Why Fox News Channel Is An Industry Joke

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Welcome to Info-tainment Tonight!

by Ron Kaufman

"We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is!"
-- alleged comment by David Boylan, station manager for Fox Tampa Bay (WTVT Ch 13) to two reporters who are currently suing the network for firing them and censoring a story about the use of bovine growth hormone in Florida cows.


I have no doubt that if someone intimately tied into the Fox News Channel were to read this article they would immediately label me a seditious-evil-lying-communist-scumbag-bastard who hates America. This, of course, is so far from reality that it's laughable. After spending some time analyzing and evaluating the Fox News Channel, I have formed a similar opinion. The Fox News Channel is so far from reality that it's laughable -- which is why it's an industry joke.

Relying on the Fox News Channel as your only source of news is like using MAD Magazine as a legitimate source of news. The Fox News Channel's reporting style is so biased and skewed that trying to obtain any real information from a news report is quite challenging. Fox News is a joke because it provides info-tainment rather than reality-based news coverage. Fox News Channel is a "news channel" in name only. The network is what L.A. Times Editor John S. Carroll calls "pseudojournalism."

Although TV news in general is sensationalist, Fox News has descended so far from objective journalism that it only provides small scraps of actual information. Like Ishmael in Herman Melville's Moby Dick or Nick in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Fox News is a modern day example of the "unreliable narrator." Fox News places an acute spin in nearly every story it presents and in some cases presents untruths as truth. Fox News Channel is a running commentary on the news rather than traditional objective reporting. To its credit, the network's style of entertainment-journalism has resulted in a steady increase of viewers.

Though CNN is still the leader in cable news revenue, Fox News has experienced a larger spike in viewership than any other TV news network in the past five years. The Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of The News Media 2004 shows that "Fox News in 2003 was up 53 percent overall (to 1 million viewers on average) and 45 percent in prime time (an average of 1.7 million viewers) over the year before." Funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and Columbia University School of Journalism, the PEJ studied many aspects of CNN, MSNBC and Fox and released its report in March 2004.

"Television news is still something viewers watch mainly in a passive way," notes the report. "Yet when the technology changes and the media converge, the advantage may depend more on which media and which outlets have the strongest news gathering and storytelling abilities." Clearly, Fox News has tremendous storytelling abilities. In the past year, only Fox's news programs saw an increase in watchers. "Looking at the medians, CNN and MSNBC lost viewers in 2003, while Fox News saw an 18 percent rise in its median monthly audience," reports PEJ.

The report goes on to say: "In January of 2002, Fox News for the first time surpassed CNN in total viewers and held its lead . . . (Fox News at the time averaged 1.1 million viewers in prime time versus 921,000 for CNN. MSNBC, a distant third, averaged 358,000 viewers in prime time.) . . . A year later, in January 2003, Fox News had maintained its advantage (with 1,014,000 viewers on average, compared with 721,000 for CNN, and 252,000 for MSNBC). And immediately after the war in Iraq, it appeared in May that the network was possibly pulling farther ahead, holding onto more of its wartime audience than CNN."

The chart below shows the Fox News' audience spike:

Prime Time Cable News Viewership: 1997 to 2003

A Pew survey asked avid TV watchers to identify their favored news source as either cable or network TV. The chart below shows how, over the past few years, American audiences increasingly favor cable over network news. Statistically, cable news held a 36-point advantage over network news (49 percent cable, 13 percent network).

Where People Go for National/International News

When asked about which specific cable stations viewers prefer, the Pew survey found that though CNN, owned by AOL Time Warner, still maintains the lead, Fox is steadily gaining in viewer preference. The report mentions that the 24-hour format, the increase in cable connectivity across the country, and the slightly younger audience can all be attributed to Fox's gains. Additionally, the Iraq War in 2003 gave cable news overall a big boost. "War was good for cable," said the PEJ report. "It was especially good for Fox News . . . The big winner was Fox News, which managed to increase its lead over CNN."

The chart below shows how Fox News is gaining on the leader:

Where People Go for National/International News, Specific Channels: January 2002 - October 2003

Why has the Fox News Channel become so popular? Basically, it's entertaining. The Fox News Channel is colorful, positive and engaging with good-looking anchors and an up-beat style. The network uses flashy graphics and triumphant music to punctuate its programs. The PEJ report notes that its study found that overall, the "Live" presentation of cable news presents an aspect of importance and immediacy to the viewers. "The most notable finding here is that cable news has all but abandoned what was once the primary element of television news, the written and edited story. In doing so, it has de-emphasized the story package's strengths, namely the chance to verify, edit and carefully choose words and pictures. The stress in cable news is on immediacy and cost efficiency of the live interview and unedited reporter stand-up," said the report.

