Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 20, 2009

THE NON-EXISTENT LINE BETWEEN DAYTIME AND PRIMETIME.... For various media figures derisive of the White House's criticism of Fox News, there seems to be some confusion over the nature of the problem.

For much of the media establishment, Fox News and MSNBC are somehow bookends, one on the right; one on the left. The prior has Beck, O'Reilly, and Hannity; the latter has Schultz, Olbermann, and Maddow. Both are cable news networks with primetime commentators who bring a certain perspective to their political analysis. So, the establishment asks, what's the big deal?

It's probably obvious to anyone who's actually watched these networks, but given the lingering confusion, let's pause briefly to explain why the conventional wisdom is absurd.

There are plenty of angles to this, far more than can be explored in a single blog post. It's tempting to note, for example, that if MSNBC had a relationship with the Democratic Party the way Fox News does with the Republican Party, MSNBC wouldn't give Joe Scarborough three hours a day and have Pat Buchanan on daily as a paid on-air analyst.

For that matter, it's also tempting to note that comparing the primetime lineups as relative equals is almost comical -- Rachel Maddow brings more depth of thought and intellectual seriousness to her work than everyone on Fox News combined. To look at the lineups and say, "Well, Hannity's on the right and Maddow's on the left," draws an equivalency where none exists.

But let's put all of that aside and focus on a point too many observers don't appreciate: the line between Fox News' personality-driven primetime hosts and Fox News' "reporting" doesn't exist. This isn't a network that does legitimate journalism during the day, and then let's GOP clowns run wild at night -- this is a network that acts as the arm of a political party and a cog in a larger partisan machine all day.

According to the network, Fox News' reporting is "objective" during its "news hours" -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays (eastern). Senior vice president for news Michael Clemente recently said, "The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page."

And that would be persuasive, if such a difference existed on the Republican network. But as this video helps demonstrate, Clemente is drawing a distinction where none exists. To describe Fox News' "news hours" as "objective" is demonstrably ridiculous.

Josh Marshall, who keeps the cable networks running throughout the day at the TPM offices, noted last night, "[A]s a product [Fox News'] straight news is almost more the stuff of parody than the talk shows which are at least more or less straightforward about what they are.... MSNBC has now made a big push to refashion itself as a liberal or perhaps just non-hard-right-wing alternative to Fox. But the distinction between the two operations becomes clear whenever you watch 'news' on MSNBC as opposed to Maddow, Olbermann or Ed."

Josh added, "If you actually watch Fox News with any regularity it's hard to see any point to discussing the fact that the station operates more or less openly as a wing of the GOP." And yet, now that the White House has shown the audacity to note this plain fact, the pushback from other media figures is pretty intense.

For Ruth Marcus and others, the problem isn't that Fox News is making a mockery of modern journalism; the problem is that the White House has acknowledged reality. The establishment, I'm afraid, is complaining about the wrong party here.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Comments

Marcus should just finally go all the way and get "simpleton" tattooed on her forehead.

Posted by: Jimmy on October 20, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well Steve,
I think Ruth (& our Al) will just retort that since you have taken the side of the Obama admin over and against the media, it is obvious that you are biased and don't understand the process of modern day journalism.

"We Are All FOX NEWS Now!"

Posted by: neill on October 20, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Steve,

Sorry to nitpick an otherwise very good post but its "the former" and "the latter" not "the prior."

aimai

Posted by: AIMAI on October 20, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

If you actually watch Fox News with any regularity

You couldn't pay me enough.
And speaking of regularity, get back to me when MSNBC labels every disgraced, scandalized Democrat with a nice big (R) in their newscasts as does Faux'News'.

Posted by: Bobo Teh Clown on October 20, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

More better video homework please

Of course Josh is correct, but he is also waxing anecdotal.

The video Steve presents is better than anecdotes, and much better than HuffPo's sloppy and lame The Ten Most Egregious Fox News Distortions, bit still not good enough.

This is a fleeting teachable moment. A chance for America to look closely and collectively at journalism. And it looks like we have not done our homework. Will someone please edit together something simple and powerful?

Posted by: koreyel on October 20, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

vice versa there, bobo

Posted by: neill on October 20, 2009 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Oops.
What a clown.

