored
books on how liberals are unhinged and out of control as well
as how the forced eviction and imprisonment of innocent Japanese-Americans
during World War II was a pretty solid idea. If she still doesn't
ring a bell, picture a pilot fish following a shark around cleaning
scraps of shredded cabana boy from its host's teeth, and that
will give you a good sense of why she shows up on Fox so often.
Watch Michelle Malkin for any length of time, and it's hard not
to want to actually put her in one of those internment camps she's
so fond of. Of course, we wouldn't actually support putting Malkin
in an internment camp, even though she does pose a clear and present
danger to Western liberal democracy. To paraphrase Voltaire, "We
disapprove of what Michelle Malkin says, but we will defend to
the death her right to say it." Then again, we'd also defend
to the death your grandmother's right to say Kelly Ripa is sending
her coded satanic messages through her television. That doesn't
mean O'Reilly should book her on his show. But the fact that O'Reilly
does book Malkin on his show -- over and over and over again --
is as good an example as any of how Fox conducts its business.
Attractive in a superficially intellectual
way? Check. Toes the party line? Check. Mirrors the viewers' fears
and core beliefs? Check. Blustering right-wing demagogue? Check.
Nutty as a holiday cheese log? Check.
And while an appearance by Michelle Malkin
offers just the right blend of pandering and propaganda for the
perfect Fox stew, on May 8, 2006, it took a vigorous stir from
that big homophobic spoon she carries around to really get things
cookin'. On that bright, sunshiny, gaybashing spring evening,
Malkin and O'Reilly did their level best to misrepresent a California
bill that dealt with public school history curricula and sexual
orientation. Essentially, the bill amended a law that was already
on the books prohibiting curricula that discriminated on the basis
of such things as race, sex, creed or handicap. The proposed bill
simply added gays and lesbians to the list of protected groups.
The bill also said social sciences curricula should include "an
age-appropriate study of the role and contributions of both men
and women, black Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, Asians,
Pacific Islanders and other ethnic groups, and people who are
lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, to the economic, political
and social development of California and the United States of
So it was merely a recognition that gay
people shouldn't be smeared for their sexual orientation and that
prominent gays should be duly recognized for their contributions
to society. Pretty simple, really.
And likewise, it should have been pretty
easy to grasp, unless you're congenitally dishonest, a rank homophobe,
or stupid. Here's how Loofah Man and Internment Girl framed the
MALKIN: Well, this is much more radical
than ensuring that homosexuals and other people of minority sexual
orientation status are respected in the schools. It's already
against the law in California to discriminate against anyone based
on their sexual orientation.
I looked this bill over very closely,
and it is a very radical, very extreme, dangerous bill. It says
that no teacher can even say anything that would, quote unquote,
"reflect adversely" on anyone, a historical figure,
whatever, based on their sexual orientation. And so, now, there
are real concerns that this could be interpreted broadly in the
liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and other liberal courts
as saying that you can't even have sports teams, for example,
that discriminate based on gender. And this is pure political
O'REILLY: Well -- and also, if you are
a teacher, what are you -- you're not going to be able to say
bad things about Jeffrey Dahmer? He's a cannibal, a gay cannibal,
and you can't say, "Well, that's wrong. "I mean, if
what you're saying is true, teachers would not be able to cast
aspersions on even villains if they were homosexual.
MALKIN: Yeah, that's right ...
OK, there's so much bullshit stuffed into
those five paragraphs, you practically need a ZIP file. Now, if
you actually want to research the bill instead of taking Malkin's
and O'Reilly's word for it, that's fine -- though unnecessary.
We promise you, there was nothing in there about special rights
for gay cannibals.
All the bill said is that you can't trash
historical figures because of their race, gender, religion or
sexual orientation. So basically, a teacher can't stand in front
of his class and exclaim, "You know what they're saying about
Alexander the Great, don't you? FLAM-er!" Similarly, you
can't say JFK was a dirty papist, or use the n-word when referring
to Martin Luther King Jr. That just makes sense.
And if you're taking art history and learning
about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it probably also makes
sense to discuss Michelangelo's homosexuality. Is it absolutely
necessary? Probably not. But if you're discussing his life, and
his impact as an artist on 16th-century Europe, then you should
probably mention that he was a gay guy. This fact had a significant
impact on his work. Is it necessary to read his love poems to
Tommaso dei Cavalieri? No. Let's face it, gay love letters from
the 1530s are kind of a snoozefest anyway.
Furthermore, what the fuck? Really, what's
with the gay cannibal crack? Is O'Reilly really imagining a bleak
futuristic dystopia where gay cannibal history is brutally suppressed
by sinister government jackboots and where kids can't be told
that storing your homosexual lover in your Sub-Zero is frowned
upon? Oh, how will our children ever be able to compete in the
world marketplace? Anyway, what history class are your kids taking
where they're learning about Jeffrey Dahmer? Seriously, if you
happen upon a copy of your son's American history syllabus and
it says, "Sept. 7: Ideological Foundations of American Revolution
in New England Agrarian Communities in the Early Colonial Period.
