Fairly Unbalanced

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Recently the network debuted a weekly half-hour series — Only on Fox — devoted explicitly to right-wing stories. The concept of the show was explained by host Trace Gallagher in the premiere episode (May 26, 2001):

"Five years ago, Fox News Channel was launched on the idea that something was wrong with news media — that somehow, somewhere bias found its way into reporting. ... And it's not just the way you tell a story that can get in the way of the truth. It's the stories you choose to tell. ... Fox News Channel is committed to being fair and balanced in the coverage of the stories everybody is reporting — and to reporting stories you won't hear anywhere else. Stories you will see only on Fox."

Gallagher then introduced a series of stories about one conservative cause after another: from white firefighters suing Boston's fire department for discrimination, to sawmill workers endangered by Clinton-Gore environmental regulations (without comment from a single supporter of the rules) to property owners who feel threatened by an environmental agreement "signed by President Clinton in 1992." (The agreement was actually signed by George Bush the elder, who was president in 1992 — though that didn't stop Fox from using news footage of a smiling Bill Clinton proudly signing an official document that was supposed to be, but wasn't, the environmental pact in question.)

Fox's news specials are equally slanted: Dangerous Places (March 25, 2001), a special about foreign policy hosted by Newt Gingrich; Heroes, an irregular series hosted by former Republican congress member John Kasich; and The Real Reagan (Nov. 25, 1999), a panel discussion on Ronald Reagan, hosted by Tony Snow, in which all six guests were Reagan friends and political aides. Vanishing Freedoms 2: Who Owns America (May 19, 2001) wandered off into militia-style paranoia, suggesting that the U.N. was "taking over" private property.

There is a formula to Fox's news agenda. "A lot of the people we have hired," Fox executive John Moody explained (Inside Media, Dec. 11, 1996) when the network was launched, "have come without the preconceptions of must-do news. There are stories we will sometimes forgo in order to do stories we think are more significant. The biggest strength that we have is that Roger Ailes has allowed me to do that; to forgo stories that would be "duty' stories in order to focus on other things."

These "other" stories that Moody has in mind are what make up much of Fox's programming: An embarrassing story about Jesse Jackson's sex life. The latest political-correctness outrage on campus. A one-day mini-scandal about a Democratic senator. Much like talk radio, Fox picks up these tidbits from right-wing outlets like the Washington Times or the Drudge Report and runs with them.

To see how the formula works, consider the recent saga of right-wing activist David Horowitz and his "censored" anti-slavery reparations ad. When some college newspapers refused to carry the ad, and some campuses saw protests against it, the case instantly became a cause celebre on the right. It was the perfect story for Fox: the liberal academic establishment trampling on the free speech of a conservative who merely asked that his views be heard. Within less than a month, Horowitz was on nearly every major Fox show to discuss the issue.

Former CBS producer Don Dahler resigned from Fox after executive John Moody ordered him to change a story to play down statistics showing a lack of social progress among blacks. (Moody says the change was journalistically justified — New York, Nov. 11, 1997.) According to the Columbia Journalism Review (March 4, 1998), "several" former Fox employees "complained of "management sticking their fingers' in the writing and editing of stories to cook the facts to make a story more palatable to right-of-center tastes." Said one: "I've worked at a lot of news organizations and never found that kind of manipulation."

Jed Duvall, a former veteran ABC reporter who left Fox after a year, told New York (Nov. 17, 1997): "I'll never forget the morning that one producer came up to me, and, rubbing her hands like Uriah Heep, said, "Let's have something on Whitewater today.' That sort of thing doesn't happen at a professional news organization." Indeed, Fox's signature political news show, Special Report with Brit Hume, was originally created as a daily one-hour update devoted to the 1998 Clinton sex scandal.

The media are not disposed toward Republican presidents — any Republican president — and really never have been.
—Brit Hume, Fox News Channel managing editor (Washington Post, Sept. 25, 2000)

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