Last week, when White House communications director Anita Dunn charged the Fox News Channel with right-wing bias, Fox responded the way it always does. It denied the accusation with a straight face while proceeding to confirm it with its coverage.
Take a look at Fox's own Web story on the episode. It begins by quoting a Fox News senior vice president named Michael Clemente, who says: "It's astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part." Then it quotes David Gergen, the gravelly voice of Washington's conventional wisdom, who says the attack diminishes President Obama and works to Fox's benefit. Then we hear from Tony Blankley, Newt Gingrich's former press secretary and a frequent Fox contributor, who agrees that criticizing Fox makes no sense: "Fox has an audience of not just conservatives. They've got liberals and moderates who watch too." Then a White House correspondent for Politico echoes the claim that the controversy will boost Fox's ratings. Then comes an old quote from Fox anchor Chris Wallace, who calls Obama's team "the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington." Then the story's anonymous author cites a joke Obama made at the White House Correspondents Dinner as evidence "that Fox News has gotten under his skin." Finally, the piece cites a Pew study that suggested that while Fox was equally negative about John McCain and Obama during the last six weeks of the 2008 campaign, CNN was more negative about McCain.
Let's do a quick study of our own. Five people are quoted in this article. Two of them work for Fox. All of them assert that administration officials are either wrong in substance or politically foolish to criticize the network. No one is cited supporting Dunn's criticisms or saying that it could make sense, morally or politically, for Obama to challenge the network's power. It's a textbook example of a biased news story.
If you were watching Fox News Channel, you saw the familiar roster of platinum pundettes and anchor androids reciting the same sound bites: criticizing Fox was Obama's version of Nixon's enemies list, the rest of the news media are in Obama's corner, Obama should get back to governing, Fox opinion shows are different from its news shows, it's always dumb to go after the press. On The O'Reilly Factor on Oct. 13, the evanescent Alan Colmes, the network's weak, battered house liberal, mumbled semi-agreement while "Doctor" Monica Crowley and Bill O'Reilly lit up the scoreboard with the familiar talking points.
Any news organization that took its responsibilities seriously would take pains to cover presidential criticism fairly. It would regard doing so as itself a test of integrity and take pains not to load the dice in its own favor. At any other network, accusation of bias might even lead to some soul-searching and behavioral adjustment. At Fox, by contrast, complaints of unfairness prompt only hoots of derision and demands for "evidence" and "proof," which when presented is brushed off and ignored.
There is no longer any need to get bogged down in this phony debate, which itself constitutes an abuse of the fair-mindedness of the rest of the media. One glance at Fox's Web site or five minutes randomly viewing the channel at any hour of the day demonstrates its all-pervasive political slant. The lefty documentary Outfoxed spent a lot of time mustering evidence about Fox managers sending down orders to reporters to take the Republican side. But after 13 years working for Roger Ailes, Fox employees don't need to be told to help the right any more than fish need a memo telling them to swim.