FOX and MSNBC : Waging Ideological Warfare on the Boob Toob

Class struggle lives on cable TV
By Roger Baker / The Rag Blog / October 2, 2008

See ‘A Surge on One Channel, a Tight Race on Another,’ by Jim Rutenberg; and a comment by The Rag Blog’s Thorne Dreyer, Below.

Remember the first few years after nine eleven until we invaded Iraq? The US network TV media was loyal Republican back then. But now we have Olbermann and Hannity duking it out for ratings with partisan politicians, with progressive Olbermann winning.

Its exactly what you would expect where there is relative freedom of the press combined with hard times. The public is dimly aware of Roosevelt and how a presidential swing to the left seemed to help deal with the great depression, which elected FDR the same as this one will elect Obama.

The TV advertising pie is shrinking, partly due to the internet. The internet increasingly sets the standard for media freedom, making it safer for other media to permit free expression.

Taking partisan positions that reflect shifting opinion toward a big need for basic governmental reforms can get a network more viewers as public opinion shifts. Be glad that some strong elements of democracy survived the Bush era. And be prepared to defend them from corporate counterattack as polarization of the media increases.

A Surge on One Channel, a Tight Race on Another
By Jim Rutenberg / November 2, 2008

WASHINGTON — It was a lousy day to be Senator John McCain, Keith Olbermann informed his viewers on MSNBC on Thursday.

Senator Barack Obama’s surge in the polls was so strong he was competitive in Mr. McCain’s home state, Arizona. The everyman hero of Mr. McCain’s campaign, “Joe the Plumber,” failed to make an expected appearance at a morning rally in Defiance, Ohio, and the senator’s efforts to highlight Mr. Obama’s association with a professor tied to the P.L.O. were amounting to nothing.

Wait a minute … not so fast. Click

Things were looking up for Mr. McCain, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren told their viewers on Fox News Channel on Thursday. He got a boost at an afternoon rally in Sandusky, Ohio, from none other than Joe the Plumber, who announced his intention to vote for “a real American, John McCain”; he was gaining new ground in ever-tightening polls, despite the overwhelming bias against him in the mainstream news media; and Mr. Obama’s association with a professor sympathetic to the P.L.O. was now at “the center of the election.”

On any given night, there are two distinctly, even extremely, different views of the presidential campaign offered on two of the three big cable news networks, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, a dual reality that is reflected on the Internet as well.

On one, polls that are “tightening” are emphasized over those that are not, and the rest of the news media is portrayed as papering over questions about Mr. Obama’s past associations with people who have purportedly anti-American tendencies that he has not answered. (“I feel like we are talking to the Germans after Hitler comes to power, saying, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t know,’ ” Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, told Mr. Hannity on Thursday.)

On the other, polls that show tightening are largely ignored, and the race is cast as one between an angry and erratic Mr. McCain, whose desperate, misleading campaign has as low as a 4 percent chance of beating a cool, confident and deserving Democratic nominee in Mr. Obama. (“He’s been a good father, a good citizen, he’s paid attention to his country,” Chris Matthews, the MSNBC host, said Wednesday night in addressing those who might be leaning against Mr. Obama based on race. “Give the guy a break and think about voting for him.”)

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, each campaign is often at war against its television antagonist, just as the networks are at war with each other.

It is a political division of news that harks back to the way American journalism was through the first half of the 20th century, when newspapers had more open political affiliations. But it has never been so apparent in such a clear-cut way on television, a result of market forces and partisan sensibilities that are further chipping away at the post-Watergate pre-eminence of a more dispassionate approach.

The more objective approach came as the corporate owners of the networks pushed for higher profits and the newspaper industry consolidated and sought broader audiences. “To sell as many copies as you could to as many people as you could, you became what we considered objective,” said Richard Wald, a professor of media and society at Columbia University School of Journalism and a former senior vice president at ABC News.

