The "Fair and Balanced" Slogan Lets Them Redefine "Journalism" to Their Own Very Narrow, Right-Wing Constricts
Posted By: Michael Sweeney
May 27, 2010
Note: This is a bit of a continuation of my post from the other day, which took as its leaping-off point the disturbing (but not-all-that-surprising) news that the hard-right FOX News cable network was continuing to alter new footage to suit their completely-bias-driven "reporting" (particularly, in this case, apparently editing applause from cadets out of President Obama’s speech at West Point). If you haven’t read that piece yet, you can access it via this link.
I would also like to give a few credit-where-credit-is-due hat-tips to some friends who got me thinking and then writing (at first, in online comments and e-mails, and then for out here) about this topic. I first got exposed to the latest then-breaking facts behind all of this – and began exploring my disgusted pinion about it – via communications with my friends Laura McNaughton and Jonathan Perkins. And, after I posted yesterday’s piece, those communications continued and expanded…and were also spurred on further by friend Jeff Norman (whose well-thought-out and well-written blog, The Architectural Dance Society, is available here). My thanks to those three (as well as to others who connected to me and commented on or shared my original piece). Thus…here I arrive…
So, as I pointed out in the previous piece, not only do FOX News viewers make the untrue "Well, YOUR side does the SAME thing over at / on / in [fill in the lefty-media blank]" excuse for their "news" source’s fiction, propaganda, and discarding-of-anything-positive-for-Obama / Democrats…They also proudly point to the network’s widely exposed (as well as oft-mocked) slogan, "Fair and Balanced."
…Ah – pure genius, as it turns out. Whoever thought of that memorable tag for Rupert Murdoch’s and Roger Ailes’ hand-over-fist money-making TV shop of old white guys and (allegedly) hot younger gals in skirts deserves an early retirement bonus of several million bucks (and maybe even a private island). Perhaps it was jowly ol’ Ailes himself – the evil mastermind of political marketing and spin – who came up with the slogan. In any event, it has become a game-changer, a barrier-and-box-breaker, an all-the-marbles, unbeatable category redefiner…
With those three words, FOX has managed to change the rules of journalism in the eyes of the public – and, nearly solely to their own benefit.
Now, like any top-level profession, journalism has had many "rules" and accepted customs and cultures. Truth – the unassailable, bedrock of accuracy – has always been the primary one. Originality is almost a co-equal of it – which is why plagiarism is such a nearly-unforgiveable journalistic sin. But nowhere – never before – had the words "Fair and Balanced" been fully established as a carved-in-stone rule for reporters, editors, anchors, publishers, and controlling media executives. Oh, sure – you know to try (when possible; where applicable) to get a response from a figure (especially a public one) you are reporting on…particularly when what you are reporting is negative, controversial, and breaking for the first time. But…duh! – you do not (for example) have to or seek to give some "equal time" rebuttal to a convicted (or even accused) rapist-murderer after accurately detailing his crimes or trial – he doesn’t get his "balancing-out" say about HIS side of his heinous actions…
OK, I know – that’s a bit of an extreme example, but…how about this: For years, from Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair through I. F. Stone through Woodward and Bernstein to even modern tele-journalists, generations of investigative and even "muckraking" reporters have discovered, exposed, and held accountable things – facts, crimes, controversies, and established policies – that led to important societal and governmental changes in this country. The stories they (and, yes, even more-Conservative journalists) uncovered strove to be accurate, informative, and (eventually) propelling of positive / needed change. However, to be "fair," John Hersey’s "Hiroshima" issue of The New Yorker (and subsequent book) did not need to have a section explaining what the Enola Gay crew may have felt about dropping the atomic bomb on the Japanese city; to be "balanced," each Watergate-related article that came out did not require a boilerplate paragraph or two on how at least President Richard Nixon DID go to China and WAS massively re-endorsed by a large majority of voters in the ’72 election. There is no need to dilute an accurate story with ANYTHING "positive" or "balancing."
And, as I mentioned in the previous piece, OF COURSE even journalism or coverage of issues, topics, and personalities can "lean" in a particular philosophical or even political direction – it can be more "pro" or "con" about certain subjects…but it MUST BE reliably accurate. So, yeah, MSNBC’s hosts (remember – NOT news anchors or "mere" reporters) Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and Ed Schultz may well be more strongly Liberal (although Chris Matthews is much more of a centrist political junkie – perhaps a TAD left-of-center – AND, of course, the network’s broadcast day BEGINS with 3 hours hosted by former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough), but…that DOES NOT mean that – for example – if former President George W. Bush were to win some prestigious international award (although, god knows WHAT that even could be, but…just play along here) that they WOULD NOT cover it because they disagree with his political beliefs…and NEITHER would they then attempt to "balance" out any coverage of it for "their" preferred side by digging to find – and to then remind viewers – about whatever most recent global prize that Dem ex-Prez Bill Clinton may have received. News is news, facts are facts, no matter what side of the aisle they occur on. As has been attributed to NY Dem Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts…"
…So – if FOX wants to endlessly promote the right-wing policies and candidates it prefers, such can be its choice. AND if they want to continue to slam and decry Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Emanuel-the-ghost-of-Sen.-Teddy, well...fair enough – they can certainly do so. But, as they continue down that path, perhaps they should be more accurately thought of or defined as an "opinion" operation or even a "propaganda" outlet. However, changing facts – altering pictures and tapes, ignoring reality, dismissing things beyond your desired strict narrative – is NOT conveying informative news; that is NOT ANY sort of journalism.
Helping them along at FOX in this process is the (almost-amazing) fact that the public’s attitude toward and perception of journalists in general has become so negative…with this industrious, exploring, not-all-that-well-rewarded (below the network and big-market anchor level) profession now ranking as low in trust and popularity as lawyers, paparazzi, and used car salesman. The perception bar is perhaps as low as it could be.
So, in this clouded, often-misunderstood atmosphere of communication and information, FOX has managed to completely rewrite the rules so that it favors them, cripples or limits their opposition, and gives them a shrugging, "Who, us?" kinda out. And a significant portion of the public now accepts their approach as something that must be correct. It is the only slogan for journalism that most of these people have ever heard, so…it thereby has set their standards. For example, calling anyone (much less yourself) "The Most Trusted Name / Voice in News" fades severely in comparison…
It's almost as if a baseball team had a strong first half of their season and suddenly, repeatedly declared (AND got the public first, then the rest of the league to accept) that their in-first-place-by-the-All-Star-Game status should then guarantee them a spot in the postseason (no matter what happened from there on out). After getting that concession widely (if even subtly) established, do you think that team is gonna try much in the 2nd half of the season? Eh, why bother? Or, instead, will they just likely to be smugly gliding along on the basis of their rule-changing advantage, resting up for later?
Now, FOX seems freely able to live by its own standards, to do what it wants to do – pointing accusing fingers and launching snarling watchdogs at whatever it dislikes and promoting whatever extreme right-wing figures or policies they either believe in OR think best helps the atmosphere that allows them to continue raking in the dough. And, if exasperated lefties, actual journalists, or less-indoctrinated members of the general public question their actions (well, like I’M ongoingly doing), they can just retreat behind "Fair and Balanced" as their shield…saying, "See, we ARE ‘Fair and Balanced,’ cuz we TOLD YOU we are…and, since we are ‘Fair and Balanced,’ if we said it, it MUST be true…"
Sigh – the head swims at such self-reinforcing bullshit, but…hey, they’ve done it over there. They have managed to redefine an entire professional field according to standards that favor them first and foremost. You’d have to respectfully hand it to them for such a meta-accomplishment – that is, if it weren’t so venal and disgusting…
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