Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 24, 2013

Why Liberals Still Detest Fox News

More than 16 years after its founding and 11 years after it assumed its current perch as the most-watched cable news network, Fox News remains the favorite punching bag of the left. Liberals take it as an article of faith that Fox is not merely biased but a travesty that serious people should ignore. But the notion that there is something unholy about what is broadcast on Fox or that its mix of news and opinion is uniquely biased has never stood up to scrutiny.

That assumption was once again on display this past week in a New York Times review of a new biography of Fox founder Roger Ailes.  Veteran Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani had little patience for Zev Chafets’s new book, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, because it presents Ailes in a not unsympathetic light and takes down some of the common liberal charges about Fox and its on-air personalities. According to Kakutani, Chafets should have focused on its “role in accelerating partisanship in our increasingly polarized society” and how it “frames its reports from the conservative point of view.” Implicit in these lines is the belief that there is something exceptional in a broadcast network that has a political point of view or that what Fox does is so egregious when it is compared to its competitors.

Refutation of these prejudices comes from no less an authority than an icon of establishment liberalism: the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. In its State of the News Media: An Annual Report on American Journalism, Pew details, among other interesting tidbits the percentages of news reporting and opinion on the three biggest cable news channels. According to the study, the breakdown of MSNBC shows that a whopping 85 percent of its airtime is taken up with opinion, compared to 55 percent of the time on Fox and 45 percent of CNN’s air.

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More than 16 years after its founding and 11 years after it assumed its current perch as the most-watched cable news network, Fox News remains the favorite punching bag of the left. Liberals take it as an article of faith that Fox is not merely biased but a travesty that serious people should ignore. But the notion that there is something unholy about what is broadcast on Fox or that its mix of news and opinion is uniquely biased has never stood up to scrutiny.

That assumption was once again on display this past week in a New York Times review of a new biography of Fox founder Roger Ailes.  Veteran Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani had little patience for Zev Chafets’s new book, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, because it presents Ailes in a not unsympathetic light and takes down some of the common liberal charges about Fox and its on-air personalities. According to Kakutani, Chafets should have focused on its “role in accelerating partisanship in our increasingly polarized society” and how it “frames its reports from the conservative point of view.” Implicit in these lines is the belief that there is something exceptional in a broadcast network that has a political point of view or that what Fox does is so egregious when it is compared to its competitors.

Refutation of these prejudices comes from no less an authority than an icon of establishment liberalism: the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. In its State of the News Media: An Annual Report on American Journalism, Pew details, among other interesting tidbits the percentages of news reporting and opinion on the three biggest cable news channels. According to the study, the breakdown of MSNBC shows that a whopping 85 percent of its airtime is taken up with opinion, compared to 55 percent of the time on Fox and 45 percent of CNN’s air.

These numbers tell us that while the majority of what Fox broadcasts is conservative opinion, it is a pittance when compared to the volume of uniformly liberal commentary on MSNBC. If more of CNN’s airtime is taken up with reporting than on Fox, it must be remembered that the vast majority of the opinions heard on that network is also liberal. And when that is combined with the heavy liberal tilt on the original three national networks, NBC, ABC and especially CBS (the home of the supposedly authoritative 60 Minutes which is so soft on the head of the Democratic Party that even one of its hosts admits it can be relied upon never to discomfit President Obama), it makes Fox’s conservative views one of the few places where alternatives to the left can be found.

If Kakutani and the legions of liberals who blast Fox reporters for not reporting the news from a liberal perspective think there is something wrong about that it is because they are so used to dominating the news media, both print and broadcast, that they still think Ailes has done something wrong in providing viewers with another way of looking at the world.

Of course, the real difference between Fox and its competitors is not so much its divergence from liberalism as Ailes’s honesty about the fact that his network has a different frame of reference.

For decades, mainstream news icons like Walter Cronkite maintained the pretense of objectivity while tilting his enormously influential broadcasts to the left. But while belief in his impartiality and that of almost all of his colleagues on CBS and the other big two of that time was based on myth rather than truth, it was more believable than the willingness of his successors as well as many of those seen on MSNBC and CNN—including those that report as well as those who merely opine—to continue to pretend that they aren’t ideologues.

Fox’s success is rooted in its honesty about its point of view as well as the fact that the uniform liberalism of the other networks has left the field wide open for a conservative alternative. What Ailes and his backer Rupert Murdoch did was to find an underserved niche of the news market. Only in this case that niche is made up of approximately half of the American people. No wonder liberals resent it so bitterly.

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Turks Illustrate Limits of Obama’s Magic

President Obama was already basking in the good review of his trip to Israel when he added what is being seen as yet another bold stroke to his list of accomplishments. Just before he left Israel, he brokered a phone call between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which the two seemingly resolved the long running dispute about the Mavi Marmara incident. The president is being praised for his persistence in pushing Netanyahu to make the call and for persuading his good friend Erdoğan to accept it. This has caused Obama’s cheerleaders at the New York Times to say that his “talent for arm-twisting” has “raised hopes” that the president might have similar success in making peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Though the Times is sober enough to note that the Israel-Palestinian tangle is sufficiently complicated as to resist even the president’s magic touch, it did accept the claim that the call “healed the rift between the two countries” at face value. But other sympathetic observers were not able to restrain their enthusiasm. Writing in Canada’s National Post, Jonathan Kay not only noted with satisfaction my appreciation for the improvement in Obama’s stand on Israel but also extolled the president’s efforts to achieve “a resumption of the Israel-Turkish alliance.”