Cable news is fast-paced and repetitive. The study found that "rather than covering a comprehensive menu of issues, each morning the cable channels settle on a limited number of core stories that are then repeated, and only occasionally substantively updated, as the day proceeds. The level of repetition on cable is enormous. The level of updating is minor."

In its study of 5,570 story segments, the PEJ report noted that investigative stories only make up 11% of newscasts. Interviews, reporter standups and anchor reads account for 77% of cable network news. This format is the backbone of Fox News. In its evening newscasts, Fox News uses "talking heads" for 83 % of its new programming (this includes external interviews, internal interviews, reporter standups, and anchor reads). In contrast, CNN uses talking heads for 66 % of its evening newscasts.

"Fox News uses this time period to showcase its panel of in-house experts (13 percent of the time, compared to 6 percent at CNN and 10 percent at MSNBC), the most notable fixture being Brit Hume's panel of political pundits on 'Special Report,'" notes the study.

And this brings us to the juicy stuff: The content of the Fox News Channel.

The News Corporation Limited had total assets as of March 31, 2004 of approximately US$52 billion and total annual revenues of approximately US$20 billion. News Corporation is a diversified international media and entertainment company with operations in eight industry segments: filmed entertainment; television; cable network programming; direct broadcast satellite television; magazines and inserts; newspapers; book publishing; and other. The activities of News Corporation are conducted principally in the United States, Continental Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Asia and the Pacific Basin.
-- from NewsCorp.com

The content of the Fox News Channel is a direct outgrowth from the views held by its owner: News Corp. and CEO Rupert Murdoch. Fox News Channel was launched in 1996 "as a specific alternative to what its founders perceived as a liberal bias in the American media" (the network stated this in the lawsuit against Al Franken and Penguin books).

Australian-born, but now an American citizen, Murdoch heads the huge News Corp. which owns the Fox TV Network; Fox News; Fox Sports; FX Network; National Geographic Channel; 20th Century Fox movies and home entertainment (including, appropriately, all of the Star Wars films); Fox Sports Australia; the STAR Network in Asia (based in Taiwan); British Sky Broadcasting/BSkyB, DirecTV (U.S.), FOXTEL (Australia), and Sky Italia (Italy) direct broadcast satellite television services; TV Guide magazine; 175 different newspapers in the UK, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the U.S.; HarperCollins Publishers; the National Rugby League; Mushroom Records and more. Murdoch has created a worldwide empire.

In October 1999, Time Magazine remarked that "Rupert Murdoch is the first press baron to be a monster of the entire world. That's globalization for you."

The Time article goes on to say that Murdoch's "achievement is that he is the only media mogul to have created and to control a truly global media empire. He understood sooner than anyone else the opportunities offered by new technology--computers, satellites, wireless communications--to create first an international press and then a television domain."

Controlling the news is obviously important to Murdoch's vision of the world. The Murdochian viewpoint is largely centered on obtaining money and power -- which is the ideology for which the Fox News Channel stands. Those who control the news also determine the public discourse. In the United States, Murdoch has obviously tapped into the political and social agenda championed by the Republican Party. The views of News Corp. and Fox News, however, are not the ones of the mainstream Republican Party, but those who reside on the far right-wing of the political spectrum.

The Republican Party, or GOP (Grand Old Party), is a traditionally dominant force in American politics. Since the inception of the nation, the Republican Party has stood for what are called conservative values. Over the centuries, however, the term conservative has changed quite a bit and now has transformed into political party focused on American superpower dominance, a corporate-controlled economy and Judeo-Christian ideals. The Heritage Foundation think tank states that conservative means to promote "the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense." The conservative agenda by itself is not terribly bad; however, the Fox News Channel has contorted the Republican Party views into something both strange and disturbing.

"All across America, there are offices that resemble newsrooms, and in those offices there are people who resemble journalists, but they are not engaged in journalism. It is not journalism because it does not regard the reader — or, in the case of broadcasting, the listener, or the viewer — as a master to be served," said Los Angeles Times Editor John S. Carroll in a Lecture on Ethics delivered at The University of Oregon in May 2004.

"To the contrary," he said, "it regards its audience with a cold cynicism. In this realm of pseudo-journalism, the audience is something to be manipulated. And when the audience is misled, no one in the pseudo-newsroom ever offers a peep of protest."

