Political Animal


June 20, 2011 12:35 PM Trying to help Chris Wallace understand

By Steve Benen

I did a couple of items yesterday about Jon Stewart’s appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” but I wanted to expand a bit on this, because “The Daily Show” host raised some important points that bear repeating.

If you haven’t seen the interview, I’m including the full video after the jump, but after having gone through the transcript, I thought I’d flag a couple of things. Fox’s Chris Wallace seriously seems to believe that ABC, CBS, NBC, Washington Post, and the New York Times are liberal outlets, making Fox News a necessary counterweight. Wallace even boasted to Stewart that he could “prove it” during the interview.

Stewart said he was “excited” to learn about this, as was I. Here’s the list of Wallace’s evidence:

* Major outlets made a fuss about Sarah Palin’s gubernatorial emails.

* “The Daily Show” compared the editing technique in Sarah Palin’s bus-tour video to an identical editing technique used in an ad for medicine that treats herpes. (When Wallace said Stewart was making “a political comment,” Stewart replied, “You’re insane.”)

* “The Daily Show” mocked Herman Cain for saying he would demand short pieces of legislation if elected. (Wallace implied that Stewart was being racist.)

* ABC’s Diane Sawyer did a segment on Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill with an incomplete description of the state law.

That was it. That was the whole list. When Stewart said he genuinely believes the major outlets are not “relentlessly activist … in a purely liberal partisan way,” Wallace boasted, “The shutters to go from your eyes because I’m going to prove it to you in the next few minutes.”

And this was the list he could come up with. This, by the way, was with the benefit of time and research, when Wallace could point to anything he wanted to “prove” liberal activism in the media. The best he could do was come up with four meaningless examples.

Chris, if you’re reading, you appear to have proved the opposite with such a weak indictment.

Indeed, Stewart tried to explain the problem with Wallace’s worldview:

“You can’t understand because of the world you live in that there is not a designed ideological agenda on my part to affect partisan change because that’s the soup you swim in. I appreciate that. I understand that. It reminds me of, you know — you know, ideological regimes. They can’t understand that there is free media other places. Because they receive marching orders.”

In the same interview, Stewart briefly brought up Bill Sammon’s emails, and Wallace cut him off. Adam Serwer picked up where Stewart left off, highlighting the series of memos from the Fox News Washington managing editor, instructing the network’s on-air figures to “take conservative and/or anti-Obama positions.”

When Wallace can produce similar partisan and ideological instructions from editors at mainstream outlets, we can talk more about “bias” and “balance.”

If you missed the interview, here’s the first part:

And here’s the second:

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Roddy McCorley on June 20, 2011 12:43 PM:

    Wallace also proved using geometric logic that there was a duplicate key to the ward room.

  • kindness on June 20, 2011 12:47 PM:

    I wonder if Chris Wallace's father feels betrayed by his son. I mean, I expect he will still love him, but does he respect him? I would have difficulty.

  • Mike on June 20, 2011 12:48 PM:

    I always get a chuckle out of Fox personalities calling Stewart's show a "liberal media outlet." When Bill O'Reilly once asked Stewart why he didn't ask a presidential candidate (it might have been Obama ... I can't remember) more probing questions, Stewart replied that he works for a network called COMEDY Central.

    Everyone needs to remember that Fox News and Comedy Central (and CNN, MSNBC, etc. for that matter) exist for only two reasons: 1) to ENTERTAIN people, and 2) to make money for their owners. Anyone looking for anything else from either outlet does so at their own risk.

  • c u n d gulag on June 20, 2011 12:52 PM:

    My favorite is when Wallace starts to compare FOX to CC.
    Chris, you're supposed to be presenting news to inform people.
    They're trying to make people soil themselves laughing.

    The result?

    One is a comedy channel that makes fun of politics, but can be taken seriously.

    And the other is a news channel that 'seriously' covers politics, and which, if the results weren't so serious, should be laughed at.

  • Amy on June 20, 2011 12:53 PM:

    It's just bizarre that Chris Wallace suggested that, to be fair (I guess) the NY Times should have used crowd-sourcing to read the Affordable Care Act, as they used this method for the Palin e-mails from her days as Alaska's Governor.

