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Judging Fox


Mickey Kaus tries and fails to draw a distinction between MSNBC and Fox News (not that there aren’t distinctions to be drawn):

I guess there are two distinct axes on which you can judge press organizations–actually, there are many more than two (see below), but two are important here: 1) Neutrality–Are they attempting to be ”objective,” trying to serve the “public interest” in some balanced way, or are they ideologically (or otherwise) driven in a way that inevitably colors their coverage–what topics they pick, what ‘experts’ they rely on, etc. 2) Independence–Whether they are biased or generally neutral, can somebody–a political party, a Mafia family, a government– tell them what to do?

I think it’s pretty clear MSNBC and the NYT and are not neutral. They all have an agenda and they pursue it. But they are independent. The Obama White House can’t tell Bill Keller what to do. They can’t tell Keith Olbermann what to do. (They can suck up to him, and it will probably work, but that’s a different issue.) Breitbart is for sure independent–I can’t see anyone telling him what to do.

I think Fox is also not neutral (which, again, doesn’t bother me) but it’s also not independent (which does). This isn’t because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch–moguls are, typically among the more independent sorts. It’s because it’s run by Roger Ailes. I have zero faith that Ailes is independent of the Republican party or, specifically, those Republicans who have occupied the White House recently–the Bushes. As I said, I think if Karl Rove called Ailes in 2003 and said “We don’t want so much coverage of X” it’s extremely likely that X would not be covered on Fox. A … suggestive example of Fox’s loyalty is the debate on immigration, in which Ailes’ network initially seemed to try valiantly–against the beliefs of most of its audience–to push the Bush White House line in favor of “comprehensive” legalization (while brushing aside its viewers’ views).


1. The GOP needs Fox News more than Fox News needs the GOP. The idea that the GOP gives the marching orders is absurd.

2. To the extent that the biases exhibited on Fox and the priorities of the GOP overlap, it might be because both have an interest in appealing to conservatives.

3. To the extent that Fox News covered the 2007 immigration debate with a pro-amnesty slant, well, so did the Wall Street Journal editorial page. As Tom Maguire observes, “The McCain-Bush de facto open borders approach was favored by Big Business Conservatives before Bush was a gleam in Karl Rove’s eye.”

4. Maguire also writes, “a better place to look for signs of Fox’s fealty to Bush — how did they handle the conservative rebellion in early 2006 over both Harriet Miers and the Dubai port deal?” Kaus counters by producing a transcript of Brit Hume and Fred Barnes describing Miers’s critics as an “elitist” bunch. So what? Conservative critics of Miers were being elitist, and rightly so. The conservative movement has often featured lively debates between its elitists and populists: More to the point, the “elitists” were well represented on Fox News, cf. multiple appearances by Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Laura Ingraham, and David Frum in the days following the Miers nomination. As for the Dubai deal, I wrote at the time that it “split conservatives along a traditional fault line — the one that separates conservatives on issues like immigration and policies regarding foreign investment and international trade.” In other words, support for the administration’s position had more to do with that fault line and less to do with GOP water-carrying. Hugh Hewitt supported the deal, but so did David Brooks.

I grow so tired of this smear. National Review gets this kind of thing all the time. Last year, Jonah compiled a nice summary of our dissents from the Bush White House. One could compile a similar dossier in defense of Fox News, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t matter. No amount of evidence to the contrary will ever convince hard left-wingers that Fox News isn’t the GOP’s propaganda arm. It has become a tenet of their faith, like Dick Cheney’s criminality and Rush Limbaugh’s racism.

Kaus also writes, “Suppose on October 25th, 2008 I’d discovered, without doubt, and with documentation, that Barack Obama cheated on his taxes. Would I publish it? Probably not.”

I like Kaus’s writing, but wow. If that’s the extent of your devotion to the Democratic party, do you even need marching orders? I guess that’s why I find Kaus’s attempt to draw a distinction between Fox News and MSNBC — based on the latter’s “independence” — so phony.

Update: Forgot to link to Tom Maguire’s post. It’s here.

Also, a number of readers have urged me to mention the coziness between the Obama administration and MSNBC’s parent company, GE. Consider it done. However, I don’t think GE’s corporate interests have that big an impact on the tone of MSNBC’s coverage, with a couple of exceptions: I think the network’s “green weeks” are designed to raise support for environmental policies that would provide a windfall for GE if enacted; and I think that MSNBC’s sharp left turn was a business decision: Opinionated coverage sells on cable.

Update II: An e-mail:

Where Kaus also errs is his failure to acknowledge that the two big guns on Fox at the time — O’Reilly and Hannity — both savaged the Bush administration on amnesty and illegal immigration. Just hammered it.

The Fox-as-GOP house organ fails miserably here.

Oh yeah. How about that?


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