Sept. 14: The Fabulously Gay Cannibalism of Jeff Dahmer,"
you should probably move to a new school district.
We grant you, it was a long time ago,
but when we were in school we're pretty sure we never had classes
where we learned all about John Wayne Gacy ... our Trapper Keepers
filled with gruesome crime scene photos and sketches of creepy
birthday clowns. But this argument is actually quite typical of
Fox News -- the ugly twin heads of pandering and propaganda are
out there in the open for all the world to see.
Malkin went on to say, "And in any
case, I think school teachers in California and everywhere else
ought to be paying more attention to whether or not third graders
can find, oh, Sacramento or Washington, D.C., on a map than what
the sexual orientation is of historical figures in America."
Be assured, Malkin and O'Reilly are a
lot more concerned about whether kids know Henry David Thoreau
was gay than whether Jeffrey Dahmer was. Or whether they can find
the Castro District on a map, for that matter.
It's like news for 14-year-olds
Of course, the above is just a small sampling
of the cornucopia of insanity you get every day from Fox. But
O'Reilly's thoughts on gay cannibalism are actually the deep end
of the pool compared to the stream of inane chatter and bright,
shiny things the network likes to toss at TV screens minute by
minute. "News with a pulse . . . News not boring" was
the old mantra of Shepard Smith's Fox Report. Somewhere along
the line he's dropped it -- probably because it's an awful slogan.
Yet it really sums up the Fox approach to journalism.
While the "elite" media bore
you with straightforward news couched in civility, Fox is like
the dentist who tries to lure people to his practice by handing
out fudge and Snickers bars. Flashy graphics and bombastic music,
women who look like they may have started out in the soft-core
porn industry, and stouthearted men who talk loud enough to cover
up the fact that they don't know what the hell they're talking
about -- that's Fox News.
As Fox News anchors go, we like Shepard
Smith. Of all the network's personalities, he's one of the few
who dares take little digs at O'Reilly, and he still appears to
be walking around with two intact legs. But let's face it, he's
running the McDonald's of the news world.
His show has taken the already dummied-down
approach of Fox News and hammered it into a thin film that can
be eaten like a Fruit Roll-Up. The graphics are bolder, the music
more intense, and the copy even "hipper." You'll hear
stuff like, "Now with your G-Block Quick Hits. "What
does that even mean? It's the sort of thing you'd hear if they
made Ashlee Simpson managing editor of the CBS Evening News.
Rest assured it's much the same throughout
the broadcast day. For instance, on nearly all Fox News Channel
shows, random local car chases have become programming staples.
And we're not talking about the ones featuring wife-murdering
football stars. Those are kickin'. We're talking about the guy
who steals a Camaro from the parking lot of the Travelodge in
Van Nuys and spends the next 15 minutes driving down Sepulveda.
Will the guy get shot? Will an innocent pedestrian get creamed?
Will the police drag one of those spiky things across the street
to blow out his tires? How far can he drive on the rims? Most
important, why is this a national story? And why is a report on
nuclear disarmament talks being interrupted to cover it? Is this
news for people who find Deal or No Deal too intellectually taxing?
And why, when we do return to regular programming, is there a
little box in the corner of the screen to show you exactly how
things are going back in Van Nuys?
But that's Fox for you. When it's trying
to be serious, it's laughable. When it's trying to be light and
breezy, it's like a railroad spike in your frontal lobe.
The sad part is, this lowest-common-denominator
approach to journalism is working. Whatever else you want to say
about him, O'Reilly's right when he says his show is crushing
his competition. The easy response to that is it doesn't matter.
After all, what do ratings really have to do with running a respectable
newsroom? But it does matter. We should all be concerned when
so unworthy an enterprise triumphs -- whether in the marketplace
or, even more crucially, in the marketplace of ideas. In this
introductory chapter, we've given just a few examples of Fox's
unbound hubris, stupidity, tawdriness, fear mongering and not-so-subtle
bigotry. Ah, it is but an aperitif. We hope you'll follow us to
the feast, where we'll serve up the full smorgasbord of crazy,
insipid, inane, oafish, dishonest, didactic, quasi-entertaining
delights that together make up Murdoch's nightmare. As they say
in the publishing world, if you like Bill O'Reilly, you'll love
Now, if you were able to hop in a time
machine and go back 12 years to warn the people of 1995 about
Fox, and they asked you to describe this dreadful new phenomenon,
you'd probably say, "It's as if you approached G. Gordon
Liddy and the Entertainment Tonight crew and asked them to go
cover the war in Bosnia." Indeed, this is where the sacred
of old-school journalism meets the profane of pop-culture disinfotainment.
Truly, Edward R. Murrow would not be amused. But that doesn't
mean you shouldn't be.
Broadcast Media watch