Posted by: Bobo Teh Clown on October 20, 2009 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

According to the network, Fox News' reporting is "objective" during its "news hours" -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays (eastern). Senior vice president for news Michael Clemente recently said, "The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page."
__________

But the average Fox News viewer can't read. So how could they know the difference?

Posted by: slappy magoo on October 20, 2009 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

One problem is that Fox News is the channel of choice for every airport in the southern half of the country. I know, I fly regularly and spend hours at airports between flights. The difference between Fox News and CNN (the other network frequently found in America's airports)is startling. You would think they were reporting about events happening in totally different countries.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 20, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Koreyel: That was already done several years ago in a documentary called Outfoxed. The excesses are so bad that a 90 minute documentary with a couple of dozen volunteers still had trouble cataloging all of them.

Posted by: Kris on October 20, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Admittedly, this is pure speculation on my part but I would bet money the average Fox network TV watcher couldn't differentiate between news and editorial on the Fox network (or the truth vs. lies OR maybe information based on fact and information based on lies/misinformation).

They could tell you the difference between Liberal vs. Conservative (at least the Neo-Con definition of 'liberal' and 'conservative') because everything is framed that way on Fox.

I want to see a study measuring intelligence, awareness of what's going on in the world, detailed understanding of issues of the day of these automatons. Not based on any facts mind you, pure opinion here, but I wouldn't expect them to score very high compared to say, people who watch Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann regularly (or read Steve Benen blogs).

I would bet Fox's annual revenue that people who watch the Fox network are as stupid as Fox thinks they are (or would have to be to buy that BS).

Fox treats them and expects them to be ignorant (& keeps them ignorant). Stupid people buy it all without question or going to 'other sources' (because, oh my, there might be LIBERAL information outside of Fox & the Right Wing) to check what is fact and what is fiction.

Posted by: QuestionEverything on October 20, 2009 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I ain't got the time-or inclination- to watch me no TeeVee news.

Besides which, I get ever' thing I need to know from the bumper stickers on whatever pickup truck I'm afollowin'. . .

Posted by: DAY on October 20, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Ruth Marcus is an idiot, but a useful one. She is defending Fox News against the President (mostly by going meta, as these people always do, and talking about how it "looks"). But more than that, she is defending her status and her turf and that of her fellow Villagers. If the worst of the worst, Fox News, remains in her estimation close enough to "journalism" to be immune from White House scorn, then of course all of the other clowns masquerading as journalists, such as herself, should be immune too.

Posted by: bobbo on October 20, 2009 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, QuestionEverything: Here's all you need to know about Fox Watchers:

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." H. L. Mencken

Posted by: DAY on October 20, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Heard a clip of Krauthammer this morning commenting " why would the white house want to alienate half the country"

What half is he talking about ? First, FoxNews' audience makes up about 1 percent of the US population. Second, the major networks have between 20 - 23 million that watch their nightly news program versus FoxNews' 5-6 million. Foxnews' pundit shows in the evening have about 3 million viewers.

Third, what amplifies the Fox message is right wing radio which dominates most markets in america due to massive consolidation of ownership.

Lastly, there is no comparison on the left as stated above any where close to the insane things that FoxNews puts on the air.

Posted by: Burghman on October 20, 2009 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Rupert Mudochs's war on journalism

http://www.outfoxed.org/

Thanks Kris.

Posted by: koreyel on October 20, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

If you actually watch Fox News with any regularity

I can think of a lot funner ways to kill brain cells.

Posted by: Peter Principle on October 20, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Rachel Maddow brings more depth of thought and intellectual seriousness to her work than everyone on Fox News combined.

Satire? Just so hard to tell lately.

Posted by: Neo on October 20, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK
and then let's GOP clowns run wild at night

Let's not.

Posted by: noncarborundum on October 20, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Look! Up in the sky! A balloon!

Posted by: dr sardonicus on October 20, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen is an Obama Administration water-carrier. Nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by: w3bgrrl on October 20, 2009 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, this post has really brought out the trolls. Hi guys! :) (Waves.)

What I think would be worthwhile is, finding out what Shepard Smith thinks about this. Srsly. At least one would get a straightforwards sense of how the Fox newsroom actually feels about this. At best, well, he's Shepard Smith. The guy who never learned how to keep the 'y' on the end of 'truthy' from falling off.