Fox News Channel was founded 12 years ago with an argument that the mainstream news media were biased toward liberals and that nonliberals were starved for a “Fair and Balanced” television antidote by day and openly conservative-leaning opinion by night. But it was only in the last couple of years that MSNBC, long struggling for an identity and lagging, established itself as a liberal alternative to Fox News Channel in prime time, finding improved ratings in the mistrust of the mainstream media that had grown among on the left during the Bush years and the Iraq war.

The presidential campaign, and the partisan and ideological intensity surrounding it, has been the perfect subject for both sides, providing endless fodder to play to the persuasions of their audience and mock the views expressed on the rival network.

The result is a return to a “great tradition of American journalism,” Mr. Wald said. “Basically you chose your news outlet if it made you happy, if it reinforced all your views.”

Indeed, voters who primarily get their news from Web sites like The Huffington Post by day and MSNBC by night, and those who primarily get theirs from The Drudge Report by day and Fox News Channel by night would have entirely different views of the candidates and the news driving the campaign year. (At second place in the ratings, behind Fox News Channel, CNN is maintaining a far more traditional approach to news this year.)

When reported on Oct. 21 that the Republican National Committee had spent $150,000 on clothing for Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, Mr. Olbermann interrupted his 8 p.m. program on MSNBC to promote the story and discuss it, as did Rachel Maddow, whose program follows.

Fox News Channel reported it first the next morning, on “Fox & Friends,” in a segment in which the report was described as sexist and unfair, and Bill O’Reilly and Ms. Van Susteren later criticized the news media on their programs for giving it as much attention as they had.

“It was ridiculous,” said Mr. O’Reilly, singling out The New York Times in particular for covering the purchase.

That was a role reversal from spring 2007, when news broke that former Senator John Edwards had paid $400 for a haircut out of his Democratic presidential campaign account.

Mr. Olbermann named Mr. Hannity the “Worst Person in the World,” a running feature on his program, for making fun of Mr. Edwards’s haircut and showing video of him styling his hair before an interview.

Mr. O’Reilly had said of Mr. Edwards at the time: “He runs around telling Americans the system is rigged, while paying $400 for a haircut. This guy is a one-man sitcom.”

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center, said, “To some extent, they are reverse images of each other.”

The group has studied the tone and content of the election-year coverage and found that Mr. McCain has been the subject of more negative reports in general than has Mr. Obama on issues that include assessments of their performances in polls, the debates and running their campaigns.

But within that universe, the study found, the share of positive reports on Mr. McCain at Fox News was above the average of the news media at large, and the share of negative reports about Mr. Obama was higher, too. (The study found that the mix of positive and negative was roughly equal for them on Fox.)

And the study found that MSNBC featured a higher percentage of negative reports about Mr. McCain than the rest of the news media and a higher share of positive reports about Mr. Obama. CNN was more generally in line with the average.

Mr. Rosenstiel said Fox News Channel and MSNBC showed ideological differences, “obviously more so at night.” And executives at those networks said that opinion was kept to their prime-time lineups and away from their news reporting.

Officials at the Obama and McCain campaigns said in interviews last week that they believed they were treated fairly by the reporters assigned to them at the two networks, including Major Garrett and Carl Cameron at Fox News Channel and Kelly O’Donnell and Lee Cowan at NBC News. (NBC pools some political newsgathering efforts with The New York Times.) And advisers to both campaigns show up for interviews on both networks.

Mr. Obama’s campaign aides said they were pleased when Shepard Smith, the Fox News Channel anchor, this week dressed down Joe the Plumber, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, for agreeing with a voter who called a vote for Mr. Obama “a vote for the death of Israel.”

Reporting that Mr. Obama supported Israel, Mr. Smith added with exasperation, “It just gets frightening sometimes.”

And Ms. Maddow has expressed skepticism about Mr. Obama’s call for more troops in Afghanistan.