Carroll goes on to say that journalists of the past such as "Lippmann, Reston, Murrow, Sevareid and others . . . are still held in high regard. They were, foremost, journalists, not entertainers or marketers. Their opinions were rigorously grounded in fact. It was the truthfulness of these commentators — their sheer intellectual honesty — that causes their names to endure. Today, the credibility painstakingly earned by past journalists lends an unearned legitimacy to the new generation of talk show hosts. Cloaked deceptively in the mantle of journalism, today's opinion-brokers are playing a nasty Halloween prank on the public, and indeed on journalism itself."

Carroll's opinion of Fox News is that it is situated somewhere between journalism and propaganda -- but leans closer to straight ahead attack politics. The perversion of the Fox News Channel is that it is nothing more than a pulpit for the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party. The Fox News Channel presents sprinkles of news punctuated with interviews and commentary which promotes its own viewpoint. Sitting far away from objective fact-based journalism, Carroll comments that "if Fox News were a factory situated, say, in Minneapolis, it would be trailing a plume of rotting fish all the way to New Orleans."

One often-cited research study about the faulty news coverage of Fox News is from the University of Maryland Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) Research Center. Released in October 2003 and titled "Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War," the researchers from Knowledge Networks in Menlo Park, Calif. conducted a poll with nearly 10,000 respondents. The study was to see the frequency of misperceptions concerning the news coverage on the Iraq War. The questions focused on whether Iraq was involved with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, whether Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda terrorists, whether weapons of mass destruction have been found, and whether world opinion was for or against the U.S. invading Iraq. The reality was that no links between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda terrorists have ever surfaced and no weapons of mass destruction have been found. In general, world opinion about the U.S. invasion of Iraq is overwhelmingly negative or non-supportive.

The study found that nearly two-thirds of Americans had vast misperceptions about the war. For example, in one poll, 68% said they believed that Iraq played an instrumental role in 9/11. "In the run-up to the war with Iraq and in the postwar period, a significant portion of the American public has held a number of misperceptions that have played a key role in generating and maintaining approval for the decision to go to war," stated the study.

The study also noted that "the extent of Americans' misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news. Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions." The problem with the Fox News Channel is NOT that it supports the Republican Party or conservative views. The problem is that Fox News distorts the news to serve its purpose so much, that fact and reality are lost in a sea of half-truths and innuendo.

The charts below from the PIPA study show the channel by channel viewership breakdown of those who held misperceptions of the Iraq War:

Certainly, the data indicates that watching other networks can also foster misperceptions, but Fox News sits embarrassingly at the top.

The ideological leader of Fox News is CEO Roger Ailes. It is Ailes vision of a pro-Republican news organization that has given rise to the Fox News media spin. Ailes has worked as media consultant to Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. and was the head of CNBC before taking the helm at Fox News.

In response to the LA Times' John Carroll, Ailes wrote in the Wall Street Journal editorial page that Carroll "deliberately confused our highly rated news analysis and opinion shows like Bill O'Reilly with our hard news coverage. Mr. Carroll cites not a single example of what he calls 'pseudojournalism' from our actual news coverage. He cites only Bill O'Reilly's opinions and an old push poll that purports to show that more Fox News viewers believed things that were not true about Iraq and the War on Terror than did viewers of other outlets. But he cites no instance of our having reported any of these things."

Well, Mr. Ailes, allow me. I would be happy to expose how the Fox News Channel's techniques of fact twisting and non-reporting contribute to the network's deceptive news coverage. I did not watch Fox News during the buildup to the Iraq War, so I can't comment on specific instances of deceit. However, the network uses many methods which are commonplace throughout its programming.

The Fox News Channel works in the following ways:

When presenting hard news stories, the Fox News Channel always includes the network spin. The network uses a number of techniques to mutate reality. Here are just a few:

Nearly every report on the Fox News Channel includes some method to help manifest its political views. Rarely is any reporting objective or reliable. However, commentary and opinion is the most used convention of news transmission on Fox. The Fox News regular talking heads always present a pro-Republican political view. Brit Hume, Fred Barnes, David Asman, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Tony Snow and others are all conservative Republicans.

Some comments, however, border on the ludicrous. For example, on June 3, 2004, Bill O'Reilly's comment for the day started with "Hi. I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. Another victory for the ACLU in its war on Christianity." His comment was about how the American Civil Liberties Union was able to get the cross removed from the county seal of Los Angeles and, says O'Reilly, the ACLU is "part of the anti-Christian cabal in America that sees the Christian majority as oppressors." That day, actually, Fox aired three other commentary-style reports about the case all accusing the ACLU of hating Christians. This combination of news and commentary is the standard on Fox News. Using the method of non-reporting, the Fox News Channel broadcasts failed to mention the ACLU's involvement in Michigan where the group sued on behalf of a Baptist minister who was unconstitutionally denied a permit to conduct baptisms at a lake operated by the Department of Natural Resources. The ACLU has also joined The Christian Defense Coalition in Virginia in a similar case.

