Friday, October 30, 2009

New Dordt Diamond Column: Fox News' Bias

President Obama’s decision to challenge the Fox News Channel head-on has reignited the debate over Fox’s alleged conservative bias. Obama’s advisors have labeled Fox “not really a news station.” Most liberals agree. Most conservatives adore Fox as the lone “fair and balanced” voice in the wilderness of the liberal media. Whither reality?

In my opinion as a conservative, Fox News is very, very biased. I would also submit that most Fox News devotees are aware of Fox’s bias – and watch it for that reason. It’s more comfortable to watch a network that shares your views, so conservatives naturally choose Fox over the left-leaning CNN and MSNBC.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Fox is trying to conquer the world in the name of Ronald Reagan. Like every other TV network, Fox News’ chief goal is to make money. In the television world, money equals ratings. Fox has a powerful economic incentive to provide a right-wing perspective. Fox has found its niche market: conservative TV viewers who are sick of the liberal slant they see on other networks.

Not only that, but now that Obama is in office, Fox has an economic incentive to take its opposition to his presidency to an extreme. There’s a reason Fox wooed Glenn Beck away from CNN with a multi-million dollar contract last year. According to TV analyst Andrew Tyndall, “The Fox style of aggressive commentary works best in opposition.” Fox is hoping to cash in on the Obama presidency by turning itself into the nation’s chief opposition voice. Since the Obama White House has now called out Fox News directly, I’d say Fox’s strategy is working pretty well.

Of course, Fox is not alone in this. MSNBC got its ratings to soar during the Bush years by giving liberal angry-man Keith Olbermann a show and turning itself into the opposition network. But when the economic interests of news corporations influence American politics – and worse yet, fragment Americans into liberal and conservative news viewership blocs – we have a very real problem.

As Christian citizens, what can we do about this? I’m not going to call for a boycott of Fox News, but we do need to understand what we’re getting when we watch it. Fox News is not fair and balanced (and neither are CNN or MSNBC). Nor is it honest conservative commentary. It is a product, targeted at us, the consumer. We should not let this product tell us what to think, or even what subjects to think about. We need to judge it critically as we watch.

We should also strive to diversify ours news sources. If we rely solely on Fox News (or any other media source), we are bound to be influenced by its bias. Conservatives should watch MSNBC and read the New York Times. Liberals should watch Fox News on occasion.

Remember: knowledge is power. Don’t let anyone steal yours.


  1. Hey man, wise words, and I think an accurate analysis of FOX. I must say, I think that you are spot on in saying that FOX is a product being to sold to us. It is no different than crappy reality TV, that everyone "hates" but everyone "watches." What I mean is, again, we receive what we demand. If consumers demanded a balanced and fair news source, then FOX would have to do that, as well as CNN and MSNBC. All networks would have to change their ways, and news would not be about perspective but rather reliability of content.

    I am not sure this is going to happen, which is why I am so excited about teaching Rhetoric. The more polarized the sources are, the more work the consumer has to do to "cut through the crap," by identifying bias and understanding intention. Rhetoric is really cool in that sense, and if people don't understand that, we will suffer a world where people blindly believe that everything they hear on FOX or CNN is "true" and "real"... Where would that meaning take us?

  2. But when talking about "the real," do you really think that any amount of diversity in our sources or moderation in our appropriation will help us get to it? Is the problem with American media that either Fox or CNN is biased ideologically, or that they share an ideological bias from which we are distracted by the paltry disagreements between them? Is it possible that, when we congratulate ourselves on penetrating the smoke of the battle between "liberal" and "conservative" media to see the real disagreements between them, we have missed the problem entirely?

    Maybe we should all make time to watch the English version of Al Jazeera and browse radical political blogs that bother to report on real news stories rather than arguing about the proper method to maximize our capital or whether the inidividual's or collective's capital is more important (one or the other of which is typically the root of most oh-so-important "ideaological" disagreements in American media).

    What would you say to that level of diversification of our media consumption? (Non-rhetorical question: I'm curious to know.)

  3. The English version of Al-Jazeera is actually not that radical, in my experience. The Arabic version I can't attest to.

    I would say that diversification has its limits, and should be governed by discernment. If I read you correctly Robert, you're dismissing networks that assume that capital maximization is a good thing as "not bothering to report on real news stories." If you reject capitalist media, where exactly are you going to go? There are many "independent" news sources out there, but how many of them have correspondents around the world, producing relatively reliable news stories 24 hours a day? Do you have an example of the "radical" sources we should pay attention to?

