Livingston said that to understand Fox’s success, it’s imperative to look back to the conservative crisis after Watergate. In determining what caused the fall of Nixon, conservative leaders pointed their fingers at the media, think tanks and other political institutions that held influence. They decided that the answer was to create alternative institutions, such as the Heritage Foundation, and to establish a stronghold in talk radio, Livingston said.
Fox News “speaks to that need for framing cultural and political debate in America for a culturally conservative perspective,” he said.
Among its points of pride — and its critics’ biggest vexation — is the network’s story choice. Fox deliberately focuses on angles that differ from what competitors are pursuing. Hume pointed to coverage of the Duke lacrosse rape case, in which Fox was skeptical of the alleged victim’s claims. In the end, the charges against the players were dropped.
“They’re putting stuff out there that otherwise would never get airtime,” said Brent Baker, vice president of the conservative Media Research Center. He cited the Van Jones controversy. The Obama White House adviser was ultimately forced to resign over his past association with a group that had Marxist roots and his signature on a petition questioning whether the Bush administration was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
There has been less vindication on other Fox story lines, including skepticism about whether President Obama was born in the United States, which ultimately resulted in the White House’s release of his birth certificate in April. The network was also criticized for its pundits’ frequent use of the term “death panels” in discussing a version of Obama’s health-care-reform proposal that included voluntary end-of-life counseling.
For Robert Greenwald, the liberal director of a highly critical 2004 documentary on FNC called “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” the problem isn’t just what the network covers. “The biggest thing is the stories they won’t cover,” he said. “Over the years, anything that ran counter to the preferred conservative image would not be covered.” For example? “The consequences of the Iraq war.”
‘We really try to be balanced’
During phone interviews, Smith and fellow anchors Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly each said they don’t approach the news from a conservative perspective. “We go into the morning meeting every morning and determine what’s news — what’s getting attention and what’s not getting attention and should,” said Baier. “We really try to be balanced.”