After a brief but concerted challenge by the White House to the credibility of Fox News Channel as a legitimate news organization — including a detailed takedown by Communications Director Anita Dunn on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday — a spokesman for Fox responded with a de facto admission that the channel is nothing more than a propaganda arm of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
CNN described Fox’s statement this way: “In a written statement given to CNN, Fox News said its programming was comparable to the editorial page of a newspaper.”
The fact that Fox says its programming is based on opinions not facts would likely come as a shock to Fox viewers — but, of course, they’ll never know about it. Fox will protect them from this harsh reality the same way it deals with all news that makes conservatives look badly: by not covering it.
Here’s the statement by Fox to CNN:
“An increasing number of viewers are relying on Fox News for both news and opinion,” Fox News Senior VP Michael Clemente said in the statement, “and the average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A-section of the newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents.
“So with all due respect to anyone who might still be confused about the difference between news reporting and vibrant opinion, my suggestion would be to talk about the stories and the facts rather than the [sic] attack the messenger . . . which over time has never worked.”
Not surprisingly, this statement from Fox was carefully crafted to obfuscate the truth from busy or hapless readers. Like the classic non-denial denial, it is a non-admission admission.
For example, it is true that “an increasing number of viewers are relying on Fox News for both news and opinion.” Only wrestling has a bigger cable audience than Fox, but its viewers are typical conservatives. They have been trained to distrust the mythical “liberal media,” so their only reference for what is news is the very same right-wing propaganda they have grown accustomed to on Fox.
Fortunately, only a minority of Americans are fooled by Fox’s chicanery. A poll in August found that among all Americans, Fox was considered trustworthy by just 35 percent, while 41 percent felt it was untrustworthy. Among Southerners, however, 46 percent believed Fox was trustworthy, compared with 27 percent in the Northeast and 33 percent in both the Midwest and the West.
It is also true, as the Fox VP says, that “the average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A-section of the newspaper and the editorial page.” What he doesn’t say but surely knows is that Fox viewers are below-average news consumers. For one thing, Fox viewers appear not to have noticed that in its 13 years on the air, no reporter in Fox’s employ has ever broken a story.
In addition to be self-identified as conservative and therefore proudly ignorant, Fox viewers are predominantly elderly. A recent study by Magna Global that was reported in Variety found that “[among] ad-supported cable nets, the news nets (along with older-skewing Hallmark Channel, Golf Channel and GSN’s daytime sked) sport the most gray, with Fox News Channel’s daytime and primetime skeds the absolute oldest, clocking in with a median age above 65.” (Emphasis added.)
While there are certainly millions of senior Americans who are average and above-average news consumers, these discerning older viewers are, by definition, more likely to agree that Fox is not trustworthy. Elderly Fox viewers came up in the era when the three broadcast networks dominated the news, and are arguably more likely to be taken in. Fox calls itself a “news channel” and the sets and graphics look like a news broadcast, so what they are broadcasting must be news.
The Fox exec’s final assertion is particularly rich. He suggests that the White House should quit attacking Fox and “talk about the stories and the facts” — meaning: Fox would prefer it if the White House would get off the offensive and return to defending itself against Fox’s lies, spin and propaganda.
Can you say, “Uncle?”
How is this not Fox caving to the White House? Fox’s statement admitting that it is propaganda outlet came just hours after Anita Dunn from the White House made these assertions on CNN:
- “If we went back a year ago to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that was a time this country was in two wars that we had a financial collapse probably more significant than any financial collapse since the Great Depression. If you were a Fox News viewer in the fall election what you would have seen were that the biggest stories and the biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and a something called ACORN.”
- “The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. And it is not ideological… what I think is fair to say about Fox, and the way we view it, is that it is more of a wing of the Republican Party.”
- “Obviously [the President] will go on Fox because he engages with ideological opponents. He has done that before and he will do it again… when he goes on Fox he understands he is not going on it as a news network at this point. He is going on it to debate the opposition.”
- “[Fox is] widely viewed as a part of the Republican Party: take their talking points and put them on the air, take their opposition research and put it on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news organization like CNN is.”
And Dunn’s smackdown of Fox is a follow-up of the White House’s slap at Fox three weeks ago when the president chose to do all the Sunday political shows except Fox’s. When Fox complained, the White House responded:
“We figured Fox would rather show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform,” a White House deputy press secretary told ABC News on Saturday. “Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again; not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.”
The White House is winning this battle. Let’s just hope they don’t back down.
On the other hand, don’t be surprised if Fox’s admission that it is a broadcast version of newspapers’ opinion pages is the most un-reported story of 2009.