Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Silence of the Libs: Last month Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (aka FAIR) came out with a report entitled: "Still Failing the 'Fair and Balanced' Test."
The report is an indictment of Fox News' main nightly news show, "Special Report with Brit Hume," for featuring very few liberals in the news interview portion of the program.
One interesting thing is that FAIR uses the term "liberal" only once in the story and its two sidebars to describe liberals -- the remainder of the time it refers to "progressives" or people who are "left-of-center." (It does refer to the "liberal media" in the appropriate scare quotes.)
A couple of things to think about when it comes to Fox News and liberals nowadays.
First, Democrats are in control of nothing in Washington. For the first time in a long time, Republicans control both houses of Congress and the Presidency. If you're going to interview a congressman to find out what's going on in the House, you're probably not going to book Democrat Nancy Pelosi because she's powerless.
You can cover Democrat complaints with a soundbite, you don't really need to interview them for seven minutes.
Second, there are a lot of liberals who simply won't appear on Fox News. Period. They can beg and plead, but some of them simply refuse to go on the air.
FAIR's report is not an easy piece to get through. When you're doing a pure numbers-based media analysis, you should be using something we like to call a "chart." It's a quick and convenient way to communicate information to a reader. FAIR should find someone who knows how to make one, because their report that's chock-full of numbers doesn't have a single chart.
For this study three ideological categories were used: conservative, centrist and progressive. Guests affiliated with openly conservative, centrist or progressive think tanks, magazines or advocacy groups, or who openly promote such views, are labeled as such. Guests who do not avow an ideology—such as military operations experts and journalists who decline to reveal their own political inclinations—were categorized as non-ideological.
As with earlier FAIR studies of Special Report, Republicans were not automatically counted as conservatives and Democrats were not automatically counted as liberals. For instance, Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller, who champions many conservative causes and openly campaigns for George Bush, is classified as an ideological conservative. Likewise, Georgia Democratic congressmember Jim Marshall, who has one of the most conservative voting records of any congressional Democrat, was classified as a “centrist,” as was Democrat Susan Estrich, who was a member of Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s transition team and has implored Democrats to move to the center (e.g., “Let Clinton Be the Centrist Clinton,” USA Today, 6/22/95). Dennis Ross, who has served under Republican and Democratic administrations and whose positions on the Middle East are center-right, was counted as a centrist for the purposes of this study.
In the past, Special Report featured interviews with moderate Republicans such as Christopher Shays, Christine Todd Whitman and David Gergen who were counted as “non-conservatives” under the earlier classification system. Only one Republican was counted as a “centrist” in the current study period: Noah Feldman, a legal expert who worked for the Bush administration in Iraq.
So, Susan Estrich is a centrist. That's news to me, but that example of FAIR's analysis of political philosophy made me wonder just who appeared in each of their categories. Do you have to be an avid Democratic Underground-type to be classified as "progressive"? By FAIR's definition, would John Kerry, who voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq, be classified as a centrist? How about John Edwards? Russ Feingold voted against the war, but for the $87 billion to support the troops. Centrist or "progressive"?
So, I decided to shoot off an e-mail to the report's authors, Steve Rendall and Julie Hollar.
Steve and Julie,
I don’t suppose you’d have the underlying data for your study on Fox News’ Special Report available – especially the names and dates guests appeared and what category you placed each of them in.
I can probably handle just about any file format.
If it’s already available on your Web site I apologize. I couldn’t find it. If you could provide me with a link in that case, I’d appreciate it.
It should really come as no surprise that weeks have passed and I have yet to receive a reply. The kicker is that Ms. Hollar is FAIR's communications director.
It's inconceivable that FAIR doesn't have this information in a spreadsheet file on somebody's hard drive. It would be a real service if they would post their data on the Web so that any interested person could see it.
It's possible that FAIR's data is accurate and their analysis fair (no pun intended), but the fact that they don't post the underlying data on their Web site and they don't respond to requests for it makes one a little bit suspicious.