By David Swanson
As someone who believes the producers of Fox News should be behind bars for promoting illegal wars and instigating domestic violence, and as someone who advocates never watching it, I feel compelled to speak up against the notion that Fox News is not a news outlet.
Now, Fox News does little investigative reporting. Mostly it chitters and chatters and re-processes. Nor does it stick with reliable information. It intentionally lies and distorts. It also screams and yells, demonizes and infantilizes. But these behaviors just make Fox News a small-time and untrustworthy news outlet that degrades the content and the form of our public discourse. These are not the reasons being widely offered for the declaration that Fox is not a news outlet at all.
To make that claim, we are being told that Fox News has an agenda and engages in activism. But every news outlet has an agenda, and I would like nothing more than to see the better ones engage in activism. Fox is owned by an international corporation, and generates xenophobic rallies against “socialistic fascism.” This raises serious questions of foreign interference in our politics as well as pathetic ironies and sad hilarities. But, the central objection seems to be that Fox News has a right-wing agenda opposed by most Americans. That is true enough, and I almost always oppose Fox’s agenda quite passionately. That more majoritarian agendas are not advanced by any major television networks is a severe defect in our system, not evidence of what constitutes real news.
The non-Fox television networks that we do have, with a few satellite, cable, and online exceptions, have agendas that are not terribly far removed from that of Fox. When Fox tells you to go out and rally against healthcare and explains what votes are coming up in Congress, it is doing something MORE democratic than what ABC News does when it reports on Congressional votes after the fact, explains them from the same corporate viewpoint as Fox, and makes clear that citizens are in no way involved in the process.
One of the best summaries of the “Fox is not news” argument is found in Adele Stan’s “8 Reasons Fox Is Not a News Organization” on Alternet. This is an intelligent argument from a talented writer on an excellent news site. But it is a news site with an agenda and a great deal of admirable and beneficial advocacy of activism. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Stan writes:
“Setting Fox apart from the two other cable news networks is its ownership by a corporation whose CEO and major shareholder is a mogul with an ideological agenda . . . .”
CNN and MSNBC don’t have ideological agendas? Surely that’s not seriously what’s being claimed here. These news outlets oppose healthcare favored by most Americans, back wars opposed by most Americans, and generally advance a minority corporate agenda on a wide range of issues. MSNBC has begun including a few talking heads who sometimes stray from its overall agenda, but they are distinctly labeled as doing so, whereas most MSNBC reporting advances the same agenda as always, and under the obscuring banner of “objectivity” and the powerful pretense of no point of view at all. Thankfully, Alternet itself has quite a good agenda and provides a far better service to our nation than MSNBC or CNN. The accuracy of its reporting does not seem to be in any way put in doubt by its activism.
“Fox News Channel,” Stan writes, “is anything but a news operation.” Instead it’s “a massive media campaign for the consolidation of wealth through unfettered markets.” Of course Fox could be both of those things, but it isn’t. It wants the markets very much fettered to the advantage of mega-corporate interests and against the rest of us. That does not, however, prevent its being a news organization, any more than the Nation Magazine’s preference for socialistic solutions (a preference I share) prevents it from reporting news.
The “Fox is not news” campaign criticizes Fox for, in Stan’s words, “declaring war” on President Obama. But I don’t recall Alternet objecting to Keith Olbermann’s rants against President Bush on MSNBC. What has happened is not that Fox has ceased to report news. What has happened is that Fox has begun criticizing a president in a way that most of the corporate media refuses to ever criticize any president, and a way that progressive media outlets are happy to criticize only Republican presidents. Now, Alternet has published criticism of Obama, including some written by me. And Fox New’s fantastic racist falsehoods are not something I want to see emulated. But the general notion — which, following the Bush-Cheney years, ought to be absurd on its face — that a media outlet disqualifies itself by criticizing a president, is as much a function of the partisan loyalties of those diagnosing Fox’s status as it is of Fox itself.
Here are excerpts from Stan’s eight reasons that Fox News is not news:
“1. Glenn Beck, the community organizer — No other news operation in memory has ever hired its own community organizer, at least not one tasked with the mission of organizing paranoid people to march through the streets of the nation’s capital with signs depicting the president of the United States as a mass murderer.”
