Friday, October 23, 2009

Perspective on Fox News

If this is true, it's marginally disappointing. Not because I think Fox News should be shut out of the equation altogether, but instead because it lends unnecessary legitimacy to the organization.

Now, before my liberal friends say 'that's right!' and my conservative ones holler 'you hate free speech' let me preface this by saying I like Fox News. Not necessarily their content, but their business model in the world of modern journalism. They openly embrace the insertion of political commentary into their news reporting, and - as someone who pens a center-to-left blog - I think that's an acceptable practice.

That said, because I'm open to that style of journalism, I think the approach being taken by the White House is perfectly reasonable because their argument is a consistent one - that Fox News presents news accompanied by perspective. This is done through story selection, interview choices, insertion of commentary into news reporting and opinion-makers who lean heavily to the right.

I've got no problem with that in the slightest, but I think it's also logical to label Fox News, then, as a something more akin to talk radio or blogging where, in those cases, the political leanings are more evident. Fox News has aggressively gone after President Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress, often in a truly absurd way, but in the end, that's fine! It's a conservative network that is geared toward a conservative audience, and, from a business perspective, they ought to thank the administration for helping their ratings soar.

But it's not, say, CNN. It's not, say, ABC News.

It doesn't pretend to withhold commentary from its reporting. It inserts itself directly into its stories from both a promotional angle, as well as an ideological one (i.e. the Tea Parties earlier this year). It relies heavily on circulated talking points from the Republican Party as themes for its coverage.

As a result, it should be treated differently than other news outlets which, imperfect as they may be, strive for a non-biased approach to their reporting. Placing Fox News on the same level as CNN, for instance, suggests both are going about their investigative reporting with the same intent when, in actuality, their aims are different. An outlet like CNN wants to evenly present both sides of the issue, while Fox News is more geared to presenting an ideological argument for its

We have plenty of examples of this in the magazine world, and no one is stunned by it. Yet, calling Fox News a conservative outlet is treated so oddly by folks, it's somewhat surprising.

(I'll also note that MSNBC is different in that it features three prominent liberal commentators, as well as a center-to-left commentator, for its afternoon/nighttime line-up. The station, however, does not let its commentary bleed over into its news reporting - though I'd concede their story selection can be suspect at times - and they balance, to some extent, their opinion-makers by inserting conservative Joe Scarborough, who I actually like very much, as their morning show host. I would be open to MSNBC moving to become a progressive Fox News-style network that interjected commentary into reporting because, obviously, that's a smart business model and will attract a base pool of support from folks who lean to the left, but I don't think the network is there yet or wants to move in that direction.)

In the end, I think we ought to just call Fox News what it really is, which is a very savvy business model that has a built-in base of viewers and guaranteed ad revenues.