  4. Well, Al-Jazeera isn't particularly radical, but in terms of media diversification it certainly offers a striking alternative to the whole gamut of American media. A better summary of this phenomenon than I can give:

    For the rest, I think you're right. There isn't much of anywhere to go to---unless you want to weed through the heavily agenda-driven but certainly globally-local reporting of the Marxist blogosphere (an interesting exercise)--to find an alternative to capitalist media. I was hoping you'd have a source or two other than what I've mentioned to suggest to me...

    I guess what bothers me then, this being the case, is that in your paper to "diversify one's (American) media and take Fox with a grain of salt" actually comes across as a satisfactory conclusion to the question of media bias. Surely the Christian response shouldn't be one of mollifying compromise, of pacifying middle-of-the-way-ishness, but of using the current public profile of ideological media-divide as a spring-board to a larger and more transformational discussion. In fact, it strikes me that offering a media compromise for the Fox vs. CNN antagonism is really acknowledging a disagreement that doesn't deserve to be noticed in the face of the real, horrifying, totalizing unity of subject-matter that exists between them.

    Do you see what I'm asking you? I'm yearning to hear what I know must be inside of you, especially given your post-Egypt interests: I'm yearning to hear you draw a connection between your global vision and the globe-obscuring parochial disputes that waste our national time.

  5. In my experience, BBC News is about as good as it gets when it comes to international news. They're still biased, but it's a different kind of bias, methinks. Less corporate and nationalist, more ideological.

    I think I understand your frustration, Robert. You're right - diversifying corporate media sources is certainly not a satisfactory conclusion to the problem of media bias. But in my defense, I do have a word limit at the Diamond...

    I'll be honest: I'm cynical about the level of attention the average American can reasonably be expected to give to any kind of global vision. It's a paradox. America's global influence has grown far beyond its people's ability to understand or direct it. Even if we had a truly diverse, unbiased media, I'm not sure it would do any good for our electorate.

    Would I like to see such a media? Of course. In the meantime, I'll settle for Christian citizens understanding that the news is a product, and not relying on one source simply because it appears to share their narrow ideological bent.

    I'm curious about the "real, horrifying, totalizing unity of subject-matter" you refer to. Is this the capitalist assumptions that underlie all our media coverage? I wonder if it would really be healthy to have a constant debate about capitalism carried on in our media. Isn't there something to be said for the stability consensus brings? I personally am glad that American political contests are not between libertarians and socialists, but between centrists, and I think our media is largely responsible for that. What do you think?

  6. BBC, hmm? I'll have to add that to my grazing pattern. Thanks.

    In answer to your last question... I guess on this issue---concensus vs. potentially dangerous debate---I take a theological perspective. There has been in the last few years a large and well-argued theological assault on capitalism, and a lot of Christian introspection about the role of the theologian (or even just Christians in general) in politics. A third option seems to appearing between "creational" departmentalization, in which politics as the art of the possible takes its limits of possibility from the same agendas as non-Christians, and anabaptist rejection, in which politics as the art of the possible is an insufferable compromise to be rejected. This third way, as I understand it, centers upon the prophetic role of Christian citizens who knowingly live within institutions that inevitably serve/are the principalities and powers of this world (in opposition to the kingdom of God) but who also realize that these institutions are the inevitable context of social life.

    Within this paradigm you'll detect a more structural and less personalist and voluntarist view of political service for the kingdom of God. In other words: in this paradigm, the predominant result of recognizing the fallenness of the world would not be achieving a balance of power between individuals, but between ideologies, controlling/idol institutions, and all the forms of social contract/bondage that come to Lord it over the consciences of men. In this paradigm, concensus---especially ideological concensus---is not viewed as a gateway to peace and successful, productive co-existence, but as the seed of spiritual totalitarianism (which takes many more forms than political totalitarianism).

    I have to confess that I am more and more swayed by this perspective... So in the choice you offer me between widely differing ideological debate and debate between centrists, then---all other things (the considerations I'm ignorant of) being equal---I would tend to prefer debate between widely differing ideologies. To the degree that I support this, you can see how it's difficult for me to admire a consolidating and unifying media. And perhaps it will help make clear my own hopes for developing more confrontational/diverse forms of media on our own campus.

    Does that make it a bit clearer where I'm coming from?

  7. Yes, I think it does, although I would relish the chance to question you about this in person. I'm definitely still in the creational departmentalization camp. I'm a child of the establishment, I guess.