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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 03:18 PM ET, 10/07/2011

‘Fair and balanced: Fox’s not-so-secret weapon

In a recent Associated Press story, Fox News chief Roger Ailes makes a bumptious point about why his cable news network wins the ratings battles.

“The consistency of our product,” Ailes sums up matter-of-factly. “I think we do better television than the other guys, and no matter how we do it, they don’t seem to catch up. We seem to out-invent them and think ahead of them, and have better story ideas, better graphics, better on-air talent. We just are better television producers.”

Reasonable people may disagree with that assessment.

What reasonable people cannot disagree with, however, is that Fox News has the best marketing slogan in the history of news products.

And that is not an opinion. That is a proven fact based on numerous interviews with Fox News’s natural constituency today at the Values Voter Summit, a confab of conservative politicians and leaders in Washington, D.C. Roaming the halls of the event are people from all over the country who are eager to talk in detail about their media-consumption habits. Thanks to the Fox marketing slogan, however, detail is often not necessary.

After the morning’s sessions, a woman in her “mid-40s” is hanging out, apparently waiting for someone. Ma’am, could you tell me what outlets you rely on for your news?

“Fox News,” she says.

Why Fox? I ask.

“It’s pretty fair and balanced,” she replies, noting that she enjoys The O’Reilly Factor.

Values Voter Summit attendee and Delaware resident Carol Manubay, who works in education, zestily answers “Fox” when asked about her media diet. “Fair and balanced,” adds the 48-year-old. So you get viewpoints from each side? “You definitely get both sides,” she replies, “but I hear a lot more conservatives speaking on there.”

“We primarily listen to Fox News,” states Heidi Pezdek, a retired RN from Rushville, Ind. “We appreciate their fair and balanced response.” Husband Frank Pezdek, also an RN from Rushville, notes that other networks, like CNN, cover “the good things but not the truthful things.”

Debra Ortt, 55, of Spartanburg County, S.C., pauses a moment to consider why Fox is among her preferred info providers. Then she says, “I think they give a well-balanced view.” Friend Hope Houchins hears the buzzword and jumps in: “Fair and balanced. Hence the name ‘fair and balanced.’”

Chris Balkema, a 40-year-old Caterpillar employee from Chennahon, Ill., presents a compelling portrait in media branding. In discussing media evenhandedness, Balkema invoked the term “fair and balanced” three or four times before even mentioning the term’s founder. For instance, he said, “The goal would be fair and balanced” coverage. Then: “I do look for that fair and balanced coverage from Fox News.”

Fox fan Fred Solomon showed a command of the distinction between news and opinion on TV and other media. Though he acknowledged that Fox “tilts right” in its opinion stuff, it shoots more straightly than most in its news coverage. “They are the closest media outlet that is not morally bankrupt and dishonest,” said Solomon.

After a few minutes of chatter, Solomon is threatening to become part of a minority group among my interviewees---that is, someone who chats about the merits of Fox News without mentioning its defining four syllables.

In none of the above interiews did I invoke “fair and balanced” or do anything to drop hints by, say, standing on my left foot. The proper test of a marketing slogan, after all, is how deeply people keep it in their heads. After a little more back and forth, Solomon provides an answer: ”To use their cliche, I think they attempt to be fair and balanced.”

By  |  03:18 PM ET, 10/07/2011

 
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