I have a confession to make. I used to watch Fox News. I used to, that is, until I came to Yale and discovered that only the intellectually challenged watch Fox News. When even online commenters on the News’ articles about a student’s murder case call out Fox News and only Fox News for sensational coverage, you have to wonder if there’s some truth to the criticism.
After fairly exhaustive coverage of recent events, I have to admit that Fox certainly covers the news differently from most news networks. One could say it skews facts to suit its agenda. For example, during the April 19, 2009, “Tea Party” protests, Fox asked protesters leading questions, asking among other questions what their motivations were. Even more shocking was Fox’s decision to air protesters’ answers, giving them a national platform to spread their agenda.
CNN took a different approach. The channel’s Susan Roesgen interviewed a man whose sign equated Obama to Hitler. Fox, given its reputation, would probably have shown the sign in a propaganda-like video montage accompanied by a corny one-liner. Not Roesgen. Not CNN. She started with a zinger, asking the man if he “realized how offensive” his sign was. She then expressed her disdain for him as any good reporter should before lecturing other protesters on the finer points of the stimulus legislation.
I later learned that Roesgen handled this situation so well because she had faced the very same thing before. In a Jan. 13, 2006, anti-Bush rally she covered, a man displayed a papier-mâché head of President Bush depicted as Hitler. For the 2006 protest, CNN ran Roesgen’s video montage prominently featuring the Bush-as-Hitler display accompanied by a clever one-liner. Undoubtedly, it was the Obama protester’s lack of effort on his sign and poor Photoshop skills that kept him from receiving the same treatment.
Then there’s MSNBC, a favorite of many campus Fox critics with whom I am acquainted. These critics rightly point out that Fox relies on speculation and sparse evidence for many of its stories. In their infinite wisdom, they note that MSNBC contributors never rely on such wild conjecture or sweeping generalizations.
I think this is perfectly exemplified in the wisdom of MSNBC’s David Shuster. On Sept. 11 Shuster discussed Republican Rep. Joe Wilson’s cry of “You lie!” during the president’s speech on health care. As Shuster noted, “Joe Wilson is from South Carolina” and (obviously) “it strikes a lot of people … that maybe there was some sort of racist or bigoted element there.” Not one to give bigotry breathing room, he adeptly points out that if “you look … you see older white men, all Republicans, sitting there. Just it gives off a strange vibe.”
Only a few days before, on Sept. 3, Shuster had already solidified his image as a reasonable voice above the fray of identity politics and partisanship when, while observing a picture of a small group of Republican senators, he commented that they are “all white males with short haircuts. They look sort of angry. No women, no minorities, and it looks like they’ve sort of become unhinged.” I really ought to thank Shuster; he’s opened my eyes to the latent racism that apparently all conservatives suffer from.
Let’s not forget MSNBC’s history of avoiding sensational reporting or misrepresented facts, both common criticisms of Fox. Certainly when, on the Aug. 18 broadcast of “Morning Meeting,” NBC anchors ran a video of a man carrying an assault rifle outside the venue where the president was speaking, they didn’t mean to cut out crucial parts of the footage. Surely when they brought up the “racial overtones” of white men bearing arms in the vicinity of the president, they must not have known that the original footage shows that the gun-toting man is black. Thankfully they salvaged the segment by alerting the public that we have “these hate groups rising up.” Even if that isn’t true for the given video, it must be true somewhere, probably somewhere with lots of old, white men with short haircuts. It’s probably somewhere where people watch Fox.
I could cite many more examples — from MSNBC to ABC to The New York Times — of misleading, sensational or speculative news coverage, certainly more than this column has room for. Despite bias and rhetoric that sounds as absurd to a conservative as Bill O’Reilly must sound to a liberal, nary a word of protest is heard. Where are the opponents of sensational commentators or manipulated facts when these networks commit the same sins as Fox? Could it be that those who harp on Fox’s “propaganda” have no problem with a media slant so long as they agree with it? If I didn’t expect better from a university with a “diversity” of opinion and a reputation for tolerance, I just might think so.
John Scrudato is a junior in Morse College.