The acknowledgments of the new book from Media Matters for America (MMfA), “The Fox Effect,” starts out with this line, which is a form of full disclosure: “The Fox Effect is in many ways a review of the last several years of Media Matters work. . .”
Accurate statement there. The book rehashes all the great flare-ups in recent Fox history. Check that: Rehashes with vicious viewpoint all the great flare-ups in recent Fox history. As in, Fox cheer-led for the Tea Party, distorted the health-care legislation in a clear attempt to see it killed, used falsehoods and innuendo to attack the Obama administration, promoted the notion that President Obama had advocated socialism and did many other dastardly things that frame it as a propaganda organization, not a news organization.
Therein lies a compelling little twist. Media Matters, too, has been accused of being a propaganda organization. So can it possibly, over 286 pages, render a fair and balanced take on Fox News?
The first hurdle in that direction is factual accuracy. “The Fox Effect” appears strong on this front, save for its misspelling of the name of the Erik Wemple blogger (mind the “k”! p. 261). The work draws on the platoons of Media Matters television watchers who sample just about every hour of Fox programming that airs — except for the hours of 1 a.m. through 5 a.m. Those eyes and ears supply ample on-air examples for just about every allegation leveled by authors David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt (Media Matters staff are also listed as an aggregate author). I reached out to Fox News itself on Sunday to see if the network had any gripes with how Media Matters had characterized its coverage. No response.
Facts are one thing, interpretation quite another. Given its self-appointed role as beat cop of the conservative media, Media Matters comes off as constitutionally incapable of recognizing instances where Fox performs well. The network, for example, has organized fantastic Republican presidential debates. Though the deadline for the “Fox Effect” precluded an evaluation of all Fox-organized debates, the book sees good Republican debate-organizing as a manifestation of the network’s problems: “Was this the sign of a new, more objective Fox News, one that would hold Republican candidates up to the same level of scrutiny it traditionally reserved for Democrats? It seems unlikely. In the case of the debate, the network simply did not have to choose sides.”
When asked about this dynamic, Rabin-Havt replied: “We make it clear how much we respect [Roger Ailes’s] production talent and putting on debates is part of that talent.” He questions whether “fair and balanced is putting on fair and balanced Republican debates.”
And what about engineering the separation from Glenn Beck, who filled Fox airwaves with conspiracies prior to his departure last year? When other news organizations screw up a story or make a strategic blunder, we try to praise corrective action. Shouldn’t Fox get the same sort of nod here? “I hate to put it in these terms, but when you have someone as vile a creature as Beck was, you don’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to do,” says Rabin-Havt.
Another balancing component might have credited Bill O’Reilly for pulverizing Rick Perry or dragging interesting reminiscences out of Bill Clinton (in which the former president said he respected Newt Gingrich’s ability to “think and do”). I’d also throw in a nod to Bret Baier and his cross-examination of Mitt Romney, a session that will reverberate for many years.
Yet any such passages would veer from Media Matters’s stated mission, which is “correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media” — not applauding correct conservative information in the U.S. media. Fair and balanced enough.