    Many, many people read the legislation on their own, as it was on-line for quite awhile, including policy experts. There was no need to parse it out to the public. It is just a very different type of writing than tens of thousands of internal e-mails.

  • SecularAnimist on June 20, 2011 12:54 PM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "Fox’s Chris Wallace seriously seems to believe that ABC, CBS, NBC, Washington Post, and the New York Times are liberal outlets ..."

    Wallace is PAID TO SAY THAT, which is an entirely different matter than believing it.

  • DZ on June 20, 2011 12:59 PM:

    It's useless to argue this with most conservatives, because they define liberal media bias as anything less than servile religious awe of all things Republican and 24/7 demonization of all things Democratic.

    And it's true.

    I was flipping through cable channels one late night in 2001 and came across an MRC dinner emceed by that doofus Brent Bozell on C-SPAN, and it told me all I needed to know about the evil "liberal bias."

    One of the nominees for worst offender was a CNN segment with Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote the book Too Close To Call. The clip showed Toobin being critcial of Katherine Harris.

    But Toobin's segment was not an actual media report. He was being interviewed as a guest on a cable news show, plugging his book. If this was a grand example of mainstream liberal media bias, one could only conclude two things: That the MRC -- this self-proclaimed guardian of media accuracy -- is extremely lazy, or that it could find very few real examples of bias.

    Go ahead: take a look at the main media watchdog Internet sites on the left (Media Matters) and right (NewsBusters). In terms of coherent arguments with links and video to back them up, it's not even close. When I read NewsBusters, it seems the only argument is, "Come on, the media is liberally biased, and everyone knows it."

    If anyone would like to actually get in a tit-for-tat comparison of liberal vs. conservative leanings, these would be the ground rules:

    You can use any examples you wish. I will limit mine to:

    ... the ultra-liberal New York Times and Washington Post during the Whitewater/Starr investigation.

    ... the ultra-liberal NYT and WP during Campaign 2000.

    ... the ultra-liberal NYT and WP during the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

    The gravity and consequences of said examples should be factored, not just the amount.

    I don't care if every Washington journalist voted for Clinton.

    I don't care if they all carry ACLU cards.

    The only measure of bias by a news organization is in the news that is put out for public consumption. And by any sane measure, on what side would the needle have tipped during the Whitewater sham? During the 2000 election? During the Iraq clusterfuck?

    Look, any bias I believe the media has is the result of too much pack journalism, laziness, incompetence, over-reliance on think tanks and spokesmen, etc. -- hence, my oft-use of "shit-for-brains" to describe the Washington press corps -- not the political persuasions of journalists.

    Do I believe that bias leans to the right? Yep, but I'm not going to accuse reporters and editors of deviousness. (Some of the Gore 2000 reporters, who clearly detested him, might be an exception.)

  • SYSPROG on June 20, 2011 1:07 PM:

    My favorite part of the interview was when Jon Stewart said ONE MORE TIME that he was a comedian FIRST and Wallace 'jumped' on him by asking 'don't you have political leanings?' As if doing your JOB and having political beliefs are the exact same thing...of course, maybe on FOX it is...

  • Chris on June 20, 2011 1:08 PM:

    At one point in the interview, Stewart did concede that the rest of the media might have a liberal tint because of journalists' personal biases. That was a mistake because the end result is a right-wing media. It's not remotely liberal.

  • worcestergirl on June 20, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Wallace claimed that Fox shows "the other side" of supposedly liberal media outlets.

    This can easily be debunked by pointing to actual liberal media (Media Matters, Washington Monthly, the American Prospect, Mother Jones, etc.) and listing the issues/big stories covered here and nowhere else (the failure of HAMP, the failure of the war on drugs, Republican obstruction of Obama appointments, debt ceiling, etc).

    Wallace seems to this there are two segments (his and mainstream), but there are really three. With the exception of Rachael Maddow, or Colbert, there is hardly any liberal programming on TV.

  • Seitz on June 20, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Someone needs to ask Wallace the following question: The idea of a "counterweight" is that is roughly equivalent to the weight it is countering. If the other mainstream news networks are horribly liberal, and Fox is the counterweight, how can they claim that is "Fair and Balanced"? He makes a big deal about the mug, then spends the rest of the interview claiming that Fox is biased, but only because they are countering someone else's bias. Fox may claim that they provide "balance" to the liberal boogeymen who haunt their nightmares, but they can't claim to counter that balance while being "balanced" in and of themselves.