Posted by: sleepy_commentator on October 20, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Any honest person (which, of course excludes this blogger) would acknowledge that Hume and Wallace, etc are serious and respected journalists. Again, any honest person would also acknowledge that there IS a distinct separation between Fox News programs and the opinion shows (O'reilly, Beck, etc). And even they, unlike the dispicable Olbermann and Maddow have leftists on to express their opinions.

So what do you think of ABC's Tapper taking the Chavez (oops) Obama Admin to task over its hatred of Fox News???

Posted by: fred t on October 20, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

following on from Burghman upthread:

maybe the kraut has cable news viewers and the whole country mixed up....faux news does have half the cable viewers, with the other half split between msnbc, cnn and headline news

here's what faux's primetime "news" show numbers looked like for 10/19/09 via tvbythenumbers.com

Special Report with Bret Baier- 2,227,000 viewers
The Fox Report w/ Shep -2,068,000 viewers

over 10 million people listen to at least part of "all things considered" on npr daily...

Posted by: dj spellchecka on October 20, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

quick edit here: any honest person would acknowledge that there IS NO distinct separation between Fox News programs and the opinion shows (O'reilly, Beck, etc).

faux is simply the world biggest astroturf organization. a brief look at how they "objectively" promoted...er covered..... the teabag protests hammers that truth home....

imagine if keith or rachel had been a "special guest" at anti-bush rally...yet neil cavuto from broadcast live from a protest

Posted by: dj spellchecka on October 20, 2009 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

maybe the kraut has cable news viewers and the whole country mixed up....faux news does have half the cable viewers, with the other half split between msnbc, cnn and headline news

Yep, that's what he's doing. Cable news devotees generally have no idea that they're worse informed than people who get their news from a variety of sources. That's why they're cable junkies -- they have no critical thinking skills. And of all cable junkies, regular Fox viewers are indisputably, by several hundred degrees, the worst informed of the lot -- remember that hilarious poll?

Posted by: shortstop on October 20, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

"...Fox News is making a mockery of modern journalism..."

Rather (et.al.) way, way too late for that; decades actually.

You want straight serious separation of reportorial and editorial content, read the Wall Street Journal (beaucoup $ depends on them getting the reporting right).

Everything else today, every large market paper, every network or cable news broadcast, is commentary.

It's just what brothel you prefer. And don't think Benen isn't a damn fine madam.

n.b.: One who claims he can judge the critical thinking faculties of large cohorts of fellow citizens displays the critical thinking faculties of a macaw.

Posted by: tao9 on October 20, 2009 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Fox News literally takes its talking points from the RNC. MSNBC calls itself "The Place for Politics," whereas Fox calls itself "Fair and Balanced." Notice the difference? Fair and balanced is quite a misrepresentation.

The White House is merely pointing out the elephant in the room. Everybody knows it, but politicians rarely acknowledge that Fox is a propaganda outlet for movement conservatism. Shep Smith, Geraldo Rivera, Juan Williams all give some cover and sense of credibility, objectivity and balance, but frankly any channel that would allow an unhinged imbecile like Glenn Beck to rant and rave night after night cannot be called fair and balanced.

It's become a parody of itself. I mean seriously, promoting tea parties? Karl Rove as a commentator? Hannity's witch hunts against obscure administration officials? Glenn Beck's insane conspiracy theories?

Ridiculous, all of it.

Posted by: ajaye on October 20, 2009 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Fox News aka, The Jesus Channel/ GOP TV/ The Glorious Official Republican Government News Network.

While Fox News has the highest ratings, its also the same group of people that make up just 20% of Americas electorate the far right-wing of the GOP.

There will always be an audience for the far right and thats Rupert Murdocks Fox News demographic.

Rupert keeps them frothing at the mouth with manufactured fear and GOP talking-points, phony outrage.

Fox is also a right-wing echo chamber.. notice that when The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard people are on Fox News theres never disclosure that these people are all Rupert Murdock employees.

Imagine if MSNBC or CNN did this I dont know how Fox News gets way with constantly recycling Rupert Murdocks employees (sockpuppets) from his various media properties.

Also theres hardly a word on the MSM about Murdocks world wide (far right-wing) media empire.

Murdock has a lot of influence, example: all of his various sockpuppets, Hannity, Beck, etc, and all of Murdocks worldwide media holdings trash global warming, President Obama and anything else right-wing Rupert Murdock dislikes.