Huh? Every protest I’ve ever helped organize in the streets of our nation’s capital to depict Bush as a mass murderer has been promoted and energized by Pacifica Radio, Air America Radio, and all sorts of other online and radio news outlets, often including Alternet.
“2. Fox’s alliance with the corporate-funded astroturf group Americans for Prosperity — We’ve scratched our heads trying to come up with an analogous relationship between a cable news channel and a corporate-funded group that organizes fearful people to disrupt public meetings, but we came up empty.”
Fox News has encouraged threats, intimidation, and violence. It may indeed be guilty of crimes, and that should be investigated. It certainly encourages rudeness and incivility on behalf of a murderous agenda. But when Ed Schultz reported on advocates of single-payer healthcare nonviolently and eloquently disrupting a Senate hearing on behalf of a majority of Americans and after having attempted all other approaches, he did so encouragingly — and many were encouraged to use the same technique. Of course we didn’t pay Schultz to do that. We couldn’t have afforded to. (Although he was paid a handsome sum when he switched from rightwing to leftwing talk show host.) But the corrupting force that money has on our communications system is obscured rather than revealed when we oppose advocacy journalism too broadly.
“3. On-air fundraising for Republican PACs — Fox News personalities encourage viewers to contribute money to, and visit the Web sites of, specific Republican-affiliated political action committees. We can’t find a single instance of either CNN or MSNBC doing anything of the kind for Democratic causes.”
But we CAN find that, and better than that, at good media outlets, and why wouldn’t we want good media outlets to continue behaving that way if the current cartel were busted?
“4. Bill O’Reilly, stalker of those whose opinions he doesn’t like — We exhausted all avenues of research trying to find a news show host at another cable news channel who pays his producer to stalk people whose opinions he or she doesn’t like.”
Yet some of the best video reporting on the Fox- and CNN-promoted nonsense regarding Obama’s place of birth, aired on all the channels, was generated by Mike Stark at FireDogLake.com. The best footage of Congress members’ opinions on wars and healthcare are produced by roving “stalkers”, because the corporate press corps does not ask useful questions. Fox News demonstrates that useful questions could be asked. It would just take an anti-Fox to do it.
“5. Sunday talk-show host who promotes Republican falsehoods.”
Promoting falsehoods is, indeed, a serious argument that what is happening is not news. But Republican falsehoods doesn’t seem essentially less newsy than the bipartisan falsehoods promoted on every channel (Iran’s got nukes, Social Security is broke, Single-payer is unpopular, etc.).
“6. Fox News anchors, show hosts and pundits parrot GOP press releases.”
Well, how the heck do you think the New York Times sold us the war on Iraq? This is bad news, not non-news.
“7. Fox News hosts urge viewers to join a particular political group.”
Well, shouldn’t they? In a nation where we had other media outlets with the same reach promoting other groups, wouldn’t this be far preferable to, say, John Stewart promoting cynical scorn for everyone and everything?
“8. Glenn Beck, deranged inventor of paranoid conspiracies.”
Yes, falsehoods is definitely to the point. Perhaps Fox News pushes too many falsehoods to count as news. But that’s a distinct argument that should be made without all of these partisan, anti-activist encumbrances.
Why? Because it matters. It matters because there is a more destructive force in our communications system than a transparently rightwing buffoons gallery. That destructive force is the persistent myth of “objective” “viewpoint-free” reporting. When the “respectable” news outlets tell us that “objectively” we are going to have to escalate wars in order to be safe, and when they quote two “opposing” experts who both agree with that claim, thereby providing “balance,” and they neither scream nor rant nor suggest that we citizens have any role to play, we are persuaded and disempowered.
When Fox News, in contrast, pushes its “fair and balanced” bullshit, we fight back. But the way to fight back is to build truly democratic media that promotes what we believe in without apology, and yet without the dishonesty that has damaged Fox in so many minds. The way to fight Fox is not to suggest that there is something respectable or praiseworthy about the bulk of the infofascistainment found on MSNBC and CNN.
Fox is owned by a nut job. MSNBC is owned by a weapons company. Where are our priorities? Do not support CNN or MSNBC. Support Alternet instead.
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.