  • Sarah on June 20, 2011 1:19 PM:

    What news organization would HIRE CANDIDATES OF (ONLY) ONE PARTY to provide comment on political stories? One that is fair? balanced?

  • cainmi on June 20, 2011 1:22 PM:

    I agree with secular animist. Chris Wallace's so-called "examples" were obviously from the Fox News "producers". My only disappointment with Jon's appearance was his praise for Chris Wallace, when he is obviously just another Faux News personality on the payroll.

  • jdog on June 20, 2011 1:25 PM:

    So they have abandoned "Fair and Balanced" (except in their ads). The false equivalency is a mild improvement, but just barely. Fox is closer to admitting they are a right wing propaganda machine. Its just that now they claim others are doing it as well.

    But even that does not justify the creation of an alternate reality, of the distortion of facts, the ignoring of history, and the juvenile level of discourse that is Fox.

  • Mike on June 20, 2011 1:34 PM:

    But now instead of discussing Fox news, we're discussing evidence for and against the "liberal media."

    On discussion boards, I've noticed that right wingers are very good at steering the conversation away from the topic by spewing random chaff, so you end up correcting and fact-checking them on points unrelated to the original discussion.

    Chris Wallace is just using normal GOP debate tactics.

  • Slideguy on June 20, 2011 1:47 PM:

    I'm a bit disappointed in Jon, actually, in that he continually lets Wallace get away with Fox's most egregious interviewing technique.

    About five minutes in that interview, I would have love to have heard him ask, "Chris, how many times in the last 5 minutes have I interrupted you while you were trying to make a point? I'm only asking because you've done it to me six times, and this seems to be a standard part of how guys like you, Hannity, and O'Reilly work".

    That would have resulted in a lot of fumphering on the part of Wallace, but it would have put Jon in the position of being able to tell him, "There you go again", every time he did it. It would completely cut Wallace's legs out from under him.

  • MikeBoyScout on June 20, 2011 2:01 PM:

    Let's not go overboard here Steve.

    Stewart was brought on to yesterday's Fox News Sunday program to compete with CNN having known comedian, John the brown people started the fire! McCain.

    No need to apply some serious criteria to Wallace. It was all part of the comedy cavalcade that are the Sunday news shows.

  • Moxo on June 20, 2011 2:09 PM:

    Even as deep into dementia as Mike Wallace is, he'd still be more in command of facts than his son could ever hope to be.

  • Redshift on June 20, 2011 2:40 PM:

    I always get a chuckle out of Fox personalities calling Stewart's show a "liberal media outlet."

    Me, too, because it shows so clearly that the definition of "liberal bias" is "disagrees with conservative orthodoxy in any way."

    It used to be that the criticism was laughable to anyone who remembers the Daily Show during the Clinton Administration, but now it's even worse -- they constantly make fun of the Obama Administration and other Democrats right now, but that makes no difference to the "liberal bias" brigade.

    I remember overhearing a guy at a bus stop talking about how he reads the Washington Times because it unbiased. Some people really don't want to hear anything that challenges their worldview.

  • Dredd on June 20, 2011 3:57 PM:

    Chris Wallace and the foxoids certainly support the theory of the peak of evolution.

  • exlibra on June 20, 2011 4:00 PM:

    No comment of my own, just the message from Captcha:
    "yourriti Media:". Even Captcha knows which side the Media lean to, and that it's tightie-rightie, not heftie-leftie.

  • Wineguider on June 20, 2011 4:14 PM:

    The real story from this interview is Wallace’s false smear against Diane Sawyer’s reporting. As he tries to criticize her for being “liberal” / “mainstream media” and getting her story wrong, HE bungles the facts, and actually plays a segment from Ms. Sawyer where her reporting is 100% correct.
    The explanation and all the backup details are here: http://foxnewsproblems.wordpress.com

  • slappy magoo on June 20, 2011 5:01 PM:

    One of the many things Wallace overlooked (and sadly, so did Stewart) is the false equivalency of comparing Fox to the rest of the media as if they are only two things. Wallace shows something Stewart said on his show, something Diane Sawyer said on ABC that was factually inaccurate, a request the NYT made to get people to read Palin's emails, and so on and so on, as if they are all one single entity following a single through-line and agenda (which, of course, is what Fox News wants Fox News viewers to think). Cherry picking writ large. I can't even think of a funny analogy for it (I'm tired), but Stewart seemed to miss the subtlety of it, even though I'm Monday-morning quarterbacking. Here are a bunch of disparate examples of what we consider to be a liberal media bias, thereby proving ALL of the media except us have a liberal bias!

