Today Media Matters for America answered Rupert Murdoch’s challenge to show “bias” at FOX News. Why do I want to file this incident under the category of “who cares?” Well setting aside the not at all insignificant fact that Media Matters is about as unbiased as the Media Research Council in the way it cherry picks what stories to higlight and what stories to not higlight (does Media Matter highlight “liberal bias” stories on a regular basis? And does the MRC highlight “conservative bias” stories on a regular basis? The answer is a decided no to both), there is the fundamental problem these days that bias, as a term to describe the media, is so hopelessly grounded in the beliefs of the person using the term as to render it impotent as a point of argument.
What is bias? Is it a story that is set out to achieve a certain spin which implies a direct intent by the story’s propogator? Or is it really just a way to complain that someone didn’t like the way the story read because they don’t agree with it? Too often I think the latter is the case.
Is FOX News really biased? I mean really? Or is FOX’s supposed bias really a result of the fact that some people don’t like the way FOX chooses to cover certain stories but not cover others as a matter of policy. FOX has decided to focus and highlight stories that are of import to the Heartland. That is an editorial decsion, not necessarily an indication of out and out bias. Certainly FOX has pundits on who have biases and FOX News encourages some of its hosts to express their opinions which themselves are based on biases. But in terms of pure news coverage, FOX doesn’t attack liberal positions per se or highlight conservative positions as pure as the driven snow. You’d be very hard pressed to find a story where FOX took an opinion that deliberately trashed the liberal line. Most claims of FOX bias in reporting center around the concept that the people doing the criticizing of said reporting don’t like the way story played out or didn’t like the issues that the story highlighted. That is a difference in opinion not inherent bias. For an example of real conservative bias one has to look at something like NewsMax where stories are slanted to achieve a desired result and many stories are little more than hit pieces or advocacy issues and make no attempts at any sort of impartiality. Clearly FOX does not meet that standard. That FOX has hosts that express opinions which may be rooted in bias is not an acceptable substitute. That Alan Colmes may not be as liberal or as vehement in his arguments as Eric Alterman is not an acceptable substitute. For FOX to have bias in its coverage there has to be implied intent that can’t be explained by any other way. The problem that people that hurl the bias label at FOX have is that most of their arguments are indeed open to other possible explanations other than bias. FOX broadcasts lots of sensational stories; car chases being probably the most egregious example. Does that mean that FOX is biased towards car chases? Or does it mean that FOX made an editorial decision to show exciting coverage and car chases, though tedious in that they can sometimes take hours of FOX’s time, are exciting? Whether it’s the Oil For Food program, the Klamath Basin water war, or even the Schiavo case, those are editorial decisions. Some people will argue that FOX has conservative bias in the guests it selects. But again the argument isn’t that FOX doesn’t have liberals on but that FOX doesn’t have “real liberals” on. Again the bias charge is based upon the political leanings of the person making the charge. That FOX has liberals on isn’t in dispute. That FOX doesn’t have the “right” liberals on, to make the case the way the person making the bias charge wants it to be made, is. And that’s not bias. That’s a difference in expectations in what the viewer expects/wants to see versus what they see FOX do.
Before I get deluded in “you’re a FOX shill” comments, the same thing applies to CNN. CNN is known as the big conservative whipping boy, chock full of liberal bias. But is it really? That CNN covers world events more than FOX and those world stories include material which decries the Bush administration is not bias. For bias to exist, CNN would have to do a story that covered people who are anti-Bush and then say that those people are right. That’s real bias. Conservatives too often complain about CNN bias without considering this important point just like Liberals too often complain about FOX bias without considering that point.
Consider this the next time you hear someone complaining about either conservative or liberal bias in the news. Is it really bias or just a case of the person not liking the story because it wasn’t told the way they thought it should to be told or doesn’t agree with their pre-conceived notions of the world as they see it?