Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Unfair And Imbalanced

The latest installment in the wave of expose documentaries is about to hit the market, though not necessarily in a movie theater near you. Documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald's most recent effort, "Outfoxed," a documentary exposing the right wing bias and Republican alliances of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Corporation, will first be shown at a series of 2,000 house parties organized by MoveOn.org. The movie focuses on how news coverage was mandated from the top down, with specific strategies emphasized that would present Republican's in the best possible light, while the station continued to make its dubious claim of being "Fair and Balanced."

Through this initial screening, Greenwald is hoping to create a significant enough buzz to get the movie shown in small theaters across the country. A recent appearance by Greenwald and some Fox News veterans was covered by the New York Daily News:

"At a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Murdoch's former employees - Fox News terrorism expert Larry Johnson, Fox News Washington reporter Alexander Kippen, Fox News booker Clara Frenk and Fox News freelance writer David Korb - stood with Robert Greenwald, the director of "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," a documentary on FNC that screens tonight at the New School University downtown.

Johnson said his appearances on Fox News ceased last year when he questioned the war in Iraq. 'They never asked me back again,' Johnson told The News' Brian Harmon.
Korb said he received orders to 'make protesters look stupid and use footage of small crowds where the protesters look like pot-smoking liberals.'

For his film, Greenwald obtained internal FNC memos in which execs order newswriters to describe events in a Republican-friendly way.

A Fox spokeswoman released a statement at the press conference that called the four ex-staffer's concerns 'hardly worth addressing,' adding that 'some left due to incompetence.'

Elsewhere yesterday, a former New York Post reporter claimed that Murdoch tried to dictate his stories on the media.

In a posting on Jim Romenesko's media Web site, Dan Cox said that when he was the Post's media reporter in 2002, 'barely a day went by when Murdoch didn't force-feed items about his rival media moguls...

'Not only were we not allowed to ask Murdoch any specific questions about these 'tips,' we were not allowed to check their veracity - anywhere.'

Cox added, 'Murdoch expected us to use them wholesale, unattributed, of course.'"

Some of the evidence relied on by Greenwald is derived from a study conducted by the non-partisan group, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). What is truly astonishing about FAIR's study, is not only does it identify a right leaning bias at Fox News (which probably isn't much of a revelation to most of us), but it also shows that CNN, and the three major networks are also tilted to the right. Even the commonly derided "liberal" NPR shows a preference for right leaning guests. Below is an excerpt from the study's findings:

"FAIR's latest study of Fox's Special Report with Brit Hume finds the network's flagship news show still listing right - heavily favoring conservative and Republican guests in its one-on-one interviews. And, according to the study, Special Report rarely features women or non-white guests in these prominent newsmaker inter-view spots.

In previous studies FAIR has found that looking at a show's guest list is one of the most reliable methods for gauging its perspective. In the case of Special Report, the single one-on-one interview with anchor Brit Hume is a central part of the newscast, and the anchor often uses his high-profile guests' comments as subject matter for the show's wrap-up panel discussion. If Fox is the 'fair & balanced' network it claims to be, then the guest list of what Fox calls its 'signature news show' ought to reflect a diverse spectrum of ideas and sources. FAIR has studied Special Report's guest list on two earlier occasions (Extra!, 7/8/01, 7/8/02).

FAIR's current study looked at 25 weeks of Special Report's one-on-one interview segments (6/30/03-12/19/03), finding 101 guests. FAIR classified each guest by political ideology, party affiliation (where applicable), gender and ethnicity. When FAIR first studied Special Report in 2001, the dominance of conservative guests was so overwhelming (71 percent of all guests) that we used just two ideological categories, 'conservative' and 'non-conservative.' The latter included guests with no discernible political ideology.

Conservatives often defend Fox's rightward slant by claiming that it simply counterbalances a predominantly left-leaning media. But previous FAIR studies have found that, across the supposedly 'liberal' media, Republican sources dominate - and Fox simply skews even farther to the right.

FAIR's original 2001 study of Special Report (Extra!, 7/8/01) included a comparison to CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports - which favored Republicans 57 to 43 percent. And a 2002 FAIR study of the three major networks' nightly news broadcasts (Extra!, 5/6/02) found an even greater imbalance than on CNN: Of partisan sources, 75 percent were Republican and only 24 percent Democrats. The differences among the networks were negligible; CBS had the most Republicans (76 percent) while ABC had the fewest (73 percent).

Even NPR, characterized by conservative critics as 'liberal' radio, favored Republican sources over Democrats by a ratio of more than three to two in a recent study of its main news shows (Extra!, 5/6/04). And Republican political domination doesn't explain the imbalance: In FAIR's 1993 study of NPR (Extra!, 4/5/93) , when Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, Republicans still outnumbered Democrats 57 to 42 percent."

Eric Alterman points to another study to describe just how effective, influential and ultimately dangerous Fox News, and misinformation in general, can be to the general public's understanding of current events and the supprt of policies related thereto:

"An in-depth study undertaken for the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes and published around the time of the second anniversary of the attacks found that over sixty percent of Americans believed one of the following misperceptions:

1. There's clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein worked closely with the Sept. 11 terrorists.
2. U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
3. People in foreign countries generally either backed the U.S.-led war or were evenly split between supporting and opposing it.

Moreover, the researchers discovered a direct correlation between these misperceptions and the consumption of television news as opposed to newspapers or National Public Radio. According to its figures, 80 percent of Fox News' audience and 71 percent of CBS's bought into at least one of the above falsehoods. Meanwhile only 47 percent of newspaper and magazine readers and just 23 percent of those who said they relied on PBS or NPR found themselves similarly misled. And lest we forget, phony ideas have consequences. Support for Bush's war reached 53 percent among those who believed one of the lies, 78 percent among those who accepted two of them and a full 86 percent among those who embraced all three. Meanwhile fewer than a quarter of people who understood the truth of the situation--rejecting all three phony canards - were willing to take a trip on Bush and Cheney's not-so excellent adventure." [emphasis added]

Salon.com reviews Greenwald's movie and highlights some of the tactics that are uncovered in the documentary (as usual you may have to view a brief ad for a one-day pass to Salon.com, but it is short, painless and well worth the time).

"Take the network's 'some people say' mantra (as used in my first paragraph, above). I had watched plenty of Fox News without ever noticing this -- it's a way of introducing commentary, and specifically the reflexive right-wing views of the presumptive Fox core audience, into what is supposed to be news coverage, while appearing to not quite endorse it. 'Some people say that criticizing the war at a time like this is letting down our men and women in uniform,' or 'Some people say Richard Clarke is a political operative who's trying to sell books.' (Or, yes, "Some people are saying that John Kerry looks French!" -- uttered with a peculiar mixture of consternation and delight. Gosh, what a weird idea! But now that you mention it ...!)"

To illustrate this point, the author points to this fair and balanced quote from a pair of Fox News broadcasters: "Hey, [Kerry's] got Barbra and Kim Jong Il on his side -- what could go wrong?" "Yeah," chirrups the [broadcaster] on his left, "North Korea loves John Kerry!"

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