    Whereas Fox News IS a single entity, WITH a single bias, and a single agenda broken loosely into two parts, obfuscation and ratings. Stewart can send entire segments, entire days, entire weeks reporting on Fox news because it's clear, when you watch their programming, what their agenda is and it has nothing to do with truth.

  • Fed Up and Tired on June 20, 2011 7:45 PM:

    Jon Stewart was talking about all of the so called news, with the 24 hour news shouldn't we get about 18 hours a day of our wars going on? Wouldn't watching our young men die in combat be a major story? Another 4 hours should be the continuing drama of the tepco nuclear disaster poisoning our world in japan? Instead we get the cameras following around people who have not declared to run for president 16 months from now.

  • DerShtickler on June 20, 2011 10:15 PM:

    "Stewart tried to explain...:'You can’t understand because of the world you live in that there is not a designed ideological agenda on my part to affect [sic] partisan change..."

    That would be "effect," I think.

  • Texas Aggie on June 21, 2011 11:14 AM:

    I had never heard Wallace in action before, but he impressed me as close to the smarmiest person I've ever heard. He is really disgusting.

    No financial support for Washington Monthly until captcha goes.

  • Jack on June 21, 2011 2:32 PM:

    I always think of this phrase "The medium is the message" coined by Marshall McLuhan. Wikipedia says it nicely. McLuhan proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. McLuhan describes the "content" of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. I think this means journalism is being destroyed in America.

  • Paul on June 22, 2011 8:00 AM:

  • beejeez on June 22, 2011 3:03 PM:

    NBC, ABC and CBS are rabidly liberal, of course, because their Marxist drug, oil, insurance and auto corporation advertisers force them to be that way.

  • Georgia Lawyer on June 22, 2011 6:25 PM:

    Im betting his dad thinks he is a disgrace. when mike said W's election was proof of America being f'd up, chris said his dad was 87, had lost it and was close to a competency hearing. chris wallace is a partisan hack and should be ashamed of what he said in public about his father. Roger Ailes probably smacked him around until he went out and blasted his dad.

  • Ted Frier on June 29, 2011 11:59 AM:

    The problem is that conservatism and liberalism as belief systems not only end up with different positions on specific issues, they also take different epistemological positions on the nature of truth itself.

    Liberals believe that truth is a process, a constant search subject to reason, logic, science, investigation and experiment. Conservatives, by and large, believe truth is a known destination subject to received wisdom handed down through the ages in some sacred Book or tradition.

    And so when conservatives accuse the liberal media of "bias" they do not necessarily mean the press is in any way inaccurate on "empirical" grounds, merely that the press's reporting is critical of conservatism. And since conservative truths are based on belief rather than reason, logic, evidence and fact as liberal truths are, conservativism itself cannot be subjected to criticism of any kind and anyone who does is by definition "biased."

    That is really the important takeaway. Within the conservative worldview it is not possible to be critical and still be fair, balanced or accurate. It is only possible to be biased. Liberals recognize when they are wrong. For conservatives it is not possible to be wrong and still be conservative. Which is why they think the Fairness Doctrine violates free speech rather than promotes it.

  • Jamie on June 30, 2011 10:25 AM:

    Well I'd agree, the media is more stupid than it is biased.
    Also many conservatives seem to think being on the "right" side of a political argument means they are on the correct side of an argument.

  • Tyson on June 30, 2011 6:07 PM:

    Fox is fair and balanced. You want proof? Facts? click this link


    Pay particular to when the study states "In contrast, the Fox News Channel treated both candidates to roughly the same level of good and bad press, with Obama earning just slightly better press than McCain. One-fourth of Obama stories on Fox (25%) were positive, compared to 22% of McCain�s coverage. Both candidates received exactly the same proportion of negative stories on FNC, 40%."

    That's called Fair and Balanced! Its the truth from fox vs. biased lies from everybody else.