PEOPLE ARE once again wondering aloud whether or not Fox News has "crossed the line" between promoting or covering the Tea Party movement.
How absurd does that sound? What is there to wonder about? Of course the network promotes the Tea Party movement, which is made up of a lot of people who constitute its core audience. That's just good business, isn't it? That's just what we in the p.r. business call "branding," isn't it?
This discussion comes up periodically, and I don't know why everyone is wasting time arguing about it. Still, straight news stories -- not the kind we might see on a network that pretends to be "fair and balanced" -- have to play by the rules of journalism and ascribe conclusions like this to others who offer opinion. I wrote about this about two years ago when the Washington Post referred to Fox as "a television network that many liberals say is biased against them." According to those rules, The Post can't say what everyone knows is true, that Fox is biased in favor of conservatives and against liberals.
I understand that, but it seems kind of silly to pretend, which is what Fox does when confronted with the charge of bias. Today's New York Times writes that "The network has faced regular accusations that it is promoting — not just covering — the Tea Party movement, something that its executives deny.
"Responding to a question from the media watchdog group Media Matters last week, News Corporation’s chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, said, 'I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party.'”
And so the charade continues. This time it's in the wake of a controversy about whether or not Fox knew that a Tea Party group in Cincinnati was charging admission for an April 15 event it was holding with Sean Hannity as a speaker. Fox claims it was shocked, shocked! to learn about this, even though Hannity had been promoting the event on his Fox Web page and event organizers admitted they had been working with Hannity's staff on it. See here for more.
Deflection of criticism of Fox is another feature of our overall media landscape, and the Cincinnati Enquirer, did just that in its article about the controversy. Get this: the Enquirer article begins by saying:
First there was the Washington Post and its “salons.”
Now, Fox News and a Cincinnati Tea Party appearance?
What? How did this suddenly become a story about the Washington Post? And how can one seriously make a comparison between that paper and Fox News?
Sure, the Post came up with an ill-conceived plan last year to hold "salons," during which famous public figures, some in politics, would meet with companies that would pay for the privilege. But the plan never got out of the blueprint stage, and the publisher apologized profusely for even thinking about it after a barrage of criticism. Besides, the plan was to bring in people from many different points of view.
And, most important, the paper itself is a stickler for traditional rules of impartiality and balance (see quote about Fox above) -- outside the pages that are clearly designated for opinion. Don't let anyone tell you that's the case for Fox.
Similarly, over the last year, we've too often seen our media, in trying to be fair, fail to step up and acknowledge the truth about GOP motives when its party leaders grossly mischaracterize Democratic initiatives. This happened when many Republicans branded the health care reform legislation as "socialist" and liable to produce "death panels," and it seemed to happen again this past week when Sen. Mitch McConnell said the pending financial services reform bill "not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street banks. It institutionalizes them." The White House, of course, argued that he's wrong. But, other than some columnists (Paul Krugman, for example, wrote yesterday that "Mr. McConnell is pretending to stand up for taxpayers against Wall Street while in fact doing just the opposite."), I didn't hear a lot of people say that this is just a patently ridiculous suggestion aimed, once again, at keeping the Democrats from showing that they're actually doing something. Again, why the pretense?
While I personally think that Fox is an outrage, that it traffics in a form of intellectual dishonesty that has truly distorted public discourse, I also think that it has every right to do that. as My only beef with it is that it pretends to be something -- "fair and balanced" -- that everyone knows it isn't, and that so many others, who are rightfully playing by rules of civility, can't come right out and just say it.