Fairly Unbalanced

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On the left is Alan Colmes, a rather less telegenic former stand-up comic and radio host whose views are slightly left-of-center but who, as a personality, is completely off the radar screen of liberal politics. "I'm quite moderate," he told a reporter when asked to describe his politics (USA Today, Feb. 1, 1995). Hannity, a self-described "arch-conservative" (Electronic Media, Aug. 26, 1996), joined Fox when the network was started, and personally nominated Colmes to be his on-screen debating opponent (New York Times, March 1, 1998). Before the selection was made, the show's working title was Hannity & Liberal to Be Determined — giving some idea of the relative weight each host carries, both on-screen and within the network. Fox sometimes sends a camera down to Hannity's radio studio during the network's daytime news programming, from which he holds forth on the news of the day. Needless to say, Colmes does not receive similar treatment.

I think what's going on is the Democratic lawyers have flooded Florida. They are afraid of George W. Bush becoming president and instituting tort reform and their gravy train will be over. This is the trial association's full court press to make sure Bush does not win.
—Fox News Channel anchor John Gibson, Dec. 9, 2000

Fox has had trouble at times hiding the partisanship of its main news personalities. In 1996, while already a Fox anchor, Tony Snow endorsed Bob Dole for president in the Republican National Committee magazine Rising Tide (New York, Nov. 11, 1997). A former speech-writer for the elder Bush, Snow often guest-hosts the Rush Limbaugh show and wrote an unabashedly conservative weekly newspaper column until Fox management recently pressured him to drop it to avoid the appearance of bias (Washington Post, May 29, 2001).

At the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, Snow — ostensibly present as a journalist covering a news event — jumped onstage to give a speech to the Republican Youth Caucus after organizers asked him to fill in for a speaker who couldn't make it. (He was later reprimanded by his bosses.) Trent Lott, whose speech directly followed Snow's, began with a cheer of "How about Tony Snow in 2008?" (New York Daily News, Aug. 2, 2000; Federal News Service, Aug. 1, 2000).

Just three days earlier, near the GOP convention, Bill O'Reilly gave the keynote speech at David Horowitz's conservative "Restoration Weekend" event, where he was introduced by Republican congress member Jack Quinn. Fox's Sean Hannity also spoke at the gathering, described by the Washington Times (June 30, 2000) as the "premier political event for conservative thinkers." O'Reilly has had Horowitz on his show six times — to talk about everything from National Public Radio's "left" bias (Dec. 20, 2000) to Hillary Clinton's "sense of entitlement" (June 22, 2000) to Horowitz's book on race relations, Hating Whitey (Oct. 4, 1999).

There's a certain sameness to the news on the Big Three (networks) and CNN. ... America is bad, corporations are bad, animal species should be protected, and every cop is a racist killer. That's where "fair and balanced' (Fox's slogan) comes in. We don't think all corporations are bad, every forest should be saved, every government-spending program is good. We're going to be more inquisitive.
—John Moody, Fox News Channel's senior vice-president for news and editorial (Brill's Content, 10/99)

Some mainstream journalists have suggested that Fox's "straight news" is more or less balanced, however slanted its commentary might be. "A close monitoring of the channel over several weeks indicates that the news segments tend to be straightforward, with little hint of political subtext except for stories the news editors feel the "mainstream' press has either downplayed or ignored," wrote Columbia Journalism Review's Neil Hickey (March 4, 1998). The fact that Fox's "chat consistently tilts to the conservative side," wrote the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz (Feb. 5, 2001), "may cast an unwarranted cloud on the news reporting, which tends to be straightforward."

When a New York Times profile of Fox News ran with a headline calling it a "conservative cable channel" (Sept. 18, 2000), the paper quickly corrected their "error" the following day, explaining that in "attributing a general political viewpoint to the network, the headline exceeded the facts in the article."

Putting aside the question of what genuine "balance" means, there are undoubtedly a few reporters in Fox's Washington bureau — such as White House correspondent Jim Angle — whose stories are more or less indistinguishable from those of their counterparts at the mainstream networks.

But an attentive viewer will notice that there are entire blocks of the network's programming schedule that are set aside for conservative stories. Fox's Web site offers a regular feature on "political correctness" titled "Tongue-Tied: A Report From the Front Lines of the Culture Wars," whose logo is a scowling "PC Patrol" officer peering testily through a magnifying glass. It invites readers to write in and "keep us up on examples of PC excess you come across."

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