I think that press and especially individual journalists are deathly afraid of Rupert Murdock and what he can do to them professionally.

Rupert Murdock is the new William Randolph Hearst.

Another thing, Sarah Palin, who is a favorite among the Faux News/ Right-wing crowd is getting Rupert Murdocks wingnut welfare.

Palins (Rupert Murdocks ghostwriter) book publisher is HarperCollins a wholly owned Rupert Murdock subsidiary, you betcha.


Finally, there should be an award given to the guy that writes the ominous, scary music for Fox News... he's obviously a full-time employee.

No seriously... whenever there's a special where Rupert Murdock wants to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein has WMD, or that Iran/North Korea is going to attack America tomorrow, or a Hannity or Beck segment where they want to scare their right-wing audience (even more) there's always that ominous music to go along with the story.

It's like a scary GOP music video.

Posted by: David on October 20, 2009 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

..and Tony Snow?

Posted by: andyvillager on October 20, 2009 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

Every Fox commentator and "journalist" that I have watched in the past few days has "proved" that they are fair and balanced. I don't know why you continue to hold to your view.


Can't we just get back to the time when there were Republican newspapers and Democratic newspapers, everyone knew it, and no one took them too seriously?

Posted by: Marc on October 21, 2009 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

People lie numbers don't. Fox ratings are number one and they have the top show with O'Reilly. What counts is viewers would rather watch Fox than any other news network.

Posted by: Jose on October 21, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

"People lie numbers don't. Fox ratings are number one and they have the top show with O'Reilly. What counts is viewers would rather watch Fox than any other news network." - Jose at 12:36 PM

Hey Jose: Ratings/Popularity doesn't equate to credibility. Ratings/Popularity doesn't prove that what they are saying is true. Ratings/Popularity doesn't make a propaganda maching into a serious, responsible news organization. Ratings/Popularity doesn't make Fox more competent, credible, or believable.

Try another argument, maybe a more convincing and persuasive one that has facts and examples that are relevant to your point. Otherwise, you're a f^*king tool that buys into Fox's BS and expects everyone around you to be as stupid as you are.

Posted by: QuestionEverything on October 21, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

When another major "news" outlet officially sponsors and promotes an anti-government protest in Washington, let me know. When another major "news" outlet employs a man who forms and organizes protests in front of the stations of other media outlets, let's talk.

Then I'll engage in the "But what about MSNBC?" argument. For now, it's a moot point.

Posted by: Whatever you say on October 21, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

The reason Fox has such loyal viewers is that stupid people like being told what they already believe. It's too much mental effort to have your world view challenged by competing facts and then have to decide what's actually going on.
It would be easier for us all to just punch a big hat-pin through our frontal lobes and be told repeatedly that:

America's the greatest country that there ever will be.

Dark-skinned people who don't love Jesus want to take away your freedom.

A brilliant constitutional professor, who took a giant pay cut to pursue public service, is really a closet Stalin who wants to turn our children into gay fascists.

Posted by: Paul on October 21, 2009 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Murdoch is a bought-in American of convenience, merely to own the media outlets that he does in the US, which all spew the same anti-US government lies and agitprop.

Surprising that Murdoch the Carpetbagger isn't regarded with much more suspicion and hate by our super patriots who watch FOX Opinion Channel.

Posted by: Wolfwoman on October 21, 2009 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Has Steve Benen ever watched Fox or does he get his opinion second-hand from like-minded friends? Why does he automatically go into personal attack mode - "GOP clowns" - to make his point?
Until several years ago, I watched MSNBC on a daily basis. When ad hominem attacks started passing for political analysis, I switched to Fox.
During prime time, I've seen Bill O'Reilly take both conservative and liberal political and social positions. Hannity & Colmes presented a liberal/conservative debate format; its sucessor, Hannity, has a conservative outlook, but liberal guests on almost every night. Perfectly fair and balanced? No, but they are opinion shows and they do present multiple takes on the same issue. There are times I agree and disagree with the views expressed on both shows. But,if he watches the Fox news shows, its mind -boggling to see how he'd think there's a blur between their news and opinion shows.
For Benen to hold up Joe Scarborough, a "conservative" who spends half his time attacking conservatives to prove his balanced viewpoint bone fides, is absurd.

Posted by: Mike C on October 23, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

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