There's been lots of commentary about Chris Wallace's FOX news interview Sunday with Jon Stewart, particularly the back and forth about Stewart's shifting temperament during the interview and the way in which it was edited down for broadcast.
But I wanted to mention two points to highlight Wallace's utterly preposterous claim that FOX is no more one-sided in a conservative direction than CNN, ABC, NBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post are in a liberal direction (and no, MSNBC, despite its evening line-up, is also not comparable, but Wallace argued that all of the major organizations have a clear, partisan liberal agenda).
- If FOX is no worse than all of the "liberal" media -- I'd like an answer to the following question: what is the FOX equivalent of the liberal media's coverage of WMD and the run-up to the Iraq war? In 2002-03, virtually all media, including all of the above-named news organizations were essentially in lock-step with the Bush administration's relentless beating of the war drums. The Times did, of course, apologize in 2004 for its profound failures in reporting about WMD, but virtually all of the liberal media disgraced themselves in their faulty coverage of the lead-up to the war. What is the equivalent at FOX -- an enormously important story, with profound and ongoing consequences for the country's future that FOX reported in accord with the preferred liberal spin on that story?
Of course, it's absurd to even try to think of examples because it's not remotely plausible that FOX would ever report a story of such significance in a way that favored the preferred liberal spin on that issue, let alone when serious skepticism was called for about that framing.
And that's certainly not the only example, or the most recent one. The Washington Post editors repeatedly write misleading and ill-informed editorials about the dire straits of Social Security in terms highly favorable to conservative frames. CNN repeatedly presents information about the economy and, in particular, about deficits, that does the same. These are far from isolated examples
- In trying to play gotcha with Jon Stewart about the liberal bias of the media, Chris Wallace played a clip from last year in which Diane Sawyer introduced the topic of the controversial Arizona stop-and-check-for-papers law in a way that Wallace believed was obviously skewed in a liberal direction. Let's leave aside whether Sawyer's framing of the issue was an example of liberal bias. The more noteworthy fact is that, having obviously had time to prepare diligently for this interview with Stewart, in which the subject of media bias would be front and center, the best that FOX could do was to come up with a year-old clip that would have to be considered tame by the standards of what appears every day on FOX news itself.
In his mocking comparison the other night of FOX to the New England Patriots -- FOX being a perennial powerhouse in the world of media misinformation -- Stewart listed dozens of key assertions that FOX has trumpeted that are simply false. Death Panels, government takeover of health care, Stalinism, Nazism, climate denial -- the list of stories that FOX gets egregiously and deliberately wrong is endless and, needless to say, they do so in a relentlessly partisan, right-wing direction. One would never have to go back a year to find such blatantly partisan and wrong coverage on FOX. It's what they do every day.
That the Sawyer clip from 2010 was Wallace's telling piece of evidence was itself a telling statement about the absurdity of his claims of equivalent bias.
Of course, in a sane world, we wouldn't need to have this conversation. That FOX is a relentless propaganda machine ought to be too banal even to have to note. But FOX is also the reductio ad absurdum, in a way, of the mainstream media's own tendency to engage in he-said/she-said journalism, to credulously report both sides of a story even when the facts ought to dictate otherwise. In short, what ought to be news organizations' prime responsibility -- to serve Americans by ensuring that they are well-informed on the issues -- has been supplanted by their practice of overwhelming Americans with frivolity, half-truths and mis-characterizations. In that swamp, the FOX Ness Monster has thrived (sorry, couldn't resist the lame play on words).