Fairly Unbalanced

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The abundance of conservatives and Republicans at Fox News Channel does not seem to be a coincidence. In 1996, Andrew Kirtzman, a respected New York City cable news reporter, was interviewed for a job with Fox and says that management wanted to know what his political affiliation was. "They were afraid I was a Democrat," he told the Village Voice (Oct. 15, 1996). When Kirtzman refused to tell Fox his party ID, "all employment discussion ended," according to the Voice.

Catherine Crier, who was perceived as one of Fox's most prestigious and credible early hires, was an elected Republican judge before starting a career in journalism. (Crier has since moved on to Court TV.) Pundit Mara Liasson — who is touted as an on-air "liberal" by Fox executives — sits on the board of the conservative human-rights group Freedom House; New York magazine (Nov. 17, 1997) cited a Fox insider as saying that Liasson assured president Roger Ailes before being hired that she was a Republican.

Who would be the most likely to cheat at cards — Bill Clinton or Al Gore?
—Fox News Channel/Opinion Dynamics poll (May 2000)

The most obvious sign of Fox's slant is its heavily right-leaning punditry. Each episode of Special Report with Brit Hume, for example, features a three-person panel of pundits who chat about the day's political news at the end of the show. The most frequent panelist is Fred Barnes, the evangelical Christian supply-sider who edits the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard. He sits proudly on the rightward flank of the Republican Party (and often scolds it for slouching leftwards).

The next most frequent guest is Mort Kondrake, who sits in the middle of the panel. Politically, Kondrake falls at the very rightward edge of the Democratic Party — if not beyond it. As he famously explained in a 1988 New Republic essay (Aug. 29, 1988) he is a Democrat who is "disgusted with the Democratic Party" and whose main reason for not defecting to the Republicans is that they "have failed to be true to themselves as conservatives." (He was referring to Reagan's deficit spending.)

Rounding out the panel is its third-most-frequent pundit, Mara Liasson, who sits on the opposite side of the table from the conservative Barnes, implicitly identifying her as a liberal. But her liberalism consists of little more than being a woman who works for National Public Radio; she has proposed that "one of the roots of the problem with education today is feminism" (Talk of the Nation, May 3, 2001); she declares that "Jesse Jackson gets away with a lot of things that other people don't" (Special Report, June 21, 2000); she calls George W. Bush's reversal on carbon dioxide emissions "a small thing" (March 14, 2001), campaign finance reform "an issue that ... only 200 people in America care about" (March 19, 2001) and slavery reparations "pretty much of a non-issue" (March 19, 2001).

Less frequent Special Report panelists include conservative Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon, centrist Fortune writer Jeff Birnbaum and NPR host Juan Williams. Williams, the only guest who could plausibly claim to be a liberal, was so outraged over attacks on his friend Clarence Thomas, he declared that "liberals have become monsters" (Washington Post, Oct. 10, 1991), denouncing the "so-called champions of fairness: liberal politicians, unions, civil rights groups and women's organizations." Indeed, Fox's crew of "liberal" pundits seems almost calculated to be either ineffective left-of-center advocates or conciliatory moderates. Ironically, perhaps the only Fox commentator who consistently presents a strong progressive perspective — that is, critical of corporate power and militarism, and sympathetic to progressive social movements — is FAIR founder Jeff Cohen, a weekly panelist on the weekend media show Fox News Watch.

Meanwhile, Barnes and Kondracke — the conservative Republican and conservative Democrat — make up the entire political spectrum on Fox's weekend political show, The Beltway Boys, where they are generally in agreement as they discuss the week's news.

Even Fox's "left-right" debate show, Hannity & Colmes — whose Crossfire-style format virtually imposes numerical equality between conservatives and "liberals"— can't shake the impression of resembling a Harlem Globetrotters game in which everyone knows which side is supposed to win.

On the right, co-host Sean Hannity is an effective and telegenic ideologue, a protege of Newt Gingrich and a rising star of conservative talk radio who is perhaps more plugged into the GOP leadership than any media figure besides Rush Limbaugh. (Hannity reportedly received "thunderous applause" when he spoke at a recent closed-door House Republican Conference meeting that is usually closed to the media — U.S. News & World Report, May 7, 2001).

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