In Light of Media Matters' Attack, Fox News Must Clean Up its Act and Become More Fair and Balanced

ByLawrence Sampson

By now, everyone knows that Fox News is the conservative answer to what is believed to be the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Since 1996, the news company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has aired news of a decidedly right wing nature and has become the favorite of conservatives everywhere. By being the news source of the right, the channel’s ratings soared and seemed to imply it was filling a much-needed news vacuum.

The twin concepts of the 'liberal elite' and the 'liberal media' can be traced to the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon and his advisors, particularly Lee Atwater. The goal at the time was to flip common wisdom on its head; the word 'liberal' (which most Americans considered themselves) would be demonized non-stop, while the much impugned word 'conservative' would get promoted as the true path of Republicans. This war on words intensified in the waning days of Vietnam as the liberal media was blamed for the loss in Southeast Asia. By repeating these terms over and over at every opportunity, many Americans slowly but surely adopted the mindset and for a time at least, 'liberal' became a dirty word while “liberal media bias” has been accepted as though a written in stone fact.

Enter Fox News twenty years later, well equipped, ready, and able to tap into these sentiments and rally the conservative cause. Skyrocketing ratings at first seemed to imply that America is a right-wing nation. In reality, Fox News rose to fame because it became the one station most conservatives chose to watch, while the rest of the country divides its attention between CNN, Headline News, NPR, local news outlets, and Fox’s polar opposite, MSNBC.

After President’ Obama’s election, Fox took the Tea Party under their wing and helped to organize many of their events while reporting them as actual news. In continuing to tap into right-wing fear and anger, Fox may have overplayed their hand by long jumping across the line of journalistic integrity. Reporting at the channel took on the nature of pure propaganda, surpassing mere bias. Anchors were reportedly advised on how to present material, and some subsequently quit. Plans for an undercover investigation show fell through as the investigators themselves claimed they were coached in how to present evidence and balked at the concept.

Unfortunately for Fox, obvious gaps began to appear between fact and spin, as a number of studies showed Fox viewers to be the least informed of all television viewers. Numerous programs on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) studies have shown Fox viewers to be the least informed, and most likely to believe non-existent facts, often called the Fox News Effect.

Fox attempted to quell criticism by publicizing a programming plan with time blocks devoted to “opinion” and other slots devoted to “news.” The problem quickly became apparent when the rhetoric on the “opinion” shows proved to be identical to the “news” shows. President Obama has limited his appearance on the channel, and noted during a Fox interview in 2009, “You’d be hard pressed to find a single positive story on me in a 24-hour period.”

In 2004, a progressive media watchdog group called Media Matters, was founded to point out the fallacies, misquotes, and outright lies of politicians and reporters on both sides of the aisle. As Fox’s ventures went further and further across the lines of truth, Media Matters began to focus almost exclusively on the channel and its anchors. By early 2011, the organization launched an all out war against Fox. The efforts include investigating on-air personalities as well as executives, exposing inaccuracies in reporting, pressuring advertisers to abandon the network, helping others to file lawsuits against Fox, and hiring writers to produce a book on the channel’s purported intentional misleading of viewers (due out in 2012).

With Rupert Murdoch’s other news outlets mired in scandal, the wind has not been blowing News Corps' way. Fox seems to have heard the baying of the hounds as things have begun to change. Roger Ailes, president of the channel said in 2011 he wouldn’t even watch the channel anymore and began instituting changes. First and most surprisingly was the star of the network, Glenn Beck's announcing his departure later that year. Bill O’Reilly, who once compared gay marriage to inter-species marriage, has now hosted a gay activist on his show. The network recently hired two feminists as hosts of new shows.

If the Fox network wishes to turn around falling ratings, cease criticism of its integrity, or to be considered a relevant news source, it will need to continue on this road of reforms. Anchors that have obvious ties to the Republican party must be replaced, and truth must be valued above spin. Most of all, the channel must live up to its billing to be fair and balanced.

Photo Credit: vincent