But apparently the hosannas about the president’s achievement are a little premature. Less than a day after the supposed reconciliation Erdoğan was already backtracking, saying that the resumption of normal relations, let alone the old alliance between the two countries, was still on hold. It is to be hoped that a dose of reality will cool the ardor of those, like Kay, who believe Obama’s “much mocked faith in diplomacy and human rationality” has been vindicated.

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President Obama was already basking in the good review of his trip to Israel when he added what is being seen as yet another bold stroke to his list of accomplishments. Just before he left Israel, he brokered a phone call between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which the two seemingly resolved the long running dispute about the Mavi Marmara incident. The president is being praised for his persistence in pushing Netanyahu to make the call and for persuading his good friend Erdoğan to accept it. This has caused Obama’s cheerleaders at the New York Times to say that his “talent for arm-twisting” has “raised hopes” that the president might have similar success in making peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Though the Times is sober enough to note that the Israel-Palestinian tangle is sufficiently complicated as to resist even the president’s magic touch, it did accept the claim that the call “healed the rift between the two countries” at face value. But other sympathetic observers were not able to restrain their enthusiasm. Writing in Canada’s National Post, Jonathan Kay not only noted with satisfaction my appreciation for the improvement in Obama’s stand on Israel but also extolled the president’s efforts to achieve “a resumption of the Israel-Turkish alliance.”

But apparently the hosannas about the president’s achievement are a little premature. Less than a day after the supposed reconciliation Erdoğan was already backtracking, saying that the resumption of normal relations, let alone the old alliance between the two countries, was still on hold. It is to be hoped that a dose of reality will cool the ardor of those, like Kay, who believe Obama’s “much mocked faith in diplomacy and human rationality” has been vindicated.

Erdoğan’s double dealing on normalization even after Netanyahu’s call is hardly surprising. This is, after all, the same person who recently compared Zionism to fascism and whose regime has encouraged anti-Semitism as it transformed a secular republic into an Islamist regime in all but name. The Mavi Marmara incident, in which a flotilla of ships sponsored by Turkey attempted to run the Israeli blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, was intended to provoke an Israeli attack. While, as Netanyahu admitted, the raid on the ship appears to have been botched by Israeli forces, Ankara’s purpose was to create a pretext for a complete break. This was the end of a process begun years earlier by Erdoğan, not a spontaneous reaction to anything Israel had done.

Thus, no one should be holding their breath waiting for Turkey’s ambassador to return to Israel anytime soon. As for resuming the alliance, it needs to be understood that all those Turks that worked to create the formerly warm relations between Ankara and Jerusalem are no longer involved in the government. Indeed, the main constituency for close relations was secular military officers, and Erdoğan has jailed many of them.

As for what Kay termed a “pride-swallowing apology,” it should also be understood that it didn’t take any “arm-twisting” or diplomatic skill from Obama to force Israel to express regret for the Mavi Marmara incident. Netanyahu had done so years ago. He had also previously offered compensation for the families of those killed while attacking Israeli soldiers on the ship. Netanyahu’s government has made several efforts to solve the impasse over the incident but had been repeatedly rebuffed, not just because of insufficient contrition on Israel’s part but because Erdoğan had no interest in ending the dispute. Indeed, in the day after the phone call, Erdoğan reiterated his determination to make a state visit to Gaza solidifying his alliance with the Hamas terrorists.

So long as Turkey is committed to supporting Hamas, normal relations will be difficult, if not impossible. While there may be issues on which the two countries may be able to cooperate, such as the crisis in Syria, a resumption of the alliance between the Jewish state and Erdoğan’s Islamist state is a fantasy.

To point this out is not a criticism of Obama so much as it is reality check for those who are so besotted with the notion that American diplomacy can remake the Middle East in the image of America’s hopes. What little good the president may have done in brokering the Netanyahu-Erdoğan call should not be represented as a blueprint for a new diplomatic offensive from Obama or Secretary of State Kerry. The president’s faith in and friendship for Erdoğan calls his judgment into question. The same is true about his assertion that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a partner for peace. The president didn’t solve the differences between Turkey and Israel because they are the product of a shift in Turkish politics that cannot be undone by anything Americans say or do. The same is true of any ideas about bridging the gap between Israel and Palestinian leaders who have no interest in signing a peace accord. 

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Trump, Malkin, and Dumbed Down Discourse

Sometimes you come across something that is both unusually shallow and yet (unintentionally) serves a useful public service. In this case, I have in mind the Twitter war between Michelle Malkin and Donald Trump. (You can follow it here courtesy of Mediaite.com.)

It’s perfect in its own way: witless, rude, angry, and content-free. He’s a “coward”; she’s a “dummy.” There’s no large issue being engaged and nothing clever in their exchange, making it worse than parody. And they don’t seem to know when to stop.

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Sometimes you come across something that is both unusually shallow and yet (unintentionally) serves a useful public service. In this case, I have in mind the Twitter war between Michelle Malkin and Donald Trump. (You can follow it here courtesy of Mediaite.com.)

It’s perfect in its own way: witless, rude, angry, and content-free. He’s a “coward”; she’s a “dummy.” There’s no large issue being engaged and nothing clever in their exchange, making it worse than parody. And they don’t seem to know when to stop.

All of which means everyone who uses Twitter on a regular basis should use this as a case study in what can happen to public discourse in the new media age. It’s a zeitgeist-capturing moment, and a cautionary tale of how foolish people can appear in 140 characters or less.

 

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