Media watchgroup Media Matters for America did a rundown of the Fox News Channel coverage/opinions about a speech given in May 2004 by former Vice President Al Gore. Charles Krauthammer, on FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, on May 26: "It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again." Mark R. Levin, as a guest on FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes on May 26: "And half the country thinks he's [Al Gore is] a mental patient. ... They think he should go back to the dayroom he came out of." Linda Vester, host of FOX News Channel's DaySide with Linda Vester, on May 27: "Some pundits have said they thought he went off his meds." Oliver North, as a guest on FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes that evening: "Somebody needs to check this guy's medication. This guy has got a problem." In fairness, I linked over to C-SPAN.com and watched the Gore speech. It was well written and passionate speech. However, in the world of Fox News, Gore's passion is insanity.

A Fox News Channel regular is mentally unstable columnist Ann Coulter. Coulter's appearances on the Fox News Channel are great theater, but devoid of reality. On May 20, Coulter appeared on Hannity & Colmes where she said: "I think [calling Bill Clinton a scumbag] is factually correct. I don't think you could win a slander suit on that. Truth is a defense . . . this man raped a woman. This man molested interns in the White House, and then he lied about it and committed felonies." Coulter is the columnist that was thrown off the National Review Online for writing, on Sept. 12, 2001: "We should invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Coulter epitomizes the Fox News Channel point-of-view. On Hannity & Colmes, June 20, 2001 she said: "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'" and then on Beyond the News, June 4, 2000: "The swing voters---I like to refer to them as the idiot voters because they don't have set philosophical principles. You're either a liberal or you're a conservative if you have an IQ above a toaster." In her column of June 3, 2004, Coulter writes: "The invasion of Iraq has gone fabulously well, exceeding everyone's expectations – certainly exceeding the doomsday scenarios of liberals." I guess Coulter did not look up the word "fabulous," but I don't think it applies when more than 800 Americans are dead; thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed; dozens of foreign citizens have been killed or abducted; an American was sensationally beheaded; and photographs of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad surface showing them hooded, naked, attached to wires, attacked by dogs, forced to simulate sex acts and assume humiliating and painful positions, and presided over by smiling U.S. military personnel.

Overall, the Fox News Channel consistently puts a positive spin on the Iraq War. In an interview in October 2003, Fox News host O'Reilly said: "Well, I think Fox News Channel was lucky because we were less skeptical of the war, and the war went very well. So we won."

In fact, Fox News was so pro-war, that media mogul and CNN founder Ted Turner called News Corp. head Murdoch a "warmonger" who "promoted" the war. "Just because your ratings are bigger doesn't mean you're better," said Turner. "It's not how big you are, it's how good you are that really counts . . . The media is too concentrated, too few people own too much . . . There's really five companies that control 90 percent of what we read, see and hear. It's not healthy."

In April 2003, former BBC Director Greg Dyke presented an accurate analysis of the media situation in the United States and in particular, Fox News. He said journalists in Great Britain were surprised at the pro-war stance presented through U.S. television. "As broadcast journalists in the UK, we are still surprised when we see some of the attitudes the U.S. networks have to covering the war," said Dyke. "When we read that some network executives say that their coverage should be influenced by 'patriotic duty,' we are surprised."

Dyke continues that after September 11, "many U.S. networks wrapped themselves in the flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism . . . Essential to the success of any news organization is holding the trust of its audiences. Commercial pressures may tempt others to follow the Fox News formula of gung-ho patriotism, but for the BBC this would be a terrible mistake. If we lose the trust of our audiences, there is no point in the BBC. If Iraq proved anything, it was that the BBC cannot afford to mix patriotism and journalism."

Fox News Channel does not provide any reliable information. Its method of seamlessly combining commentary and news reports has transformed its style of TV news into nonsensical jabberwocky. Television news, in general, should not be trusted. The corporate owners, General Electric, Viacom, Disney and News Corp., all have agendas through which their news organizations are bound. Yet, Fox News Channel exceeds all expectations in the realm of news distortion and corporate control. The Fox News Channel style of exploiting political pundits as commentators, anchors and reporters presents an agenda -- not reality.

The Fox News Channel is not a trustworthy, balanced, reliable or objective network -- watch it for a laugh -- then turn off your TV.

 

 

© 2004 by Ron Kaufman @ TurnOffYourTV.com


Addendum: Additional Fox News Pictures and Links