But officials at both campaigns also said there had been plenty of instances when they have perceived bias in regular news coverage. On Fox News Channel, for instance, Gregg Jarrett, referring to Mr. Obama, asked a guest, “Do economists say that in fact his policies could drive a recession into a depression?” (The guest, Donald Lambro of The Washington Times, responded, “Well, I haven’t read that, no.”)

Raising a report about Obama campaign suspicions that Mr. McCain got an unfair peek at questions to be asked of him at a joint forum at the Saddleback Church, Mr. McCain’s campaign wrote to NBC News in August, “We are concerned that your news division is following MSNBC’s lead in abandoning nonpartisan coverage of the presidential race.”

And sometimes the approaches have been noticeable simply through what the networks cover. After NPR reported late last week that a McCain supporter, former Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, questioned whether Ms. Palin was “prepared to take the reins of the presidency,” MSNBC repeated it roughly 20 times over the course of the day, CNN mentioned it four times, a review of programming on the monitoring service ShadowTV found. And Fox News Channel did one segment, in which it interviewed Mr. Eagleburger, who apologized and said Ms. Palin was “a quick study.”

Fox News Channel executives would not comment for this article. Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC, agreed that at night his network gave a decidedly opinionated viewpoint.

“All of our material is based on fact — our guys work really hard on it, and the point-of-view shows make their conclusions,” Mr. Griffin said. “In this modern era, you’ve got a variety of places that look at the day’s events. Some you respect more than others, others you recognize as having a point of view, some you see as factual in a different way, and it all blends together into how you make your decision for what’s going on.

“The burden is a little more on the individual.”

Source / New York Times

This Times article is useful and interesting. However, it indulges in the traditional “He says,” “He says,” technique of “balanced” reporting.

Though there is no argument that both Fox and MSNBC are seriously opinionated in their reporting and commentary, there is a vast gap between the two when it comes to accuracy and credibility. Misinformation on Fox is frequent and well-documented. They have displayed photo-shopped images of New York Times reporters to make them appear sleazy, have run with highly controversial attack stories long before any substantial documentation has existed, have uttered on-air racial slurs with minimal apology and have given voice to sources with extreme right wing and anti-semitic backgrounds.

Keith Olbermann may be bombastic and at times over-the-top but he is extremely smart and his facts virtually always stand up. Bill O’Reilly, on the other hand, though a delightful blowhard (if you like that sort of thing) is legendary for his distortions and hate spiels.

Both networks are biased in their story choices and approaches. MSNBC, though often strident, retains independence and speaks more from philosophy than partisanship. Fox News is frequently little more than a spin machine for neo-con orthodoxy.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog

Lets Let FOX and MSNBC Be Partisan

Let’s be clear. There is nothing wrong with having a liberal or conservative leaning news station. The problem is when popular stations (FOX receives way more viewers than MSNBC) pretend to be fair and balanced. One of FOX News’ mottos is actually “fair and balanced.” At this point, it seems like FOX is barely trying to hide the fact that it is part of a vast propaganda machine for the Republican party. Dems have blogs, the GOP has tv and think tanks.

This is what led liberal blogs like Daily Kos, MYDD and TPM to staunchly oppose the Democratic Primary Debate on FOX news last fall. Allowing this debate to take place would have amounted to the Democratic Party’s tacit approval of the conservative station which masquerades as an exercise in journalistic ethics.

Ben Buchwalter / Talking Points Memo / Oct. 17, 2008

Also see When Fox News Is the Story / By David Carr / New York Times / July 7, 2008

And Fox News / SourceWatch

The Rag Blog

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1 Response to FOX and MSNBC : Waging Ideological Warfare on the Boob Toob

  1. Anonymous says:

    “But now we have Olbermann and Hannity duking it out for ratings with partisan politicians, with progressive Olbermann winning.”

    What’s your source for “…Olbermann winning”? Viewership for Olbermann is close to nil.

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